Three Things: Plug-ins

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? The problem with reading or watching long in depth tutorials is, you may find a lot of great tips, but when you are done, you are overwhelmed with information. Finding three things you can apply right away is a great way to learn new techniques and have them stick. So 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 workflow.

More often than not, when I have a great tip about Sibelius it involves a plug-in. There are many plug-ins that ship with Sibelius and there are many more that are available for you to install free from right inside Sibelius. This allows the user to further customize Sibelius to his or her specific needs.

One: Installing

To install plugins in Sibelius go to File Tab > Plug-ins > Install > Show:All

You will see the plug-ins sorted by type. Notice on the bottom of the window that you can install the plug-ins in the default location or create your own custom folder. Click the install button and you are done!

Two: Finding

The next step is to find the plug-in when you need it. Each tab of the ribbon has plug-ins associated with that tab.

But the quickest way to find the plug-in (or anything in Sibelius) is to use the Find box in the upper right corner of the ribbon. For example to find the “Add Pickup Bar” plug-in, type in “Add pick”, and there it is!

Three: Keyboard Short Cuts, the key to speed

The reason you are using a plug-in is to speed up a process in your workflow. The way to maximize this is to add keyboard shortcuts to your most often used plug-ins. When adding keyboard shortcuts, take a minute to come up with a system. There are a lot of keystroke combinations you can use for keyboard shortcuts and some you can’t, or really shouldn’t, use. Sibelius will allow you to reprogram almost any default keyboard shortcut, but there are some you really shouldn’t. For example, command S is save in every Apple program. You could use it for something else, but why cause the confusion? Sibelius already uses a lot of the single letter keys for keyboard shortcuts, K for key signature, Q for clef, etc. Also many predefined shortcuts are the command key and a letter, command L for lyrics, command K for chords etc. So what are you left with for user-defined keystrokes?

  • You can use all the function keys F1-F19, although some of these keys get intercepted by the the operating system.
  • You can use single letter keys in combination with any or all of these modifier keys: control, option and command.
  • You can also combine those modifier keys with a single letter and the shift key, so control + option and a single letter or control + shift and a single letter. Actually you can use them all together if need be for example, shift + control + option + command + a single letter.
  • You can also use the function keys in conjunction with any or all of the modifier keys, for example control + F1. Starting to see the possibilities?

So many options and it’s tempting to just start setting up shortcuts but back to the plan.


Functions, Schema, Geography and Mnemonics

I’ve found it much easier to remember what shortcuts I’ve programmed if I do one of, or a combination of, the following:

  1. Group similar functions to similar shortcuts
  2. Build off existing Sibelius shortcuts
  3. Use the same area of the keyboard for the same type of function (editing, layout, etc) geography.
  4. Use a mnemonic device to associate the shortcut with its purpose.

Here’s an example of how I employ three of the techniques.

I use explode, reduce and exchange staff contents plug-ins a lot. And usually at the same point in the arranging process. So I’ve grouped them together in the same geographical location, with letters that remind me of the function and with the same modifier keys.

  • Explode plug-in is control + option + E
  • Reduce plug-in is control + option + R
  • Exchange Staff Contents plug-in is control + option + S

For the “Exchange Staff Contents” plug-in, I was already using “E” in that shortcut grouping. I’ve always thought of that plug-in as “swapping’ staff contents”, so I used “S”.

For more tips on setting up keyboard shortcuts, read the blogpost Sibelius: Keyboard Shortcuts Part 1: The Key To Productivity! on my blog Notes on Notes.

So the next time you think to yourself, “There has to be an easier way to do this…”, look for a plug-in because someone else has probably had the same thought and there may already be a plug-in created to solve that problem!

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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