In this series of blog posts I’m looking at a tool which millions of music students and professionals use every day: Sibelius.
I’m going to show you how to get the best results from Sibelius when using it for your degree work by looking at where Sibelius’s default settings don’t always produce the best results, and what changes we can make to improve the clarity and presentation of our scores. I will also be mentioning a lot of time-saving keyboard shortcuts, which once memorised will dramatically improve your Sibelius workflow.
I’m generally going to be referring to Sibelius 8, the most recent version, as it’s what most new users will encounter. I will sometimes mention previous versions, when there is a substantial different in functionality, so if you’re using Sibelius 6 or 7 you should still be able to apply most of this content.
In the first blog I covered the fundamentals: what you need to include in a score and how to make it look clear and easily readable.
In this second post I will explore the presentation of more complicated music, including larger ensembles and more complex rhythmic notation.
In the third and final part I will demonstrate techniques needed for orchestral scores and non-standard notation such as extended techniques and simultaneous tempi.
1. Multiple Instruments
Using the flute piece we worked on in the previous blog post as a starting point, I’ve added two more instruments to create a piece for wind trio. As we can see, Sibelius has created the staves too close together to show all of the information clearly.
We have to manually separate the staves by clicking on a bar in one of the lower two instruments (make sure you’ve selected the whole bar, not an object within it) and dragging it down.
You can change the distance between instruments stave-by-stave (single click to select a bar), or across the whole score (triple-click to select the whole instrumental line). This can be useful in creating a perfectly consistent stave layout, but it’s important to be careful when changing the global layout that you aren’t causing problems elsewhere in the score.
As we can see, the flute doesn’t have a short instrument name, because we deleted it in the last blog post. To bring it back, you can use the ‘Instrument Names’ plugin (found in Home > Plugins > Text). If you can’t see the plugin, it can be downloaded from the Sibelius website.
In some scores, for example a string quartet, or a piece for voice and piano, these short names won’t be necessary, but in larger scores they are essential, especially if players are changing instruments.
Here is the same score, with a further expanded ensemble of wind quintet and piano.
This new version raises a couple of new questions: the bracket and barlines have defaulted to include the four wind instruments, but not the horn. This is standard for an orchestral score, but wind quintets do not usually distinguish between the winds and the horn. We can either delete the bracket, or extend it to include the horn. To extend it and the barlines, drag the bottom end down, to include the lower stave.
Sibelius has placed the horn beneath the wind – again the orchestral standard – which is common but not universal placement in wind quintet music. The horn is often placed above the bassoon, so the ensemble is in rough order of register. (Compare the score for Janacek’s Mladi, for six winds, which places the horn above both the bassoon and bass clarinet.) You should decide on the ordering of the instruments based on the specific piece, don’t assume the default is the best.
The biggest issue with the score however is the page layout – there is a lot of wasted space on both pages. There are two options available to us here – make the staves more spread out to fill the page, or make them smaller, to fit multiple systems on each page. Which one we choose depends on various things, including what the score will be used for, how much smaller would we have to make the music, and what size paper are we using. In this example, assuming that the score is for a conductor and will be printed on A4, I’ve chosen to make the music smaller to fit more on the page.
To change the size of the staves, go to Layout – Staff Size. This new version uses a staff size of 5.5, down from the default of 7. If you wanted to make the staves spread out instead, go to Appearance > Engraving Rules > Staves and change the ‘Justify Page’ setting to about 50%.
(If you look carefully at the bassoon part in bar 5 above, you can see the crescendo now overlaps the note – things sometimes move around when you resize the music, so be careful to proofread.)
If the score was for a pianist to play from rather than a conductor we could make the other instruments smaller. Go to Home > Add or Remove Instruments, select all the systems except the piano and tick the ‘small staff’ box. This final version uses size 6.5, with the winds using ‘small staff’. I’ve also added system seperators, which can be added in the Appearance > Engraving Rules > Instruments settings.
We’ve just about finished with this score now, but we’ll come back to it in a bit after looking at some other specific Sibelius situations.
2. Slurs and Ties
Sometimes you will want to indicate notes which are to be ‘left to ring’ with a tie which isn’t connected to anything.
In the example above, the default ties collide with the following notes and rest. Each one must be shortened manually by selecting the right-hand end of the tie and pulling it back. If it collides with the following note this can be difficult to select – in which case you might have to temporarily transpose the following note up or down an octave, or drag a rest up or down to access the tie. Remember to put it back afterwards!
Slurs have been a problem in older versions of Sibelius – they are much improved in Sibelius 8. However, if you have an older version, you may well find that adding slurs to notes with articulation marks is problematic, and results in situations where the slur collides with the marking. Unfortunately, there’s no way of avoiding this, except for upgrading, or editing each slur manually. Click on the end of the slur and drag it away from the articulation mark. Slurs should start above tenutos and staccatos, but below accents.
3. Beams and Stemlets
If you’re working with polyrhythms, or any unusual time signatures, you’ll want to consider the beat-groupings in your music. These can be set when you create a new time signature: in Sibelius 8 the default groupings can be seen underneath the time signatures when you select them. For example 5/8 is grouped 3+2. However, if you want a 5/8 which is grouped 2+3, 2+2+1 or any other combination, select More Options in the time signature box, then select Beam and Rest Groupings. Here you can control the length of each beat, and select some other advanced beaming options.
However, if we want to have different beat groupings in different instruments, the beams must be set manually using the beam controls in the Beam Panel (panel 3) of the Keypad.
If you’re using rests in complicated polyrhythmic music, you may want to show the beat structure using beams and short stems called stemlets. To create stemlets add beams to the rests as you would notes, and click the top-right button on the Beam Panel ‘add stemlet’.
These tools will allow you to create detailed scores for instrumental ensembles, and avoid some of the problems Sibelius creates for us with its default settings. In the next post I will explore orchestral scores and extended techniques for the advanced composer.
Also published on Medium.