Three Things: Articulations

By in John Hinchey's Three Things, Music Creation, Notation

It is always great to learn new techniques that speed up your workflow in an application you’ve been using for a while isn’t it?  In this series of blog posts, I’m going to stick to three things on a topic that I believe will help speed up your work flow.


The Long and short of it

Articulations allow you to communicate to your musicians precisely, the shape of notes in your score. In Sibelius you can enter articulations as or after you enter notes via the keypad. But you know all of that! Here are three tips that perhaps you don’t know.


One: Position and symbols

The position of articulations as they appear in your score are controlled by the settings in the Engraving rules.  If you go to Appearance Tab > Engraving Rules > Articulation you will see this window:

You’ll see check boxes that control the position of articulations in relation to the staff, noteheads, slurs and tuplets. You will also see horizontal and vertical position settings. In my work for commercial style charts, I keep all my articulations above the staff. For symphonic work, I uncheck the ‘Always above’ so the articulations are on the notehead side (opposite from the stem), which could place the articulation either above or below the staff.

The red arrow points to a half open high hat symbol I often use. You probably won’t see this if you open your Engraving rules. This is a custom articulation. You will see there are 3 slots for custom articulations, the first to the left of the staccato, the second after the down bow, and the third where you see my open high hat. Here is how to set up your own custom articulation:

Got to Notations Tab > Symbols > Edit box

You will see in the row of articulation symbols my half open high hat symbol in the slot for “Articulation above (unused).’ The order of the symbols is the same as the order of the articulations in the Engraving rules. Here you can define what symbols are used for the custom articulations and you can also change the symbol for any of the default articulations as well.

Note there are slots for articulation above and below for each symbol.


To apply this custom articulation, go to the fourth keypad and press the * key.

Two: Inputting more than one articulation at a time

You can apply articulations to more then one note at a time. In this example, I’ve selected the first two notes in all of the horns and can now apply the marcato to all of them in one keystroke.

Another strategy I often use is to apply all the articulations and slurs to one instrument for a passage in the score, in this example trumpet 1. Select the articulated region for trumpet 1 and press command C for copy (the selection is now copied to the clipboard). Next select all the other horn parts in that region. Next run the Copy Articulations and Slurs plug-in. This plug-in refers to the contents of the clipboard and applies the same articulations and slurs to the selected instruments.

Now all these instruments will have the same articulation as the trumpet 1 staff. You find the Copy Articulations and Slurs plug-in in the Note Input Tab > Plugins > Notes and Rests. I use this almost daily, so I have this plug-in assigned to a keyboard shortcut.


Three: Playback

Sibelius has well thought out settings for the playback of articulations but perhaps you’d like to tweak them a bit, I know I do! Go to Play Tab > Interpretation > Dictionary.

Next click on the Articulations tab and for this example I will select Marcato. I prefer the playback dynamics of this articulation to be a bit softer and the duration a bit shorter than the default settings.  So I am going to change the dynamic and attack to 105% from the default of 135%. Also I need to check ‘Adjust duration to’ and set it to 65%. Click OK and I’m done. Now the playback of notes with the marcato articulation will reflect these changes.

For some instruments there is change in the sound used for playback of certain articulations. If you really want to dig in, you can change the sound id, associated with those articulations from this same window.

With these tips under your belt, you are all set to get your articulations looking and sounding just the way you like them!

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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,, and for more Sibelius tips, visit “Notes On Notes” blog at