w3cIn a move that may spur the improvement and adoption of open standards for music notation, MakeMusic and Steinberg today announced that they will be transferring development of their respective formats to the new Music Notation Community Group at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). MusicXML is the music interchange format invented by Michael Good and owned since 2011 by MakeMusic which enables files created by applications that support the format to open and save files that are used by other applications. SMuFL, owned by Steinberg and invented in 2013 by Daniel Spreadbury, is a standard way of mapping the thousands of musical symbols required by conventional music notation into a single font.

Although MusicXML and SMuFL are open standards, the responsibility of developing them has been that of their corporate owners, who also happen to be industry competitors. So the move to have music notation formats — upon which developers and users increasingly rely — developed in a more neutral forum going forward is a welcome occurrence for the field. The companies will continue to own the copyright to the standards (meaning they can publish them however they want), but the community group will be publishing them under W3C’s Community Group liberal attribution copyright license, even before they might advance to a more formal standards track. Read the full article →


All keyed up: Keyless instruments in a keyed score

by Philip Rothman on July 23, 2015 · 1 comment

in Tips

Earlier this week we discussed how and when to use open, or “keyless” key signatures in a score. Today we’ll cover a related but separate topic: using key signatures for some instruments but not others, and how to do it in Sibelius, Finale, and MuseScore.

The history

Most often, we’ll encounter “keyless” instruments in a transposing orchestral score with horns and trumpets. The reason for this is historical; when horns and trumpets were of the natural variety (without valves and pistons), those instruments were usually pitched in the key of the composition. The key of the instrument was adjusted by interchangeable crooks, which effectively lengthened or shortened the tubing of the instrument, thus lowering or raising the pitch. Players were limited to playing the series of pitches that occurred naturally in the overtone series. Because chromatic writing did not exist for these instruments, players were accustomed to reading parts without key signatures.

Later, when chromatic pitches became possible with the invention of valves and pistons, instrument transpositions were standardized but the convention of no key signatures persisted. Other instruments that often go “keyless” are timpani and (less often) pitched percussion.


A section from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, with a keyless trumpet in a passage where the rest of the score is in the concert key of three flats

OK, now that you know the history, how do you do it in your score? Read the full article →

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All keyed up: Going keyless in your score

by Philip Rothman on July 20, 2015 · 4 comments

in Tips

During my conversation on the SoundNotion podcast several weeks ago with hosts David MacDonald and Sam Merciers, we touched on a persistent notation problem we encounter when working with scores from well-meaning students or collaborators: a piece written in C major or A minor is not the same thing as one with no key signature.

Now, they may look the same on first blush. Say you’re setting up a new score in Sibelius and want to get right on with composing in concert pitch. You see your options in the Quick Start, choose No key signature and are presented with three options, all of which may seem similar:


Although they look alike, your choice has important ramifications: if you choose C major or A minor, any transposing instruments (like B-flat Clarinet) will display their transposed key signature (like D major) in a transposed score or a part. If your piece is really truly in a key signature, this will be exactly what you want.

But if your intent is to not have any key signatures anywhere, in any instrument, as is often common when composing film scores or atonal music, you’ll need to choose No key (sometimes this appears as Open key/atonal in earlier versions of Sibelius), lest your music be littered with unnecessary naturals.

If you’ve already set up your score with a key signature and wish to change it later, no problem: simply type K to call up the Key Signatures gallery, choose Atonal/No key, and click the first bar of the score (or the first bar of where the open key is to begin).

You can, of course, mix keyed passages and keyless passages in the same score. Doing so is nothing new; Igor Stravinsky and Aaron Copland are just two of the many composers who have found it useful to do this.

A section from Aaron Copland's Third Symphony, transitioning from open key to F major

A section from Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony, transitioning from open key to F major in a transposing score

Do you use Finale? Until Finale 2014, the option for an open key didn’t exist. Workarounds were possible but time consuming, especially if you needed to alternate the key signatures in the same score as described above. Fortunately, Finale 2014 introduced the Keyless signature option, along with full MusicXML support.

Choosing this option, either upon initial score setup or later in the composing process, works much the same as choosing Atonal/No key in Sibelius.


MuseScore users aren’t out of luck, either. MuseScore 2 added an Open/Atonal option, which shows as a non-printing “X” in the key signature palette to distinguish it from C major/A minor. If you don’t see it, be sure that you have selected the Advanced palettes.


In this follow-up post, we cover how to show key signatures on some staves but not on others.


zawalich3This blog post is written by Bob Zawalich, composer, guitarist, software designer, and creator of hundreds of useful plug-ins for Sibelius. In this post about colored notehead styles, Bob describes his process working around Sibelius’s limitations in order to create a way to color individual noteheads within a chord, eventually resulting in the Colored Notehead Styles plug-in suite.

Sibelius has long had the ability to apply colors to notes, as well as to other objects. Unfortunately, if you apply a color to any note in a chord of notes in the same voice, all the notes in that chord will be given the same color.


I have written a number of color-related plug-ins over the years (Apply Named Color, Color Enharmonic Pitches, Color Harp Strings, and others), and it has always bothered me that they could only be used with very simple music that had only single notes, or that people would have to split up chords into separate voices to get separate colors in chords. This made the plug-ins awkward at best in real-world musical situations.

I had complained about this problem to Sibelius for years, but a fix was never made. Quite possibly nobody besides me cared all that much.

I was recently answering questions on the Sibelius tech support forum about the Add Note Names to Noteheads plug-in (shipping with Sibelius as Notations > Noteheads > Add Note Names), and Kai Struck was asking questions about how the notehead styles in that plug-in were created (we made noteheads from symbols out of SVG format graphics files, which were first supported in Sibelius 7). He eventually created some SVG graphics to make up solfege (Do, Re, Mi) noteheads. I was mentioning my frustration with coloring of noteheads, and he suggested that SVG noteheads could be used for coloring.

I decided that if we limited ourselves to Normal shapes in the Opus font, and to the named colors I use in other plug-ins, we could get a full set of colors in 24 notehead styles, which would fit in scores that did not already have user defined notehead styles.

Kai agreed to create a set of SVG graphics noteheads for the project, and I created symbols using the graphics, and then made up notehead styles for all these colors. I created a score that used each of the colors (with a quarter, half and whole note for each color) and each color labeled by its name.

My plan was to create house styles using the colors, but I found that when I imported such a house style, it could replace the text in the score with whatever was in the score that made the house style. So instead I decided to copy notes from the data file I had set up into other scores. This has the useful side effect of transferring the symbols and notehead styles that make up the copied noteheads, without bringing over the text styles. Read the full article →


Thumbnail image for MakeMusic acquires Weezic; web-based SmartMusic planned

MakeMusic acquires Weezic; web-based SmartMusic planned

July 9, 2015

MakeMusic acquires Weezic, a Paris-based startup, in order to incorporate its web-based interactive learning music software into the SmartMusic product line, and to open a European outpost.

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Thumbnail image for A modest proposal for a Sibelius app store

A modest proposal for a Sibelius app store

July 7, 2015

A concept for a place where users can discover add-ons, purchase plug-ins, sound sets and more, with installation and updates automatically managed all from directly within Sibelius.

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Thumbnail image for Summer reading list, Sibelius blog style

Summer reading list, Sibelius blog style

July 3, 2015

We’re heading to the beach for a few days. If you’re doing the same, or just taking it easy on your porch, bring along this summer reading list to get up to speed on the year’s news to date.

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Thumbnail image for Recent appearances: SoundNotion, NYU/ASCAP film workshop, MOLA

Recent appearances: SoundNotion, NYU/ASCAP film workshop, MOLA

June 29, 2015

An extensive chat with the SoundNotion team about music notation news, and reflections on presentations at the NYU/ASCAP film scoring workshop and the MOLA annual conference.

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Thumbnail image for An interview with Ben Finn, co-founder of Sibelius [Part 2 of 2]

An interview with Ben Finn, co-founder of Sibelius [Part 2 of 2]

June 25, 2015

In part 2 of this two-part interview, Sibelius co-founder Ben Finn speaks to us about selling Sibelius to Avid, events after the sale, marketplace developments, and the state of the field today.

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Thumbnail image for An interview with Ben Finn, co-founder of Sibelius [Part 1 of 2]

An interview with Ben Finn, co-founder of Sibelius [Part 1 of 2]

June 23, 2015

In part 1 of a two-part interview, Sibelius co-founder Ben Finn speaks to us about the early days of Sibelius, evolving the software, and growing the company into the market leader.

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