Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

For composers who notate their music, what is your workflow?   Since notation can be a painstaking process (especially for pieces involving multiple instruments), I'm trying to figure out the most efficient way to work (I compose in Sibelius). 

I've heard others talk about a variety of methods, whether it be starting with pencil/paper and then moving to Sibelius/Finale once the piece is more developed, or recording MIDI into a DAW and then importing it into a notation program, or working exclusively in a notation program.  What works for you?

Views: 297

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I'm not attacking playback and cheaper midi samples btw, just making the case that if you need very realistic real-time samples to compose best, your workflow should include it. It seems like you don't need it, which is fine and probably better.

Bob Porter said:

I write for the fun of it.

For years after college, I worked on paper. Pounding things out on a piano.An instrument I don't play. I gave up composing completely because the results were unsatisfying. Decades later I bought Sibelius 4. Maybe not the greatest library, but I was able to write again. What a blast. Does playback limit my imagination? Consider this. Four different orchestras could play something I wrote and they would play it four different ways. Which one is correct? Is my playback wrong because it doesn't sound like a real orchestra? Is my imagination limited because orchestra B didn't sound like what I wanted? Based on what I know of how instruments fit together, I very much write to what playback sounds like. 

What's more important to me is to write good music. Good harmonic flow, good melodies, Though I have never claimed to be able to do that, I try. It's a goal.

>just making the case that if you need very realistic real-time samples to compose best, your workflow should include it.

I agree very much with this--for myself, the better and more realistic the samples, the more exciting to compose and realistic to hear what Im trying to do-hence the best results I can get.And while theyre DEFINITELY not the same, its not nearly as far a stretch from a well notated score with really good samples, to the real thing, as opposed to using pure general midi sounds.

Again, YMMV--whatever works best for you:)

Thanks Bob

Bob P,
I'm glad you get satisfaction from playback sounds. But will the aspiring composer who is happy with notation playback ever write Daphnis and Chloe or the score to Close Encounters of the Third Kind?
Both of these scores have wonderful scoring effects as well as combinations, articulations, dynamics and balance that is impossible in notation playback. That sort of writing is going to be denied to you if you write for what sounds ok on a general midi soundset.
I make the assumption in this that a young composer aspires to learn his/her craft.
Bob M and Dave have put it succinctly enough.

Who said anything about general midi. Not me.


Of course the aspiring young composer needs to learn their craft. They need to know what each instrument they write for is capable of. They need to know how they can fit together.They need to study scores and listen to live groups. They need to know theory as it applies to what they are trying to do. Of course. The composers of the pieces you mentioned learned all that stuff. But all that knowledge is not what led to good music (sure helps, though). It's that spark. If someone has it, they will write good music even if all they have is an out of tune piano, a guitar, a broken recorder, or GM. We can be taught the skills of composition, but that doesn't mean we will write good music. We will write acceptable music, but we need that spark.

You assume, incorrectly, that I am satisfied with playback. 

I am writing music for a play my daughter is directing. It will use Sib. 7.5 playback, played through a mid level sound system in a room that is absolute crap for sound. So I have to tweak playback not for a recording, nor live musicians, but for a particular room and equipment. I'd say that will require as much skill as any other composing.

You might be surprised what notation software is capable of. Surely not as good as a DAW, but still...:) 

Sibelius allows you to set up just about any VST to work with it, so it's not just DAW's that allow you to work with the best libraries.  Of course, if the library happens to have a Sibelius SoundSet written for it, it helps, but I've gotten good results from VST's that have no official Sibelius SoundSet available.   Of course, Sibelius doesn't have the robust MIDI editing capabilities of a DAW, but I believe Dorico does have better support for that kind of editing.

Very true, Mike. I have fallen, or rather I should say, forced to fall into that trap on some occasions, by just the limitations of the programme or the ignorance of programmers behind it, although I knew that what I was doing was wrong.

I use Sibelius since version 4, for some 11 years (I'm now in 8.6). Back then, one day, I started scoring  Vivaldi's mandolin concerto in C for personal use (I just wanted to write a guitar continuo part to it). There was nothing wrong with Sibelius 4 and I finished my project successfully. I first noticed the following problem for this particular piece (and many other pieces subsequently where mandolin was involved) from Sibelius 6 onwards. The problem has creeped in and has not been solved yet by AVID. To be honest, I think they are not even aware of it (in a musical sense I mean).

The problem in as few words as I can describe it is this:

Normal classical guitars have 19 frets with highest written pitch B6 (on 1st string-fret 19) sounding as B5, whereas some acoustic and electric guitars have a few more frets and can extend that top range by a 3rd or 4th some times.

Normal Neapolitan mandolins have a usable top range very similar to that of a violin and in terms of left hand technique they are practically the same with violins. So it is quite usual and not an unreasonable demand if someone would ask for a high D7 or even E7 (depending on number of available frets on a mandolin-mine goes up to E7 perfectly in tune). An ocean of music (perhaps a little virtuosic) has been written utilizing that top range of the mandolin (D6-D7).

What Sibelius 6 and later versions do, is assigning automatically for a mandolin part a classical guitar sample, cause it does not have any more a mandolin sample, I suppose. It even has the cheek to denote all notes beyond B5 as "out of range" and paint them red!"

But that B5 is on the 7th fret of the 1st string and within the 1st position of the instrument (usually taken by the 4th finger as in a violin), so I suppose, I'm not allowed to go beyond 1st position on my instrument, prohibition enshrined by AVID programmers. Anything beyond B5 we can of course still notate, but becomes inaudible if we use Sibelius 7 chamber or orchestral playback engine. I asked advice a few times in Sibelius forums, etc, but no one really came up with a credible answer. What I wanted was to assign an instrument as mandolin and to be able to use all its available range, as I use it in real life. There was no way around the problem unless I used the horrible general midi samples with which my laptop is blessed. Then the music becomes audible again as notated, but who wants general midi samples of the kind I described? So, from 2008 till this year whatever I scored for mandolin(s) was given a violin sample to make them audible (I just mentioned the part as "mandolin"), but last March I got a gift from a friend, the NOTE PERFORMER playback engine, operational only with Sibelius files at present, and the problem of the mandolins was solved for good, plus a lot of other playback problems, and I'll never go back to Sibelius sounds, unless a miracle happens.

My diagnosis is that AVID programmers lack the very basic knowledge of instrumentation for instruments they include in their lists, and my advice would be to give up their jobs and study a bit of music more, before they come back.

Certainly Sibelius 8.6 cannot tell you what can be done with a mandolin.

Having said all this, and having taken the time to write the whole Vivaldi concerto and listen to the audible results that follow, I would like to add that I regret every single penny that I ever paid to AVID.

Just for fun I made a video of the mandolin part using Sibelius 7 sounds (enjoy it in all its miserable glory), and using the same file, by only changing to Note Performer playback, I did a 2nd video of the complete 1st movement. I have not done any serious mixing or changed anything else. What do you think?

Mike Hewer said:

Pen, paper and rubber here, then it's Sibelius donkey work and DAW simulation. Although I too have been watching Staffpad for a while and am seriously considering it.

My only concern with working within a DAW or notation software is that folks will get hung up on the sounds and limitations of the playback. Far better to learn and internalise what can be done by real players and write accordingly, even if it sounds shit on playback. 


I wonder if Sibelius ever had a true mandolin patch, or if NP has one. The default instruments that Sibelius loads are meant to be adjusted. The Edit Instrument function should allow you to set the range and even change the instrument if need be. It's a little tricky to use.

I considered NP. There are less instruments available. But I was with them until their example of the Haydn trumpet concerto. They made it sound like a modern jazz piece. And they were proud of it. Sibelius sounds are meant to be adjusted to your taste. Not shoved down your throat. 

And give me a break, man. Where is the orchestra in the first example. I know you wanted us to hear the drop outs. 

In case someone isnt familiar with the SiIbelius Sound library, its important to note that you can't adjust the sounding range--only the written range, and what gets written in red as being "out of range". You're only able to hear what was originally sampled with the instrument, and nothing more. General Midi instruments/patches have much more sounding ranges--some even impossible to play in the real world--but sounds awful in my opinion.

>The Edit Instrument function should allow you to set the range and even change the instrument if need be.

Changing instruments in a score is accomplished by using the Instrument change function (Home-Instruments-Change in Sib 7.5 and not sure with other versions)

Thanks Bob

Bob Porter said:

 The default instruments that Sibelius loads are meant to be adjusted. The Edit Instrument function should allow you to set the range and even change the instrument if need be. It's a little tricky to use.

..... Sibelius sounds are meant to be adjusted to your taste. Not shoved down your throat. 

Sorry Bob, for the solo first example, as you say, I wanted to make my point very audible. :-)

But you did not miss much, as the movement is rendered much better imo in the NP example. You see, in the first ritornello that I heard, the violins were making up for the lack of sound in the mandolin part when top C was sounded and I just got annoyed and carried on with the note performer presentation.

Now, from what I remember back in 2006 the mandolin part was playing perfectly well in Sibelius 4. I noticed the problem from Sibelius 6 onwards. I don’t know if the old silver kontakt player had mandolin samples, but NP has.

I have tried the method you suggest (Edit instrument and manipulation of ranges) to no satisfactory results, but what instrumental sample do you suggest I should assign to the mandolin part? To me a 12 string acoustic guitar sound would be the closest, but as I said, guitars beyond actual pitch B5 are a non-go area. I thought of balalaika or something silly like that, I even tried with a sitar and other weird samples. Nothing to turn me on there either.

Anyway, here we are talking about an established concert instrument with very long and glorious history and very impressive repertoire both in quantity and quality of music, as well as one of the more popular instruments on the globe even now a days: the Neapolitan mandolin (leaving aside the Lombardian mandolin and its separate glorious tradition).

Also we are talking about a score writer that is supposed to be covering very well classical tradition and its notational requirements as this tradition holds still its customer base and the reason for its commercial success. If it cannot come up with a mandolin sample and cannot renderer musically something as basic and as famous as the Vivaldi concerto in C, then what the hell can it do and why one should buy it?

As I indicated, I want my money back… :-)

Neapolitan mandolin range

Before you think I'm a fanboy, I have my own list of problems I have with Sibelius. Not the least of which is that there is no vibrato on the solo violin patch. That doesn't mean I can't write for solo violin, it just means I can't get good playback. There used to be vibrato. Sib 6 had vibrato. Fortunatly it is possible to combine Sibelius sounds so that if I need solo violin I can do it. I still have Sib 4 discs. Maybe the same is possible. 

I can hear the algorythm NP uses on long notes. It stickes out on half notes in the cello part in your sample. It seems every half note swells in volume. Every one. No real player would do that. Sometimes, sure. 

Reply to Discussion


© 2017   Created by Chris Merritt.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service