Concert Pitch, Transposing and Octave-Displaced Instruments : A Prelude

Music scores, whether orchestral, concert band, big band, or a pop chart etc. typically contain a variety of differently pitched instruments. Because factors like instrument length, size and acoustical properties affect each instrument’s range / tessitura, certain instruments need to be written transposed, in a different octave, or both to produce pitches in common with other instruments.

This system of written pitch notation allows the music to remain largely within the staff for each part as well as the transposing score. Instruments written in a different octave than where they sound are referred to as octave-displaced instruments.

Additionally, it is common practice in Concert Scores to show octave-displaced instruments at written (rather than concert) pitch. This allows these instruments to be notated largely within the staff. (For Finale users, more on this later.)


Regardless of whether a pitched instrument produces its sound by vibrating metal, membranes, strings or air, it falls into one of the following four transposition / octave displacement types:

more >>

Transpose by Interval in Sibelius

Q: I play Alto Sax in a (small) big band. We’ve purchased Superstition by Stevie Wonder, arranged by Mike Tomaro. It’s a nifty piece of work and quite a challenge. I used Photoscore to enter my Alto Sax part into Sibelius 6, which appeared to go quite smoothly. But, Photoscore apparently didn’t spot the fact that it was a transposed part.

Is there a way that I can correct this in Sibelius and not lose all my sharps and flats? When I play it, I hear the correct notes but not at the right pitch. It would be nice to be able to change them, without having to alter each sharp or flat by hand. I’ve been trying to find an anwser but I have not been successful so far. Can you help me? Thanks very much.

A: Fortunately, this one is pretty easy to set right by (a) first making sure that the score in concert pitch is set to the correct key signature (in this case, your “score” can also be a single part) and (b) transposing the notes to the corresponding concert / transposed pitches. You can do both operations from within the Transpose dialog in Sibelius.

Let’s say you have a chart in three flats concert. The corresponding Alto Sax part is going to appear as C maj / A minor:

more >>

(2) Comments

The Convolutions of Hidden & Independent Key Signatures in Finale

UPDATE: If you have updated to Finale 2014, take a look at the new Keyless Scores feature which is related to the issues covered in this post.

Q: I’m formatting a Timpani part with key signatures hidden. The score contains a number of keys changes / signatures. The timpani part itself is fine with all accidentals in place.

However, I need cued notes from other parts to appear in the Timpani part. The source parts all show key signatures. I used the TG Tools Add Cue Notes… plugin to make the cues, but none of those accidentals appear in the timpani part. For example, the flute is in the key of G major, and has a passage with F-sharp in it. If I cue that passage in the timpani part, Finale doesn’t show the sharp to indicate F#.

I can’t believe this is an uncommon problem. How can I globally make these diatonic accidentals appear in a part without Key Signatures?

A: As you are already aware, historically, Classical scores displayed some instruments without Key Signatures. Timpani and French Horn are probably the most common of these “keyless” instruments, although you will find examples in the repertoire for Trumpet and even Clarinet.

For Timpani, since it is not a transposing instrument, one would think that all you’d need to do to hide the key signature is to uncheck Key Signatures in Items to Display of the Staff Attributes, and any diatonic accidentals would then automatically appear in the staff:


However, to see how this really works (and how it doesn’t), let’s (1) define a Key Signature, then (2) set our Timpani not to display the Key Signature as above:


(3) Now, enter some notes using your MIDI keyboard. If you enter a sequence of non-diatonic naturals, you get (redundant) naturals displaying on every note; if you enter notes that are diatonic to the hidden Key Signature, the accidentals aren’t displayed at all, neither of which is very useful:


So, as you can see, simply hiding the Key Signature isn’t really an ideal solution at all. If you’ve already entered music in the staff with “Items to Display>Key Signatures” unchecked, there is a partial solution for showing accidentals more correctly after the fact, which I will cover at the end of the blog post. But first…

more >>

1 Comment

Sibelius : How to Keep Flexi-time From Adding Unwanted Measures to Your Score

Q: I have been unable to solve the problem whereby Sibelius 7 appears to add numerous measures to the end of my score as I am recording (in Flexi-time) when I input notes via MIDI controller. I am not sure what I am doing to cause the score to expand in that way. This is not a major problem, but having to delete needless measures every so often is a bit of irritation. I would be delighted if you could suggest a solution.

A: By default, the Flexi-time feature of Sibelius 6 and 7 is designed for you to be able to  begin recording with no previous sense of the form of the piece – e.g. the idea is that you are simply going to begin recording your recorded ideas into Sibelius, and much the same as you would if you were recording with a tape recorder or DAW, within reason, you will want to be able to record until you make a mistake (or run out of ideas).

To facilitate this, when you first begin recording in Flexitime, Sibelius adds blank bars to form a “container” for the transcription it will create. By default, this is set at 100 bars. The good news is that if you are using Sibelius for a scratchpad to record your ideas, Sibelius will generally capture everything.

But, if your score is past the stage of plunking in thematic ideas on the MIDI keyboard, it’s likely you’ve already determined the  “form” of your piece – perhaps you are trying to record the trumpet lines in an existing orchestral score, or a sax line at rehearsal letter B in your big band chart. The last thing you need in an existing score is an extra 100 bars added every time you turn on Flexi-time to record 8 bars in the middle of the piece!

Fortunately, it’s very simple to keep Sibelius from adding these additional bars.


more >>

(4) Comments

Improving Tremolo Playback in Sibelius 6 & 7 & Alternate Playback Methods

Q: I would like to use three line tremolos for all unmeasured tremolos, and have them always play back correctly. Properly notated (on printed page) three line tremolos for timpani, drum rolls, and mallet percussion play back (somewhat) correctly at faster tempos, but sound like an M1919 Browning machine gun at slower tempos.

The four line tremolo (called “16 tremolos”) typically sounds best for strings, but I want to use the three line tremolo for unmeasured tremolo, which is visually correct. Is there a workaround to achieve (reasonably) proper playback of both, without co-opting an incorrect looking symbol on the printed page? I don’t want to have to use the alternate 16 tremolos (4-line), or 32 tremolos (5-line) for correct playback.

A: Yes. By default, Sibelius plays back three stroke tremolos as “8 tremolos”, which means that it is simply subdividing the note it is attached to 8 times. At faster tempos, this can sound ok, but this quantized “fast measured” effect sounds patently incorrect at slower tempos. I think the percussive 30 caliber M1919 Browning analogy is a good one.

This is a case where the software has introduced a possible bad habit for young composers and arrangers, because in order to get correct playback by default, one has to resort to using the 4 or 5 stroke tremolos.

Elaine Gould, in her book “Behind Bars” (page 224), states “The standard indication for unmeasured tremolo is three tremolo strokes.”

So, how can we get these three stroke tremolos to play back properly? Let’s take a look.

more >>

(2) Comments

Sibelius 7 Sounds User Guide

The Sibelius 7 Sounds User Guide wasn’t included with my original installation of Sibelius 7.0, but I would have found it very useful. It provides a complete list of all of the instruments and sounds included with Sibelius 7 as well as details of how to trigger all of the different playing techniques contained in the library.

While the main Sibelius Reference Guide contains some of the same material contained in this resource, if you are trying to get the best results from the Sound Library, you’ll probably want to check this out first. The Sounds User Guide provides informative graphics and illustrations to help you understand Sibelius Sound Library parameters such as ranges and sound IDs:

To help you get started, Avid has also posted a companion example Sibelius 7 score that has every instrument in the Sibelius 7 Sounds library already configured. (The User Guide has instructions starting on page 11).


Sibelius 7 Sounds User Guide

Sibelius Sounds Configuration File

To download the Sibelius Sounds User Guide PDF above without opening it directly in your browser, right click the image link, then save it to your desktop or downloads folder. 

The Sibelius 7 Sounds User Guide is written by Hugh Smith of The Write Score, providers of documentation and templates for a variety of sound libraries to help you get the most out of your notation software.

The sound library included with Sibelius 7 contains 550 separate instruments and playing techniques, and hundreds of unpitched percussion sounds.

(6) Comments

Expressive Rubato to Massive Grooves : Ensemble Playback That Sings & Swings

Subtle differences in the timing, volume and duration of phrases are what gives music its “feel” – to inject more tension or weight; to make it more emotional and exciting. Veteran live performers and session musicians sometimes refer to playing “in the pocket”, which means playing every note in the exact sweet spot for each beat in every bar.

When a conductor coaxes a particularly emotional rubato from an orchestra, or a rhythm section lays down a massive groove, causing the listener’s body to move involuntarily, two things are certain. The performers have coalesced in a tangible way that is undefinable; and, whatever *it* is, everyone is doing it together.

more >>