Cakewalk. (sequencer) (Evaluation)
by Tom Campbell
If you buy a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) instrument and hardware interface for your PC, Cakewalk is probably the software you'll buy with it. Being to MIDI what WordPerfect is to word processing, Cakewalk leads with good reason.
You need a sequencer between your MIDI equipment and PC. Instead of recording the actual sounds your instrument produces, a sequencer memorizes the commands required to reproduce your music--switch to instrument number 46, play a note with a specified pitch and duration, turn on the sustain pedal, and so on. A sequencer stores songs on your disk, just like a word processor saves document files. Cakewalk does these things well.
You can enter music in any of three ways. You can simply play with Record on and store your song exactly as you play it. You can enter notes one at a time; this helps if you don't have the technical facility to play a particular part, but it does impart a mechanical sound to the music.
If you know how to read music but haven't used a sequencer before, you'll be surprised to note that Cakewalk, like almost every other sequencer, doesn't have a facility to allow you to enter notes on a traditional staff. Instead, it employs a popular "piano-roll" notation style that takes some getting used to. You can also use the Step Record mode to enter music, in which you enter a long series of notes or chords of equal duration (say, quarters or sixteenths) by playing them at your own speed; Cakewalk normalizes the speed later.
You can save songs either as standard MIDI files or in the richer Cakewalk format, which includes such niceties as descriptions for each instrument, multiple MIDI ports (with certain MIDI cards), and even free-form text created with Cakewalk's built-in editor.
The manual contains a short but cogent tutorial, a complete reference, and--miracle of miracles--a complete list of features added or corrected since the previous release. Its sections on mouse terminology and troubleshooting, the user interface (a slick, standard menu system in text mode), and decent online help make MIDI work easy on the beginner. Context-sensitive help can prove useful as well, though you'll notice a lag between the time you press F1 and the time you receive help.
Cakewalk takes a while to learn if you've never used a sequencer, yet it's probably the most powerful and easiest to learn of any on the market. You'll grow to love the numerous keyboard shortcuts and the well-integrated mouse supports. Best among the recent improvements: You can change just about anything while playing your music. Cakewalk runs several different tasks at a time internally, so you can adjust the tempo, use the text editor, and even save a file while playing your song.
Tech support was tested over a one-year period and found to be speedy, courteous, and highly knowledgeable. Cakewalk is a feature-rich program and deserves its place at the top of the mountain; I've barely touched on its many advanced capabilities. Suffice it to say that if you're a serious musician, you can't go wrong with Cakewalk.