Sibelius 7 – the Power of Ideas

A few years ago, I created two special “Scratchpad” files, one for Finale (.mus) and one for Sibelius (.sib). It was a handy way to quickly copy and paste common notation building blocks which can take time to create, like drum set patterns, from one score into another.

The Ideas Library of Sibelius 7 offers a much better way to collect and organize these building blocks – and it’s integrated right into Sibelius. To start with, you have access to a large number of built-in musical motifs you can use to create new music (Preferences>Ideas>Show Built-in-ideas), and you can add and edit your own.

In this YouTube video from back in 2008, Daniel Spreadbury gives an excellent demonstration of the original “Ideas Hub”, as it was called when it was first introduced in Sibelius 5:

However, to this day, I’m surprised at how many Sibelius users think of the Ideas feature as nothing more than a “Musical Clip Art” feature – fun to play with, but not a tool for serious professional use.  You might be surprised to learn that the Sibelius Ideas feature is a powerful scratchpad that has the power to transform the way you work. Let’s take a closer look:


Show Ideas in Sibelius 7 by selecting the View Tab. Check Ideas in the Panels group. In Sibelius 6, choose Ideas in the Windows menu, or click the lightbulb icon in the toolbar. (You can also use the keyboard shortcuts).

Use the Ideas Panel for any musical motif. I find it to be an indispensable tool for drum set patterns, which can be time consuming to enter with their different noteheads and stems up / stems down multi-voice layout.

Search for Ideas by typing (for instance) “drums” and you’ll get a whole bunch of premade drum patterns and fills. Select one from the list  (it will become highlighted).

Paste an existing Idea into your score by first selecting it from the list on the Panel  (some of the built-in Ideas are one bar, some are two or more bars). Select a matching number of destination bars a staff of your score. Click the Paste button at the bottom of the Panel. et voilà!

Modify an existing pattern or motif. Once in the score, you can modify the pasted music however you’d like without changing the original Idea. It’s usually worth a quick search to see if anything is close to what you need – in many cases it can be faster than creating something similar from scratch.

Create a new Idea by selecting one or more bars of music in your score and typing SHIFT- I. Your captured Idea can be saved to the Library, or to the current score for later retrieval. Once it’s saved, you can use Edit Info at the bottom of the Panel to name it,  create tags (keywords) to help you find it quickly, and even color code it.

Edit the original Idea content by double clicking on the Idea in the Panel’s list to open the Idea Editor if you decide the original Idea needs a tweak.

While the most obvious elements to copy and save for later recall are notes and rests, articulations, phrasing and dynamics will also be copied if included. Basically, whatever you have in the staff will be copied as part of the idea. But this is really just scratching the surface . . .


Multicopying is a feature of Sibelius which allows you to copy a single selection, multiple selection or passage several times either horizontally (along the same staff), vertically (onto more than one staff), or both at once.

As it turns out, Sibelius’ Multicopying feature (and its associated “smart filtering”) are also in play when you create and recall an Idea. While this probably isn’t the first way you’d think to use an Idea, it’s a very powerful one.

For instance, if you make a selection consisting of mixed text and lines, you can either Copy it to the Clipboard and Paste it right away, or type SHIFT-I to capture it as an Idea for recall at any later point,  just as if you had copied it to the Clipboard:

SHIFT – I  copies your selection to the Ideas Panel, where you can name it, assign it tags, and even color code it:

Once it is saved and organized as an Idea, you have the option to edit its contents at any later point in the Edit Window:

Now we start to see some of the real horsepower of this feature. At any point in the future, you can Multicopy this filtered selection of text and lines from the Ideas Panel just as if it had never left your Clipboard:

Since only the dynamics were saved as an Idea, only the dynamics are pasted into your multiple staff selection, leaving the contents of the staves alone, just as if you had done the Multicopy in real-time!

Pretty cool, but remember, the Multicopy feature of Sibelius is already very fast to use, so the best candidates for this technique are notations or text combinations that you are likely to use again, but which take a fair bit of work to enter. As you work on your next project in Sibelius, be thinking “where and how might I use this again?” or “that took a lot of time to do – maybe I should archive it as an Idea in case I need it (or something like it) again”.


Remember, an Idea can be made up of *anything* that is staff attached – all by itself or in any combination – notes and rests, text, lines, symbols, imported graphics, comments, highlights… You get the idea. Once you start thinking of different ways to integrate the Ideas Library into your workflow – you’ll come up with all sorts of unique uses.

Maybe it’s a few different Boxed Aleatoric Notations for different graphical gestures:

Or maybe it isn’t something that is visible at all. Since controller data such as Volume, Pan, Modulation etc are typically hidden Technique text in Sibelius, specific controller data instructions can be saved in your Ideas Library for later recall. Use it to reset a specific group of controllers, or quickly recreate real-time expressive pan or mod wheel automation.  (check Hidden Objects in the View tab of Sibelius 7 so you can see this hidden text to select it, and make sure you are only selecting the hidden text, not the staff itself):

(ex. Controller 7 data bringing the Volume up from nothing over some number of beats you specify)

As a friend of mine used to say – “there is nothing as valuable as an Idea”. 


One Reply to “Sibelius 7 – the Power of Ideas”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.