Tag Archives: Sibelius

YouTube Annotations

I’ve long believed that we learn a lot just by watching and copying – surely that’s how we evolved as a species? That’s certainly how tai chi chuan has been handed down.  A certain amount of dialogue and understanding is certainly necessary, but if watching and feeling the movements is not taking place then, experience tells me, various technical misapprehensions can arise.  Chancing upon the theory of mirror neurons strengthened this belief.

In that regard, it has crossed my mind that annotated videos might be a useful learning tool. By way of experimentation, I’ve added a couple to a video I made of a duo by Carulli which was to be performed by a couple of senior pupils. In each case I play one part while a laptop (using Sibelius) plays the other – not in the least expressive, but instructive. The annotations in this video aren’t instructive either – just a test run. They occur at 1:45 and 2:23.

Incidentally, I hit (accidentally) upon a keyboard short-cut which works with YouTube:

Home – returns the video to the beginning

End – shoots to the end

…and, of course, Right Cursor to jump forward – in handy-sized 17” chunks :-); Left Cursor for the reverse; Space bar to Pause and to Resume Playing.

p.s. I’ve noticed since writing this that these shortcuts only work if you’ve clicked on the video once (which will pause it, of course). I suppose it makes sense as, initially, these shortcuts are directed at the page as a whole. Clicking on the video seems to redirect these commands to the video itself. However, as you know, clicking on an embedded video, such as this, will simply redirect you to the source i.e. Youtube

p.p.s. see David Gilmour’s comment below for a link to further shortcuts

Does anyone know of any others?[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/8nE0n4oEgEc?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

A long reach

Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius was born in 1865 – the same year as George V (father of the stammering heir, currently being played by Colin Firth in a cinema near you).  In that same year, the American Civil War raged and Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.  These two pieces of music were premièred in the year of his Sibelius’ death.  Quite a reach.[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/DuEw-yBX6Mk?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /][kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/tpzV_0l5ILI?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]


Isn’t it funny how something you’ve rarely thought about grabs your attention and then seems to crop up everywhere? I experienced this recently in the world of fonts – no really.

A friend mentioned that Comic Sans was under attack, mentioning that it made life difficult for dyslexic people. Discussion with a couple of dyslexic friends led me to understand that simple, sans serif fonts were thought to be easier to read. I became obsessed by fonts for a few days, as you do, and left it at that.

Then, my mind turned to Amazon’s Kindle. I haven’t bought one, but downloaded Kindle for PC (a free download, granting access to thousands of free books) and was impressed. I particularly liked that one could adjust font size and words-per-line in a way that seemed to assist speed reading* – I never fancied the idea of lengthy sessions reading from the screen – not a laptop screen, anyway.

I then came upon a couple of articles by a favourite science writer, Jonah Lehrer (author of the intriguingly titled Proust Was a Neuroscientist – look inside the book here). The first post was on e-reading in general while the second concentrated on ugly fonts. This latter post directed the reader to research carried out by Princeton University‘s Department of Psychology, which tends to suggest that the easy fonts favoured by e-readers may result in poorer retention – or conversely that changing fonts could prove a cost-effective way of bringing about improvement in schools and colleges.

I found this interesting on many levels: as someone in education; as someone who knows people who find difficult fonts to be just that; as someone who doesn’t like the look of easy fonts (my preferred fonts are Times New Roman; Georgia and Traditional Arabic (misleading name as the letters are Roman…). I imagine that much more research remains to be carried out in this field.

I’d be interested in hearing your experiences and views on fonts.

It might come as a surprise to some but there are also variable fonts in the world of printed music. In this video about Sibelius score writing software (used in our schools by pupils and staff alike) you can see, for example, the difference between a standard font and a jazz one (feigning hand-written music) which appears at 3:08[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/eA8dMdWE_n4?rel=0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

* I only use speed reading when reading for info as opposed to reading for pleasure.

World Cup Anthems

I was delighted to receive, from friend and colleague, Gordon Wood, the anthems for all 32 World Cup teams. In addition to the notation for each tune, there is a short history of the tune and, in some cases, lyrics. Not only a labour of love, but a rich task. Generously, Gordon encouraged me to pass them on to as many people as would find them useful.

Here they are:

Algeria   Argentina   Australia   Brasil   Cameroon   Chile   Cote d’Ivoire   Denmark   England   France   Germany   Ghana   Greece   Honduras   Italy   Japan   Korea   Mexico   Netherlands   New Zealand   Nigeria   North Korea   Paraguay   Portugal   Serbia   Slovakia   Slovenia   South Africa   Spain   Switzerland   Uruguay   USA   Wavin Flag   Wavin’ Flag Lyrics

In order that these can be accessed by as many people as possible, I’ve converted them to pdf format. These are mostly in keys suitable for military band. If you would like the original Sibelius files, so that you can transpose to suit particular instruments, just post a comment and I’ll email them to you.

ScreenToaster 2

Inspired by another Sibelius “how to” video on ScreenToaster by J. Simon van der Walt I decided to re-do my own one, on the subject of converting Sibelius files into PDF files using Open Office. Simon’s contains audio (as opposed to subtitles) and, although I’ve experimented with this, I’ve yet to overcome some technical glitches. The reason for replacing the video was more to do with size and visibility. Choosing “full desktop” resulted in drop-down menus being nearly illegible. It turned out to be better to opt for “rectangular area” and to drag that around the top-left of the screen, where most menu activity takes place. I would recommend rehearsing to check that all dialogue boxes (when saving) will also fall within the rectangular area.

ScreenToaster 1

Firstly, thanks to Ewan McIntosh for flagging up ScreenToaster – a free screencasting application. I decided to experiment by creating a short “how to” video, showing how to convert Sibelius files into PDF files using Open Office – a free, open source program. You can see the video here.

I can see some potential here for distance CDP/In Service. Moreover, there are videos in a variety of languages in the ScreenToaster archive, so you can kill two birds with one stone.

In case anyone wonders why someone who already owns Sibelius would want to do this, here are a few reasons:

  • scores/parts can be shared with people who are not Sibelius users

  • they can be printed out even in a location where Sibelius is not installed

  • parts for pupils can be emailed to class teachers in primary schools – the majority of which do not have Sibelius

  • scores/parts can be saved in a format which prohibits further editing – by unauthorised parties

  • files can be uploaded to blogs – allowing pupils with sufficient curiosity to see what others in their ensemble are playing

Hands across the sea

Today has had an international feel about it. I arrived in school early this morning to find an email from David Gilmour alerting me to the flattering fact that this blog is cited in a U.S-based distance learning resource. Later, catching up with Ollie Bray’s blog, I came across the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Network. Casting modesty aside, I decided to join.

I arrived home just in time to catch Obama’s impressive and moving speech. I wish him luck in what is surely going to be a tough gig!

Then exploring the Microsoft ITN a little further, I noticed that one could set up communities and decided, in the spirit of international bonhomie, to set up an Instrumental Teachers Community*. You may notice, once there, that I have been compelled to live in an apostrophe-free world. Perhaps this is a small price to pay for a hands across the seaexperience. As a gift to the community, I have uploaded an arrangement for 5-part guitar ensemble of Jacob Gade’s tango, “Jealousy.” To check that the link to this score worked, I clicked on it and was delighted to see that it opened up Sibelius Scorch which allows people who do not have Sibelius software to hear the score**. Right-clicking allows saving in the normal way.

* I have used the term Teacher as opposed to Instructor as the latter is more of a UK than an international term

** Scorch does not recognise Da Capo and Coda signs so, if you listen, the score may seem to make an odd jump at one point

p.s. since writing this it has become clear that trying to link to the Instrumental Teachers Community*. results in being asked for a  user name and password. So the only way in is to be a member of the Microsoft Innovative Teachers Network



When I was younger, so much younger than today, a friend said that it was his choice not to read music as he felt it would remove feeling from the picture. I wonder how he would have coped with the assertion that, as a result of playing along with a computer, pupils would more quickly approach the right feel of a piece – even although the computer-generated file was devoid of dynamic variation (see Thoroughly Modern Midi) and flexibility of tempo. But such is the paradoxical world of IT and instrumental music. In a situation where the file will not only produce the written parts but also play-along audio files, it’s important to be fussy about articulation. Many pupils do not acknowledge written articulation but very few do not intuitively go along with it – if it’s contained in, say, a Sibelius or midi file. Perhaps that shouldn’t be surprising in a subject where the ears of many take in more than the eyes.

What is surprising is that, seated in a mixed group, most pupils will pick out the appropriate feel for their part even in a passage of mixed articulations, such as the one between 0:33 and 0:48 of this midi file-  Jealousy – where the legato notes of the tune and bass parts sandwich the detached notes of the three harmony parts; or between 1:03 and 1:55 where there are three simultaneous articulations:

  • legato tune

  • bass and lowest harmony part employing full-length notes, rests and detached notes

  • upper harmony parts restricted to on detached notes

Also surprising is that when discussing the (as yet unnamed) phenomenon of articulation in lessons, if you ask what aspect of music is being discussed, hardly anyone will guess correctly. Some will suggest, “rhythm” until you point out that, whether this aspect is observed or not, the notes all start at the right time, which is what many people consider rhythm to mean. However, when I say, “I’ll start to spell it out on this laptop screen and you try to guess before I get to the end of the word,” I rarely get passed “articu——”

Many pupils, baffled by the whole idea of articulation, find a way in through the following analogy:

  • detached notes – detached houses

  • legato notes – terraced houses

  • over-laping notes (chords or broken chords) – flats

The reason this topic occupies my thoughts at the moment is that yesterday, in the East Lothian Guitar Ensemble’s rehearsal for the Showcase Concert* I was delighted to see the group knock our arrangement of the Jacob Gade‘s 1925 tango tune, Jealousy into shape in pretty much one go – articulation and all – pretty impressive for a Friday afternoon! Ironically, it has more varied articulation per part than the other two pieces put together. Sometimes things just work out on their own.

* East Lothian Showcase Concert – Friday 27 March at 19:30 in Musselburgh Grammar School.


I conducted a short experiment over the last couple of days, concerning who gets what part in the first of our East Lothian Guitar Ensemble arrangements. The piece is in three parts – top, middle and bass. I’ve also created four heterophonic parts so you could say the structure of parts is:

1, 1a, 2, 2a, 3, 3a, 3b

Using Sibelius, I played the score to the pupils at performance speed – which is pretty brisk . In addition to the speed there are two other unusual factors:

  • there are 7 beats per bar – grouped as follows 12 12 123

  • it is based on a very unusual scale (E Lydian Dominant) – resulting in unusual harmonies – one effect of which can be to make the less confident pupil occasionally doubt that they have landed on the correct note

Before the music began pupils were asked to identify which parts would meet the following criteria for them:

  • the part would (eventually*) be manageable

  • it would provide some element of challenge and interest

  • it might appeal to their natural strengths e.g. by being essentially melodic, harmonic or rhythmic in nature

  • it would avoid any feeling of distress

Somewhat to my surprise, every group and individual chose as I would have predicted. This could mean one (or possibly more) of three things:

  • that pupils are aware of their current levels

  • that they are aware of the likely speed of progress over the remaining months (even although some have not yet played in the East Lothian group)

  • that I am unconscious of Derren Brown-style levels of manipulation

Over the holiday, I hope to upload not only play-along midi files but parts of the piece so, if you play the guitar, you could simulate the experiment. For this particular piece, Hungarian Wedding Dance, most of the parts will be in TAB as opposed to traditional notation. This is due to the fact that many of the notes have been relocated onto strings other than the one where they would normally be found. This is done for two reasons:

  • increased resonance e.g. using 2nd string E at fret 5 instead of open E on string 1 – the sound of which is a little thinner

  • the note is more easily reached from the previous note than it would be in its normal location

* eventually, in this case, is the Showcase Concert on Friday 27 March at 7:30 in Musselburgh Grammar School

Treachery & Isolation

Imagine you’d been allocated one of the four inner-harmony parts in this six-part arrangement. Would the sea of syncopations, rests and fussy articulation seem daunting? one-note-samba-all-in

How about if you could play along to just those parts in class? one-note-samba-harmony-only

…before trying it against the contrasting – and therefore off-putting – bass line one-note-samba-harmony-bass

…and then trying it with the treacherous tune present – I say treacherous as its rhythms are similar to those of the harmonies but not identical – and therefore untrustworthy: one-note-samba-all-in

One of the things I love about Sibelius is that you can mute some lines, allowing pupils to hear others in isolation – before re-introducing rival lines, when familiarity and confidence build. If there are lessons in life to be extrapolated from musical situations, might one be that problems can be as much about context as substance?