Three Things: Tweaking Playback

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.


Tweaking playback in the Inspector Panel

Playback of your score in Sibelius is an essential tool for proofing, demoing for the client, or sending out reference MP3’s for use in rehearsals. The defaults in Sibelius are often just right, but perhaps you want to tweak some element of the playback. There are several places you can do this, and one of these is the Inspector Panel (in previous versions of Sibelius this was called the Properties Panel).

The Inspector Panel found in the ribbon Home Tab > Edit > Inspector (or use the keyboard shortcut command shift I).


One: Turn it off!

Often there are elements that appear in your score that for some reason you don’t want to hear on playback, or perhaps only playback the first or second time of a repeated section. An example of this would be notes played only on the repeat.

In this example, I’ve marked this figure “2nd time only.”

Select the two bars and open the Inspector Panel. In the playback section you will see “Play on pass”—uncheck the checkbox for 1.

Now during playback this figure will be silent the first time and play on the repeat of the section. But this does not just apply to notes. It will also affect lines and text linked to playback. In this example, I want the decrescendo to playback second time only.

Click on the hairpin to select it (it turns blue) and open the Inspector Panel. Just as in the previous example, uncheck the checkbox for 1 in the “Play on pass” section. Now during playback this figure will play normally the first time and play the decrescendo on the repeat of this section.

Note: If you are in a passage with no repeats and there is something you just want to turn off for playback, uncheck “Play on pass” 1 and it will not play.


Two: Slow it down!

In Sibelius momentary changes in tempo such as ritards and accelerandos are created with lines. By default Sibelius bases these changes on a percentage and a linear change in tempo, but you can direct Sibelius to change from one specific tempo to another specific tempo.

In this example your starting tempo is 120 bpm, you have a one bar ritard, and you’d like the end tempo to be 106 bpm. Click on the ritard line (it turns blue) and open the Inspector Panel. You will see the default is a linear ritard of 75%. But you can set it to be a ritard based on a bpm of 106.

With this setting the ritard will now slow down exactly to quarter note equals 106. You can also experiment with the curve of the ritard—instead of linear it can be early or late to further dial in the playback.


Three: Play it softly

Often you may find the default playback of an instrument to be a bit too loud or too soft for certain sections. A good example is the piano part below. The notes in the right hand, voice 2 (green) are an accompaniment figure that needs to be played much softer than the melody. By default Sibelius will play all of these notes at the same volume.

Select the bars in the treble staff and filter voice 2 by going to the Home Tab > Select > Filters > Voices > Voice 2. You can also learn the keyboard shortcut and do it much more quickly! Voice 2 is now green and the blue box has disappeared and it will look like the example above. Open the Inspector panel and in the Playback section click the checkbox for Live Velocity and you will see the default is 80. Let’s change that to 45.

When you play this section back you will hear the inner line played much more softly.

Note: For these playback changes to be in effect, you must make sure that Live Playback is turned on under Play Tab > Live Playback. If this is not on, you will not see the options to adjust playback parameters in the Inspector panel.

Now that you have these three tips, use them to tweak your playback as needed.

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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