Cracking Sibelius’s color code

by Philip Rothman on April 21, 2014 · 8 comments

in Tips


Ever wonder why some objects in Sibelius are colored dark blue when you select them, and others are colored light blue — and other objects may be colored green, orange, pink, purple or even red?

These colors won’t print, of course; they’re merely intended to help you differentiate among certain items. Knowing the color code could help you as you work with your music.

It’s really quite simple:

Voice or object
Dark blue
Voice 1
Voice 2
Voice 3
Voice 4
Light blue
More than one voice
System objects
Potential problem

Here’s where it can get a little trickier, but understanding the logic makes it easy:

  • Each note can be assigned to one and only one voice, so notes will appear in one of the first four colors when selected. This is also the case with magnetic (note-attached) slurs and the articulations and accidentals that one would ordinarily apply with the Keypad.
  • Certain staff-attached objects, such as Expression and Technique text, chord symbols, lyrics, glissando and octave lines, and many symbols like breath marks and mordents can be assigned to a single voice, so you may see them appear in one of the first four colors. However, these items can also be assigned to more than one voice at once. If that’s the case, then these items will appear light blue when selected.
  • Other staff-attached objects, like clef changes and instrument changes, always appear light blue when selected, because these items always apply to all voices.
  • System objects, such as Tempo and Title text, tempo and ending lines, barlines, time signatures and (usually) key signatures appear purple when selected, to signify that they apply to the entire score, and will typically appear in all the parts. (I said “usually” for key signatures because it is possible to apply a key signature change to one staff only, in which case it will appear light blue, of course – but that’s another article!)

Keep in mind that when it comes to passage selections, a similar logic applies: staff selections are in light blue; system selections are in purple.

An example of a system selection, with music in each of the four voices, dynamics that apply to all voices, system tempo text, and staff lyric text

An example of a system selection, with music in each of the four voices, dynamics that apply to all voices, system tempo text, and staff lyric text

If you’ve entered a note or staff-attached object in one voice, but you’d like to change it to another voice, just select the object and then click the voice number in the Keypad, or go to Note Input > Voices > Voice. To do this even faster, use the shortcuts Alt+1/2/3/4 on PC or Option-1/2/3/4 on Mac.

To make text, lines, or symbols apply to all voices, simply select the item(s) and type Alt+5 (PC) or Option-5 (Mac), or click the All button on the Keypad. Note that if you need an object to appear in combination of voices (e.g., voices 1 and 3 only, but not 2 and 4), you must click the buttons on the Keypad with the mouse rather than use the shortcuts.

The numbers on the Keypad will indicate the voice(s) to which you've assigned objects

The numbers on the Keypad will indicate the voice(s) to which you’ve assigned objects

Assigning objects to certain voices may not seem like a big deal. However, during playback, depending on the instrument, Sibelius will interpret the dynamics on a per-voice basis – but only if they’re assigned correctly. Further, filtering voices by using Home > Filters will return different results depending on how items are assigned.

For example, observe how Sibelius filters voice 2 in this example:


In measure 1, the dynamics are assigned to all voices, so they get included in the filter. In measure 2, the dynamics are assigned only to voice 1, so they are excluded from the filter:


Red-colored objects can signify a potential problem in your score:

  • If you have Magnetic Layout switched on, which it is by default (under Layout > Magnetic Layout), and View > Magnetic Layout > Collisions checked, Sibelius will color objects causing collisions (or nearly so) red, whether or not those items are selected. You should attempt to resolve those collisions by moving things around or by optimizing staff spacing.
  • Certain slurs may also be colored red when selected. These are uncommon but occasionally useful non-magnetic slurs that can be placed when nothing is selected in your score.
  • Notes that are too high or low for a particular instrument’s range will be colored bright red if they are outside of what Sibelius defines as the instrument’s “professional” range; notes that are within this range but deemed “uncomfortable” are colored dark red. These ranges can be modified by editing the instrument in Home > Instruments > Edit Instruments.
  • If you type in a chord symbol that Sibelius doesn’t recognize, it will be colored red.

Remember, all of this colorful goodness won’t print; it’s only there to help you decode the many different objects in your score. Should you actually wish to let out your inner Scriabin, you can apply colors to items in your score by going to Home > Color. Also, Bob Zawalich has written many useful plug-ins that work with color, all of which may be downloaded directly through Sibelius 7 or 7.5 at File > Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins > Color. Users may also install these manually in Sibelius 6, 7 or 7.5 by visiting the plug-in download page and following the usual manual installation procedure, or by using the Install New Plug-in plug-in.

Updated 5:00 pm with additional information about red-colored objects.



Last month, when I opened my electricity bill, I was modestly surprised by the lower than average amount due. I didn’t give it too much thought; after all, energy prices and usage fluctuate. I paid the charges and went about my day.

Today, though, when looking at this month’s bill I did a double-take. The bill was lower than it had ever been.

In our old building on New York’s Upper West Side, heat and and hot water are provided by the building’s boiler, so those charges would not have affected the electricity bill. The only items powered by electricity are lights, appliances and … computer hardware and peripherals.

Aha! Regular readers of this blog will recall that, a couple of months ago, I replaced my bulky 2008 Mac Pro “cheese grater” tower with the new 2013 Mac Pro “trash can” model. I couldn’t think of any other changes I had made in recent months to lighting, appliances or computers. Could the Mac Pro be the cause of the savings? I had to find out.

The new Mac Pro is both more and less powerful than the old model

The new Mac Pro is both more, and less powerful, than the old model

Luckily I was able to research electricity bills for the past three years without too much trouble. Unsurprisingly, I found that my energy usage peaks in July, when the air conditioning runs the most; I use the least energy in December, when I typically close up shop for a few days during the holiday season.

On average, prior to this year, I had used 15.6 kWh per day during the months of February and March. Yet in February and March of this year, my KWh per day usage averaged just 12.4. And it was mid-way through February this year when I replaced my computer; had I replaced it at the beginning of the month, it’s likely that number would be even lower.


I figure that the new Mac Pro is saving at least 3.2 kWh per day — a savings of more than 20% off of my total electric usage. The cost of one kWh in the expensive local market, on average over the past three years, has been 28 cents. So that works out to a savings of about 90 cents per day.

That’s about $328 per year. I had my previous Mac Pro for six years, so if the current one matches that tenure, that will work out to $1,968 in energy savings over the life of the Mac.

Apple helpfully provides power consumption data for its entire Mac Pro line going back to the original model in 2006. In an idle state my 2008 Mac Pro consumed 112 watts more than the 2013 Mac Pro – the equivalent of more than 8 energy efficient light bulbs. Over a period of 24 hours (I had often left my Mac Pro on overnight to run background tasks) that would work out to 2.7 kWh per day. Factoring in the greater efficiencies of the OS and hardware, the new Mac Pro is idle and sleeping more, and so my estimate of a 3.2 kWh per day savings seems reasonable.

The new computer is saving the cost of keeping these lit all day long

The new computer is saving the cost of keeping these lit all day long

Of course, replacing the old 2008 Mac Pro with just about any modern computer (like an iMac) would have resulted in a cost savings. And I realize that this is but an infinitesimal drop in the ocean of energy issues that our planet faces. Still, we tend to just flip on a light switch or boot up a computer without often thinking about what it takes or costs to make that happen, so knowing that the new computer saved some green – and, saved some green – is a good feeling.


Working correctly with slurs and ties

by Philip Rothman on April 14, 2014 · 14 comments

in Tips

Occasionally when reviewing someone else’s score in Sibelius or Finale, I’ll notice that the user has incorrectly entered ties as slurs. While the two items may look similar, they are in fact different, and behave differently in notation software:

  • Ties connect two or more notes of the same pitch, effectively lengthening the duration of the note
  • Slurs are notated on two or more notes, usually of different pitch, to make them legato, or to show phrase markings or bowings

If you enter in a tie as a slur, not only will it look and behave differently in notation software, but it will play back incorrectly. My colleague Tom Rudolph has an excellent basic guide to entering ties and slurs in both Sibelius and Finale. These topics are also covered in Lessons 1 and 3 in Avid’s Get Started Fast with Sibelius 7.5 video tutorials.

What if this information came too late, and you’ve already entered in all your ties as slurs? Or what if you’re a copyist who has received such a file from somebody else? You’ll want Roman Molino Dunn’s $13 plug-in Locate Ties Entered As Slurs, available from his store, The Music Transcriber. Once you’ve installed the plug-in via the usual manual installation procedure, or with Bob Zawalich’s free plug-in Install New Plug-in, you can take a passage like this:


Run the plug-in with these settings:


And get this result:


In Appearance > Engraving Rules > Ties 1 and Ties 2, under Ties Above/Below on Notehead Side, I’ve unchecked “Use on single notes”, which is why the difference is more noticeable than it otherwise might be. Notice how the plug-in is intelligent enough to account for slurs that occur between notes of the same pitch when articulations are present, and optionally leave them alone, like when a string player would play two separate notes of the same pitch with the same bow stroke.

Another of Roman’s handy plug-ins is Locate Slurs Ending On Ties, also $13. It is generally best practice in modern notation for a slur to encompass all ties notes until their last tied into note. If you’re working with a score in which the composer has entered the slur only up to the start of the tie, this plug-in will easily save you lots of work, like in this case:


Run the plug-in with these settings:


And get this result:


I recently used Locate Slurs Ending On Ties on a score with more than 700 such instances! Naturally, I used all that time I saved to more thoroughly enjoy life’s greater pleasures.


Avid-everywhere2This past Saturday at NAB 2014 in Las Vegas, Avid unveiled a highly publicized new strategic vision for helping content creators and media organizations connect with consumers. Called Avid Everywhere, it was introduced by president & CEO Louis Hernandez, Jr. to an audience at the Avid Customer Association’s inaugural event, Avid Connect.

The Avid Everywhere event was less about specific product details and more about defining the direction of the company. The centerpiece of the vision is a common services platform called Avid MediaCentral. According to Avid, the platform “facilitates an open and extensible environment that integrates technology from Avid and other providers. Content creators and distributors can produce, manage, deliver, and monetize media that adheres to a common set of standards – regardless of the vendor and tools they choose to use at each step of the way.”

He's Everywhere: Louis Hernandez, Jr. announcing a new Avid vision

He’s Everywhere: Avid’s Louis Hernandez, Jr. announcing a new vision for his company

“We are taking all that is common across our entire product set and putting it under one common platform – so we can share these capabilities as common services you need to have regardless if it’s news, video, audio, etc.” Hernandez said at the event. “You can then have applications that solve unique business needs but don’t waste time on things that can be done by the platform – no different than your smartphone and applications. The platform will then accommodate applications that do everything from create content to consumption of the asset.”

Within this vision are various suites of products and tools to assist Avid’s customers in their work: an Artist Suite comprising various products including Sibelius; a Media Suite for managing, distributing and monetizing media; and a Storage Suite.


Accompanying the Avid Everywhere rollout were some re-branding of products using the vertical bar or pipe character, including the Sibelius product line. Sibelius First is now called Sibelius | First Edition; the Avid Scorch iPad app is now called Sibelius | Reader, although presumably it will take some time before these updates will be reflected in the various company-wide sites and materials.

I spoke with Andrew Wild, Avid’s segment marketing manager, to learn more about Avid Everywhere and what its implications are for the future of Sibelius. Read on to learn what we discussed. Read the full article →


Thumbnail image for Notation software sessions at 2014 MOLA Conference

Notation software sessions at 2014 MOLA Conference

April 7, 2014

I’ll be presenting three sessions on using Sibelius and Finale at the 2014 MOLA annual conference in Miami Beach in May, and I’ll also be available for personal consultations.

Read the full article →
Thumbnail image for Use the semicolon to input grace notes in Sibelius; save time (updated)

Use the semicolon to input grace notes in Sibelius; save time (updated)

April 3, 2014

Several little-documented shortcuts, some new in Sibelius 7, others not, can speed up grace note entry; it’s worth giving this article a look.

Read the full article →
Thumbnail image for Spring cleaning at the blog

Spring cleaning at the blog

March 31, 2014

It’s my hope that a spring cleaning, a few new coats of paint, and other recent changes to this blog result in a more satisfying experience for loyal and casual readers alike.

Read the full article →
Thumbnail image for Sibelius online courses by Midnight Music scheduled for 2014

Sibelius online courses by Midnight Music scheduled for 2014

March 27, 2014

Registration is now open for four online Sibelius courses in 2014 headed by Katie Wardrobe of Midnight Music: Basics, Speedy Arranging, Advanced, and Projects for Students.

Read the full article →
Thumbnail image for 15 minutes could save you 15 percent on workflow

15 minutes could save you 15 percent on workflow

March 24, 2014

Spend a little time watching the new “Get Started Fast” series for Sibelius 7.5 and save a lot of time in your daily work.

Read the full article →
Thumbnail image for New plug-in: Add Turbo Comment

New plug-in: Add Turbo Comment

March 21, 2014

Turbo-charge your comments in Sibelius and collaborate in ways you never thought were possible with this new free plug-in.

Read the full article →