Drum Set Notation in Sibelius Roundup

As a summary of my “Drum Set Notation in Sibelius” blogs, I’ve created this video demonstrating many of the techniques discussed over the 5-part series.

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Drum Set Notation in Sibelius: Part 5

Combination notation and cues

In this blog I’ll be covering two topics:

  1. Combination notation, where a bar is partially slash notation and partially notated with notes and rests
  2. Various methods of cueing in drum set parts

Note: I will recommend a couple of plugins in this post. You will find them both under File>Plug-ins>install plug-ins>Notes & Rests. If you need a refresher on installing plugins see my previous post in this series.


Combining full and slash notation

As you can see from this example above, sometimes you have bar that is fully notated for part of the bar and then goes to slashes for some reason—in this case a fill. One way to do this is to notate the bars as needed and then notate slashes by putting notes on the midline and changing the notehead. The snag is that you end up with this:

You’ve got rests in voice 2 that really need to be hidden. You could select each rest and hide them individually, but there is a faster way by using the plugin Hide Rests in Voice.

To start, select the part of the bars that you need to hide rests in (in this case beats 3 and 4 of the first bar and beats 1-3 of the second bar). Your selection should look like this:

That’s it, you’ve hidden the rests in voice 2 and those bars look great!

But as you may have guessed there is even a faster way. If you have slash notation bars already in the staff, select the number of slashes you need, in this case five. Now opt click the rest on beat 3 of the first measure in my example and the slashes will be pasted in with the rests in voice 2 already hidden.


Sometimes the simplest way to add a cue is a piece of text. I would recommend using technique text.

But for other situations, more information is required. With a help of a handy plugin and some builtin features in Sibelius, that is easy to do.


Cues for kicks

If you do any big band or pit band arranging you are probably familiar with the technique of cueing horn section figures in the drum set part for “kicks.”  The drummer reads the rhythms and creates a drum pattern to accent and support what is being played by the horns. The horn section rhythms appear above the top line of the staff as cue sized notes and rests along with slashes (beat no stem) on the mid line of the staff. It’s not difficult to create but it will take quite a few steps. With Drums Cues plugin you can achieve all of this in 2 steps.

Here’s an example of a trumpet staff and a drum set staff. The trumpet staff has the notes and rests that represent the phrase you want to show in the drum set part. Copy the trumpet phrase into the drum set part, using copy and paste or opt/click method.

Now run the Drum cues plugin. This great plugin allows you to choose, notehead style, slash notehead style, cues above on the top staff line or bottom staff line and more.  These are settings I use for a brass cue.

And the plugin creates this in the drum set part:

Cues for navigation

There are often situations where there is no conductor, or perhaps the conductor is also playing piano or it is just clearer to notate an instrumental or a vocal line into the drum set part to clarify the situation. For example, maybe the vocalist takes great liberties with the time of a phrase and your drummer really needs to know that the drums start time is right after the word “is.”  Sibelius makes this type of cueing pretty easy.

Let’s assume that you have the vocal part written on a separate staff on the score.

Select the vocal line you wish to use as a cue and use the keystroke Cmd C to copy.  Next click on the drum set staff where you want it to end up and go to Home>Clipboard>Paste>Paste as Cue or use the key stroke shown here:

And Sibelius creates the cue sized notes for you with text indicating which staff the cue originated on.

As you can see in my example above, I changed the text to read “vocal cue” and I moved the whole measure rest up out of the staff. There are several parameters you can setup for the paste as cue command. You will find them under the menu File>Preferences>Paste as Cue.

That wraps up my Drum Set Notation Sibelius | Ultimate tutorial series. I hope you found it useful—now go write some great drum set parts!

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Drum Set Notation in Sibelius: Part 4

Repeat bars, slash and rhythmic notation

In this blogpost I’ll take you through repeat bars and slash notation. As in previous posts, I’ll cover plugins and built-in features that will really speed up your workflow when creating drum set parts.


Repeat bars

Let’s face it, most drum set parts consist of a lot of repetition. The drums create that steady undercurrent that moves the piece along. If you want the drummer to play exactly the same pattern over and over, the best way is to use repeat bars.

It’s easy to do this in Sibelius | Ultimate. You simply select the bars you want to designate as repeat bars and press keypad “5”.

You can click on the symbol or on your numeric keypad type “1” for one bar repeat, “2” for bar repeat, or “4” for bar repeat. Music notation purists will tell you a four bar repeat is incorrect notation, but I’ve seen it come in handy many times in real world charts—especially arrangements for live performance.

If you look at the example above, you’ll see a number in parenthesis (2, 3, etc.) over the bars. This helps the drummer see at a glance how many times the figure is repeated.

The parameters of this feature are defined in the Engraving Ruleson the “Bar Rests” page. You can set your one bar repeats to be numbered every 1, 2, 3, 4, or 8th bar. For most drum charts it’s less cluttered to number the bar every four or eight bars.

Underneath the table are new options to this release that are now also present when you import a MIDI file and MusicXML file. These allow you to control the preview on the right hand side. For very large scores, importing can take a second or so for each assignment, so you can now untick “Generate Preview after every change”, and you will notice that the score preview is blurred out. Now each assignment is instant, and you can click “Generate Preview” to check on progress.

The other bonus with this type of notation in Sibelius | Ultimate is that it plays it back too. So, if you play your score the drum pattern will repeat the specified number of times.

Slash notation bars

Next on the list is slash notation. This type of notation is used when the arranger wants to let the drummer continue a pattern with the freedom to vary it, or when the arranger really doesn’t have an exact drum pattern in mind and is leaving all the details up to the drummer. In Sibelius | Ultimate, this type of notation is created by placing quarter notes on the midline of the staff and then changing the noteheads to “beat no stem.” This is easy enough to do, but not particularly efficient. But there is a faster way to fill 1 or 1000 bars quickly with this type of notation.

You will need to install the Fill selection with Slash Notes plugin from File>Plugins>Install>All plugins>Notes and Rests. With this plugin you can create as many bars of slash notation in as many bars you need in one move. The plugin works on other rhythm section parts as well and will put the slashes on the midline no matter the clef or key.

Once you’ve installed the plugin, select the bars you want to fill (blue box) and then go to the Plug-ins menu (or use your keyboard shortcut) and select the Fill selection with Slash Notes. This window will come up:

Click “OK” and you are done! If you have this plugin on a keyboard shortcut you can really fly through this type of notation in rhythm parts. For this situation the defaults are just fine, but you can explore other plugin options for other situations.

Sibelius | Ultimate ships with the Number Bars plugin. Just like with repeated bars, if a drummer sees a page full of slash bars, he will appreciate some numbering so he can see the form at a glance.

To number the bars, select the slash bars you want to number and then go to Text Tab>Plug-ins>Text>Number Bars and this window will come up:

I normally use these settings as I like to number every fourth bar and have the numbering reset at double bars. You can adjust the parameters to your needs.

Click “OK” and you get this:

This lets you set up the bar numbering for an entire drum part in one move—pretty cool and your drummer will thank you!

Rhythmic notation bars

Similar to Slash notation bars, with rhythmic notation the arranger is giving the drummer freedom to use his discretion as to what to play. The difference is that the arranger defines the rhythmic pattern on which the drummer bases his decision. These rhythms are usually based on an ensemble figure or a strong rhythmic element stated somewhere in the ensemble. Like Slash notation, this type of notation is created by inputting the rhythm on the midline of the staff and changing the noteheads, but this time to “Beat,” which includes a stem on the notes. But as you may have guessed by now, there is a plugin that will do this for you.

You install the plugin Move Pitches to Transposed Midline at File>Plugins>Install>All plugins>Notes and Rests. With this plugin you can create as many bars of rhythmic notation in as many bars you need in one move. The plugin works on other rhythm section parts as well and will put the slashes with stems on the midline no matter what the clef or key.

For this example, the right hand of the piano part has the rhythmic figure I want to represent in the drum part.

Select the bars in the treble staff and copy into the drum part and you’ll have this:

If you’ve use opt click to copy, there will still be a blue selection box around the bars. If not, click on the bars so they are selected. Now go to the Plug-ins menu and find the Move Pitches to Transposed Midline plugin. This window will come up. The defaults work for most case, experiment with the parameters as you like.

Click “OK” and you get this:

Pretty slick, eh? Notice the plugin deleted the extra notes in the chord and has moved everything to the midline. It works just as well on single note phrases as chords.

In the next post in this series, I will cover cues in drum set parts.

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Drum Set Notation in Sibelius: Installing Plugins and Keyboard Shortcuts

I have recommended several plugins in my previous posts on Drum Set Notation, and will add a few more in my upcoming post. So perhaps this is a good time to review how to install plugins and how to assign keyboard shortcuts. It’s easy!  You just need to know where to go and what to click. My number one tip to all Sibelius users interested in streamlining their workflow is to learn the default keyboard shortcuts and then add custom keyboard shortcuts for any tools or plugins you use a lot.

As a matter of fact I have blog post on just that here: Three Things: Plugins

But for some users, I thought it would be helpful to create a video—and here it is!

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Drum Set Notation in Sibelius: Part 3

In this blog post I’ll give you a few more tips on fully notated parts. We’ll cover a couple of plugins and a built-in feature that will really speed up your workflow the next time you are creating fully notated drum set parts.

Duplicate rests

You’ve probably run into something like this. Notice how you’ve got rests that you want to keep in each voice, but there are three rests that, if removed, will really tidy up this drum part.

A really helpful plugin for dealing with rests is Hide Duplicate Rests.  You will need to install the Hide Duplicate Rests plugin. If you go to the tab File>Plug-ins>Install plug-ins>Show all plug-ins>Notes and rests>Hide Duplicate Rests.

You could just select the rests in one of the voices and use Home>Edit>Hide or Show and hide them. For one instance of a rest, this is an easy enough way to do it. But when you have a lot of rests and want to hide them in one move, Hide Duplicate Rests will complete the task much faster.

For the example above, select the measures and run the Hide Duplicate Rests plugin. The window for the plugin will come up—I generally use this setting for the plugin:


Quick kick drum part

Generally many of the aspects of a good drum part are dictated by what the kind of groove is being played by the bass and comping instruments. In many rock and funk grooves, the kick drum is duplicating the rhythm played by the bass or at least outlining the accents of the line. A plugin that can make quick work of creating this type of kick drum part is a very versatile plugin called Make Pitches Constant. You’ll find it in Note Input>Plug-ins>Notes and rests>Make Pitches Constant.

Here’s a sample bass line:

Now copy that bass line into the drum set staff.

Select the bars and open the Make Pitches Constant plugin. Set the parameters of the plugin as I have below. You only have to set the parameters in the top half of the window. This is a very versatile plugin, and in an upcoming blog post I’ll show you where that bottom half comes in handy. Click “OK”.

So now you have this:

Only one more step. This kick drum part is in voice 1, and you’ll want to send it to voice 2. Easy fix! Select the measures and go to Note Input>Voices>Swap 1 and 2 or you could use the keystroke Shift V. Now your kick drum part is in voice 2. Now you are ready to go into voice 1 and create the appropriate high hat and snare parts.


Here’s an idea, use Ideas panel!

You’ve spent a lot of time inputting detailed drum set parts. The number of times I’ve written this drum pattern is probably in the thousands:

What if there was a way to quickly grab this pattern—fully notated—and paste it in, whenever you need it? There is, via the Ideas panel which you will find in View>Panels>Ideas or with the keystroke Option Command I.

With the Ideas panel open, select the bar or bars in your score with the drum pattern you wish to save. On the Ideas panel, click on the Capture Idea icon. You will now see your pattern in the Ideas panel. To paste it somewhere else in your score, select the idea and click on the Copy icon.

Then select the bar where you’d like it go and then either click on the idea Paste icon or use the standard keystroke for paste, Command V.

Next we want to make it easy to find the “idea” in any score you are working on. Select the drum pattern idea you’ve captured and click the icon for Edit Idea Info.

A new window will open. You can set the name and tags. I would suggest “drums, style (rock), high hat” and then your initials—make sure you leave a space between tags. “OK” out of this window. To be able to access this from all your scores, you will need to do the following: with the idea still selected, go to the bottom of the window and click on the Add to Library icon.

When you want to add this to a score, open the Ideas panel, click on the Library tab at the top. In the search box, type in your initials, and the list will now be filtered to just your ideas. If you type in your initials and drums, just your drum ideas will show in the list.

Here’s a video showing the process.



You will also want to select the Library tab and type “drums” into the search box, to see all the great default drum patterns that ship with Sibelius | Ultimate!

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Drum Set Notation in Sibelius: Part 2

When it comes to fully notated drum set parts, all the same attributes apply as for any other instrument in the orchestra. A detailed part includes: notes and rests, dynamics, articulations, and technique instructions. There are specialized procedures used to achieve some of these in drum set and percussion parts in Sibelius | Ultimate. I will assume you are familiar with inputting notes and rests in voice 1 (stems up) and voice 2 (stems down) as well as adding dynamics using expression text and standard articulations (staccato, tenuto, etc.) via the keypad.


After some feedback I’ve received from Part 1 of this series, I want to clarify a few things. Drum set notation is similar to chord symbols, in that defining what is “right” or  “standard” varies by genre, publisher, where you studied music, regionally, and many other variations. I studied from the Clinton Roemer book early in my career. I currently refer to the book “Guide To Standardized Drumset Notation” by Norman Weinberg for most conventions. And even at that, I don’t strictly adhere to Mr. Weinberg’s book.  For example, I use Style A (sited in my first post), whereas he recommends Style B. In the end, Sibelius | Ultimate will allow you to get your drum set parts looking exactly as needed, adhering to your guidelines. May I suggest that in the end, find what works for you, your clients, and the musicians you serve, and then stay consistent.

Technique instructions

Technique indications can expressed with either symbols, text, or lines. Some of the symbols can be found on the keypad. Symbols for open and closed high hats are on Keypad Layout 4. There you’ll find the cross for closed and the circle for open. For rolls, go to Keypad Layout 3. You can apply these symbols in the same manner as any articulation.

Percussion symbols

Technique symbols that are not on the keypad can be found in the ribbon under Notations>Symbols. Click on the More button, or just type “Z” on your keyboard and you’ll see a menu with all of the symbols. Clicking on All in the upper left corner will show a dropdown menu letting you quickly find percussion symbols.

To apply a symbol, either click a note first and then click on a symbol in the menu, or click on the symbol and then click into the stave where you would like to apply it.

If there is a symbol you use often and you’d like to access it more quickly, you can add up to three user-defined articulations to Keypad Layout 4. For example, the symbol I prefer for half open high hat is a circle with a vertical slash. I use that symbol a lot, so let’s add it to the * key on the 4th Keypad Layout, so I can get to it quickly.

Symbols in Sibelius are either based on a font character or you can import a graphic. First, I’ll need to find or create a symbol. Opening the Symbols menu (Z) and going to round noteheads, the symbol Round half notehead vertical line, looks like a good candidate.

Go the ribbon Notations>Symbols>Edit box. This opens the Symbol Edit window. Scrolling down to Round noteheads, I click on the symbol I’m looking for. Next, let’s do a bit of detective work to find the origins of that symbol. Music font, Special symbols extra, number 101.  Knowing this, I can assign this symbol to one of the custom articulation spots. Click OK to get out.

Back in the main edit window, scroll up to the Articulation row. The unused Articulations boxes that correspond to the 4th Keypad are the first open box (= key), the box after the down-bow above (/ key) and the box after the short pause above symbol. We will click on this last box to add the half open symbol to the * key. Click on this box and then click on the Edit button. Select the music font Special symbols extra and select slot 101 (which we found in our detective work), then click OK.

Back in the score, click on a high hat note and go to the keypad and click on the upper right square ( * key on your physical keypad).  Now we have all the standard high hat symbols: half open, open, closed, and foot (below staff).


The next way to indicate technique is text. Technique text is the style to use. It is a staff text and will appear above the staff.


The third way is with lines. An often used line is the L.V. symbol (laissez vibrer) to indicate letting a cymbal or drum ring or continue to vibrate freely, for example on a crash symbol. This symbol is similar to a tie that hangs freely after the notehead, but we want it constrained so that it doesn’t extend too far beyond the note. And this is easy to do in Sibelius | Ultimate.

Click on the note, then press the tie key on the first Keypad. Next open the Inspector panel, in the notes panel, check L.V. You’re done! I’ve added a keyboard shortcut to the L.V. feature, so I can quickly do this without opening the Inspector panel. See my blogpost “Three Things Plugins” for instructions on how to add a keyboard shortcut. You will find the feature for Toggle L.V. tie under the Tab or category “Other.”

The other type of line often used is one to indicate duration of a fill. See my blogpost “Three Things Lines” for information on creating your own custom lines.

What is where

To wrap up, let’s circle back to the subject of noteheads and what line they appear on mentioned in the first section of this blog post. Let’s say you have added a Drum set instrument staff to your score, but you want your high hat to be on the on the top line of the staff and your ride to to be on the space above the top line. Additionally, you want the notehead for a cross stick to be an X notehead rather than the default. This is all easy to do. Once you have it just the way you like it, I would suggest exporting a house style and/or saving the score as a custom manuscript paper, so you’ll be ready to go for the next project.

First click on the drum set staff and select a bar. Then go to the ribbon Home>Instruments>Edit box or use the keyboard shortcut, control option command and type “i”. This will take you right to the instrument on the selected stave, in this case the drum set. Click on Edit Instrument on the bottom right corner. In this window, you may want to change the name of this instrument in the dialogs, let’s say Drum Set (Proper!).

Next click on Edit Staff Type. In the Staff Type window, use the scroll bar to find the notes you want to change. Click on the notehead, then using the up and down buttons change the position on the staff. For the side stick, click on the notehead and then click on the Notehead: menu and select the “x” notehead. This window is where you can also change input pitch and playback sounds.

Once you’ve made all your changes, OK and close all the way back out. Since I’ve changed the instrument name in the dialogs, if I import a house style with this drum setup in it and want add it do a score, I can differentiate between my “Proper!” drum set and all the dodgy ones. This name only appears in the dialogs and not in score or part names.

Check back for the next part of this series and we’ll explore more of Sibelius | Ultimate’s power built-in features to quickly and efficiently create clear concise drum set parts.

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Drum Set Notation in Sibelius: Part 1

Most of the projects I arrange for require drum set parts. A drum set part can be as simple as measures filled with slashes that layout the form or very detailed notation showing every drum or cymbal struck by every limb. My experience is the best drum set parts fall somewhere in between, with just enough notation to clearly get the idea across but not overly notated and cluttered. Although some find drums set parts to be the most time consuming and “tweaky” parts to create, my experience is that this is not the case if you using Sibelius | Ultimate!

In this series of blog posts, I will show you how to use Sibelius | Ultimate’s powerful built-in features to quickly and efficiently create clear concise drum set parts for any type of arrangement.

But before I do, let’s define the different types of notation commonly seen in drum set parts. Then I’ll show you some techniques I use to create each one.

Drum set notation types

  1. 1. Fully notated
  2. 2. Repeat bars
  3. 3. Slashes
  4. 4. Rhythmic notation
  5. 5. Combination notated and slashes
  6. 6. Cues for kicks
  7. 7. Cues for navigation

Drum set notation styles

There are three basic styles of notation used for drum set parts shown below, and all are perfectly valid. As with all music notation, the bottom line is that you want to strive to be clear and consistent. The style you use is up to you and may be dictated by the client or a specific situation.

‘A’ is the style that I’ve always used. The way I think of drum set parts is for drums and cymbals to be played with the hands are stems up, and parts played with the feet stems down. The rhythms to be played are clear but there are more rests to keep up with. ‘B’ eliminates most rests and is also a very common notation style for drums. ‘C’ is a short hand that I have usually seen used by drummers who are writing charts for themselves, a quick shorthand style of writing.

The techniques I’ll cover in this series of blog posts can be applied to any of these notation styles.

Note input on drum set staves

Note input for drum staves is the same as for any other staff in Sibelius, and I’ll assume you know the basics of that. If not, check out some of the great videos on the Get Started Fast page on the Avid Blogs.

By default, drum set staves have predefined noteheads (normal, crossed or shaped) assigned to MIDI notes. For example, if you press G5 on your MIDI controller, a note will be input above the top line with a cross (x) notehead for high hat. To see what MIDI notes correspond to the notes on the staff, click once on your drum set staff and then go to the Home>Instruments and click on the Edit box. When the next window appears, click on Edit Instrument, then Edit Staff Type, which will bring you to the window below. Clicking on a note on the staff will show the corresponding MIDI note.

If you want to input notes on a drum staff without a MIDI controller, you have a couple of options. Select the note duration from the keypad and use the cursor to click into the staff, or click the staff and type N to start note input, and type note name on your computer keyboard. One issue you will run into with this is that you can only input normal noteheads with this type of input. You will then need to change the notehead(s) by selecting the note and selecting the notehead type in Notations>Noteheads>Type. But here’s another way that doesn’t require a MIDI controller.

The keyboard panel

If you will go to View>Panels and check ‘Keyboard’, a piano style keyboard will appear. This will allow you to input notes by clicking on its keys on the screen as if you are using a MIDI keyboard. In the video below I’ll input example ‘A’ from earlier in this post. The steps are as follows:

Click on the bar and type n, then from your keypad choose the eighth note, now click on G5 on the Keyboard panel and a cross notehead G5 appears, repeat as needed. Using the left arrow key move back to the eighth note on beat 2. Now click on the Chord Mode button on the Keyboard panel and it will turn blue.

Next click on C5 on the Keyboard panel and a normal notehead appears for the snare drum. Using the right arrow key move to beat 4 and repeat for the next snare drum note. When you are done click on the escape key on your computer keyboard twice to get out of input mode.

This next step is important. Click on the Chord Mode button again to toggle out of chord mode (it is no longer blue). Stems down notes are required for the kick, so you’ll need to be in voice 2. Click into the staff, type n and switch to voice two (opt/alt 2 keystroke works well). From your keypad select the quarter note. And click on F4 on the Keyboard panel, click 0 on your keypad for the rest on beat 2 and repeat for beats 3 and 4 and you’re done!


Check back for the next part in this series for more tips on quickly filling out drum parts.

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