Music Composition Workflow: Creation, Editing, Orchestration and Sibelius Tips

For 2021 I’m revisiting my full-length musicals to update score layout and orchestrations. Here’s a compilation of workflow and tips from music composition sketches to final scores and parts for musical theater. An ongoing project.

Note: I use Sibelius for straight music notation for musical theater. For syncing to video, then Finale or Dorico are better options. (For track integration with live shows I use Ableton Live).

STORY BOARDING

From: https://www.stephenschwartz.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SchwartzAdviceforSongwriters.pdf

  • Get Clear on Story. Write prose outline. Basic order of events clear. Plot. What characters want. Obstacles.
  • Large Bulletin Board with 3×5 cards.
  • Break story to specific scenes, essence of scene in one sentence.
  • Put cards on board and look for repeated beats. If beats repeat then there’s a problem with structure. Look for story flow and plot holes. Each card should be active with what character is trying to do. Repeat until story is tight and forward-moving.
  • Identify moments to musicalize. Use cards of different color (yellow or blue). Then you can see visually how songs space out, the musical flow.

MUSIC COMPOSITION WORKFLOW

  • Create music in notation software. Don’t fix collisions or score formatting
  • Articulations, expressions and techniques.
  • Proof-read.
  • Score layout and part layout fixes.

PLAYBACK

  • In addition to Garritan sound libraries, check out NotePerformer Wallander Instruments: https://www.noteperformer.com/ – *UPDATE* – NotePerformer from Wallander Instruments made my Sibelius unable to load. After a lost 4 hours of work-arounds I simply had to un-install NotePerformer and Sibelius works fine now.

SCORE PREPARATION (GENERAL)

  • Create Piano/Vocal score.
  • Layout score to standard horizontal 4 bars per page. Turn off “show rests in empty measures” for full horizontal score (except rehearsal piano and vocal). NOTE: This full horizontal score without rests in empty measures can be used to hand-write early orchestration ideas for later input into notation software. https://www.finalemusic.com/blog/steven-m-alper-on-preparing-music-for-broadway/
  • Full Score – horizontal with system measure numbers bold at bottom of every measure.

SCORE PREPARATION (SIBELIUS SPECIFIC)

List of Available Text Wildcards for Sibelius:

From: https://www.rpmseattle.com/of_note/sibelius-quick-tip-text-wildcards-list/

\$PARTNAME\ evaluates to a list of the instruments in the part, each instrument separated by a carriage return.
\$HEADERPARTNAME\ evaluates to a list of the instruments in the part, separated by a comma and all on the same line.
\$TITLE\
\$COMPOSER\
\$COPYRIGHT\
\$ARRANGER\
\$PUBLISHER\
\$ARTIST\
\$InstrumentChanges\
\$MOREINFO\
\$USER\ – current logged in user
\$DATELONG\ – full date in locale-specific format, e.g. “March 4, 2005”
\$DATESHORT\ – short date in locale-specific format, e.g. “04/03/05”
\$FILEPATH\ – full path to the current file
\$FILENAME\ – filename of the current file
\$FILEDATE\ – full date that the current file was last saved
\$TIME\ – current time (insert this, then zoom in and out every second!)
\$PAGENUM\ – current page number

\$YearOfComposition\
\$ComposerDates\
\$OpusNumber\
\$Subtitle\
\$Dedication\
\$Copyist\

SIBELIUS TEXT WILDCARDS TO USE IN MASTER SCORE:

  • Title: \$TITLE\ – Academico Font – Bold – Italic – Size 25
  • Subtitle: [\$YEAROFCOMPOSITION\] Example: Rev. 01/03/21
  • Artist: \$Artist\ – PO52 Font – Bold – Size 12
  • Opus Number: \$OpusNumber\ – PO52 Font – Bold – Size 35.4
  • CUE: (No Wildcard) PO52 Font – Size 10 – Alignment Left – Sample:
    [CUE:]
    (ACTOR walks into door)
    ACTOR: What is going on? [MUSIC GO]

SCORE INSTRUMENT ORDER

(Strings can also be placed at top, or below the keyboards)

  • WOODWINDS – Reed 1, Reed 2
  • BRASS – Horn, Trumpet, Trombone
  • VOCALS – Voc. 1, Voc. 2, Ensemble (Grand Staff, bottom staff Treble Clef 8vb)
  • KEYBOARDS – K1/Conductor, K2
  • GUITARS
  • BASS GUITAR
  • DRUMS
  • PERCUSSION
  • LOOPS/SFX – Ableton, Qlab. Can be single or Grand Staff.
  • STRINGS – Violin, Viola, Cello

PARTS

  • 8 staves first page. 10 staves following pages.
  • Typically 4 bars per line. No more than 8.
  • No more than 8 bars of rests without cues.
  • Page turns always happen at a rest, even if you have to break one of the other rules. Every right-hand page must accommodate a page turn.

 

SIBELIUS EDITING:

PRINTING

  • Broadway shows use 9-1/2 x 12-1/2″ heavy stock, taped accordion style, with each number taped seperately. Easier option for off-Broadway or short runs is 8-1/2 x 11″ letter size printed.

POST-SHOW CLEANING

  • Musicians give scores to composer/copyist to incorporate markings into updated score.

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