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Need For Speed

Sonar Tips & Techniques By Craig Anderton
Published January 2015

Become a Sonar ninja with these time-saving tips.

Sonar users frequently mention workflow as one of its best attributes, but there are sometimes multiple ways to accomplish similar tasks. If you learn some of these crucial shortcuts and design philosophies, you can accelerate your workflow even further.

Take the Multidock, for example. Compared to pre-X-series versions of Sonar, the Multidock (which can collapse to a thin strip) greatly reduces the need to open and close windows. You can dock anything, from views, like the Console, Piano Roll, and Step Sequencer; to individual plug-ins and soft synths, each with their own tab. To dock a window, drag it into the Multidock or click on the button in a window’s upper-left corner and select ‘Dock in Multidock’.

Choose a docked window by clicking on its tab; the dock expands if it had been collapsed. When expanded, the dock has a splitter bar at the top so the docked window doesn’t have to take up the entire track view. For example, I often set it just high enough to leave the time ruler visible so it’s easy to navigate around a project. However, two exceptionally helpful toggle shortcuts are D, which collapses or expands the dock, and Shift+D, which toggles between the dock taking up the entire track view or its previously selected height. The D shortcut is ideal for toggling between Console and Track views.

Lock the contents of multiple views in the dock, and you can step through them without having to open and close windows.Lock the contents of multiple views in the dock, and you can step through them without having to open and close windows.Also useful is the ability to ‘lock’ a docked window. For example, in the Piano Roll View, as you choose different MIDI tracks the PRV will show the currently selected track. However, if you dock the PRV, right-click on its dock tab, then choose Lock Contents, then that view will remain in the dock. When you double-click on another MIDI clip, it will also dock but have its own tab. (To undock a window, click on its tab and drag out of the dock.) To step through the tabs, hold down Alt+Ctrl and use the left/right arrow keys.

Finally, you can undock the entire multidock. If you work with two screens, you may want to keep track view in one and switch between the Console and other views in the other.

Keys To Success

Sonar’s keyboard shortcuts are extremely flexible — in fact, too flexible for those who hit the ‘O’ key accidentally, find themselves in envelope offset mode, and start adjusting faders as they normally do. Personally, I like single-key shortcuts, but if you don’t, you can disable them: choose Edit / Preferences / Keyboard Shortcuts. Then type ‘none’ in the Search field, and ‘Edit/Select/None’ appears in the right-hand pane. Click on it, and in the left pane, click on the shortcut you want to disable. Click on Bind, then Apply, then Close.

The sheer number of potential shortcuts can be daunting, but to find out what a particular key combination does, click on ‘Locate Key’ and type the key combination. If it displays as bold type in the left pane, then it’s already assigned to the function shown underneath the pane, but if not, it’s available for assignment. To find a function you want to control, narrow your search with the Area drop-down menu, then type the function’s name into the Search field.

A few reserved shortcuts can’t be changed (like Space Bar, and shortcuts involving the Pause key) but anything else can be assigned, re-assigned, or disabled. (There are reports that you can’t assign all shortcuts to None, but if so, I haven’t reached that limit.) You can also export a custom shortcut set for later import.

Finally, don’t overlook assigning shortcuts to MIDI keys. A mini-keyboard like Korg’s Nanokey 2 makes a cool remote — simply transpose it high enough (or low enough) to cover notes you don’t use in normal playing.

Zoom With A View

A common DAW function is zooming in and out, and Sonar has many options apart from clicking the ‘+’ and ‘-’ buttons next to the scroll bars — like the ‘spinner’ between these two buttons, which zooms in and out while keeping the view centred on the Now time. Other useful zooming procedures relate to the time ruler. Hover the cursor over the top half of the Track View time ruler, and the cursor turns into a magnifying glass; hold down the left mouse button and drag down to zoom in horizontally, or up to zoom out. This time, the zoom centres around where you clicked, not the Now time. Holding down the right mouse button provides vertical zooming. To zoom the entire project in or out horizontally to fit within the Track View, double-click with the magnifying glass in the top half of the time ruler.

If you keep hitting a  default shortcut accidentally, you can assign it to select nothing.If you keep hitting a default shortcut accidentally, you can assign it to select nothing.Even better, you can undo and redo zooms. Place the cursor in a space within the track view, then while holding down the right mouse button, click the left mouse button to undo the zoom. To redo zoom, hold down the left mouse button and click the right mouse button.

Speaking of the mouse, in Track View choose Options / Mouse Wheel Zoom Options to set up the various zooming parameters, like whether you want to zoom in at the Now Time or the cursor when using the mouse’s scroll wheel. There’s an option to scroll horizontally and vertically simultaneously, but I prefer to untick it for independent control over horizontal and vertical zoom. Hold Alt to zoom vertically with the mouse scroll wheel, and Alt+Ctrl to zoom horizontally.

If you choose to zoom horizontally and vertically simultaneously, then hold Alt while scrolling to zoom in or out. For any mouse scroll zoom, holding down Shift increases the scrolling speed.

On My Level

You’re setting up for a mix, and have your basic levels set just right. So now you start experimenting with the levels, and... Oops! You can’t remember what some of the initial settings were. Double-clicking on a control returns it to its default value, but more importantly, you can customise the default value for a channel’s volume, pan, gain, aux send, and aux pan controls. Set the control to the desired default value, right-click on the control, and for Value, choose ‘Set Snap-To = Current’. Now, whenever you double-click on the control, it returns to the new default value. Once there’s a basic mix level set up, I always set custom defaults for all the faders.

You can set separate defaults for channel faders in the Console View, Inspector, and Track View. Double-clicking on any of these chooses the respective default.You can set separate defaults for channel faders in the Console View, Inspector, and Track View. Double-clicking on any of these chooses the respective default.However, note that the Inspector, Console, and Track views can have different defaults. This is incredibly helpful when automating a mix, because (for example) you can have one guitar level for solos, one for rhythm guitar parts, and another for when the guitar accompanies a vocal. This is almost like real-time snapshot automation, as selected by a quick double-click. Note that when you set a fader to its default, the two other faders follow but their default values remain as you set them.

Hiding To Nothing

In synth folder tracks, the Audio, MIDI, Synths and Hidden boxes act as show/hide buttons that affect both the console and track views. So if multiple MIDI tracks are driving drums (say you have a track for each drum), you can de-clutter the console or track view easily by clicking the MIDI button. This is also simpler than hiding individual MIDI tracks in console view once the part is done and you want to work solely on the audio. Furthermore, hiding/showing tracks preserves the height in track view and strip width in console view, so when you want to show the MIDI again, everything is as you left it.

For virtual instruments I set up the audio, MIDI, and synth tracks as desired for editing, then click the number below the Hidden button to make them go away until needed again. This speeds up workflow compared to resizing and minimising the individual tracks in the folder. Another track folder feature is the field below the show/hide buttons: if you double-click in it, it becomes a notepad that holds up to 1024 characters.


Many Sonar operations let you accomplish multiple tasks in one go. For example, the Insert / Multiple Tracks option: with one operation you can insert as many audio and MIDI tracks as you want — simply choose the audio tracks’ common destination (typically the master bus for audio) and include a send if desired. For MIDI tracks, choose the common MIDI port (ie. instrument) and channel.

Selected Track Inputs is another time-saver. I have my main guitar plugged into a specific interface input, and typically record several tracks with it. By choosing Selected Track Inputs on those tracks, I can Ctrl+click on them and assign them all to the guitar input. I also use this trick when recording multiple vocal tracks.

Finally, Paste Special allows you to paste audio multiple consecutive times. You can specify the number of repetitions you want, and also paste clips to a different track, a new track, or paste clips from multiple tracks into one track.

Macro Macro Man

AutoHotKey is a free macro creation programme, available to download from It is ideal for going beyond Sonar’s included keyboard shortcuts. Although it takes some coding chops, Sonar user extraordinaire Steve Cook (aka ‘scook’ on the Cakewalk forums) contributes scripts from time to time that provide ingenious shortcut solutions.

Published January 2015

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