Customize keyboard shortcuts in Sibelius and Dorico

Tips

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?

Here’s how.

Sibelius

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.

Dorico

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.

Comments

  1. Claude Werner

    In the case of Dorico there are many things that cannot be changed for example hairpins which is annoyingly tied to Shift+(). Too many common things seem to be tied to modifiers (shift, alt, ctrl) that would make more sense to have at first level. I liked that in Sibelius everything that was ‘notation’ could be assigned at first level and then, say things like plugins, playback or layout functions, set to modifiers. Perhaps I should head on to the forum and do yet año feature request….

    1. Florian Kretlow

      You can customize pretty much any key command by adding the respective lines to the keycommands_xx.json file in your user data folder.

      For the hairpins, by way of example: open the keycommands_xx.json file in the application folder with a text editor and search for ‘hairpin’. You’ll find these lines:

      {
      “NoteInput.HairpinStart?Type=kGradualDynamicDown&GradualDynamicType=kCrescOrDim” : [ “>” ]
      },
      {
      “NoteInput.HairpinStart?Type=kGradualDynamicUp&GradualDynamicType=kCrescOrDim” : [ “<" ]
      },

      Copy them into the kWriteMode section in your keycommands_xx.json file in your user data folder and change the keycommand (the < between double quotes) as you please.
      Make sure you're either familiar with the json syntax or parse the whole file through a json linter before you save it. It won't hurt to keep a backup either. And DO NOT change the json file in your application folder! Doing this would work, but it would prevent the default key commands from being updated with a future Dorico update.

      I agree that it would be nice to be able to change these commands inside the application, but as I understand it there is currently no user interface for changing keycommands like these that require several arguments to be passed.

      1. Wolfram

        Hello Florian,

        thank you for your post concerning the possibility to add your own key commands in Dorico! Do I find more about this in the Dorico Forum (the search sucking like it does)?

        Does it work as well with this method to add a key command which is currently not supported at all? Many possiblities in Windows (don’t know about Mac) are reached over the right-click or it’s key equivalent only, for example the very important feature to combine two voices on one staff vice versa (needed for conductor’s scores on the one hand, single parts on the other hand – Sibelius is covering this issue with a plugin, Dorico needs four clicks (!) every time you wish to change this).

        Do you know where I find the right syntax to add not yet supported commands in this json file? And do I have to search through hundreds of lines of code to find anything? Since I am not familiar with the json syntax and do not really have the time to learn it if this is not the case, I hope you understand my questioning before I dug any deeper.

        I agree as well – Dorico was meant to be able to be operated by keyboard only, and this is – by the time being – clearly not the case – a little bit frustrating… Dorico is a wonderful piece of software, but the advertising (the pricing for newbies?) of it was (is?) clearly a bit disproportionate.

        Thank you!

        1. Wolfram

          I have to add something very important: One thing which is worth all the money you pay for Dorico is the very frequent presence of very senior staff in its forum and the open ears and the open mind of them – I always have to remember that when I encounter a problem, since this is not at all common in the world of software engineering! One could not value this high enough!

        2. Florian Kretlow

          Wolfram, apologies for not answering earlier.

          You may find this thread on the Dorico user forum useful:

          https://www.steinberg.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=246&t=146127&sid=f356eeb2bde557d40065f078dfebdf83

          I recommend to use a proper text editor with syntax highlighting and all. If you do so, there’ll be a sophisticated search function too, so you don’t need to read the whole file.
          JSON is not difficult at all, and if you let a linter check your file before you save it, you should be good to go. Just search for json linter on the web.

      2. Claude

        @Florian Ah! That’s really cool, thank you so much!

        @Wolfram, I couldn’t agree more, the staff are just fabulous! As for your question, the forums are pretty good and almost everything gets read and usually answered.

  2. Lennart Östman

    You can also use the onscreen keyboard in MacOS to make a set of buttons that execute your custom keyboard shortcuts, and have them pop up from a corner of choice when you need them.

  3. Jon Burr

    Hi Philip – wow, this is a terrific feature for users of these programs.
    In Finale, making custom keyboard shortcuts requires the use of Finale Script (which they do not support via their online tech support)… or external tools such as Keyboard Maestro (Mac) and others.
    I started a Feature Request on the Finale Support Forum, asking them to consider a full-featured keyboard shortcut editor such as those mentioned above, and as seen in other pro programs such as Adobe Premiere, InDesign, ProTools, etc.
    It might be helpful for readers who’d like to see this feature in Finale to “vote up” or comment on my Feature Request…:)
    The link: https://makemusic.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/community/posts/360017868454-Shortcut-editor-

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Jon. I agree, it would be great if Finale supported global shortcuts within the program in the way that Sibelius and Dorico do.

    2. Ben BW

      In Finale on MacOS, you can use the System Preferences > Keyboards pane to implement shortcuts for any Finale menu item.

      1. Jon Burr

        Hi Ben – You can address Finale menu items with MacOS Keyboard Shortcuts>App Shortcuts, but with this method you can access top level menu items only. For real productivity improvements, access to sub- and contextual menus is crucial. Finale Script provides the means to do this – an article is coming soon to Scoring Notes containing useful scripts and methods.

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