Studio InstrumentsCakewalk has a new Studio Instruments program that is just plain fun to use and a steal at $50. You can create rhythm sections using four instruments or highlight any one of them to go with rhythm sections from the others. The program works with Windows XP and Macintosh, and is compatible with just about every basic synthesizer program made, including Apple’s popular Garage Band.

All this stuff looks pretty geeky to beginners. That’s because there’s a learning curve, and it all takes time, even for Studio Instruments, which is aimed at consumers. There’s almost no help in the manual and none in the program itself. The Cakewalk.com Web site sells books on its synthesizer programs, and we found some free tutorials on YouTube.com. They are definitely worth listening to, and the latest version of Real Player for Windows lets you download them.

Cakewalk is the No. 1 name in music software, and you can get programs at all levels. If you want to move to professional level, Sonar Home Studio 6 XL sells for $209, also from Cakewalk.com. Earlier versions of Sonar sell for much less, and they’re all pretty great. You can re-create a whole orchestra, and you can play your compositions alone or add them as soundtracks to videos.

Most of the music you hear today is done with a program like this — some of it with this very program. You can download your own “wave” files, including sampled sounds like bells, gun shots or dog barks, and mix and match the tracks, as they say. Afterward, Sonar Studio 6 can even print out the sheet music.

A good MIDI keyboard is a must with synthesizer software, but even the ones that sell for less than $100 can work musical magic. We recall Paul McCartney answering an interviewer’s question about this one time and saying the cheapest keyboard out there now was better than anything the Beatles ever had.


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