Sketching in Sibelius: Filling in the Details

By in Music Creation, Notation, Sketching in Sibelius

This is the second of four Sketching in Sibelius tutorials by John Hinchey, producer, arranger, composer and trombonist.

In part one of Sketching in Sibelius, I shared the reasons why I sketch and showed you how to use several of the powerful built-in features of Sibelius to setup your score for sketching. Now, in part two, I’ll show you how to fill in the details to create a clear and concise sketch.

A Note from the Producer

Welcome to my world. It would not be unusual to get an email from the producer that reads something like this:

“Hey John! The show is really shaping up! But between scenes 4 and 5, we need a 35 second bumper to cover a costume change for the dancers and a set change. We want short up tempo rock versions of the 1900’s song ‘Hello My Baby’ featuring the male soloist (tenor) and a vocal quartet SATB as backup. Flosse (the choreographer), wants 4 instrumental hits on the first bar, 3 bars of just drum set playing time, then once through the melody sung by soloist with punchy BGVs. Then we need 7 seconds of SFX to cover the curtain opening to reveal where the UFO has crashed into the 1920’s garden party and the dancers are now costumed as alien robots. On the last beat there needs to be a unison scream by the singers. And we need a rough of this asap for choreography rehearsals are tomorrow. YOU ROCK. Best, KC.”

Okay sure, no problem. So what are my known elements? The length in seconds, the melody, harmony, meter and rhythmic feel are all defined. I can also pretty quickly determine a key knowing I have a tenor male soloist. And, I can estimate a tempo based on “up tempo rock.” So go with what you know and dig in, the clock is ticking!

Using the sketch manuscript I set up in part one of this tutorial, I have filled in what I know. Let’s go down the list:

•   In bar 1, change “Style” to “Rock” quarter equals 152, that feels like a good rock tempo in 4/4
•   Bar one is 4 hits, then 3 bars of drums so 4 bar intro, then start the melody in bar 5
•   Looking at the melody, this should sing well in the key of F for a tenor so I added the key of F
•   And I input the melody and lyrics in the key of F on the Solo staff

Here is a Sibelius file of the roughed in sketch to give you an idea of the form:

So I have a rough idea of where I stand in relation to the requirements for the scene. I’m going to the Play > Video > Timecode and Duration > Timecode and will set it to “Above every bar” and Units “0.1 seconds” and for good measure “Duration at end of score.”

Sketching in Sibelius 7.5: Filling in the Details

As you can see by looking at the end of the score, I am 1.3 seconds too long. For some projects, this would be close enough, but l can get it closer. First, I’ll bump up the initial tempo to quarter equals 160, which gets me closer but still not quite there. Since the last 7 seconds are needed to cover the curtain opening, this is a good place to put in a ritard to dial in the timing exactly.

1.  Select bars 20 through 23 (blue passage selection) on the solo vocal staff
2.  Go to the Notations > Lines > Rit. and Accel. > Rit.
3.  Now you have a rit. with a dashed line, click on that line (it turns purple)
4.  Go to Home > Edit > Inspector, this opens the Inspector panel

You can now fine tune the ritard. I found that setting that ritard to bpm at 114 brings me right where I want to be. The scream falls at 35.5 seconds and I have 7 seconds between bars 20 and 24 for the SFX. Within a half second of 35 seconds, that will work!

For a more complete tutorial on using the properties panel to adjust rits and accels, see my blog post, Sibelius 7 Playback Tips: Tweaking ritard and accelerando lines.

Before we go any further, let’s fill in some other details we know. They are: the title, project name, artist (or client) and the date. This manuscript is setup with wild cards in those text boxes that refer back to the score information window. I can now quickly fill in this information by going to the File > Info.

For a great tutorial on wildcards see Philip Rothman’s blog post, Go Wild with Text Wildcards.

I have one last detail on the title page to share. I included a text box in the upper right corner using a text style I created called “Library Numbers.” I use this for either indexing a client’s library or scene numbering in projects. In this case, I’ll double click in the box and type “4A” as this bumper is in between scenes 4 and 5.

Adding Details

A sketch generally contains as many details as needed to get the point across. Here is a basic sketch for this scene that does that. The vocal parts are clearly written out and the sketch contains a bass line, comping pattern and cues. A competent piano player could sight read through this or I can export this as an audio file for the client.

Here is the Sibelius file with the completed sketch. Go to the parts window and open up the “Piano Vocal” part to see the part I will be sending to the client.

In bars 2 through 4, there is “drums only” playing time. To represent this:

1.  Go to Notations > Clef > Percussion > Percussion Clef. The cursor becomes loaded (turns blue), now click after beat one in the Sketch bass clef staff
2.  Input the drum pattern as you would in a drum part
3.  Next select the drum pattern in bars 2 through 4 (blue passage selection)
4.  On the Keypad, select the 2nd layout and press the enter key which turns the drum pattern to cue size notes and text

In bar 10, there is a mix of cue notes for the brass cue with normal sized notes for the chord pattern. There are several ways to do this but here is how I did it:

1.  Input the chord pattern normally in voice 1.
2.  Select the whole bar (blue passage selection) and type shift V, this swaps voice 1 and voice 2. The chord passage is now in voice 2.
3.  Click in the bar on beat 1, type N and type Alt+1 to input in voice 1. On the second Keypad layout, click on the Enter key for the cue notes.
4.  Now on Keypad layout 1, click on the 8th note and input the horn line using normal step-time entry method.

In bars 20 through 23, a representation of a synth riser SFX that will be used for the 7 second reveal of the new set.

•  Starting in bar 20, input whole notes of G3, D4, G4 and D5
•  Using the wavy line to connect the notes as shown
•  Select all 4 bars (blue passage selection) and go to the Notations > Noteheads > Type > Beat without stem; this will turn the note heads into diamonds.

For a quick, accurate method to attach lines between note heads, read my blog post, Sibelius: Yeah, there’s a plugin for that: Line Between Notes.

Well, I guess I’ll send this sketch and the audio file off to K.C., the producer, and Flosse and see what they think. Check back for Part 3 where I’ll show you how to use the resources within Sibelius  to quickly orchestrate this sketch into a full score.


Top image caption: This is the house band horn section for the 2014 Musician’s Hall Of Fame 2014 induction ceremony at rehearsals. Just playing trombone (no charts) for this but it was a blast!

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I am a producer, arranger, composer and trombonist based in Nashville Tennessee, with over 30 years of experience in the entertainment industry. For more information, please visit my website,, and for more Sibelius tips, visit “Notes On Notes” blog at
  • AndrevanHaren

    I was looking forward for part 2, thanks!

    • John Hinchey

      My thoughts on the drum patterns is, yes Drum pattern plugin does a good job, but it’s not going to give you the great custom drum part your arrangement deserves! Read some scores with good solid drum parts and sit down with a great drummer and find out what he needs to do his job. Also I highly recommend the book “Guide to Standardized Drumset Notation” by Norman Weinberg as an excellent reference. Learning to write good drum parts is no more difficult than good string writing on any other aspect of arranging. You just need to put in the time and effort.