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The Tempo and Time Signature Tracks


Assume that you are working on an orchestration piece of music, and there are tempo changes everywhere: a Largo here, a Vivace there, an Andante in between. All these tempo changes add to the beauty of the song. If you don’t do it in the right way, however, the results can be disastrous. 

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to set the tempo of a song in Cubase. You will also understand how to change the time signature and tempo at various areas in your project.

Set Up the Project

Before you dive into changing the tempo and time signature of your project, you need to understand if your project is time-based or tempo-based. 

Songs are usually best done in tempo-based mode, whilst movies or other types of non-musical projects should be done in time-based mode. 

Ensure that you set the tempo and time signature before you start recording a track, because if you change the tempo of the song later, the song positions and automations are likely to become mixed up, causing you to spend unnecessary time on fixing it.

I’ll be using a tempo-based track for the purpose of this tutorial. 

There are many ways in which you can view the tempo and time signature of your track. You can either view it on the Transport Panel, by pressing F2, or you can add a Tempo or Signature track from the Add Track menu under the Project menu, or you can use the Tempo Track Editor by pressing Control-T.

In the Transport Panel, you’ll be able to see the Tempo in the Master+Sync area. Here you can specify whether you want to use a Fixed Tempo or a Tempo Track

If you use the Fixed Tempo mode you can adjust the tempo of the whole project by changing the value of the Tempo. If you are using the Tempo track, you will not be able to change the tempo in the Transport Panel. Instead you have to change it in the Tempo Track.

If your project has a fixed tempo throughout the song, it is better to set the Tempo Mode to Fixed. That way the whole project will follow the tempo that you specified in the Transport Panel. If your project has changes in the tempo and time signature, add a Tempo and Time Signature Track in the Project.

The Tempo Track

The Tempo track enables you to control the speed at which the project is played. When you add a Tempo track to your project, the current tempo of the project is what’s being shown in the track. Here you can draw curves and lines to change the tempo of your project.

Take the Draw Tool and click on anywhere in the Tempo track. A new dot showing the new tempo will be created, along with the details of the tempo change in the Tempo Inspector. If you have to modify any tempo change that you created, just click on the dot and type in the new values in the Inspector.

The Tempo track also has a Lock feature, which will lock the track from being accidentally edited. It’s always best to lock the track after you’ve made the changes to the tempo. You can also select whether your new Tempo Points are of the Ramp type or the Jump Type.

The Ramp type gradually increases your tempo from the previous point to the newly created one, while the Jump type changes the tempo suddenly.

The tracks
The tracks

Putting it into practice, in the project, create a rhythm track and add the Tempo Track

Once the Tempo track has been added, set up the project to use the Tempo track, select any point on the track and click on an area in the Tempo track. A new red dot, or tempo point, will be added to that area. 

You can then drag the point up or down to change the tempo, or you can type in the tempo in the value field at the top. You can also set the type of the curve to be a ramp or a jump.

In the Inspector of the Tempo track, you can see the tempo values, the position and the type of the tempo points. This can be used to fix the position of the points and to change the tempo and the type. 

If you find that your tempo ranges are not within the limits of the tempo track, change the upper and lower limits of the tempo track using the area right beside the tempo track. 

Drag it up or down to adjust the range, or manually enter a value within the range of 1 to 300.

The Signature Track

The Signature track works in a similar way to the Tempo track. However, you have to stick to the bars of the project, and you will not be able to add a different time signature anywhere other than on the first beat of a bar.

You can add a new signature using the Draw tool. Select it and click on the bar that you want to add the time signature to, and once you’ve clicked the new signature is added. Next, type in the new value of the bar and press Enter

In case you want to change the value of the signature that you've already typed in, select the required bar and double-click on the value to change it. You can also use the Inspector to change the values and the positions of the time signatures.

You can try it out in your project by adding a time signature point anywhere in your project. Make sure you that enter valid signatures and that the signature change is on the first beat of the bar.

The Tempo Track Editor

This Editor helps you to control both the tempo and the time signature in a single interface. This prevents unnecessary clutter in your project window and keeps the tracks clean. The Tempo Track Editor can be opened through the Project menu, with the shortcut Control-T, or by Control-clicking on the Tempo button in the Transport Panel.

This editor has all the functionalities of both the Tempo and Time Signature tracks, along with some additional functions. It has all the edit functions which allow you to change the tempo and signature settings as well as the option to record the tempo changes. 

Recording tempo can be done by simply playing back the project and moving the slider left or right to adjust the tempo.


Now that you know how to change the tempo and time signature of your projects, try it out in the next live recording or orchestration piece that you work on. 

With Cubase, you have the option to export your tempo tracks using the Export option in the File menu. The file created will be a .smt file, which can be imported into another project. This helps you to use the same tempo settings for a different project, thus making your work easier.

The next time that you work on a project, try adding a few tempo changes here and there. Sometimes that will help you to bring in the intensity of the song and give it a more live effect.

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