It's a Cakewalk

Streamline your sessions with these work-arounds for Cakewalk Sonar 5.

Having worked with Cakewalk Sonar on a daily basis for a number of years, I know how to use the program to get the job done. Nevertheless, I still find myself discovering new ways of doing things, and I'm always on the lookout for ways to streamline my sessions. The following are some of my favorite tips and work-arounds for increasing productivity while using Sonar 5.

I constantly use Sonar's often-overlooked locked-views feature. By default, Sonar allows only one instance of a view to be open, but if you lock a view by clicking on the small lock icon on the right side of the view's title bar, you can then open another instance of that view. Holding down the Control key on your computer keyboard while choosing the view from the View menu automatically locks it as it opens. For example, you can edit two different MIDI tracks in the Piano Roll view without having to deal with overlapping notes by opening a separate instance of the Piano Roll view for each track.

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FIG 1: You can tab a view by clicking the upper-left corner of the view''s window and choosing Enable Tabbed from the menu.

Loops and Lyrics

I usually open a separate instance of the Lyrics view for each of my audio tracks. Normally, you would use the Lyrics view to enter song lyrics for your MIDI tracks, and then print them with the Staff view. But you can also enter text in the Lyrics view of an audio track, and that doesn't interfere with the Staff view or printing functions. I use the Lyrics view to make notes about each audio track, such as how it was recorded and edited. Although the Description box in Track Properties can also be used for tracking notes, using locked Lyrics views instead keeps those notes constantly visible.

Locking the Loop Construction view is also very useful because you can tweak clips simultaneously on several tracks. For example, if you have a bass clip, a guitar clip, and a drum clip on three separate tracks but at the same location along the timeline, you can see the relationship between the clips as you tweak. Once you've opened all three Loop Construction views and positioned them for easy access, click on the Preview Loop button in each instance, and the three clips will play in sync. As playback loops, you can tweak the volume, panning, and pitch of the audio data and listen to the changes in real time.

What's the Tab?

Having a large number of windows open can make working with the Sonar interface more cumbersome, but thanks to Sonar 5's new Tabbed views, you can easily organize those windows. To tab a view, click on the upper-left corner of the view's window and choose Enable Tabbed from the menu (see Fig. 1). The view is then docked in the lower-right area of the Track view and can be accessed by clicking on the appropriate tab. A quick way to tab all open views is to choose Enable Tabbing For Open Views from the View menu.

Tabbed views are also useful when you need frequent access to a particular view. For example, I like to keep the Markers view open and docked in the Track view at all times during a project. That allows me to easily navigate the entire project by clicking on any marker name. It also makes editing easier because you can make data selections by selecting markers in the Markers view.

Envelopes, Envelopes, Envelopes

Envelopes are one of the most important features of any sequencer. You can use them to automate volume and panning, effects settings, and even software-synth parameters. I use envelopes in every project for precise mixing and sonic control. Unfortunately, there are some situations in which working with envelopes in Sonar can be a bit challenging, so here are some time-saving work-arounds.

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FIG 2: Using the Key Bindings dialog box, you can create special keyboard shortcuts that allow you to create volume and pan envelopes for multiple tracks.

I rarely add envelopes to tracks during the recording phase of a project. When it comes time to edit and mix, however, every track gets at least one envelope, and adding them one at a time to multiple tracks can be tedious. Fortunately, for volume and pan, you can add envelopes to multiple tracks with one key command.

To do that, you need to set up two new key bindings. Choose Key Bindings from the Options menu, and in the Key Bindings dialog box make sure that Global Bindings is selected on the Bind Context drop-down menu. Next, in the Function pane, scroll down the list until you find the Create Volume Envelope and Create Pan Envelope functions, and create key bindings for each function. I use Control + Shift + V for the Create Volume Envelope function and Control + Shift + P for the Create Pan Envelope function (see Fig. 2). Now you can add volume or pan envelopes to multiple tracks by selecting the desired tracks and pressing the appropriate key binding.

Or Not

Envelopes can pose a problem in Sonar when you audition your tracks because Sonar has no way of disabling envelopes. Once you add an envelope to a track, it is always active unless you delete it. You can disable all the envelopes in your entire project using the Enable/Disable Automation Playback button in the Automation toolbar. But for those times when you want to disable a single envelope on a track or multiple envelopes on a single track, you have to use a work-around.

With a single envelope, you can delete the envelope, and then undo the delete when you're finished auditioning. But that prevents you from making other edits, because you undo any subsequent edits when you undo the envelope deletion.

Instead of deleting the envelope, you can reassign it. For example, you can temporarily reassign a volume envelope to some MIDI Control Change message that is not being used, which effectively disables the envelope. To do that, right-click on the envelope and choose MIDI from the Assign Envelope submenu. In the MIDI Envelope dialog box, choose an unused MIDI message type and value. When you want to enable the envelope, reassign it to its original function.

With multiple envelopes, it's too easy to make a mistake when deleting or reassigning envelopes. A better alternative is to clone the track by selecting the track and choosing Clone from the Tracks menu. In the Clone Tracks dialog box, make sure that all the options have check marks except for Link To Original Clips. Set the Repetitions parameter to 1 and set the Starting Track to one number higher than your selected track. Sonar will then place an exact copy directly beneath the original.

Next, select the cloned track and choose Delete from the Edit menu. Ensure that only the Track/Bus Automation and Clip Automation boxes are checked in the Delete dialog box, and then click on OK. You can now use the Track Mute buttons to alternate between the tracks with and without automation.

Where's That File?

You can save a lot of time by organizing your Sonar project files. I like to save my projects using the per-project audio folders option. That places a project file along with its associated audio files in their own folder. The Sonar bundle format is another option, but if the file becomes corrupt, your project is lost.

I store my project folders on a second hard drive to improve Sonar's recording and playback performance, and absolutely nothing else goes on that drive. After every session, I back up my projects on a third, external USB or FireWire drive. Finally, for archival purposes, I store the project as a Sonar project and in OMF format on a CD or a DVD. OMF format allows me to open it in some other application in the future.

I hope these tips from my studio notebook prove helpful in streamlining your Sonar sessions. If you have tips you'd like to share with other Sonar users, drop by my discussion forum at

Scott R. Garrigus is the author of the Sonar Power book series and the publisher of the “DigiFreq” music-technology newsletter. Find more information