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Relocating meter/key changes in Cakewalk


Cakewalk Pro Audio v. 6 update: The meter/key change problems remain as in earlier versions, though they are acknowledged in the manual (see page 309)

v. 7 and 8 Update: at long last, Cakewalk has a command to insert measures or time. But it is a lame duck. It only inserts 4/4 measures! And if you ask it to insert 360 ticks at 120 timebase, it still inserts a 4/4 measure!

John S. Allen

The handling of meter/key changes in Cakewalk is confusing and, to be blunt about it, incorrect. When you change a meter/key setting, later ones move to different places in the music. You also may move meter/key changes unintentionally while editing.

I'll describe the problem and show you how to put the meter/key changes back where you wanted them.

Understanding the problem

Here's how Cakewalk moves meter/key changes on you. Let's start with a 4-measure piece of music that has a meter/key change at measure 3.

First 2 measures 4/4, key of G; remaining measures 3/4, key of C (1.3 KB GIF)

Now, I change the meter at the beginning from 4/4 to 2/4. The meter/key change should now occur after four measures. Instead, it still occurs after two measures, even though these measures are only half as long as they were before.

First 2 measures 2/4, key of G; remaining measures 3/4, key of C (1.2 KB GIF)

I change the meter and key at the start of the piece so they are the same as at measure 3. The meter/key change at measure 3 is no longer needed, and it disappears from view. Good enough.

Entire piece in 3/4, key of G (1.0 KB GIF)

But -- after I change the meter and key at the start of the piece once more, the "ghost" meter/key change reappears, in yet another place. The later meter/key change was only inactivated rather than deleted.

First 2 measures in 5/4, key of G, remaining measures in 3/4, key of C (1.2 KB GIF)

As these examples show, meter/key changes in Cakewalk 5.0 (and earlier versions) are linked to the number of measures, regardless of how long the measures are. Meter/key view (2.3 KB GIF)Changing the meter moves all of the later meter/key changes, leaving notation in the wrong key and bar lines in the wrong place. "Ghost" meter/key changes (repeating the most recent change) can lurk unseen, only to reappear later in new places. (The Meter/Key View, shown here as in the first notated example above, lets you see all of the meter/key changes at once, even the "ghosts," and is more informative than the "Meter/Key Change" command in the Insert menu.)

Effects of deleting meter/key changes

When you delete a meter/key change in the Meter/Key View, remaining meter/key changes will be located (have you guessed?) at the same measure number rather than at the same place in the music.

When you select a Meter/Key setting for deletion in Meter/Key View, the section it affects will be selected -- sometimes the notes as shown, sometimes the Ruler in Track View. The Now line will move to the meter/key change location as shown. Here, the meter/key change at measure 2 is ready for deletion.

Meter/key setting prepared for deletion (1.4 KB GIF)

Now, after the deletion, the later meter/key change is at the same measure number, but it is at a different place in the music.

Same number of measures, different length after deletion (1.2 KB GIF)

The strange behavior of meter/key changes in Cakewalk is completely at odds with normal musical practice. It causes lots of trouble and confusion. It is a bug. Bug (.3 KB GIF)A comparable example in word processing would be if paragraph breaks moved tetween different words because you changed font sizes.

Getting control over meter/key changes

Here's how to move the meter/key settings back where you want them.

First, here's a quick trick. If deletion of a meter/key setting will make the following measures longer, you can delete the meter/key change and the excess measures in one step by using the Delete command. Select the meter/key change followed by the number of measures you need to delete, and in the dialog box, check only "meter/key changes" and "delete hole," as shown in the illustration below.

But most of the time, you can't use this trick. If you need to move only one or two meter/key changes, you could use the Meter/Key View to move them one at a time. Cut dialog box with "meter/key changes,"  "delete hole" and "align to measures" checked (3 KB GIF)If your editing has displaced many later meter/key changes, it is more practical to delete or insert meter/key data to move all of the later meter/key changes at the same time. Instructions follow. I will assume that you have a good basic understanding of how to use basic Cakewalk editing functions.

To decrease the number of measures before the next meter/key change:

Start by inserting your new meter/key setting twice -- at the beginning of the section where it belongs, and as a dummy, one measure later. In the Ruler in Track View, select the dummy meter/key setting (so the Meter/Key checkbox won't be grayed out) followed by as many measures as you need to delete to make the next meter/key setting come out in the right place. Delete only "Meter/key Changes" as shown in the Delete dialog box (left). This deletes the meter/key change along with as many meter/key placeholding measures as you have selected. If, after your deletion, the next meter/key change comes out on the wrong beat, then make additional adjustments as needed.

To increase the number of measures before the next meter/key change

There are two steps to this procedure. First, make the meter/key change you have planned. Then, using the ruler in Track View, select and copy as many measures as you need to add, starting at the meter/key change you just inserted. Check the "Meter/Key Changes" checkbox in the Copy dialog box. Don't check any of the other checkboxes.

Paste, selecting only "Align to Measures," "Slide Over Old..." and "Meter/Key Changes" in the Advanced Paste dialog box as shown below.

Paste dialog box for adding measures to key/meter section (7 KB GIF)

This procedure will move all of the later meter/key changes back, and also insert a dummy meter/key change, which you may remove in Meter/Key View. You may have to change the meter of the final measure before the next meter/key change or make another adjustment, if the number of beats does not come out right.

The Cakewalk Pro Audio v.6 manual (p. 309) suggests sliding over all the musical material, rather than moving the meter/key changes. Sliding over the musical material may be easier if you are only adding empty measures in a new time signature. It is not what you want to do if you are changing the time signature of existing material.

How meter/key changes ought to work

How should meter/key changes be handled to avoid the difficulties I've described? First of all, they should be tied to locations in the music -- like the tempo map in Cakewalk -- not to measure numbers. When you add, change or delete a meter/key setting, you want all of the following meter/key settings to stay in the same relationship to musical content.

Software should be able, for example, to replace 2 measures of 4/4 time with 4 measures of 2/4 time and leave later meter and key changes exactly where they were. That's what should have happened in my second notated example at the beginning of this article.

If the number of measures does not come out even, the software could just leave the last measure before the next meter/key change in its own time signature, for you to edit later. A fancier approach would do this and then take you to the problem spot for you to edit.

There is not logical problem with software's solving the meter/key problem as there is, for example, with correct note spelling. All that is needed is for programmers to understand how musical notation is supposed to work, and to make that the model for their software.

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Contents 1997 John S. Allen
except Cakewalk dialog boxes: fair use.

Last revised March 14, 2003