Using Live Tempo for rehearsal

A metronome, yesterday (courtesy Mrs Logic on Flickr)

Directing choirs is my main musical pursuit outside of my professional life, and I’m fortunate to have been working with the same chamber choir for over a decade now. Normally, for practical reasons, our performances are a capella, since we don’t often have instrumentalists or ensembles available to accompany us, but every so often we get to work with an organist or a chamber ensemble. I’m currently preparing my choir for a concert consisting Anglican sacred music dating from the secession from Rome to the present day, and quite a few of the pieces are accompanied by organ.

We rehearse weekly in a school hall, which obviously has no organ. We rely on my tuning fork or an electronic keyboard, ham-fistedly played by yours truly, for learning notes in rehearsal. It’s difficult to both play the keyboard and provide any kind of meaningful direction to the singers at the same time, so we’ve tended to learn the accompanied pieces as best we can without accompaniment – at least until two weeks ago, when I brought my MacBook Pro to the rehearsal.

Sibelius has a great feature called Live Tempo, which was added in Sibelius 6 and was perhaps overshadowed by all of the other amazing improvements in that version (such as the unique, patented Magnetic Layout feature). It’s a feature for controlling the tempo of Sibelius’s playback simply by tapping any key on the keyboard, or playing any note on a MIDI keyboard. Unlike similar features in other programs, it is automatically able to work out when you start subdividing the beat, or beating only once in a bar, and if you stop tapping, it will keep going at the speed you have reached, until you start tapping again. So I decided to use Live Tempo to “play” the organ accompaniment for a number of pieces in real time, using one finger on the space bar of my MacBook Pro’s keyboard, and the other hand to direct the choir.

It really works remarkably well, and being able to put the high-quality organ sounds from Hauptwerk included in the Sibelius 7 Sounds library literally at my fingertips has transformed our rehearsals for this term’s concert. If you’ve never had the opportunity to try Live Tempo, I recommend you give it a whirl. If you have used it, let everyone know in the comments how you found it.


  1. Neil Sands

    I’m impressed. I haven’t got a machine like yours beefy enough to pull off the same trick with the Hauptwerk samples but I can see it being very useful. Did you plug it in to big speakers or could the Macbook Pro make enough noise on its own?

    I’ve used Live Tempo at the Chichester Music Press to send more sensitively played scores to composers for proof listening purposes.

  2. Daniel Spreadbury

    One thing the school hall does have is one of those beefy tape players with a hefty speaker in it that every primary and junior school fortunately seems to have, so I can plug my MacBook Pro’s line output into that and it works pretty well. It’s certainly loud enough!

  3. Michael Cryne

    Daniel, have you tried mapping the keypress to a foot pedal? It will free your hands to do a bit more waving and maybe save your back! I’m sure this is pretty straightforward to do, let us know how you get on :-)

    1. Daniel Spreadbury

      We do have some Bluetooth foot pedals here that we use with Avid Scorch on the iPad, so I could give them a try. I’ll think about it!

  4. Peter Roos

    I’ve tried the Live Tempo feature but the results are pretty strange – the program seems to ignore my tapping and instead go beserk, up to an insane tempo (dotted quarter note = 560 etc). Maybe the settings aren’t right?

    As a tempo adjustment feature I would personally prefer the ability to draw in little tempo changes manually, that would give more control (similar to the way it is done in sequencing programs).

  5. Paul Johns

    What a cool idea! This is brilliant and opens up a huge variety of aids for rehearsals, including playing indivudual parts louder using the mixer.

    It would be very interesting to have a plug-in that could save a bunch of starting points so you could select among them during a rehearsal, perhaps with an option to start a certain number of bars before. The plug-in could use rehearsal markings in the score (or rehearsal markings minus the certain number of bars) to give you places to start automatically and allow you to add your own places (and optionally name them) by running the plug-in with a note selected.

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