Sibelius and Finale are some of the biggest notation software around at the moment (and soon, Steinberg’s Dorico will join them). Notation software can be seen as the composer’s tools, however, they have excellent applications within education. Sibelius and Finale come with many customisable worksheets as it is, so they have the capacity to be used in education straight out of the box. There are many other ways to use them for other learning experiences, which will be touched on in this post.
I explored the worksheets within Sibelius to find a variety of great resources to use in the classroom. Here is an example of a worksheet I found for practicing writing on ledger lines.
One of the great things about Sibelius (and even Finale), is that teachers can create their own worksheets and add them to the worksheet database. Another great thing is that the worksheets can also have answer sheets generated as well, which is great for marking and can save time. For an example of a worksheet in Finale (for the sake of not being too Sibelius biased), here is a worksheet from Finale’s worksheets.
Other Notation Softwares
If you went to school recently and received a computer in high school, you may have come across a program called Musescore. Musescore is an open-source program and now has many features that Sibelius and Finale boast. One interesting aspect of the program is its ability to post to a cloud. This posts the score online, even with playback, and it can be shared and embedded (I couldn’t embed here because this isn’t a self-hosted WordPress site). Here is an example of a quick piece I mocked up in it (https://musescore.com/user/1430541/scores/2461631).
Sharing scores online can be great for education, especially for modelled aural learning where they can hear the playback as well as see the notation if they can read it. There are also online notation sites such as Noteflight and Flat, which allow users to notate in the browser. Flat even has the capabilities to import MIDI, which can make it a great tool for education. Teachers can send students MIDI files as templates for the students to build on in lessons, making Flat a killer resource when the school has not got access to software such as Sibelius.
Other Great Uses of Notation Software
Sibelius and Finale have the ability to export the score playback as audio, resulting in an excellent asset for the music classroom. It enables the effective production of modelled aural learning resources, which can be packaged and provided to students to help them learn their parts. While Finale’s Garritan playback and Sibelius’ sounds are sampled, they are not quite up to scratch with the latest sampled instrument technologies. Personally, I make use of 3rd party playback sounds, such as EWQLSO, Kontakt Libraries, and WIVI NotePerformer (and soon, VSL). If a teacher has access to these extra playback sounds, they can mock up their students’ scores for them very quickly to provide them with an even higher quality audio file.
Here is a comparison between general MIDI, Sibelius Sounds, and EWQLSO.
To extend beyond audio exporting, Sibelius even has the capabilities to export as a video! This is also great for modelled aural learning, as they are essentially animated scores with playback. One great use of this is exporting individual parts as a video, and mixing the sound to create a karaoke version. Using the piece I created in Musescore, I opened the file in Sibelius via the music XML export (This also can be used in education, as students without access to Finale or Sibelius can work in the free Musescore, and then swap to them at the end to polish off the score to commit zero engraving rules for the HSC). Here is the video export example that I uploaded to YouTube using NotePerformer as the playback engine.
Ideas Library in Sibelius
As a composer, I have always used the ideas library to store sketched material or scrapped ideas. Recently it was made clear to me that the ideas library is actually somewhat like a loops library, similar to GarageBand’s. This can have great use in education, as students can use the ideas library to add to their score and to build a composition with it. The great feature with the ideas library is that it lets you demo how the ideas sound, much like the loops in GarageBand. Touching on what was mentioned in the previous post, creating our own ideas or loops can be great for education. A teacher can easily create a Sibelius file with its own ideas library, and colour code them to help scaffold composition tasks. To prevent students from using Sibelius’ full ideas library, simply ticking the box “show ideas from this score only” in the file info (File>Info) will hide them. I can envisage creating a whole range of ideas of different sizes, and colour coding them by function. For example, I could colour all basslines red, all percussion as purple, all melody as green, and harmony as #00bfff (wow, a hexadecimal!).
Making Use of Versions, Comments, and Logs
When I first started using Sibelius, I was guilty of saving to a different file each time (V1, V2, V3, V3.23, V4, Final Version, Final Version 2… Final Final V8.8 Final). I now use versions to contain all my work in the one file and my inner organisation angel loves it (my storage too). This actually has great implications for education, especially when it comes to composition process logging. By getting students to save the version and commenting on what they actually did in each session, it will be beneficial at the end. When students sent their teachers the files, the teacher can use annotations (Sibelius V8+) and comments throughout the score to guide the students. By going through the process, the log can be exported at the end, which breaks down the comments, the actual score changes and differences. It is an excellent way to maintain a diary for composition and it can even save the students’ lives if they left the diary to the last minute (us teachers won’t let that happen, though!).
You can download a Sibelius 7 rock band score template I made here that I used comments to help students use the template.