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This is the first book on the market that deals exclusively with Cakewalk’s SONAR 3. You can find other Cakewalk-related and generic books about using computers to create and record music that might provide a small amount of information about SONAR 3, but none of them provides complete coverage of the product. Of course, SONAR 3 comes with an excellent manual, but like most other manuals, it is meant only as a feature guide.

Instead of simply describing the features of the program and how they work, I’m going to dig deep down into the software and show you exactly how to use the product with step-by-step examples and exercises that will help make your composing and recording sessions run more smoothly. I’ll explain all of the features available, and I’ll do it in a manner you can understand and use right away.

So why should you listen to me? Well, I’ve been using SONAR (and its predecessor, Pro Audio) for many years. I’ve written three Cakewalk-related books before this one—Cakewalk Power!, Sonar Power! and Sonar 2 Power!. I’ve also written about Cakewalk products in numerous review articles for magazines such as Electronic Musician, Computer Music, and Future Music. In addition, I’ve been working with the people at Cakewalk for quite some time now, learning all there is to know about SONAR 3, as well as testing the product during the beta process. And the people at Cakewalk have helped me develop much of the information in this book, making sure that everything is “officially” technically accurate. How’s that for a seal of approval? Suffice it to say, I know my way around the product, and now I would like to share that knowledge with you.

I’m going to assume that SONAR 3 is installed on your computer and that you know how to start the program. In addition, you should have at least skimmed through the manual that comes with the software, and you should have all your external audio and MIDI gear set up already. I’m also going to assume you know how to use your mouse for clicking, dragging, double-clicking, right-clicking, and so on. You also should know how to work with basic Windows features such as Windows Explorer and the Windows Control Panel. And you should have access to the World Wide Web—or perhaps have a friend who does. Otherwise, all you need is a strong interest in learning how to get the most out of SONAR 3. Just leave the rest up to me, and I promise you’ll be working with SONAR 3 like you never have before. You might even have some fun with it, too.

How This Book Is Organized

You’ll find that although I’ve tried to avoid overlapping content between this book and the manual that comes with SONAR 3, in some instances this overlap just can’t be avoided. I want to be sure to help you understand all the important features of the program, and doing so means including some basic explanations. For the most part, though, the information included in this book is more “how to” than “this feature does so-and-so.”

Chapter 1, “MIDI and Digital Audio Basics,” and Chapter 2, “Getting Started with SONAR 3,” provide an introduction to computer music and the software. These chapters explain the importance of registration and how to find help, as well as the major features and more obscure parts of the software, and how they work together.

Chapter 3, “Customizing SONAR,” shows you how to make SONAR 3 work the way you want it to. This chapter explains program preferences and workspace customization, as well as how to find the optimal settings for MIDI and audio functionality.

In Chapter 4, “Working with Projects,” you’ll learn how to work with projects. This chapter includes step-by-step instructions for opening, closing, and saving existing projects. You’ll also learn how to create new projects and make your own project templates.

Chapter 5, “Getting Around in SONAR 3,” and Chapter 6, “Recording and Playback,” describe how to navigate within SONAR 3 and how to record and play back your projects. You’ll find instructions on how to record and play MIDI as well as audio, and you’ll learn about recording multiple tracks at once. I’ll explain the importance of the Now time and show you how to use the Go menu, search, and markers, as well as the zoom features. After you read these chapters, you’ll make your way through SONAR 3 like a pro.

In Chapter 7, “Editing Basics,” and Chapter 8, “Exploring the Editing Tools,” you’re ready to dive into editing. First I’ll explain the basics to you, including tracks and clips, the Event Editor, and Piano Roll. Then you can investigate the editing tools in more detail.

Chapter 9, “Composing with Loops,” shows you how to use the looping features and Loop Construction view found in SONAR 3. Using these features, you can compose songs using nothing more than audio sample loops. The looping features add functionality to SONAR 3 similar to what you would find in Sony’s ACID software.

Similar to the VST synth features that you find in Steinberg’s Cubase software, SONAR 3 gives you access to virtual synthesizer plug-ins. These plug-ins let you compose music with MIDI using software-based synthesizers rather than the synth in your sound card or your external MIDI keyboard. Chapter 10, “Software Synthesis,” explores these features.

Chapter 11, “Exploring Effects” explains one of my favorite parts of SONAR 3. The things you can do with these tools are amazing. I’ll cover both the MIDI and audio effects, and I’ll show you how to use them in offline and real-time situations. I’ll even share some cool presets I’ve developed so you can use them in your own recording projects.

Chapter 12, “Mixing It Down,” takes a look at mixing. I know that mixing music via software can be confusing sometimes. Nothing beats being able to just grab a fader on a hardware-based mixer, but after you read this chapter, you might find that with all the functionality SONAR 3 provides, mixing is actually easier, and you have more control when you’re using an onscreen software mixer.

I’ve received many questions about SONAR’s capabilities in terms of music notation, so that’s the topic I’ll cover in Chapter 13, “Making Sheet Music.” I’ll explain all the tools you have at your disposal, as well as what you can and cannot do. Although SONAR 3 doesn’t provide full-fledged music notation features, you might be surprised at what you find here.

Chapter 14, “Studio Control with StudioWare and Sysx,” Chapter 15, “CAL 101,” and Chapter 16, “Advanced CAL Techniques,” jump into some of the more complicated features that SONAR 3 offers. Don’t worry if you think StudioWare and CAL are out of your reach as a beginning user. Actually, you can use these features in plenty of ways even if you decide not to explore them fully.

Finally, in Chapter 17, “Taking Your SONAR 3 Project to CD,” I’ll show you how to prepare your SONAR 3 project and burn it onto CD.

My hope is that by reading this book, you will learn how to master SONAR 3. If along the way you have a little fun while you’re at it, that’s all the better.

Conventions Used in This Book

As you begin to read, you’ll see that most of the information in this book is solid and useful. It contains very little fluff. I won’t bore you with unrelated anecdotes or repetitious data. But to help guide you through all this material, I’ll use several different conventions that highlight specific types of information you should keep an eye out for.



Tips are extra information that you should know related to the topic being discussed. In some cases they include personal experiences and/or specific techniques not covered elsewhere.



Cautions highlight actions or commands that can make irreversible changes to your files or potentially cause problems in the future. Read them carefully because they might contain important information that can make the difference between keeping your files, software, and hardware safe and losing a huge amount of work.



Sometimes you might like to know (but don’t necessarily need to know) certain points about the current topic. Notes provide additional material to help you avoid problems or to shed light on a feature or technology, and they also offer related advice.

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