This article is one part opinion and three parts technical advice. You have been warned!
Quickly: Take a look at this passage. At what point should the player begin playing fortissimo?
What about here?
OK, what about now?
Only the last example is clear, right? That’s because the dynamic marking of ff is the most important piece of information. The sub. part is secondary, confirming to the player the there is no crescendo intended in the intervening notes.
Yet so often I see this error made (and yes, I consider it an error — I told you this was the opinion part!) in everything from novice to published scores. Indeed, all three of the above examples, which were created in Sibelius, had attached the expression to the fourth beat of the first bar, which is where the composer intended the dynamic change to occur:
Elaine Gould, writing in Behind Bars, says: “Place a dynamic exactly under the first note to which it refers, and fit in sub. around the dynamic: usually to the right, so that the placing of the new dynamic is not ambiguous.” She does allow one exception: “When a rest precedes the dynamic, sub. may also precede the dynamic,” but I would discourage this and always be consistent.
If placing sub. would cause the text to exceed the right margin, I would rather place it below the dynamic instead of placing it before.
Now that you know how I feel about this “sub”ject, here’s how to make it happen in Sibelius, Dorico, and Finale.
In Sibelius, place a dynamic in the usual way, by typing Cmd-E (Mac) or Ctrl-E (Windows), keeping the Cmd or Ctrl key held, and typing your dynamic such as ff (you are holding the Cmd or Ctrl key to create a proper dynamic and not a paltry one in a text font… right?)
Then, with the cursor still flashing, release the Cmd or Ctrl key, type a space, and then
sub. to get the desired result.
If you have an existing dynamic, and select it, and then attempt to type
sub. , you may get something like this:
This is because Sibelius is not quite smart enough to know that you wish to enter normal Expression text. To tell it to do so, with the display showing ff (or whatever your dynamic is) and the cursor flashing, type the shortcut Control-Option-Command-Space (Mac) or Ctrl+Alt-Space (Windows) to reset the text style’s font to its default, and then type
sub. , and all will look normal. (See this post for more info.)
In Dorico, this is all made quite easy. Simply type Shift-D to summon the Dynamics popover, and type
ff sub to create, e.g., ff sub.
To edit an existing dynamic, type Return or Enter and add the modifier in the popover.
You can also select subito from the Combined Dynamics section of the Dynamics panel.
And if you wish to change its appearance to make it sub-optimal, you can do so in Properties:
By the way, Notation Express XL handles all of this nicely for you, in Sibelius or Dorico (shameless plug):
In a Finale default document, the Dynamics category comes with pre-made subito p and sub. p expressions! How helpful! Except, if you’ve read the beginning of this post, you’ll see why they’re all wrong! Don’t use them.
Instead, modify the expression or create a new one, in Expression Designer > Main:
And adjust the positioning settings in Expression Designer > Positioning (you may have to experiment a bit with the horizontal offset, depending upon your dynamic; the following values are in spaces):
This will yield the following result:
Quickly, now: Apply a sudden dynamic change — subito!