Music Writing in Sibelius: Tremolo and Rolls

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I adore my Christmas present, and Sibelius 7 is the most professional “toy” I have ever had.  However, the learning curve is higher for me than I am used to.  Back in the day (I think I just dated myself), I would write literally anything I wanted an instrument to do on the paper, and in my mind it would be done.  With Sibelius, anything I write can be heard with amazing realism.  But I can’t write everything I want right off the bat.  Even with the Sibelius 7 Reference Book I bought to learn the ropes, there are some things I want the instruments to do that took me a while to learn.

Because this blog is all about saving time, I am going to pass these bits of knowledge on to you: tremolo for stringed instruments, drum rolls, and drum notation in general.

First, let me describe what I have been working on.  The song I will be using bits of in this blog is based on one of the main characters in my husband’s first book (not published yet) called “At the Lady’s Behest.”  Artemis is a complex character, but at her heart she is these things: a girl who saw her true love die, a warrior bent on revenge, and death incarnate.  See what I am working with?  I knew her song would involve a lot of drums and would need to be darker than what I have written before.  So the song began.

Tremolo is a trembling effect used by bow-played string instruments (the violin family).  I know that any avid music lovers will say that many other instruments play tremolo, even the harp (while really this is called bisbigliando) and the drums (this is called a roll, which we will work with later).  Tremolo is done either by rapidly playing a single note.  Don’t confuse it with a trill, which is a rapid playing of two notes.  I tried to fake this by having the violas play 124th notes, but this sounded stupid.  After going through every symbol in the Sibelius repertoire, I ironically found it right under my nose.

When working with Sibelius, the keypad is usually open, because it is the best shortcut way to write notes.  The first tab is for common notes, the second is less common notes, and the third tab is for beams and tremolos.  Seriously, it is that easy.


Several tremolos are listed here, and the more bars on them, the faster the tremolo is.  There are two ways to put in a tremolo.  If you have already written the music, you can just click on the note you want to be trembling, and then choose the tremolo you want.  The next time you playback, the note will tremble accordingly.  The other way is to write it in as you go.  Choose the note length in the first tab, then the tremolo in the second.  Place the note, and the tremolo will appear.  So simple I wanted to smack my head on my keyboard.  It actually took me four hours of searching to find this. <Place laugh track here>



Now on to the drum roll.  A drum roll (also written drumroll) is a fast paradiddle (I love percussion words) played on the head of the drum.  I have never played drums, so I am not sure if a drumroll is a true paradiddle (played left-right-left-left, right-left-right-right) or just very fast left-right and so on.  That is not my concern, which is to properly notate it so the future orchestra that (in my head, at least) will play this in front of a sold out crowd.  Before spending another four hours searching through the program, I looked again to the third tab.  A drum roll is a tremolo for percussion, and Sibelius knows that.  On the third tab is a great button called a “buzz roll.”  Use it the same way I showed you to add a tremolo, and you get a great drum roll.



Last but not least, I realized when I started this piece, which I wanted to be percussion heavy, that I know precious little about writing for percussion.  They use a lot more note heads than I normally use in my writing.  This one is easy, as there is a large “Note Head” button on the notation ribbon.


The bigger problem is what notes can each instrument play?  Anyone who has watched a great drum line knows that drummers use not only the drum head, but the rim, different parts of the stick, even their hands to get the sound they need.  The way I solved this problem is to create a new music piece just to test the drums.  Using the keyboard in the panels tab, I tested the notes available to me to see which one gave the sound I wanted.  The keyboard can be used as a shortcut for drums, because the note you play gives you a certain sound, complete with appropriate note head.


I came up with the two short lists below for the drums I was worried about: snare and tenor.



Black round notes are for notes played on the drum head.  The simple cross “X” is for rim shots.  The ornate cross is for a loud rim shot.  The arrow down and ping shown in the snare test seemed to do nothing, so I didn’t use them.  I know they must do something, so I still have some work to do.  For all the other percussion I used, I stuck to the drum head, and used tempo and expression to get the sound I wanted.  But that is for another blog post.  Just so you know, the list below are all the note heads Sibelius has available for drums.  So you see how much I still have to learn.


Until next time, happy writing.

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