Clean up MIDI Import for Drums and Percussion in Sibelius

Have you ever wondered why sometimes when importing a MIDI file containing drums or percussion, the resulting notation looks like garbage in Sibelius, while other times, the drum tracks import correctly, requiring only minor cleanup? Part of the answer can be found in the original General MIDI specification, which Sibelius uses to determine which tracks contain drums and percussion in MIDI files…

⇒ Here is the first tip: before importing midi files, assign any GM Drum Set tracks in your sequencer / DAW to Channel 10 before MIDI export for best results. Sibelius will map GM Drum Set notes correctly on import if they have been assigned to MIDI channel 10.

A little history: One of the first major improvements to the original MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) protocol was General MIDI (GM). General MIDI added new features and requirements to the original MIDI standard, and  drums and percussion were given specific consideration.  With GM, 24 voices across 16 discreet polyphonic MIDI channels could be played back at one time, with MIDI Channel 10 being reserved for non-pitched drums and percussion. Percussion sounds were mapped to an extended piano (synthesizer) keyboard, so that each of the 128 possible note numbers were interpreted as a separate, different percussion instrument without the need to change patches.

GM (General MIDI) was developed by theMIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) and the Japan MIDI Standards Committee (JMSC) and first published in 1991. 

After more than 20 years of technological advancements, composers are using polyphony that far exceeds the GM 24 voice / 16 channel specification. For drums and percussion, it’s common practice to record multiple percussion instruments across different tracks / channels. In addition, percussion note mapping is no longer as standardized as it once was – not surprising, given the amount of nuance available in modern drum and percussion sample libraries, and MIDI channel assignments can literally be anything.


An imported drum track assigned to MIDI channel 10 before import into Sibelius looks like this. Some light note duration cleanup is still required, but the pitches on the staff as well as the noteheads are accurate:

but here are the same measures when the channel assignment is something other than MIDI channel 10 on import:

⇒ Conversely, to prevent X noteheads and other anomalies from appearing in pitched instrument staves, keep in mind that any tracks assigned to MIDI channel 10 will be interpreted as Drums / Percussion on import in Sibelius.


If you are working in a situation where you don’t have the option of assigning MIDI tracks to specific channels before import (e.g. you are cleaning up a file already in Sibelius, for instance), Bob Zawalich’s “Percussion Pitch Map” plugin can be a huge timesaver.

The Percussion Pitch Map plugin will help you make quick work of cleaning up drum and percussion tracks imported from a sequencer.  At its core is a sophisticated transposition engine which can transpose a number of different, individual notes at any pitch, enharmonic and octave in a batch process.  Unlike other transposition or constrain to scale plugins, the plugin doesn’t simply transpose all selected notes up or down by a specific interval, or only filter for a specific pitch class and transpose it; here, every individual pitch in each octave is processed completely independently. All 88 pitches on the piano keyboard can have their own unique transpositions to any note in any octave. In fact, you  can actually create a map to transpose up to 128 notes at once!

So why do I need this? For starters, particularly with non-pitched percussion, the pitches used for playback in the DAW environment won’t appear “in the staff” as regular notation in Sibelius (except, of course, for the case where you are importing GM Drums and you’ve made sure to assign these drum tracks to MIDI channel 10 before you export).

The plugin transposes all of these incorrectly displaying pitches in your drum or percussion staff in one pass to the correct staff lines and spaces for music notation, even changing noteheads as required (e.g. “x” noteheads for cymbals).

(For Sibelius 6, download the plugin from the link above. If you are using Sibelius 7 or later, use the Install Plugins feature found in the File Tab.)


The plugin includes a built in General MIDI (GM) Drum Map for the Sibelius  Drum Sets and / or “Percussion, 5 lines” instrument in Sibelius (as well as a few  other maps for popular libraries), but the real power of this plugin is in the Editor.

Using the Editor feature of the plugin (Edit Percussion Pitch Map) you can create your own Pitch Maps, which can be an immense help for quickly processing tracks which have been optimized for play back in your DAW using your sample library of choice. Here, you can select which octave the source patch in your sample library uses for middle C (e.g. C3, C4 etc.) and also choose whether the plugin uses its Flexible Pitch or Strict Pitch mode to process the transpositions:

Strict Pitch matches note enharmonics exactly as they are spelled in the map, so if you map Ab2 to G#4, only the enharmonic spelling Ab2 will be transposed (not G#2), and only the note G#4 will be written, regardless of key signature.

Flexible pitch doesn’t care about how the source note is spelled. The plugin actually uses MIDI note numbers for these, so, for instance, C, B# and Dbb are all considered the same. The plugin lets Sibelius decide how to spell it, based on the current key signature. This is the best setting for unpitched instruments, and will also provide desirable results for pitched instruments like timpani if you want the instrument to follow the current note spellings of the key signatures in Sibelius.


Using the plugin editor, you can assign a specific notehead and articulation to each mapped entry.

Any of Sibelius’ 23 available noteheads can be specified: Normal, Cross (x), Diamond, Beat Without Stem, Beat, Cross Or Diamond, Black And White Diamond, Headless, Stemless, Silent, Cue, Slashed, BackSlashed, ArrowDown, ArrowUp, Inverted Triangle etc.

You can also assign any of the available articulations: Staccato, Staccatissimo, Wedge, Tenuto, Accent, Marcato, Harmonic/Open, Plus/Closed, Upbow, Downbow, Long fermata (square), Fermata (Pause), Short fermata (triangle), 2 tremolos, 4 tremolos, 8 tremolos, 16 tremolos, 32 tremolos, Buzz roll (Z on stem).

Timpani and cymbals are examples of instruments where the source sample library might include one or more locations on the keyboard “map” for struck notes, and another location for rolled (tremolo) versions of the same note(s).  In the editor, you can define the map to both transpose and transform the noteheads and articulations for these samples / pitches.  For Timpani, the resulting output is regular noteheads with trem indications on the rolled notes, and Suspended Cymbal can have X noteheads with trem indications on the rolled notes. All of the standard noteheads and articulations are available in the editor. Here is an example showing how the GM Open HiHat is defined:

While you are not allowed to duplicate the source pitch/octave within a single map, you *can* duplicate the destination pitch and octave as many times as you need. This allows you to create variations of a notehead or articulation for both proper notation and playback of that instrument in Sibelius.

An example of this would be Snare Drum, which might have multiple source pitches representing various techniques: Standard strike (normal notehead), Side Stick (X notehead), Rim Shot (slashed notehead), Rolls (normal notehead with tremolo articulation) etc. After running the plugin, all of these various sample trigger notes are notated on the snare drum location of the staff, with different noteheads and articulations to show and play back the different techniques.

For more advanced users, it’s worth noting that the plugin gives you access to the 3 Custom articulation slots available in Sibelius (=  /  *  on the 4th keypad). This allows you to assign literally any graphic symbol as a Custom articulation; just make sure that this is also assigned properly in the articulations sections of the Symbols dialog as part of your Sibelius House Style. Here is an example showing one of the Sibelius “Damp / Choke” symbols assigned to the Custom 1 articulation:

Note that it is fairly straightforward to create and edit percussion pitch maps directly in a text editor. Additional information on this can be found in the documentation that ships with the plugin.

As mentioned earlier, the plugin comes with a few maps already built in for GM sounds as well as a few popular patches from libraries such as ProjectSAM, Cinesamples and Kontakt to help you get started.

The list of currently available drum and percussion sample libraries is already quite extensive, and growing each year. For someone composing or orchestrating for live performance or recording with live players and using one of these professional sample libraries, the ability to easily create notated drum and percussion staves in Sibelius from tracks originally created in a sequencer is invaluable.

Big Fish Audio Cinematic Percussion & Epic Drums II, Cinesamples Drums of War, Cinesnares, Cinecymbals, EastWest Quantum Leap SD2, Kontakt Battery 3 Percussion, Kontakt Player Percussion, ProjectSAM True Strike 1 Cinematic Orchestral Percussion, Sonivox Big Bang Cinematic Percussion, Big Bang Universal Drums, Spitfire Percussion, Tapspace Virtual Drumline, Vienna Special Edition Percussion, Symphonic Library Percussion, Vir2 Instruments Elite Orchestral Percussion


The map files that the plugin creates are regular text (.txt) files that can be shared between Sibelius users. Composers can share maps with their orchestrators; orchestrators can share with their copyist, etc. You can also share maps you have created with other members of the Sibelius community. If you build maps for a particular patch or percussion library, and would like to make them available to others, please email the text file maps here, and I will post them so other Sibelius users have access to them.

You can find the folder name that holds your data files by editing a pitch map; the name appears in the text at the top of the edit dialog.


P.S. If you are so inclined, post Bob Z. a quick note of thanks on the Sibelius Chat Page.

P.P.S. For some great tutorials on the finer points specifically on drum set notation in Sibelius, be sure to check out the blog of my good friend (and top notch arranger and music notation guru) John Hinchey.

3 Replies to “Clean up MIDI Import for Drums and Percussion in Sibelius”

    1. Thanks, Lennie! Hopefully, you will get a lot of use out of this plugin. I know I will. Recording accurately to click, as well as choosing the correct meter for sequencing is a whole topic itself. A good topic for a new tutorial!

      ~ robert

  1. The new plug in looks incredibly useful, looking forward to trying it. The tutorials are also an amazing and helpful resource. Have just shared with my students and looking forward to less time solving problems, more time being creative next semester. Thanks!

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