It’s The Little Things: Dynamics on vocal staves

Dynamics are automatically positioned above vocal staves
Dynamics are automatically positioned above vocal staves

Continuing my series of posts about my favourite small improvements in Sibelius 6, today I’d like to talk about dynamics on vocal staves.

It’s conventional for dynamics to be positioned below instrumental staves, but above vocal staves, to avoid getting in the way of lyrics. This has always been possible in Sibelius, of course, but you typically had to make some conscious choices to make this happen.

The simplest (and most inefficient) thing you could do would be to simply drag the dynamics up above the staff on vocal staves. Or, if you started a score using one of Sibelius’s voice or choir manuscript paper templates, you would find that the dynamics automatically go above all staves, whether or not they’re vocal, so you’d have to drag the ones on the instrumental staves (e.g. for piano accompaniment) down.

If you were a real fancy-pants, you might go as far as to create a copy of the Expression text style used for dynamics, and change its default vertical position, so that you could choose between one text style for vocal staves, and another for instrumental staves.

But fortunately there’s no longer a decision to be made: Sibelius 6 now handles this automatically for you.

If you have upgraded from a previous version of Sibelius, you may need to make some changes to your existing scores to see this new behaviour. The simplest thing to do is to import one of the default house styles supplied with Sibelius 6, but if you’re very attached to the existing settings in the score, you can make the necessary adjustments manually, as follows:

  • First, select a bar in a vocal staff in your score, then choose House Style > Edit Instruments; the appropriate instrument type will be selected in the dialog
  • Click Edit Instrument, and answer Yes if asked if you want to proceed
  • Now look for the Vocal staff checkbox (shown below) and switch it on:
Switch on the 'Vocal staff' option in the Edit Instrument dialog
Switch on the 'Vocal staff' option in the Edit Instrument dialog
  • Click OK, then Close.
  • Now choose House Style > Default Positions.
  • Choose the Text styles radio button, then choose Expression from the list of text styles.
  • Switch on the Different default position on vocal staves checkbox and set an appropriate distance (note that this is always measured relative to the top staff line):
Switch on 'Different default position on vocal staves'
Switch on 'Different default position on vocal staves'
  • Choose the Lines radio button, and repeat the above step for the Crescendo and Diminuendo lines, and any other hairpin-like lines you routinely use.
  • Click OK.

Now all newly-created text and hairpin dynamics will use your chosen default positions, but you probably need to move the existing dynamics in your score: do Ctrl+A or CommandA to select the whole score, then type Shift+Alt+D to filter the dynamics, and finally type Ctrl+Shift+P or ShiftCommandP to reset their position. Done!

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