Drum Set Notation in Sibelius: Part 2

By in John Hinchey's Drum Set Notation, Notation

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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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, HincheyMusic.com, and for more Sibelius tips, visit “Notes On Notes” blog at JohnHinchey.com.