As Elaine Gould succinctly puts it in her music notation reference Behind Bars, “Divisions of a beat are beamed together in all meters, in order to simplify reading beats:”
Anyone who’s tried to read vocal music beamed in the “traditional” manner will appreciate why that old convention has been jettisoned in favor of beaming divisions of a beat together:
In Sibelius, when you create a time signature (Notations > Common > Time Signature or shortcut T), Sibelius will choose common beam groupings for you. However, as beaming is dependent upon context, there may be many instances in which the beam grouping Sibelius has chosen for you does not match your musical intentions.
If this is the case, and you’ve been wrestling with the Keypad to individually change beam groups and wondering if there’s an easier way, you’re in luck.
Time Signature > Beam and Rest Groups
It starts with clicking the little-noticed More Options at the bottom of the Time Signature gallery.
This takes you to the Time Signature dialog (which prior to Sibelius 7, was what appeared straight away when pressing T):
Here, choose your desired time signature from the most common options, or enter a less common one in Other. Then, click Beam and Rest Groups… to begin the real fun.
Let’s consider the most garden-variety time signature, 4/4. By default, Sibelius will beam four groups of eighth notes together, like so:
This is reflected as 4,4 in the Group 8ths (quavers) as field, in the Beam and Rest Groups dialog:
But, what if my preference is to beam groups of two eighth notes together instead, like this?
Not a problem. I would simply create a time signature of 4/4 and change the setting to 2,2,2,2:
Should you want to do so, you can group 16th or 32nds differently, or, more likely, subdivide their secondary beams.
In the case of 6/8 time, if you use the following settings:
You’ll get this result:
Of course, you can change these settings for many permutations of beam groups, and they do not have to be evenly distributed groups of notes. Here’s one in 9/8:
The result is default grouping of notes like you might see in Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo à la Turk:
Reset Beam Groups
Ah!, you might say, but what about the fourth bar? Well, that brings us to our next trick. Select the bar and choose Appearance > Reset Notes > Reset Beam Groups. This actually allows you to override the default settings in any particular selection of bars.
In this instance, we’ll override the 2,2,2,3 setting we applied earlier, and instead apply a more conventional 3,3,3 grouping to the selection.
One more thing: Separate tuplets from adjacent notes (or not)
Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed a little checkbox at the bottom of these dialogs: Beams Over Tuplets > Separate tuplets from adjacent notes.
What does it do?
Let’s say you have a passage like this, where the tuplets are separated from the beam:
This would be easier to read and to discern the beat groups if the tuplets were joined to the other notes in the group.
Simply uncheck the Separate tuplets from adjacent notes checkbox to achieve this result, without needing to manually alter each instance:
Now that you know how to use these tools, let the beat — and beam — go on! Do you have any other good beaming tips? Let us know in the comments.