Arranging for the Pageantry Arts: The Writing Process

By in Arranging for the Pageantry Arts, Music Creation, Notation

Welcome back to my Sibelius blog for composers and arrangers in the world of the pageantry arts! In my previous blog, I discussed creating a customized template, and assigning sounds within it. For this entry, I’d like to share some of my thoughts during the early part of the writing process.

One of the first things that needs to be done when you’re writing for marching band, is inputting the material you’ll be “molding” into your arrangement. Some of the music you may write will be original, or in some instances there won’t be a score available so you’ll need to transcribe it off the recording, but most of the music will be arranged from a score or sheet music of some kind.

Before I begin inputting, I find myself following a process similar to this:


  • Go through the score while listening to the source recording and add time markings at every major rehearsal mark (this helps as you study the score and later reference dynamics/articulations/voicings).
  • Identify the specific sections you will need to input (you don’t want to input material you won’t use).
  • Within the sections you will be inputting, identify doublings, so you aren’t inputting unison lines multiple times.
  • Within the sections you will be inputting, identify chords when you can, so you can input chords at one time, versus one line, then another line, etc.


Once you’re ready to start inputting, I highly suggest the first thing you do is go through and indicate the different meters throughout your template. This will save you tons of time versus adding them WHILE you input the music. As I mentioned in my last blog, make sure you utilize the custom beaming as you indicate the time signatures, so as you input (and then arrange), your beaming will be as you want it.

Now that your meters are in, and your score is marked up, it’s time to get to work! I like to have the score in a place I don’t need to hold it, but can easily see the music. I prefer to have my hands free so I can 1) manipulate the computer keyboard and utilize all of my shortcuts, and 2) work on the midi input keyboard. By simultaneously doing both, you can really cutdown on the inputting time, and improve your workflow. If you simply input on the computer keyboard, you will definitely add time to your project.

One technique I use throughout my arranging process, especially after inputting, is the “explode” feature. Say you inputted a low brass section chorded in triads. You COULD then copy and paste to each staff, and then delete the individual notes you don’t want (click by click, or through the delete filter), but that would take forever. With the explode feature, simply copy the line as you would (command-c), select the segment on all 3 staves (picture 1), and then instead of using command-v to paste, utilize shift-command-v. This will bring up the “Arrange Styles” box, where you’ll select “explode” from the top of the options (picture 2). Click OK, and there you go (picture 3), an orchestrated section from a block chorded section on one staff.

A few notes about the “explode” feature… Invert the chords the way you want them before you explode, this really cuts down on work time. Also, if you are pasting to 3 staves, and there are a few chords with 4 or 5 notes, you may get some voice 1 and voice 2 sections once you explode.

As I get older, I have found my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, and catching meter changes isn’t as easy as it once was. SO, if you’d like to incorporate big time signatures into your scores, here’s a quick rundown on how to do so:

BIG Time Signatures:

It’ll take some work on your own to get these to look exactly how YOU want, but here are the basic steps:


  • In the ribbon, go to “Appearance”, and click on “Engraving Rules” (the shortcut for this is shift-command-e). From there, select “Time Signatures”, then select “Time Signatures (huge)”. Now select “edit text style”, and change the font to “Opus Big Time Std”, and the line spacing to 100%. You can also toy around with the “size in score” number, I like it around 30. Click OK and OK…
  • Still in “Appearance” go to “Design and Position” and click on the arrow near the bottom right (default positions). Make sure “Text Styles” is selected, then scroll down (or press “t” to skip down) and select “Time Signatures (huge)”. Here, try different numbers in the “vertical position relative to staff” boxes (make sure both of them are the same), I like it around 2 (negative numbers also work). Click OK…
  • Lastly, still in “Appearance”, select “System Object Positions”. Here, you can select WHICH staves you’d like the meter changes anchored to. I typically select Flute, A Sax, Trumpet, and my top low brass instrument. You can obviously find the combination that works best for you and your instrumentation (up to 5 total).


I hope you’ve found something in this entry useful that will help as you plug away through your writing season, and I’ll talk to you again soon. Now get back to work (more talking to myself)!

Express yourself with Sibelius

Create beautiful, captivating scores more quickly than ever before with the world’s best selling notation software.

John Meehan has been making mistakes with notation programs since the late 1980’s. John is the brass caption head and arranger for the 18 time D.C.I. world champion Blue Devils Drum & Bugle Corps, and lives in the Northern California Bay Area with his wife, 3 daughters, and 2 rescue dogs.