Create an editable click track with audio cues using Sibelius and Max/MSP


Part 1. Preparatory setup of the Sibelius score

Click track staves and cues text style

First we create two new instruments, “Click track” and “Cues” (I created both based on “Percussion [1 line]”).

It is advisable to do some ahead planning about what kind of clicks will be actually needed, as the drum map of the “Click track” instrument has to be set up to feature the right noteheads and to have them connected with different playback sounds [via “Home Tab” > “Edit Instrument” > “Edit Staff Type” > “Percussion”]. Each notehead must have its own unique internal pitch so not to confuse the processing of the MIDI data later. The noteheads can still be changed and amended later, of course.

For easy reference when compiling the audio files for the click track later, it is best to write down what kind of clicks are mapped to which pitches. The following are the noteheads I chose for the project, together with the assigned playback sounds. These are, of course, suggestions and you can and should come up with your own set up, always in response to what is needed in a given situation.

  • The first two noteheads (normal, on the line) are reserved for actual beats (accent: primary beats, low woodblock (F5); no accent: secondary beats, high woodblock (E5)).
  • The next two noteheads (triangle shape, on the line) are reserved for count-ins (accent: primary beats, snare drum (D2); no accent: secondary beats, side stick (C#2)).
  • The cross notehead and the rhombus notehead are intended for any special signaling that may be useful (cross: low agogo (G#4); rhombus shape: muted triangle (G#5)).

Make sure to choose noteheads that are suited to clearly show their different functions; this way, you do not need to renotate anything for click track rhythm cues.

Note that the sounds you apply to your noteheads within Sibelius are not necessarily the ones that are used in the final click track, though this is possible.

Having set up all the noteheads we need, we can leave the other options in “Edit Staff Type” alone for now, but we will come back to them later to improve the appearance of the “Cues” stave.

Next we add both instruments to the score and make sure that they are inserted at the bottom of the instruments list (adding them at the top is possible too, but comes with a few extra layout hurdles). In most cases it will probably be appropriate to check the “Small staff” option for both and to also mute them in the mixer.

If you don’t want to do it later, when actually dealing with the parts, you can at this point add the “Cues” stave to all parts that will need audio cues via “Parts Tab” > “Staves in part”.

Creating a custom text style for cues is optional as the Playback Dictionary will obey trigger phrases from any text style that is set to “Interpret during playback”. Still, a special “Cues” text style is higly recommended so you can easily filter and typographically change your cues.

I based mine on the “Technique” text style but changed it to be italic by default to help distinguish the cue indications from any other functional text. For the same reason I went with all caps for the cue indications.

You should also think about appropriate default positions for your text style. For the results shown in my examples, I recommend the following values: horizontal position -0.6 (in score and in parts), vertical position -0.5 (in score) and -4 (in parts).

Creating dictionary entries for audio cues

The next step is to create Playback Dictionary entries that result in usable MIDI data for the Max patch.

To do that we go to “Play Tab” > “Dictionary” and create a new keyword, for example “CLARINET”; we then set the “Effect” switch to “Control Change”, the MIDI controller to a value of our choice (the same for all cue entries), and the controller value to a unique value for each keyword. The boxes for “Case sensitive” and “Whole word” should be checked too (see screenshot below). “Case sensitive” works extra well to avoid accidental interpretation of common musical terms if you opt for all caps with your cues. You can speed up the process of creating the rest of your keywords by making use of the “Duplicate” button.

Keywords for the Playback Dictionary should match the text that will be recorded in the audio files. They can be anything you want (unless they conflict with an already existing entry, or with the few forbidden special characters) and you can create them as you go along adding cues. This allows for a lot of freedom and creativity in creating cues. Still, it might again be a good idea to plan ahead a bit, and to keep a list containing your keywords together with the assigned controller values.

Be careful to keep your audio cues concise as not to end up with long phrases obscuring the clicks. This aspect will be discussed in a bit more detail later in part three.

The list for my project looked something like this:

The first ten entries were for general terms, like numbers and phrases used for count-ins or count-downs.

  • “THREE” – controller value 6
  • “TWO” – controller value 7
  • “ONE” – controller value 8
  • “AND” – controller value 9
  • “NOW” – controller value 10
Then the actual instrument names

  • “FLUTE” – controller value 14
  • “PICCOLO” – controller value 15
  • “OBOE” – controller value 16, and so on...


  1. PAOLO

    Very interesting and educating article! Thanks!

    Do you have an example of an actual click track finished, so that I could hear what the final product actually should be like? That would be very useful.


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