Ideas Building Blocks : Use Sibelius to Create a Database of Thematic Material

I recently had an interesting dialog with a fellow Sibelius user about using the Ideas feature as a productivity tool for managing music for a large project. He writes:

“I´m a film composer who is just starting a TV-series where I need to be very organised with my material. On the face of it, the Ideas feature in Sibelius 7.5 looks as though it might be helpful in that regard. My hope is that I might be able to organise all my themes, moods, rhythmic and harmonic material in a comprehensive database within Ideas for easy access across all the different scenes.

However, Ideas doesn´t seem to sort alphabetically when listing the entries in the Ideas window. It seems it wants to list the latest edited version on top. As I use codes for my material (for example; Th_Selma_strings (means; Selma´s Theme with strings..) it would be great if I could navigate alphabetically.

Do you have any experience with using Ideas in this way?”

All best,


The Ideas Panel in Sibelius is an extremely powerful, and in my opinion, a somewhat misunderstood and underused feature. While the built in Ideas are interesting in a sort of “Band in a Box” way, its real power is its ability to organize and recall your own material. These saved Ideas can be anything: little time-saver toolbox items such as an often-used dynamic shape consisting of text and lines you can paste down a new score quickly:


…or it can be multi-stave thematic material you can paste into a subsequent score.  Sibelius can either save an Idea to the current score, or to a central Library so that it will show up in all of your scores. For this type of project, you will want to use the latter. You can set this in the Ideas pane of Sibelius Preferences.

To capture an idea, make your selection, and type Shift-I.

When you capture an idea, Sibelius automatically tags the following information for you: Key signature, Time signature, Tempo, Length of the idea, Instrumentation, Creation date and Modification date.

In addition, you can title the Idea appropriately, and add your own keyword tags (e.g. Selma’s Theme, strings, 1m1 etc.) to help find it again. You can even color-code Ideas to help organize them.

To create organizational tags / keywords for later recall, use the Edit Idea Info dialog. Look for the icon at the bottom of the window that looks like a lightbulb with the gear on it, which will open the Edit Idea Info dialog:



There is essentially no limit the number of keyword tags you can add.

You can search for specific Tags / Keywords in the search field at the top of the Ideas panel. It’s important to note that the Ideas search engine requires complete words, e.g. if you have “Selma’s Theme” as a Tag, a search for “Selma” will not return anything, but a search for “Selma’s” will. In a case like the above, it’s not a bad idea to include both possibilities; “Selma’s” and “Selma”.

Keep in mind that “connection characters” like underscores in either Name or Tags require more specificity: for instance, if you use identifiers like “Th_Selma_Strings” and “Th_Selma_Woodwinds”, a search for “Th_Selma” will not return any results, because it is not complete for either case. However, if you include “Th” and “Selma” separated by spaces in Tags, a search for either of those will return results.

To get more specific return results, type additional tags separated by spaces.

While Ideas are sorted by most recent in the default view, in Detailed View, you can sort them any way you’d like: by Name, Tags, Key, Time Sig., Tempo, Instrumentation, Date or number of bars.


Once in the Detailed View dialog, type in your search Tag, and the dialog will propagate with all of the Ideas that match your search term. To sort by a specific tag, click on any column header to sort or reverse sort:


As you can see, with a little forethought about how to label your Ideas, the feature can be a powerful way to manage compositional materials across a single large project with a number of cues, or multiple projects where you might want to revisit specific themes, moods, rhythms or harmonic material later on.


8 Replies to “Ideas Building Blocks : Use Sibelius to Create a Database of Thematic Material”

    1. Actually, Martin, as it turns out, there *is* a similar feature in Finale. Finale’s Clip Files feature gives you, in effect, multiple Clipboards, each containing a different passage of music. These files are stored on your hard disk, where you can easily retrieve them for use in any document; a handy feature when you want to re-use motifs. You can use Finale’s Edit Filter to control what gets saved to the Clip Files, so they can be used to save dynamic shapes only, for instance or multi stave passages of music.

      To save a Clip file hold down the Option key (Alt key on Windows) while selecting the Edit Menu and you will see the options to Copy to Clip File and Paste to Clip File.

      The only caveat with Finale’s system is that you have to be diligent in how you organize your Clip files for easy retrieval since there is no search by keyword tag feature.

      If this might make an interesting topic for a tutorial, let me know.


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