Speedy Song Creation: Tips and Tricks (for new users)

Hey guys, so here is the scenario:
I’m jamming a new tune with a band. I want to be able to quickly try out sounds and set up splits. but taking 10 seconds to bring up a piano sound is too long (every second counts).

Here is my question:
What tips and tricks do you use to speed up your song programming when the clock is ticking?
Do you revert to presets that are “close enough”? Does anyone program from scratch in this scenario?
What are you’re favourite/most used shortcuts? Custom shortcuts?
Quickest way of setting splits?

These are the types of tricks I am most interested in now. So if any cantabile veterans can enlighten us newbies… Please do! Even if the tips seems obvious or unconventional. I want to hear them!

I’m trying to quickly transition from the Stage/Workstation keyboard world into cantabile world and hearing different approaches would help me a lot! I think this would benefit lots of new users. If I make an effort to learn certain practises and shortcuts now then that will make things easier down the road.

Thanks in advance!



I don’t know if this answers your question or not, but on some gigs, we may have a guest performer, and I may need to pull up a certain instrument or combination of instruments on the fly. I usually have at the bottom of my setlist, songs that only contain those basic instruments. So, I preload the setlist, all songs and instruments are loaded, I click on a song at the bottom that may be labeled as “Rhodes” and it is immediately there, because it was preloaded with my setlist. In a rehearsal, you could just preload several setups in a setlist, click on an instrument choice, and save that setup as a song, if it works for you. Hope this helps.



Big help, thanks! Hearing the way you guys do things will help me to change my approach.

More please!

I have a special “Set List” created just for such experimentation.

Read about it here:



Terry’s experiment really demonstrates how powerful C3 is. So versatile. As far as programming on the fly, I am sure there are some shortcuts I’m not aware of, but I have used templates I have created, and save them as a song i.e. “Split Key 1 Bass/Synth Brass template” which may contain different states i.e. state 2 would be a split like Bass/Piano state 3 may be split Bass/Wurlie/Horns. It would all be in that one song. It can be whatever you want it to be.
Also, knowing how other band mates give you that “slam that laptop against wall” look when programming, It is best just to have a few setups ready to go, and program at home, where you don’t have to try to hear over a drummer pounding while you are frantically trying to setup. Even though I perform with some really professional people, the garage band teenager occasionally comes to surface.



I do a lot of solo improvisation. I have one song that has 6 or 7 of my favorite plugins, including a piano, electric piano, organ, korg m1, korg wavestation, and a few arturia synths. I have them all set up with song states turning routes on and off so I can switch back and forth quickly between them. Some states have combinations too.

  • Paul
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Good advise guys. so far seems like no one is creating a song from scratch in the moment but using cantibile more as a preset machine and then adjusting from there. I don’t want to be that guy who is constantly staring at his laptop instead of being engaged in the music so I’ll shift more into preset mode and worry about details later.

I used to use the Kronos the same way, I found it to be more of a preset machine. VS the Nord Stage where all the parameters have a dedicated knob making it more suited to on the fly programming as you play.

Any way we could drag key ranges directly on the onscreen keyboard? I have a touchscreen laptop and that would be awesome!

Hi Todd

For myself personally, I create songs at home, sometimes start them in rehearsal and finish later when I can fine tune them. At this moment, I have 516 songs setup. I perform with several bands/projects. One band in particular works from a list of 142 songs. That is roughly 9 1/2 hrs of music!! That means that this band could theoretically play 4 1/2 - 4 hr gigs (with breaks) without playing any song twice. In a way, it is overkill, but, I do create a set list for each particular gig. This band plays mid-large clubs and most of the time it is a 4 hr gig including breaks. It takes approx 40 songs to fill the gig. At the bottom of my set lists I include the “on the fly” instruments if I need them. I also create below those about 12 other songs on the list that may be requested or usually goes over with the crowd well. IF, I have the need to pull a song not on the current set list, I simply load it from file which usually takes less than a minute. I would never put all 142 songs on the set list.

As far as speedy song creation, if you are jamming in practice or on stage, you have your go to VSTs at the bottom of the list ready to load. You know how they sound and know how to tweek them on the fly. Fine tune it later. I did a stump the band gig for charity a few weeks ago and those basic setups at the bottom of the list worked well for everything we tried.



Your questions, I’m guessing, are pretty much where we all started, and it’s essentially, ’ I can tell this thing has massive potential to control a monster rig - but how can I be sure that I’m going about this the most future proof way?’

This becomes even more perplexing when you see how creatively users like Torsten are employing their rigs!

The whole thing about working live is that you need to be working with presets if you’re going to manage setups that are, by any standard, more exotic than any classic monster keyboard setup. The ‘presets’ can be as variable as any piece of analog gear if you want them to be, but the presets (states) are the launching pad.

Formulating these presets is about creating basic building blocks - and those building blocks are Rack files and States in our Cantabile world.

You can tailor any Rack file to very specific requirements and save its state.
How you get to those states quickly is as important as the time you invest creating those states. No point in having 2000 setups if you can’t get there fast!

Having your hardware set to jump directly to useful setups using one button push is as important as being able to step through states sequentially. Regardless, there was a point in the evolution of everyone’s setup, where ‘scratch’ was where we were at.

Just set up those building blocks.
Once you have given yourself access to your plugins by creating racks, the rest falls into place; what is switched on or off, where the splits are, which controllers address specific performance functions etc.

That’s when the real creative questions start developing - because once these essentials are in place, the artistry of applying them creatively follows.

Just a couple of observations for a Monday morning :smiley:



For the situation in the original post, I have a “songwriting” song template which has about a dozen states, most of which route the whole keyboard to a different basic sound (pianos, organs, strings etc ), and a few states with typical splits for leads etc. This song has something like a dozen racks loaded for my typical sounds. Then in a rehearsal I reorder the states or duplicate them in order to build up an approximation to what’s required, which is really fast to do. I modify splits by dragging zones in the on-screen keyboard (never tried this with a touch device). I save this as a new song, leaving the original songwriting song template untouched. Then once musical ideas solidify, I rework this into a proper song at home, removing redundant states, fine tuning levels, velocity curves, tweaking sounds etc.

I also use Show Notes to make quick notes of stuff while we’re working - chords, changes, time signatures, song arrangement notes etc., as well as “To do” items for things I know I need to work on offline. So in a way, I’m using them as rehearsal / songwriting notes. Then when I’m at home I work through this stuff, and write real show notes for the song.

Works well for me!



Good idea to have a template!
I mostly copy in between songs, but this approach could be handier.

I have a similar approach to @Neil_Durant for my rehearsals setup:

  • For rehearsals, I have two “universal” songs: one for keys, one for guitars. Each has 8 states that I can quickly select via my master keyboard, all bread & butter sounds.
  • For keys, these are the typical “full-keyboard-presets”, like acoustic piano (with optional strings layer), electric pianos (wurly & rhodes), some hammond presets, a big pad, a brass sound with a piano/hammond layer in the left hand, one synth lead with piano/strings in the left hand.
  • For guitar, I have the usual assortment of clean, clean + chorus, blues crunch, rock crunch, 2 lead sounds, plus some effect-laden cleans

With these “standard patches”, I usually get through rehearsals, experimenting with new songs, or some spontaneous improvisation.

For song creation, I have a standard, write-protected template that contains my typical racks (piano, e-piano, string layer, main synth, solo synth) already pre-routed, with routes for MIDI notes and bindings for controllers (makes things more explicit to see on your bindings page where pitch bend or aftertouch goes), plus some initialization bindings that set initial volumes and effect levels.

With this, I simply delete the racks I don’t need for the song (or replace default ones with more exotic ones), select the necessary rack states and my first state is ready! If more customization is needed, I may design song-specific sounds as new states of one or several racks.

Hope this helps!




At first, I didn’t quite get your dramatic step of filtering out all controllers and then remaking the specific routes in bindings - but I think that is a really forward thinking and brave approach.
You know what’s going where at a glance and you’re eliminating the possibility of something getting tweaked which shouldn’t be tweaked.
I like it. :+1:t2:

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Yup - before @brad enabled MIDI-to-MIDI bindings, I usually created specific routes explicitly for individual controllers. I always have the typical controller issue with layers or splits: what controllers should be sent to what layer or zone? I want to be sure that modulation only goes to the ePiano, but not to the strings. At the same time, I want the sustain pedal to apply to both, ePiano and strings. And aftertouch should only be sent to the solo synth in the “solo” state.

The only way to have clarity on what goes where is to route controllers separately from notes.

My issue with using routes for this was that I had to use filters for this - but filters are hidden behind a little icon, and you can’t change them per song state. This is why I prefer bindings: very explicitly route mod wheel to control volume in the string layers rack - easy to understand at a glance…

Plus. as you wrote: I can make very sure that only a very limited set of controllers reaches my racks - no interference or funny side-effects from one of my master keyboard controllers.




My admittedly simple solution: I have one big ~120 setlist holding all the songs my band plays, with the ones in our current rehearsal setlist at the top. At the very bottom I have some standard presets for common sounds. In the moment I just grab whatever sound is closest. It would annoy the other band members if I spend more than 10 seconds fiddling with sounds; they’d rather have the sound be just in the general vicinity than to lose valuable rehearsal time waiting while I fiddle.

After Brad’s recent notes, I’m renaming these to start with zz_ so they get autosorted on name to the bottom.

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Things are definitely going to get easier once we see the proposed search/navigate proposals implemented.

I had so many “AHA!” moments reading this thread! Exactly what I needed to improve my workflow within Cantabile. Love the template song idea from @Neil_Durant . Your method is like subtractive synthesis. While I was always thinking more in the Additive synthesis method. It’s much faster to delete what you don’t need from a template than it is to add what you do need. Love this approach. Rack states are all removable at the song level screen so less menu diving also saves time.

It’s probably very obvious to you all but I just realized that when you have a rack midi routed the way you want it on the song level, if you choose “Replace Rack” all your midi routes stay in tact but with the new sound. That’s a huge time saver!

I was asking about this feature and it turns out it’s already implemented! I didn’t know you could do this. I’m really excited to try it out and see if it works with the touchscreen. Wow! Cantabile is always a few steps ahead of me.

Current Question:
How to I ensure that a specific rack state does not change (like a default state)?

Scenario: If I’m adjusting the default template I can quickly save it as a new rack state to be used in a new song without having to worry that I’m messing with a rack state that is being used by other songs/song states?

Success Story:
I had a great rehearsal the other day using cantabile, I made a masteraudio rack specifically to be used with my Spacestation mid-side stereo amp. Cantabile has allowed me to process the mid and side information separately with Fabfilter EQ and light multi band compression with fabfilter MB to tame some of the brittle highs and boomy/boxy lows. Unbelievable sound! I was blown away by the clarity. This amp was hit or miss for me in the past using hardware gear. But now that I have finer control of the sound being send to the Spacestation I can hear the detail in my patches. I was blown away. The sound quality I experienced will make it hard for me to go back to harware rigs now. The Keycapes stuff sounded sooo details and cut through the mix in such a musical way. It felt like I had brought my actual Rhodes and Wurly + a giant processing rack to rehearsal with me.
In reality, this is the size of my new Rig:

As long as I have these two things, I can control the most important parameters of all my instruments. I can use any midi controller on the road. (Overweight luggage fees and extra bag fees are insane now). We live in the future!

Please keep this thread going if you have anything to contribute. It’s a massive help. Things that seem obvious to the expert users will probably be the things that help me the most!


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From (experimental) build 3233 onwards, there’s a new feature where you can lock song and rack states by right-clicking on them in the list and choosing “Locked”. This will prevent Cantabile from saving the states automatically - they’ll only get saved if you explicitly save. You can also set a rack/song-wide policy for whether or not you should be prompted to save in File->Rack/Song Options.

Here’s Brad’s blog entry with more detail about it.

If you want to be super-safe about it, you can also just find the rack/song file on disk, go to Properties, and set it read-only. This is probably a good thing to do for template songs.

The other thing you can do to avoid modifying states you’re using in other songs is to group your rack states into “Generic” and “Song” states. Generic ones are just generally usable ones, and when you find one you want to use in a song, immediately save the state in your “Song” states grouping, and make any modifications there. That way you know no other song is using it. I do this for all my songs - they all use song-specific rack states just in case I want to make a tweak to the sound, without affecting other songs. I partition the rack states by simply adding a dummy rack state called “========” as a separator.



@Neil_Durant are you using the experimental build for performances? I would like to start using these new features.

I stayed with the stable build for my show last week, and then we have a break before the next ones, so I upgraded to the experimental one. Having played with the experimental build quite a lot at home, it feels solid - if I had another gig now I’d use the build live without any qualms.