Sketching in Sibelius: The Basics of Arranging Your Workflow
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is John Hinchey; I’m a producer, arranger, composer and trombonist living in Nashville, Tenn. For the past 30 years, I’ve made a living analyzing, transcribing, rearranging, twisting up and problem solving using the twelve tones between C and C that we call music in a wide variety of styles for a long list of clients and venues. A lot of my work can be heard in shows on cruise ships all over the world.
I’ve also done arranging and music prep for schools, theme parks, corporations, symphony orchestras, well known pop music and Broadway vocalists, and more. I’ve heard my work sung by a cappella vocal groups in theme parks and stood on the floor of Abbey Road Studio One in London to hear my arrangements played by a 48-piece orchestra. I’ve gotten to do some pretty cool gigs in some amazing places. In fact, I am currently on tour in the US and Canada with the amazing Martina McBride; I’m the trombonist in the horn section.
My job is hardly ever just straight-forward arranging or music prep; there is always some odd twist of the tail needed to make sure the producer, musicians, vocalists, choreographer, lighting designer, video editor, etc., receive what they need from me to get their job done and to make the overall production a success.
So that is always my first job—make sure everyone who uses the music I produce has what they need to do their job to the best of their abilities. A big part of this means clear and concise well marked scores and parts. And these days, for that job, I always turn first to Sibelius.
Why I Sketch
This series of four tutorials will demonstrate how to use some of the powerful built-in features of Sibelius to create a sketch of your arrangements. I’ll also cover how to use that sketch to quickly and efficiently orchestrate and complete your full score.
When arranging my workflow, I always start with a sketch of the arrangement. The sketch consists of 1 to 3 staves for vocals and a grand staff for the instrumental arrangement. The sketch is a condensed outline of what the full score will be. It lays out the form, without bogging you down with all the details. I will often use the sketch as a condensed conductor score or rehearsal piano part at the end of the process. The sketch will have many details that would clutter up the final keyboard part but are helpful to the music director during rehearsals. For example, there may be brass, woodwind and string parts cued in the sketch that would not be in the keyboard part but would be helpful to play at rehearsals to show the performers where their entrances are, etc.
Another useful aspect for the sketch is to create a rough demo for the client. I often export the sketch as an audio file with just a piano playback sound. I send this to the producer, music director and choreographer to give them an idea of form, tempos, keys, etc. Once these factors are agreed on, I can move on to creating a more complete demo and later orchestrating the arrangement. This way, I don’t waste time fully orchestrating something that may get cut later. We can also quickly see exact timings of the arrangement using the Timecode and Duration feature in Sibelius.
Here is an example of a Sibelius manuscript I have setup for a 10-piece band with solo vocal and SATB. Notice the sketch staves are placed under the vocal staves and the keyboard part is in with the rhythm section.
If you have a manuscript already setup and would like to add a sketch staff, here are some simple steps to follow:
1. Open your existing score
2. Go to Home > Instruments > Add or Remove
3. Add a keyboard staff and move into position below the vocals
4. Then rename the staff “Sketch”
5. The Edit Staff Names plugin is a very quick and easy way to rename staves, see my tutorial, Sibelius: Yeah, there’s a plug-in for that: Edit Instrument Names
At this point, we still have a full score with all 15 staves in view. Let’s focus our attention on just the vocal staves and sketch using the focus on staves feature.
1. Click on the solo vocal staff and then shift click the SATB staves and the sketch staves
2. Go to Layout > Hiding Staves > Focus on Staves
3. Next switch to View > Document View > Panorama
Now we can really focus in on sketching out the arrangement!
From Tabula Rasa to Full Sketch
“Tubula Rasa” is of course the Latin term for “blank slate” and that is where we all start with an arrangement. But when you are arranging, there are generally a great number of things you know up front. You have a melody, lyrics, chord structure, meter, and in many cases in my work, an exact length of the arrangement in minutes. One of the great things about music notation software is you are not wasting any time or effort by jumping right in, you can always transpose, add bars, change the form later and still build off your initial input.
So no dawdling, pick a key and start inputting what you know! Put in the melody and lyrics in the solo vocal staff. Next put in the bass line and a basic comping pattern with chord symbols in the sketch staff.
In Part 2 of this series, I will fill in the details of the sketch with cue notes, text, lines and other elements.
Top image caption: Me at the producer’s desk in a session at Abby Road Studio 1 in London. L to R: Producer Mark Hornsby; Rick Wentworth, conductor; me, John Hinchey, arranger; Nick D’Virgilio, artist; and Everton Nelson, concert master. Photo by www.eafoto.com.