Can you explain Expression Maps to me? in Baby talk?

I have never used this feature of Cubase, and I’d hate to think I was missing out on something really big and helpful. I have read the manual on it, watched a few Youtube videos, read a SOS article on it, and seen that you can even get 3rd party expression maps for some libraries. But I am so lost and cannot see the big picture as to the practicality and application.

I do understand that it is for changing the articulation of an instrument, but I need to know how different that is from what I do now, which is to just use a key switch note in key editor, eg. in one library I switch back and forth between Arco and Marcato, using C0 and F#0. So — how and why would I apply an expression map to that? And if I’m using Cinematic Strings, and see a zip file expression map for that, on the Steinberg site, will that help me? What would I do with it and how would I use it? How much work will it have saved me from building my own?

I had a play around with Expression Maps and decided it was faster to use key switches. But that that’s just the way I work.

Do you want to work with traditional score notation?

In my opinion these maps are most useful when working with traditional notation scores or parts, in that you can tag patterns of text, articulation marks, and other symbols to have immediate play-back characteristics. A major advantage to using these when working with notated scores/parts, is that you won’t have stray notes scattered about in your score for things like key-switches that’ll need to be ‘hidden’ from view. They also make it easy for people who enjoy working with traditional notation to quickly enter advanced play-back instructions without going to a controller lane or list editor to ‘draw or play them in’. Such play-back instructions can also be viewed/entered/edited through lanes in the key-editor view.

If you are familiar with Finale, think of them like ‘Human Playback’ filters. If you are familiar with Sibelius, think of them like “Soundworld” soundsets.

If you’re using an instrument that supports pedaled legato (CC68), then you could set in an expression map to always send CC68 @ 127 when there is a slur mark in score mode. When there are no longer slurs, the editor should jump back to the most recent articulation/dynamic tags (or the default tag if none are set).

You can give various score markings interpretive play-back properties. One example would be altering the length and velocity of notes marked with staccato, marcato, tenuto markings. Alternatively, you could give such score markings key-switches, program changes, or channel hops to force alternative articulations from your sample libraries to play.

You can create text pattern entries to send special commands to instruments at will. These can include instructions for things like using or not using mutes, changing tonal characteristics, swapping bow styles, and more…

Score properties (that can also be viewed/edited in the key-editor) include things like gradual hair-pin or line dynamics, tempo changes (gradual or instant) and so on. Some of these are mostly processed in Cubase itself independent of expression maps, but some of them will ALSO let you build custom tags for them in the expression maps that can compliment, or over-ride default Cubase score interpretation settings.

Expression maps can also come in handy when trying to import a really long XML score. Since Cubase doesn’t pull in dynamic markings like p, mf, or ff, as actual dynamics tags for the Score Editor when ‘importing’ an XML, then you can elect to build a simple expression map that will terrace the master volume levels of a score based on these text patterns. From there one can ‘freeze’ the score into real MIDI data, and then at least have the terraced dynamics somewhat in place for further tweaking/mixing without having to go through the entire score and ‘replace’ them all with Cubase’s own terraced dynamics tags.

Note, if you use instruments in Halion that support key switches and/or note expression, then you can have Cubase automatically generate expression maps for you. Of course you can edit such maps and add on to them as needed (and save copies for future sessions).

In Cubase, one can build key-combo commands for just about everything in the program. One can also assign most Cubase commands to MIDI events for remote control. This makes it possible to construct for yourself a really fast and easy ‘composition’ mode inside Cubase that is built around the Score Editor, and this is where making use of the ‘expression maps’ really starts to shine.

In my case I’ve decided to make use of the MPC pads on my MPK MIDI controller to build myself a powerful and easy to use ‘score step input’ mode for Cubase (using Generic MIDI Controller Maps). I rarely have to touch the computer keyboard or mouse to enter and experiment with compositions that are based on Traditional Musical scoring methods of composition! A quick example of my work flow goes something like this: Tap an MPC pad to set the length of the note or rest I want to enter. Press a key and the note pops up on the score. I repeat, wash, rinse, and suddenly I’m throwing stuff on the page exactly where I want it even faster than I can write them on paper with a pencil!. I can scroll to different staves with some cursor keys on my MPK2. I’ve also set up pads for moving the cursor around from beat to beat, as well as some for dropping in slurs/ties, and so on. Thanks to expression maps, I can use my MMO mouse (has tons of buttons on the thing that are bound to Cubase key_combos so they work with a single click) to quickly go back and drop in terraced and line dynamics, articulations, etc…and I get a basic but instant translation of my score without having to fuss about with multiple editors/windows.

It’s just fast and easy for me to start out this way when I know I’ll need a printed score of the project at some point, and all I want to do is compose without worrying about ‘playback engineering’ aspects…I’ll later ‘freeze’ scores to fresh MIDI tracks and expand such compositions into other editors for refinement IF I need a high quality, or more realistic mock-up translation. The freezing process can convert the ‘translated’ events of these expression maps into raw MIDI data that shows up in the continuous controller lanes of the key-editor where it can be viewed manipulated with extreme precision, and also becomes subject to the power and convenience of the excellent Cubase MIDI Logic Editors.

If you are clueless on how to build an expression map for a non Halion instrument (or want to alter add to automatically generated Halion maps), then the place to start is with the manual of whatever VSTi or MIDI instrument you’ll be using the map with. For example: If you intend to use something like the Garritan Marching and Concert Band library, then you’ll want to read the entire ARIA Player manual, and then read the manual that comes with the sample library.

Once you’ve read the manuals for your ‘sounds’, the layout and purpose of Cubase/Dorico expression maps should become fairly obvious. You get the tools to send just about any command that your instruments are capable of implementing, and you can implement them in a composition by simply entering the tags/symbols/text you need to trigger said commands directly on a stave, or in corresponding lanes in key-edit mode.

Brian, thanks for such a detailed and comprehensive response. Your post is full of very helpful information for me - much appreciated! Yes, I will be making scores at some point. The last time I did them was about 12 years ago and remember everything being very fiddly and needing tons of manual intervention. So I’ll make sure and save your post into my file of handy notes!!

Brian is right about their value in the Score Editor.

But even in the Key Editor they are useful. All the stuff in his post about an articulation sending multiple triggers also applies in the Key Editor (assuming your VSTi supports it). But even in a basic key-switch situation (like a Kontakt instrument) an Expression Map is useful. First they show up in the bottom (where velocity is displayed) as a set of named lanes. So now instead of having to remember that F-2 is Pizz for a specific VSTi, you’ll see it as a lane named Pizz. And if you have a different VSTi where Pizz is C-1, you’d use a different map for it but again not have to remember C-1. Second since keyswitches tend to be much lower than the playable notes they can be below the displayed notes in the editor meaning you have to scroll up & down to see them & the actual part. The same thing applies horizontally. Say you used a keyswitch in bar 9 but are now in bar 40 - you’ll probably need to scroll back to see the switch. But using a map the currently active lane/articulation is highlighted. Plus it is in general nice to not have the notes used for playing music mixed together with notes used to control the VSTi. FYI, for simple Kontakt style keyswitches you’d want to have the map use the Direction type instead of Attribute. Direction says do this now and keep it that way until I change it (which is what a keyswitch is really saying) while an Attribute is attached to a single note.

Initially creating an Expression Map can be a bit daunting. But after you’ve got a couple under your belt they’re pretty straightforward and can get a bit repetitious if you need to a bunch of articulations. And you only need to build it once for each instrument.

Maybe you could post the names of some instruments you’d like to try a map with and folks can share examples they did with them if available.

Thanks, Raino. This is all really interesting stuff and it does sound like it could be immediately useful to me, notwithstanding the eventual score. In the current piece of music I’m working on, I have 3 string libraries each playing the 5 instrument sections - 1st violins, 2nd violins, violas, celli and double bass. I need two articulations throughout the piece, so am using 2 key switches every few bars, and sometimes within a bar. And the different phrasings need very different treatment within the control lanes, so I’m constantly scrolling up and down looking to see where it changes articulation.

So I still haven’t grasped the fundamental - how what I’m doing above, can be translated into an Expression Map. And why it needs to be built only once for each instrument. I guess that means I still specify where the articulation changes take place in key edit?

I am using LASS, Hollywood diamond strings, and Cinematic Strings. I did download a Cinematic Expression Map from the Steinberg page on EM’s, but I don’t know what to do with it. I have added it to my Cinematic tracks in the inspector window… but now what?

OK that’s the correct 1st step which enables the track to use the map. Now go into the Key Editor and where you see “Velocity” near the bottom left click and select “Articulations” from the drop-down menu (or click + to add another control lane). Now you should see a set of lanes, one for each articulation in the map. Just use the pencil tool to mark where you want a new articulation to start, typically just a bit before the 1st note to play that articulation.

OMG works like a charm! Very easy to use and everything makes sense now. Thanks so much :slight_smile:

Great! Aren’t ah-ha moments fun?

There is also a second scenario in wich expression maps are very usefull.
Not all Instruments provide keyswitches to change the articulation. The Session Horn in Komplete ultimate 9 for instance don’t work with keyswitches. There you have two options. The Perfomrance mode in wich an additional articulation is triggerd via velocity and a third one via the modwheel.
The second option is a patch with a single articulation. An here comes the fun:
If you now load lets say 6 patches of these into Kontakt and assign a different articulation to each you now have to switch the midi channel in order to make them accessable seperatly. Switching the midi channel on the notes themself is rather anyoning. But with an expression map you now can switch the midichannel according to the needed articulation. Very convenient.

greetings Novik

raino… I’ve done this but after opening the Articulation/Dynamics controller section below the Piano roll there is no list of the saved keyswitches showing up. I read in the manual (Cubase 9 pro) that it will show ‘provided that the vertical zoom factor is high enough’, and have zoomed out as far as I can but still don’t see the list.
I had already set up an Expression map for the Friedlander violin and in the the Remote column started with Vib styles naming it B0>D#1 as per the Kontakt listing etc, but when I clicked away from it, it renamed it B0. Is that because I am trying to write over an already assigned switch? I thought you could copy them across from the Kontakt settings. Any ideas? Thank you in advance.

Can you open the Part with the Key Editor in the lower zone and also make sure the Articulation/Dynamics section is visible. Then select the Track in the Project Window & make sure its Expression Map Tab is expanded. Take a screen grab that includes both the Articulation section & the Expression Map Tab and post it here.

Thank you for the quick reply raino. Here are two screen shots of the settings.The Articulation/Dynamics section is visible but is showing nothing below the piano roll. The Expression map is extended on the left.

Ah, you’ve only created a partial Expression Map. In the Sound Slots you need to create & assign entries in the Art. 1 column for each Slot. So for example, in your Staccato slot click Art. 1 to create a new articulation which will appear in the lower right table. What that articulation does gets set in the upper right. In this case you’ll want to have it send a note-on for A1. You need to do similar for all the Slots.

The Remote column can be left blank if you only intend trigger articulations by hand in the Key or Score Editors. If you also want to change articulations by hitting a key on your midi keyboard that’s when you need an item in the Remote column. However these keys do not need to match the key-switches on your VSTi, they can be any keys. This is useful if you have libraries from different vendors that all use different key-switches for Staccato. Using the Remote column you can set it up so can use the same midi note to trigger Staccato in each library’s Expression Map.

I’d recommend reading the manual carefully to understand the nuances, because what you can/should setup will vary based on how the VSTi deals with articulations. For example in Cubase an articulation can be either a Direction or an Attribute. A Direction says to change an articulation and continue to use it until it is changed again. While an Attribute is attached to a specific note and only applies to that one note. Which of these to use will depend on what the VSTi can understand.

Finally it’s a good idea to put a blank Slot at the top of each Map in Slot 0 that doesn’t do anything. Without it Cubase can sometimes mis-trigger articulations. You can just create a new slot at the end of the list & drag it to the top of the list.

Basically understanding Expression Maps works like this:

1st Map :confused:
Fairly confusing especially how the different elements of a map interact. Several “Why isn’t this working NOW?” moments along the way.

3rd Map :slight_smile:
Not all that confident that the map will work correctly, but it works right away.

6th Map :unamused:
Becoming a routine task where you get a bit annoyed by how much info you need to setup for each map. But at least it only needs to be done once.

Thank you Rodger. Very kind of you to be so in depth… Excellent teacher!

You can’t. Can you, how?

I was assuming that a text field saying ‘legato’ and a slur mark were both interpreted the same (my bad).

I double checked and it appears this is not the case in CuBase, and there is not a symbol entry for the ‘slur mark’; however, you can create a lane to toggle between a ‘normal’ arco and a ‘slurred’ arco. So it’s possible to use the expression map to toggle between a legato and full attack in this manner.

Here’s one that engages CC64 for ‘slurs’. One could hide the text elements in the score view if desired.

Yes, that’s the only way. I hope Steinberg make a mappable ´slur´.


I also wish the terraced dynamics and crecendo’s would import as valid techniques when bringing in XML scores. As it stands we have to replace them in the score editor, do some other means of controlling terraced dynamics than what I’d like.

I’d love it if the logical editor could work with score elements too :slight_smile: I.E. build a MIDI logical editor to select all p markings, or all staccatos in a certian range of bars, etc. That’d really come in handy.