Sketching in Sibelius: Filling in the Details

Sketching in Sibelius 7.5: Filling in the Details

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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Sketching in Sibelius: The Basics of Arranging Your Workflow

Sketching in Sibelius 7.5: The Basics of Arranging Your Workflow

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

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.

Sketching in Sibelius 7.5: The Basics of Arranging Your Workflow (Part 1)

I'm on the floor (in the blue shirt) at Abbey Road Studio One in London hearing my arrangement played by a 48-piece orchestra. Rick Wentworth is the conductor on the podium. Photo by www.eafoto.com.

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

Sketching in Sibelius 7.5: The Basics of Arranging Your Workflow (Part 1)

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

Sketching in Sibelius 7.5: The Basics of Arranging Your Workflow (Part 1)

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.


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Pro Tools Virtual Instruments Included for Music Creation and Audio Production

Pro Tools 11 Virtual Instruments Included for Music Creation and Audio Production

Pro Tools software and Pro Tools | HD Software comes bundled with a wide selection of  64-bit AAX Native and DSP plug-ins, including virtual instruments, effects, sound processing, and utilities designed by Avid and AIR. While some of you may have checked them all out, I would guess that the majority of Pro Tools customers have only used a couple of the plug-ins available.

This Avid Blog is designed to demonstrate how these plug-ins can be used to create inspiring music and great sounding audio for picture. I’ll be highlighting available ‘how to’ resources on YouTube and the Internet. Most of the videos come from Pro Tools Expert, so a special thanks to Russ, Mike and the Pro Tools Expert team for creating such a wealth of informative videos. Let’s get started with Pro Tools virtual instruments.

Pro Tools GUI VIs

Virtual Instruments

Pro Tools software comes with 6 virtual instruments from AIR. Boom drum machine and sequencer, DB-33 tonewheel organ emulator with rotating speaker simulation, Mini Grand acoustic grand piano, Structure Free sample player (based on AIR Structure), AIR Vacuum monophonic vacuum tube synthesizer, and AIR Xpand!2 multitimbral synth.

Music: Pro Tools 11 Virtual Instruments Included for Music Creation and Audio Production

Boom is a virtual drum machine that features a broad range of electronic percussion sounds, paired with a simple, drum-machine-style pattern sequencer:

  • 10 instruments with pitch, level, decay, and pan per kit
  • 50 settings cover contemporary and classic electronic musical genres
  • Slick user interface, reviving the feel of legendary analog drum machines
  • Additional Matrix sequencer

DB-33 Tonewheel Organ is a virtual organ that recreates the sounds and controllability of classic tonewheel organs such as the Hammond B3, and the rotary-speaker cabinets they are often played through. It includes 122 preset sounds plus an extra-realistic convolution rotary cabinet and tube overdrive emulation. The rotary-speaker cabinet can also be used as an effect in its own right on an audio track.

Mini Grand is a simple virtual piano instrument with seven different acoustic piano sounds to suit a broad range of musical styles and production needs.

  • Premium quality piano samples
  • 7 selectable piano models covering a wide range of piano sounds
  • Re-pedaling technology, recreating super realistic string resonance behavior
  • Built in room simulation
  • Equal and stretched tuning available

Structure Free is a sampler plug-in that brings the world of Structure-compatible sample libraries to any Pro Tools system and delivers superior performance and reliability thanks to its direct integration with Pro Tools. Includes drag and drop sample import from Pro Tools. Structure Free includes a 600MB sample library.

Vacuum is a virtual analog monophonic synthesizer plug-in, with a focus on creating rich timbres with a lot of sonic control. Employing a new Vacuum Tube Synthesis method, extensive modulation routing, and a unique age-simulation section, Vacuum invites comparison to classic synths and has a character all its own. Vacuum also includes an age function with Drift and Dust controls adjusting the age from oscillator drift to crackling controls to slightly inaccurate keyboard triggering/pitch for the authentic hardware experience.

Xpand!2 is a virtual workstation synthesizer featuring a broad range of sound generation possibilities including multi-sampled instruments as well as FM, wavetable, and virtual analog synthesis. Xpand!2 incudes; Subtractive synthesis, FM Synthesis, Tonewheels, Sample Playback, Arpeggiator, Phrase Player, More than 50 high-quality audio effects, Up to 4 instrument layers per patch, Smart Knobs for easy sound editing controls, More than 3000 sounds presets and parts.

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Music: Scoring a 9 out of 10 for the Upgraded Sibelius 7.5 Music Notation Software

Music: Scoring a 9 out of 10 for the Upgraded Sibelius 7.5 Music Notation Software

Avid solutions are born from our passion to help our customers deliver on their creative vision. As the world’s best-selling music composition and music notation software, Sibelius offers the fastest, smartest and easiest way to write music. In keeping with our heritage of continuous innovation, the latest version, Sibelius 7.5, delivers innovative features that speed up workflows and allow composers to focus on the creative process. Keith Gemmell takes an in-depth look at the latest version for MusicTech Magazine.


Music: Over 160 Improvements Now Available Free to Sibelius 7.5 Customers with Latest Update

Avid Sibelius 7.5.1 Update Now Available

In today’s competitive industry, composers need cutting-edge creative tools that enable them to unleash their creativity and deliver professional scores more efficiently. Today, we are pleased to announce an important update to the music notation tools in the Artist Suite—Sibelius 7.5.1. This milestone update allows you to turn your creative ideas into fully realized scores more quickly and easily with important fixes and improved performance and stability.


The number of improvements totals more than 160, ranging from enhancements of the features introduced in Sibelius 7.5.0 to resolving problems in Sibelius that have been present for many years.

Avid Sibelius 7.5.1 Update

  • Sibelius 7.5 Reference and What’s New Guide have been fully translated into all 9 languages
  • Audio and video export now occurs faster than real-time
  • It’s now possible to have both Sibelius 7 and Sibelius 7.5 activated on the same computer (within the terms of the license)
  • Better support for high resolution displays on Windows; specifically, the QuickStart now displays properly
  • An old problem going back several versions of Sibelius has been fixed where Sibelius would crash after the computer was woken from sleep
  • A problem where the breath mark “comma” produces staccato playback has been fixed
  • Sibelius and the Sibelius License Server will now run correctly once more on Mac OS 10.6 and 10.7
  • Resolved a crash that could happen if a score has more than 128 instruments
  • We’ve fixed a problem where some Rhythmic feels may have been missing from the Performance dialog

  • Sibelius 7.5 no longer crashes if using a ‘Jump to’ and ‘Marker’ repeat structure
  • Mordents and Inverted Mordents now play back correctly
  • Ties now play back correctly again when using Repeat Bars
  • Preferences stored by plugins are now correctly saved
  • Video export and sharing to Facebook and YouTube have been improved
  • Playback line is no longer a beat behind (this accuracy varies depending on your playback device)
  • Problems posting to Facebook have been resolved
  • The tempo in the score is correctly reflected in the video
  • Further fixes to make the connection with Sibelius and Pro Tools more reliable when using ReWire
  • It’s possible, once again, to install Sibelius silently on Windows.


We’ve been working hard to improve the experience of the Timeline, which was introduced in Sibelius 7.5. Here’s a summary of the improvements.

Avid Sibelius 7.5.1 Update

  • Long instrument names are now clipped to show more of the Timeline
  • Focus on Staves is now reflected in the Timeline
  • More musical symbols are displayed in the lanes (Repeats and Metric Modulations, for example)
  • Text and symbols are displayed on more appropriate lanes
  • It’s now possible to click+drag around the Timeline to navigate the score, similar to how the Navigator works

  • Hidden objects are now reflected in the Timeline and honor the option in View > Invisibles > Hidden Objects
  • F# Minor now shows as F# Minor on the Key Signatures lane
  • Comments are now shown in the Timeline with the same color they appear in the score
  • Various performance optimizations


We’ve improved the way objects, menus and dialogs in Sibelius are read by screen readers, specifically when using NVDA on Windows. We also have some brand new plug-ins for Sibelius 7.5.1 that aid navigation of staff and system objects in the score. Many thanks to Kevin Gibbs, Gordon Kent and Bob Zawalich for their assistance. These plug-ins and supporting documentation are available through this link.

Upgrade Today

To download the latest version of Sibelius 7.5, you can simply find the update at Sibelius.com/Upgrade.

If you have a previous version of Sibelius 7.5 installed, you don’t need to uninstall the previous versions. Simply run the 7.5.1 installer over the top. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our support team.

If you have Sibelius 7 or earlier, you can buy an upgrade from one of our resellers or from the Avid Store.

Alabama Symphony Orchestra Celebrates Civil Rights

Behind the Scenes with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra

The career of acclaimed composer/arranger/conductor Dr. Henry Panion, III has spanned the musical spectrum—from gospel to classical, pop to rock, and be-bop to hip-hop. He has also collaborated with acclaimed artists including Stevie Wonder, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Peabo Bryson, and Jennifer Holliday. The Alabama Symphony Orchestra recently commissioned Dr. Panion to compose a work celebrating the 50th anniversary of the American Civil Rights Movement.

Watch this moving story now to discover how he realized his 50th anniversary tribute, Here We Are, how he integrated gospel and orchestral music into an uplifting performance, and why Dr. Panion relies on Sibelius music notation software for this and all of his projects.

Parts, Printing, Exporting, and Sharing

Get Started Fast with Sibelius

In our five-part tutorial series, we’ll review the basics of Avid Sibelius 7.5, so you can get started fast and make music as quickly as possible. These tutorials are designed mostly for those new to Sibelius, but existing users may also discover helpful tips along the way.

In this fifth and final lesson, I’ll work with a unique feature in Sibelius—Dynamic Parts. Unlike other programs that require you to extract instrumental parts from the full score, Sibelius provides Dynamic Parts. This powerful feature automatically creates separate instrumental parts—and instantly updates them as you make changes to the score. Dynamic Parts will save you many hours of work on every project. I’ll also demonstrate printing and exporting, to share your music with a widest possible audience.

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Sibelius is My Workhorse

This is one in a series of Sibelius articles to help you learn how the Sibelius music notation family provides composers of all levels with the session management tools needed to handle large projects and collaborate with other artists, engineers, and facilities.

I’ve been a lifelong musician and by that, I mean that at age 3, I was standing on top of my parent’s coffee-table wearing a bathrobe as a cape while strumming a Bjorn Borg tennis racket as a guitar. I should probably include the fact that my face was COVERED (terribly) in my Mom’s make-up! In my mind, I was fronting the rock band KISS at age 3!

I started playing viola in elementary school at age 9 and then I picked up the electric bass when I was in junior high school. After 4 years of top notch orchestra training and college preparatory coursework at Burlington High School, Burlington, Vermont, I went on to attend Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, where I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Performance.

“Whether I am directing, arranging, or performing, Sibelius is the default musical foundation of these pursuits.”

My introduction to Sibelius music notation software came after just a few months of massive frustration adjusting to using Finale. I needed a faster, more dynamic notation program to meet the deadlines of an artist. I traded in my Finale CD for Sibelius 4 and the rest is history!

I am fortunate to collaborate with fellow professionals in the music industry in a variety of capacities.

As a Music Director

My Music Director work consists of identifying the needs of a given client from start to finish. Labels and managers hire me to groom and prepare a band for either extended tours or for a live National TV performance.

I’ve performed with Rihanna at a sold out Staples Center, which was broadcast live on TNT Network. I’ve also “acted” as a string quartet musician in an elegant ballroom scene on the hit ABC TV show, Scandal.

Playing in the string section with Rihanna, Kanye West, and Drake at an NBA All-Star game

As professional musicians, we must be adaptable to answer and successfully perform any paying job that comes our way. Once I sign a contract agreement, the artist will send me all of his or her music so I can transcribe all of their songs using Sibelius to create full band charts or “lead sheets.” From there, I will organize an audition process that caters to the best business interests of the client. I then will direct the new band (or existing band) through a very strategic and focused rehearsal process. This will ensure that a given set of songs are performed live with as much passion, precision and technique as imaginable.

Using the Sibelius band charts as a “visual bible” of sorts allows me to keep the band dialed in and focused. Everyone at rehearsal has the charts in front of them. We can collectively stop at measure 33, start, jump to a chorus, hyper focus on the bridge section, or come up with something entirely new for an outro ending. Sibelius gives me the tools to help my musicians digest and memorize a lot of new music and structures as quickly as possible.

As an Arranger

As a professional Arranger, I LOVE using Sibelius to compose strings, horns, and band orchestrations for a wide array of solo artists, rock bands, and film/TV clients such as Alien Ant Farm, Rancid, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Moby, Andy Grammer, etc.

I played on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno a few times.
Once with Moby (left image) and another time with Andy Grammer (right image).

Since I am a string performer, I approach arranging from a VERY unique instrumentalist-centric perspective. I ask myself, “What are the amazing, tasteful lines that my players will get EXCITED about while playing? How can I create beauty using a cello and a delay pedal?” I avoid traditional keyboard-based “string padding” voicings and concepts as much as possible. My strings and horns players are not robotic keyboards; they are not here to “thicken” a given sonic, like when you add flour to soup. A song arranged in Sibelius serves as the foundation for the entire band in the studio or on the stage.

“You can’t survive by doing ‘one thing’. You must do it all and do it all VERY WELL.”

As a Performer

My performance duties consist of playing both viola and electric bass in as many contexts and diverse musical environments as possible. The concept of “I am only an orchestral violist” or “I just play death metal bass” no longer applies in our current modern music business landscape. You can’t survive by doing “one thing”. You must do it all and do it all VERY WELL. The freelance music business demands massive flexibility and a wide-range of playing experiences.

Strings with Stevie Wonder and Esperanza Spalding

Having a super pliable musical brain, a happy go lucky personality, and an insane attention to detail has thankfully allowed me to perform with a diverse range of legends such as Stevie Wonder, Esperanza Spalding, Rihanna, as well as members of both King Crimson and Weezer.

Without a doubt, Sibelius allows me to capture and transmit the details of each of these occupations. Whether I am directing, arranging, or performing, Sibelius is the default musical foundation of these pursuits. More often than not, I have very little turnaround time to take a project from start to finish. The incredibly intuitive user interface and easy to use design of Sibelius helps me meet my crazy business deadlines with ease.

You can watch some of my live performances on my video page and feel free to check out my music endeavors on my website or social media pages below.

Questions? Shoot me an email: jay@jayterrien.com

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Nuanced, More Expressive Playback Features in Sibelius 7.5

Sibelius 7.5

This is one in a series of Sibelius articles to help you learn how the Sibelius music notation family provides composers of all levels with the session management tools needed to handle large projects and collaborate with other artists, engineers, and facilities.


I’ve had a connection to Sibelius ever since my dad started working for the company in its Burleigh Street office in Cambridge, UK. My first job was to stuff envelopes for a mailshot — I hardly recall, but obviously I didn’t do such a bad job, since I’ve gradually worked my way through the ranks of registrations, SibeliusMusic.com (now ScoreExchange), and then technical support (as well as the move to Hills Road, Finsbury Park, the acquisition by Avid, and subsequent move toPinewood Studios). Somewhere in between (or perhaps the other way around), I’ve also woven in a degree in music from Leeds University, and I’m now in the final months of a Masters in Jazz Percussion from Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Now as Product Designer for the Sibelius family of products, I’m excited to be part of the team developing the next generation of music composition and scoring tools.

I’d like to introduce you to the new playback features that are shipping with Sibelius 7.5. We’ve updated the algorithm responsible for interpreting musical phrasing — known as Espressivo  to version 2.0. Sibelius now intelligently analyses the notes of your phrase in order to decide how it should be expressed. The result is that playback is now smoother and more lifelike.

We’ve switched it on by default in Sibelius 7.5 in new scores, so all you have to do to hear it in action is start a new score, complete your masterpiece (or just part of it), and hit the spacebar to start playing. More options for controlling Espressivo 2.0 are found in the Play tab > Performance dialog (below); you can also switch on Espressivo 2.0 from this dialog when you’re working on your old scores (recommended).

The Playback Performance dialog allows you to customize Sibelius' playback behaviour.

Sibelius now subtly emphasises onbeat notes in the way that a human being would, even allowing you to define different levels of emphasis between pitched and unpitched instruments. Mordents are now interpreted during playback, and ruffs, drags and flams are now interpreted more musically on unpitched staves (for the drummers amongst you).

Here’s a quick snare drum example I put together so you can hear what I mean:

And a rendering of one of our demo scores, Liebesträume, which you can hear from within Sibelius by opening Piano Solo.sib from your Sibelius example scores folder:

In both examples, playback is more rounded and realistic — the snare drum grace notes lead naturally into the note, and the inner melody shines through in the Liszt, without sounding too mechanical.

New Rhythmic Feels

With Sibelius 7.5, we decided to make Sibelius’ interpretation of rhythmic feel much more customisable. Sibelius now lets you decide how your music should be interpreted, including the divisions of the beat, dynamic emphasis, and even whether the note should be placed early (giving a pushy, surging feel) or late (giving a laid back, lazy feel).

You can customise these from the Play tab > Dictionary > System Text or Staff text (rhythmic feel can now be controlled on a per-instrument basis using staff text, see below). We’ve provided a few default rhythmic feels, too, as a starting point, but you can also define your own dictionary entries, with your own custom playback effects. The net result is that you can create your score, using musical directives that suit you, and Sibelius obediently recreates your score as you imagined it. Sibelius 7.5 playback realism and dynamism gets you closer more quickly than ever before, ready to demo to your client, director, or otherwise adoring fans.

Sibelius' playback dictionary, allowing you to customise how Sibelius interprets just about anything on your score

Fine Rhythmic Subdivision Control

Sibelius 7.5 also allows you to define how notes that are shorter than the adjusted subdivision (a quaver in the example above) should be treated. In previous editions of Sibelius using swing feel, for example, semiquavers would always be divided proportionally to the swung quaver, giving rise to a slightly odd effect.

Sibelius 7.5 now gives you three options:

  • Unchanged — exactly what it says on the tin. The rhythmic feel will have no affect on note values that are shorter than the adjusted subdivision.
  • Double-time — affects only notes that are exactly half the length of the adjusted subdivision, which is perfect for double-time swing. In the example above, that means that semiquavers are played as double time swing — great for jazz!
  • Proportional — what old versions of Sibelius used to do, apparently giving rise to the insult in certain jazz circles, “you swing like Sibelius” (although, I confess I’ve never heard or used that myself!). Joking aside, the proportional setting is still useful for some waltz styles, but most jazz players will prefer either unchanged or double-time.

If you’re pressed for time (no pun intended), Sibelius 7.5 also includes new built-in presets, available from the Play tab >Performance > Rhythmic feel menu, so you can start experimenting with the new options right away.


Different Rhythmic Feels for Each Instrument

Sibelius 7.5 now allows you to apply a rhythmic feel per instrument — you’re no longer confined to a global setting. For example, in a big band arrangement, you might want the rhythm section bang on the beat, whilst having the horns labour behind. Sibelius 7.5 lets you do that (and the new swing styles make it feel even closer to the real thing, too).


Updates to Sibelius 7 Sounds

We’ve also been able to squeeze in some updates to the Sibelius 7 Sounds library (the 36GB sounds library that is bundled with every copy of Sibelius 7.5):

  • Organ stops now more easily accessible with new key switches for the Skinner Organ
  • New smart knobs that add a three band EQ to Clarinet, Solo Violin, Viola, ‘Cello and Bass
  • Balanced the falls, doits, plops, scoops and growls for the jazz horn samples
  • Panning improvements on several other instruments
  • New sound sets to allow the simultaneous use of Sibelius 7 Sounds with Sibelius 6 Sounds Essentials, or Sibelius Sounds Choral

The Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 sound set has also been improved in Sibelius 7.5.


How Does This Help You?

Ultimately, whilst these new features are good fun to play with, we hope they’re also useful to our users in realising and communicating their music more quickly, and more accurately than ever before.

With Sibelius 7.5, you spend less time distracted by playback, and more time creating. Our aim is to make it easier for composers, arrangers and typesetters alike to “get the job done” as quickly and efficiently as possible — hopefully these new playback enhancements go some way toward that.

Of course, the job isn’t finished; there’s plenty more that we can add in the future. We welcome user feedback and feature suggestions on the Sibelius Feedback Community, the Sibelius Help Center, or even Avid Sibelius on Twitter and Avid Sibelius Facebook Page.  Sam Butler, senior product manager, and I keep a regular eye on our Sibelius communities, so it’s a good place to have your voice heard.

I hope you’ve found this post useful — thanks for reading. Make sure you check out the other posts from this series, and the brilliant Get Started Fast with Avid Sibelius 7.5 tutorial videos too.

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Layout, Instrument Changes, Transposition, and Playback

Get Started Fast with Sibelius

In this five-part tutorial series, we’ll review the basics of Avid Sibelius 7.5, so you can get started fast and make music as quickly as possible. These tutorials are designed mostly for those new to Sibelius, but existing users may also discover helpful tips along the way.

In this lesson, I’ll cover layout tips and techniques. You’ll learn instrument changes, how to transpose music, and how to work with transposing scores. I will also demonstrate Sibelius playback features, including video.

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