Tempo Techniques With Recorded Piano

Thanks in advance if anyone has any ideas, tips, or tricks they could provide.

I typically record piano only, but have decided to try using Cubase Elements 7 to add additional instruments to my compositions. What I am having trouble figuring out is how to match the tempo with my piano playing if I use a chord track or loops. My compositions rarely change time signature but are always free flowing with a lot of shifts in the tempo. They are NOT recorded in midi; they are WAV or MP3 recorded with a high quality recorder from my grand piano. I do not have a mentor and have not yet stumbled on any articles or forum posts that would point me in the right direction for techniques on how to do this.

What I see adding for sure are some orchestral elements and maybe percussion. I can see where recording the orchestral tracks directly using a midi keyboard might work but I can’t see anyway possible to add percussion without some kind of time marks to get the measures synched with the mp3 import of my piano.

Any ideas?

Thanks So Much,

Sorry to tell you, but the function you need is not in Elements. In the full Cubase there are tools to map the time grid to your rubato playing (and much more)- the Time Warp tool. It allows you to drag beats on the grid to where they need to be to correspond to a recorded performance.

You have to go through your whole performance with this tool, but when you’re done the sequencer will follow your tempo changes, and you can freely use loops, and the midi editors will be in syn with the audio recording.

Good luck!

At the risk of sounding (I’m sure Steve will tell me exactly what)…

Does ‘Elements’ use a dongle? If so, I believe you can get a 30 day trial of ‘full Cubase’. Anyhoo, if so, I’d strongly recommend installing that and reading the ‘Audio/Midi Quantise’ chapter -real- thorough.

I say this because, in theory, Cubase should be able to do exactly what you want. ie. You should be able to run the Tempo Detection feature and auto-magically get a tempo map that you can easily add MIDI to.

Personally, I -rarely- can get the gizmo to work as easily as that, with results ranging from C+ to… E-.

And my experience with setting up hit points and warp tabs as Steve describes is -far- from 1,2,3 neither. It can range from ‘wow that wasn’t -too- hard’ to… Oy… 3am ALREADY? :smiley:

However… anecdotally, some people seem to have great luck with both these functions. Thus… try for yourself. If it works as advertised, it would be a bargain.

So when it works well for you? Please give me the answer. :smiley:

pretty cogent and on the spot there Suntower. :wink: :imp:

Yeah, it can get tedious, and it depends how granular you want to get. I’m happy to get down to a measure, sometimes to a quarter note, and I get things locked in well enough to work. I mainly use this to transcribe to notation, it can be quite tight.

In my experience The tempo detection only works on music with a very clear beat, I haven’t had much luck using it on jazz recordings even though the beat is pretty clear to me (though I did give up quickly), so I haven’t used it too much. I just do it all manually in the project page, clicking and dragging each barline with the warp tool. I don’t even open the audio editor.

It’s true that I can get tangled up over a couple measures where I can’t determine where the beats actually are, or rhythms just won’t add up and I ended up going through the following day like a sleep deprived zombie, but it’s a skill that can be developed. You do have to pick your battles; there will be tweaking later depending on what you want to end up with, whether a produced track or a score.

As far as the dongle, I read here that Elements doesn’t need one, so it’s not all that easy to try out the full Cubase. For stuff like you are talking about, Brad, it might be worth the trouble. There are deals online too for Cubase from time to time, and you can sell and buy the licenses.

Oh I forgot… If you’re an open marriage kinda guy.

Try Ableton Live. Lite.


Works great. One button tempo detector. Pretty much every time. Never woulda believed it.

Wow. You guys are really amazing. Thank you so much for the detailed response. All made perfect sense and a pleasure to read your comments and suggestions. Correct in that Elements does not require a dongle. “Open marriage” works for me Suntower but I am barely engaged – note my lack of commitment by only getting Elements initially :smiley: I think I will try both Ableton and full Cubase – see what seems easiest for my simpleton artistry.

Thanks Again!

Have a look here too… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N47FLgTkZyY

As for your DAW of choice, lots of us started out with lower end versions of Cubase, and worked our way up to the full version, so don’t be tempted to dispose of Cubase just based one one feature being missing in the lighter version, its an excellent product, or there would not be so many of us here! Don’t hurry the decision. Good luck.

EDM = works perfect
Music of any complexity and dynamics at all = doesn’t do shit

@O/P: The irony of Live is that, although it does beat detection -great-, after that task is done, Cubase is probably going to be %1,000 better for your needs. Every software seems to pull one in a particular direction. If you play with Live for more than 15 minutes you -will- be doing EDM unless you are very disciplined. It just makes people wanna dance—or at least do really repetitive ‘beats’. That’s it’s focus.

If your goal is to add realistic percussion and orchestral ‘backing’, you’ll find Cubase far more satisfying… which is why so many ‘composers’ use Cubase and about 0 use Live or Reason. You just gotta get past the hassle of crappy beat detection.

My reply was, in part, a rant against SB as beat detection is something Cubase really -should- do MUCH, MUCH better.

Good luck,


  • 1000000, and better/easier HP editing … and HP editing in the project window … you get the idea :laughing:


It’s a difficult thing you want to do. There are tools in Cubase to do this but it can be time consuming and difficult. I’ve experimented with a few approaches over years in doing orchestral emulations.

The problem with doing a tempo track that fluctuates, is that you can’t play other parts to this. You can’t know if you’re late or early until the click is played, then it’s too late.

A way that’s worked for me with orchestra stuff is to record my parts to a steady click first. Then I read my score and tap out clicks (with a clave sound or whatever and no tracks playing of course), basically like you’re conducting. Then use the midi click track you’ve built to create the tempo track. Not the greatest way but the end result is good.

Another way is to play your piano the way you want. Then use Cubase MIDI like it a tape machine and play to your piano. Turn off the grid and disregard Cubase’s tempo. Perform to your timing as best you can, use edit in place so you can see everything, and tweak your timing. I’ve never used this approach but I know a few people that work that way

One of the best solutions I’ve seen to this problem was posted here. I’m sorry, I can’t think of the guys name, but he has a very elegant solution…record a conductor video and play all your tracks to that. He used it to sing a multi-part choir arrangement and it worked wonderfully. That’s how a orchestra of 60 people keep time that’s constantly changing. It’s takes a little planning but it’s way simpler and more musical than any beat detection, hit point drawing, tempo track rebuilding tedium.

p.s. if this fellow doesn’t show up, I’ll look for my bookmark of his blog. He has excellent videos and audio clips of his procedure.

That is genius - one of those solutions that once you see it, you think: of course, it instantly seems obvious even though you may never have thought of it no matter how long you live.


If your music is based on free-tempo piano playing you don’t WANT to set up a tempo map and apply a quantised percussion groove to it. The constant changes in tempo will sound terrible!

Treat your percussion sounds like any other instrument. Play them in against the audio. If you need to align certain hits with certain audio events do t visually, against the waveform picture.

Set definition from tempo can work wonders, try it with ramp!

Hey Brad

Here’s the guy explaining his conducting video method. He used it to record a choir version of Danny Boy, excellently done btw. Scroll down to the story Standing On The Shoulders of Giants

He has a long audio clip, 30 min, describing the process.