How do I Record a VST Instrument Track?

Hi folks,

Still learning Cubase 9 LE AI Elements. I have learned how to successfully record many songs using microphones through my Yamaha MG12XU mixer, live recording my guitar, bass and drums, using Audio tracks.
Now, I’m exploring VST. I can add an Instrument Track, and for example, using the HALion Sonic SE, it brings up the virtual keyboard pad and I can play and hear the music perfectly. Same with Groove drum loops, etc. However, it does not record? :blush: I’m assuming my Yamaha mixer is not involved here, since I’m working exclusively within Cubase now. When I click Record, it appears to be recording and displays the tracking image, but when I click Stop, the recording does not stay. I have Record Enable on, and I’ve tried with and without the Monitor button on.
Any quick tips on how to get these VST midi instruments to record?

Thanks in advance everyone!


You need either a MIDI keyboard or to write the notes in by hand. The virtual keyboard on the instrument is for demoing sounds but does not record.

There is also the mini-virtual keyboard for very basic recording using your computer keyboard (Alt-K to enable this).

Instrument Tracks only record MIDI data and automation.
To record their audio, create a new audio track, leave it highlighted and then click the record enable button on the tracks you want to record while playing in real time.

If necessary, you can open the mixer using F3 to change their routing. You can route them to group tracks, then set the group track as the input for the audio track to ensure that only certain elements will be recorded.

You can also use virtual MIDI keyboard like
with a MIDI loopback software like
in order to record MIDI on instrument track with your computer keyboard.

Of course real MIDI keyboard is preferred solution.

Cubase has a MIDI enabled virtual keyboard activated with Alt+K.

Its looks like I will have to get an actual MIDI keyboard. I’m researching them now. I just need one thats affordable and works well with Cubase 9 and Windows 10, and is easy to setup. Hopefully under $300. Thanks all for your replies!

Yes, when you enable this make sure your midi input is set to all MIDI inputs and you can record from your computer keyboard.

Well guys, still frustrated here :confused:
The virtual keyboard lets me play and hear notes fine with the HALion Sonic SE for example, but its still not recording. I’ve tried different combinations of Audio, Instrument, MIDI and Group tracks, and even tried routing them through as a Group track. I also have the MIDI input set to ‘all MIDI inputs’.
I don’t want to have to invest in an external MIDI keyboard, as I’m not a keyboard player. I simply want to play simple basic keyboard synthesized notes for background sounds. I’ve read and tried your suggestions. BTW, my pc computer keyboard doesn’t seem to want to activate as a ‘virtual keyboard’, so I’m just using the Cubase virtual keyboard with my mouse which is actually preferred.

A lot depends on what you’ve got in mind in terms of performance and sound. Apologies if the following is too basic.

Performance: MIDI data records the performance, not the sound of the performance. That is to say, it records the physical activity of playing. So if you have a MIDI keyboard controller, the movement of the keys, pedals, and wheels will be recorded in MIDI form. The same would happen if you used a MIDI wind controller or a MIDI guitar controller. It all comes out as data: which note? how hard was it played? when did it start? when did it stop? was there a live report of aftertouch, pitch bend, mod wheel movement, expression pedal movement? … and so on. None of this makes any sound at all. No sound is recorded, just performance description data. Now, you could enter this data with a mouse using the key editor, or use some kind of preset such as a pattern in beat agent, or an auto arpeggiator. These either call up already-recorded performances, or they use an algorithm to generate a performance.

Sound: VSTis interpret the MIDI performance data in terms of sound. Suppose you create an instrument track, then go into the key editor and pencil in some notes. Thus you have a MIDI performance. Now if your VSTi was a piano, you will hear a piano when you play it back. But you could change the VSTi to organ, and you’ll hear organ when it plays back. Another option would be to not use a VSTi, but a real synth instead. In that case, you’d need to send the MIDI out to the synth, and capture the synth’s audio out on an audio track. That’s cumbersome, but it’s what you must do if you really wanted the sound of that synth.

So, if you get a MIDI keyboard, is it going to be a pure MIDI controller, or a synth of some sort. There are also “keyboard workstations”. Note the differences and the duplications. A keyboard workstation generally includes a sequencer and other features you already have in Cubase, except the Cubase versions will be better. It’s also a synth. A synth acts as a keyboard controller, but can also turn MIDI into sound, including live playing. A keyboard controller generates MIDI, but no sound, so you’d be committed to VSTis. But the VSTi libraries are much more comprehensive than anything you’d find on a synth. My preference (and recommendation) is for a keyboard controller because it’s simpler and cheaper. You’re not buying features you already have in Cubase, or sounds you can get on the cheap as VSTis. Your money is going into just capturing the performance as MIDI. You either save money, or you deploy it in getting a more accurate MIDI capture.

Re: your new message.

As a non-keyboard player, you should opt for the drawing of keyboard parts via the key editor.
Start by drawing an empty area on your instrument track with the pencil tool in the project window, then edit it (in key editor). Use the pencil in the key editor window to plunk down notes. Use the pointer/regular arrow tool to lengthen/move notes. Show the velocity lane in the key editor to alter the velocity (how hard the note was played).

Key Editor Help
A typical youtube quickstart video

Wow so this worked thanks! Definitely cumbersome. I may consider getting a keyboard controller however, so I will have more flexibility. Thank you guys very much!

Hi Colin, thanks so much!
Regarding a keyboard controller, I see you use the Novation 61SL MkII which is within my price range. Not to put you on the spot here, but if I were to purchase this or another brand of keyboard controller such as an Alesis, etc, would this essentially meet my needs here with Cubase? Researching MIDI keyboards and controllers, I noticed that some reviews noted that some brands/models were more recommended for MAC’s, and I’m using a pc with Windows 10.

AKAI MPK MINI may be the best simple/inexpensive option. I have tried some cheaper products and they just sucked. I am not a keyboard player either. This one worked for me and has some decent drum pads as well. $99.

The Novation 61SL Mkii (Which I affectionately call “the slimkey” = SLMKii) does work with Cubase, so does the Alesis, the Nektar, and so on. There’s no Mac/PC issue with any of them, other than perhaps with driver software. The most important issue with buying a keyboard controller is the action on the keys, which is a bit like saying the issue with buying a guitar is the neck (how thick is it, if are there burrs on the fret edges, how much liberty do you have to set the action without getting a buzz or having the strings so high and tight that they shred your fingertips, that sort of thing). Only with keyboards, you’re looking at how “stiff” the resistance is, how that resistance varies as the key goes down, how much wobble and squirm the keys have when you’re holding them down, how big the keys are, and so on.

You can only answer these questions by testing the keyboards yourself. That was what drove my choice. Some offhand opinion on the action of various keyboards:

Alesis I’ve always like Alesis studio technologies, but the action on their keyboards is incredibly stiff. (Come to think of it, their drum machines were stiff too). This means playing with a lot of force, which I find tiring and unexpressive. You may feel differently, but I ruled out Alesis quickly.

Novation Impulse was among my final contenders. I also found them to be a bit stiff, but acceptable. Note that the slimkey has a totally different keyboard!

Yamaha I’ve always liked the action on Yamaha keyboards, and I’d still like to use my old YS200 (a 4 operator FM synth, vaguely related to the legendary DX-7). The old DX-7 had wonderful action. The YS200 keys tend to wobble a bit. I believe this is generally true of Yamaha “synth action” keys. Wobble complicates playing the way slippery floors complicate dancing. So worth considering.

Casio has always had a very soft action that I’d characterize as “mushy”. They don’t have anything like the market they enjoyed in the 80s, but you can still find them. The overly mushy action makes it “hard to distinguish piano from forte”, which is to say that most parts work best if they are either sublime and subtle (piano) or intense and insistent (forte). Just as the stiff keyboards ruin the chance to play “piano”, the soft ones ruin the chance to play “forte”.

Roland has pretty good action. A bit stiff for my taste, just a bit stiffer than Yamaha, but with less wobble. Certainly worth considering.

Korg is a bit like Roland, perhaps stiffer. Have not tried a Korg lately.

Aturia was among my finalists. Good action, lots of software, plenty of buttons too. I seem to remember it wobbled a bit. Similar to Yamaha, perhaps a little softer. Comes in many sizes. Worth checking out.

M-Audio I liked the action on their keyboards, and they are quite cheap. I was planning to get one, but didn’t have the money at the time and had to wait a couple of years. By then, the model was no longer in production. Why? Too many of then were breaking down in the field. Now, not all M-Audio keyboards necessarily have that problem, but I have an eerie feeling about the build quality and durability of M-Audio keys, and their other products for that matter. Just a feeling, not an accusation. So M-Audio is usually cheap, and might be a good starter keyboard.

Akai is generally decent. I find the action to be good, maybe a bit stiff. I’d read discouraging things about their support and didn’t like their color scheme (too much red). But color schemes are largely beside the point. (The look of an instrument kinda matters to me because it tweaks my mood, and that influences my creative psychology.)

Particularly Noteworthy

Novation SL Mkii was my ultimate choice, but to try one I had to make a special order thru Guitar Center. Not knowing if I’d like it, I had them deliver it to the store so I could immediately return it with minimal complications. I didn’t plug it in when it arrived, because that wouldn’t change the action. It blew me away. There was no wobble in the keys. The stiffness was perfect. In practice, I find I can get a far more expressive performance with it than with any other keyboard I’ve ever tried in my entire life. The slimkey is an old product, first appearing perhaps 9 years ago. Originally $800, it was now selling for $400. It’s still considered their flagship product, and I’d say with good reason. The downside of Novation is in the support software. One of the main reasons for buying a keyboard controller for use with a DAW is the sliders and knobs and buttons which can be used to run Cubase. This means you can push dedicated buttons to record, stop recording, rewind, set levels, tweak the quick control parameters and so on.
Unfortunately, the Novation documentation is quite obtuse, so It can be a long strange trip to set it up to do more than just send keyboard and CC performances to Cubase. The shortcut to doing that is to use their Automap server, but they have trouble keeping up with software changes made by other companies such as Steinberg. Now, the main issue is really capturing a performance, and that was the deciding factor for me. I get the feeling that Novation is struggling financially and can’t spare the manpower to keep up or do customer support very well. Nevertheless, it is possible to get the most important buttons working. Looking elsewhere in the forum, you’ll find tales of tribulations regarding Novation mappings, but also some stories of success. Their basic setup is a bit weird. You’ll have to hack and geek your way a bit to get the most out of Novation. I’m happy, however.

Nektar has a great reputation, and you often find their keyboards in videos made by guys who are very serious about sound design and keyboard work. Nomad92 reports that the Nektar Panorama is especially good for Cubase. I’ve never played a Nektar because I’ve never been able to find one. I suppose I could have done the Guitar Center thing with Nektar as I did with Novation, but my patience was running out at the time, and the Novation was awesome and affordable. My curiosity renewed by Nomad92’s report, I e-mailed Nektar to see if there was one within a 500 mile radius of where I live (which would be an area encompassing about 50 million people). Sadly, there were none. I left matters there because I have a great keyboard already and I have other things to do. Maybe they are a bit pricey. You might consider looking into Nektar however.

Hammer (Piano) action vs Synth Action

You often see these terms in descriptions of controllers. Take them with a grain of salt. For one thing, the action on a grand piano is different from the action on an upright. The upright hammers swing in an arc, so they sort-of spin around a pivot, with the key acting on the other side of the pivot. Thus, when playing an upright, you experience greatest resistance in the middle of the the keystroke. This builds angular momentum on the hammer, which eases the resistance on the later part of the keystroke. The hammers on a grand work more like a teeter-totter, so they move more easily and consistently until the end of the keystroke, when the hammer reaches the string(s). This requires an adjustment if you are used to uprights. The decisive moment is a bit later in time. Generally, grands sound nicer and the simpler physics is easier to grasp intuitively.
As a non-keyboard player, you may be thinking “So what?”. Well, it means 2 things:

  1. You probably want to avoid piano action. I think these keyboards are intended primarily for those who are used to playing piano and want to be on familiar ground. Oddly, I’d guess most pianists are used to upright pianos, but the MIDI keyboards with piano action normally play like a grand. Assuming you don’t want to be acclimatized in a way that might help you play real physical acoustic pianos, piano action is a bit of an obstacle. Then again, it might suit your taste.piano.
  2. The term “piano action” is often a lie. I’ve tried keyboards advertised as having piano action. But they were not like any piano I’ve ever played. (Which would be a couple of dozen.) So you can’t actually use the term “piano action” to rule anything out without trying it.

Synth action has been with us since the invention of the electric organ. Much easier on the fingers, but with less of a sense of feedback. My long list of different keyboards (above) are all talking about synth action examples. You may encounter the terms “waterfall” and “diving board” in descriptions of keys. This isn’t really an important factor, as it describes the bottom half of the key – the part you don’t play. Waterfall keys look like piano keys. Diving board keys look like organ keys. I prefer diving board myself, because the keys themselves are lighter and seem a bit more agile.

Semi-weighted action is somewhere between the other two. I don’t have anything against it, but it does add a bit of stiffness.

The bottom line is that you have to try keyboards to see which ones match your hand size, typical playing force, and speed. As a general rule, any keyboard software will allow you to modify the sensitivity, meaning that it can adjust somewhat to a heavier or lighter touch. This certainly helps, but the range of adjust-ability is always limited and never seems to be enough to make up for the problems of a mismatch between the player and the key action.


I want to thank so much for taking the time on here to answer my question in such detail. Much appreciated. I’m doing my research now and will use your knowledgeable input in making my purchase decision for a new keyboard MIDI controller!


Welcome to music production. If you think that’s cumbersome you might want to rethink your choice of getting into this. As you’re not a keyboard player you’re definitely going to be spending a lot of time in that window. In comparison to all the other things one has to do it is extremely light and how a lot (even those who can play a bit) work!

Go file,and click on preferences, go MIDI and MIDI filter…uncheck everything except the sysEx under the record and under Thru…then apply changes and OK… Then try to record …the keyboard will be recorded in real time…there you go