We’ve often extolled the virtues of keyboard shortcuts in using music notation software. Keeping your hands on the keyboard to execute a task instead of reaching for the mouse to point and click a menu item or tool (especially a nested one) is the ultimate time-saver.
It’s well worth it for you to learn at least some of the most common shortcuts in your favorite program, even if you think that you’re perfectly comfortable clicking away. You might be surprised. Some years ago, when I was teaching a Sibelius clinic that covered a wide range of topics, a participant came up to me at the end and told me until that day she didn’t know that you could enter notes using the keypad — something I covered in the first 10 minutes of the clinic and assumed most people already knew how to do. She had clicked in every single note, for an entire orchestral score! It seemed perfectly natural to do so, but it was also very slow.
All the major notation programs document their shortcuts:
- Finale has them in the online help manual (Mac and PC);
- Sibelius offers them in the Sibelius Reference (found as a PDF online or through the program at Help > Sibelius Reference, also with its own shortcut of Command-/ (slash) on Mac or F1 on PC);
- Dorico’s can be found at Help > Key Commands, which opens an interactive local HTML document in your web browser — it’s quite fun to play with and responds to your keypresses!
Did you know, though, that, in addition to using the default shortcuts, Sibelius and Dorico allow you to program your own, and even override the default settings if you so choose?
Adding or changing keyboard shortcuts
To get started, go to File > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts.
You’ll need to add a new feature set, which is basically just a specific set of custom shortcuts, but you could also disable certain features if you so choose (for instance, to use in a classroom setting). Generally, though, you’ll want to use all of Sibelius’s features.
Click Add Feature Set… and name your new feature set whatever you like. Keep Base on default set checked so that you don’t have to redefine all of your shortcuts from scratch (unless this is what you really want to do).
One you’ve done that, you can start defining your shortcuts in any way that you like.
All of the features for which you can customize shortcuts are organized in Tab or category:
In the above example, I’ve defined the shortcut to navigate to a previous part. As you can see, it’s perfectly possible to have two different shortcuts for the same feature.
For Previous Part, the default shortcut Alt-Shift-Command-` (backtick) was just too awkward for me, so I added my own: Alt-Command-, (comma), which is what it is in Finale. This way, I wouldn’t have to remember two different shortcuts for the same feature in both programs.
To do this, simply click Add… and type in your desired shortcut, and click OK.
If you try to use a shortcut that is used elsewhere, Sibelius will warn you:
Be sure to click OK in the Preferences dialog to save your changes.
Additional settings in Note Input Options
Speaking of using the same key commands in Sibelius that are used in Finale, there’s another area of Sibelius’s settings you might want to know about. Over in File > Preferences > Note Input, there are numerous Note Input Options.
The default Note input preset is Duration before pitch, but if you toggle this to Pitch before duration, you’ll notice that several settings change:
This is otherwise known as “Finale Speedy Entry mode”, to entice Finale users who are accustomed to using that method of entry to similarly do so in Sibelius.
Among the settings that change is To enter a quarter note (crotchet) type:. When switched to 5 on Keypad, this corresponds to Finale’s settings (all other note/numbers are adjusted as well). You can also change this setting independently of the others, if you so choose. Note, however, that the note duration icons on the Keypad will not update to reflect this change.
Adding or changing keyboard shortcuts
You can assign keyboard shortcuts to Dorico functions and you can also change existing ones.
Start by heading over to Preferences (in the Dorico menu on Mac or Edit menu on PC) and go to Key Commands.
You can select the function from the tree menu, or, to help narrow your search for the correct function, type what you’re looking for in the Search box.
Once you’ve selected the function, click on the Press shortcut box and type the shortcut you wish to use. In the above instance, just like in Sibelius, I’ve added Alt-Command-, (comma) to invoke Previous Layout.
Once you’ve typed your shortcut, click Add Key Command.
Dorico also allows you to have more than one shortcut for the same command, and it will similarly warn you if a shortcut is already in use.
Be sure to click Apply to save your changes.
While there isn’t a one-click toggle to switch the shortcuts to mimic a competitor’s program like Sibelius has with Finale, you can easily set them up — just go to Note Input > Set Note Duration and change, e.g., 1/4 note from Dorico’s 6 to 5 or 4 (or anything else you like), and do the same for the other durations. Keep in mind you’ll have to first click Remove Key Command to remove the shortcut from wherever it is currently programmed, so that you don’t trigger the warning.
Using the MIDI keyboard for shortcuts
Dorico gives keyboard shortcuts a whole new meaning by adding the MIDI keyboard to the mix. While you might first scratch your head to ask why you’d want to use your MIDI keyboard to trigger a menu item, think about times when you’re mostly using your MIDI keyboard — chord entry is one example that comes to mind.
Say you’re inputting some chords using the MIDI keyboard and you want to quickly advance to the next bar. In that case, you could assign a single key to invoke that function.
In Preferences > Key Commands, select Note Input > Advance Chord Symbol Input > Next Bar, click the MIDI keyboard icon, and press your desired key. Here, I’ve chosen middle C, represented by NOTEON60:
Click Add MIDI Command to add this MIDI keyboard shortcut. You could similarly assign other single notes to various other functions like Next Beat, Next Chord Symbol and so on.
As before, be sure to click Apply to save your changes.
What will you do with all of the time you’ve saved now that you’ve set up your shortcuts? What are some of your favorite shortcuts? Do you use other tools to customize your workflow? Let us know in the comments.