Comparison of Sibelius and Cakewalk SONAR
I will try to contrast these two software packages, Sibelius and SONAR, so that you can understand the strengths and limitations of each. Sibelius is an excellent music notation program with an OK MIDI sequencing feature.
As many of you have already heard, the late, great Ray Charles showed us how he has learned to use Sibelius to print out his own creative ideas. At a special event sponsored by Dancing Dots at the CSUN Technology and Persons with Disabilities conference in Los Angeles last month, Ray charted out 32 measures of an original jazz waltz scored for four saxes and a rhythm section. We printed out his charts and assembled the band. Ray told the sighted players something like: "Now, if I made any mistakes, *play* the mistakes!" He counted it off, the guys played it and it was perfect! It was, without question, an historic moment and, judging from the hugely enthusiastic response from the audience (not to mention the highly positive reaction from yours truly) we all knew we had witnessed a genuine bit of history.
Now, what about SONAR?
Cakewalk SONAR (which could have been called Cakewalk Pro Audio 10) is an excellent audio and MIDI sequencing software with a very useful notation function. It's designers conceived it as a tool to produce sound recordings and realized that many of their customers might appreciate an integrated notation feature. The notation feature does have certain limitations though. I'd say it is optimized to prepare lead sheets for popular songs or jazz tunes. For example, you can enter lyrics and chord symbols but you can not print standard dynamic marks, accents or crescendo marks. Actually, our CakeTalking scripts extend Cakewalk's basic notation feature to show what we call "virtual" music symbols. These are text versions of the standard music annotations. For instance, a literary period is inserted in the score to represent a staccato mark. Not ideal, but useful.
Dancing Dots has customers who only use Cakewalk SONAR to prepare and print out their music theory assignments. We have others who only use Sonar to produce quality demos of their own compositions and arrangements, sometimes only using the MIDI instruments on their PC's soundcard, sometimes mixing in audio recorded with a microphone attached to that soundcard. Among our customers, we have a growing number of blind audio professionals who use Sonar to generate a substantial chunk of their daily bread! They can charge clients a handsome hourly rate for their services as recording engineers, composers/arrangers and record producer.
Some of our customers want both Sonar and Sibelius. Some know exactly what they wish to notate and how to do so. Those people want Sibelius. Some people like to compose by improvising at the keyboard and these musicians may or may not naturally think in terms of notation. That is, they can hear what they want in their mind's ear and they know how to play it on a MIDI musical keyboard. But they may not know how these ideas are notated (that is, in whole, half or quarter notes or whatever these rhythms may be called in your country (hemi-demi-semi-notes (grin!)). Anyway, those people would prefer to work in Sonar and either use SONAR's notation feature to print a useful, if not so professional-looking, version of their creative musical ideas. Or, they may export their completed composition to Sibelius in the form of a MIDI file, apply some minor revisions (such as correcting enharmonic spelling of notes) and print with Sibelius to produce an edition that looks just like the notation found on commercially released sheet music.
So, to summarize, if your main interest is to produce commercial quality notation of your musical ideas and you are comfortable thinking in terms of notation symbols, Sibelius with Sibelius Speaking is your best choice. If you only want to create sound recordings of your musical ideas and perhaps print a quick chart of your song,, Cakewalk SONAR is for you. If you want to do all of the above, you'll want to use both or acquire one or the other and live with each program's respective limitations in regard to printing music notation or creating sound recordings.