I am often asked by my students in live and online Sibelius and Finale courses:What is the fastest way to enter notation in notation software? There are five approaches:
1. Click in notes using the mouse
2. Use the Computer numeric keypad and type the letter keys on the keyboard
3. Use a MIDI Keyboard (or MIDI Controller) and enter the notes and rests one at a time.
4. Use a MIDI keyboard (or MIDI controller) and enter the notes in real-time.
5. Import the notation via MIDI files or scanning technology.
In this post I will focus on the first three options, referred to as step-time entry. I use step-time entry when I am copying from a printed score into notation software or entering notation that I have memorized. I also use it when I am copying from one part in a score to another.
Let’s consider each one of the step-time options:
Entering by clicking the notes with the mouse
I rarely use the mouse entry technique for one reason: it is the slowest method of note entry. With Finale and Sibelius, you first click the desired note value and then move the mouse to the staff and click in the pitch. It is OK for beginners and young students, but is it very slow compared to the other notation step-time entry options. I do use this method after a score or part has been entered to edit notation such as adding ties, grace notes, correcting an occasional rhythm, and so forth.
Use the Numeric Keypad
The trick to fast step-time note entry is to use the numeric keypad to select the duration. The mouse is not used except to select the first bar for entering notation. If you are using a laptop, purchase a USB external keypad. They cost approximately $25 and will speed your note entry significantly.
The approach here is to learn to touch-type. Sibelius assigns the number 4 on the numeric keypad for a quarter note. With Finale, the number 5 is a quarter note. Larger numbers = larger values; smaller numbers = smaller values. With some practice you learn to “feel” the note durations. Once you get familiar touch-typing, your entry speed will increase significantly.
Entering with the Alphabetic Letter keys
Both Finale (via Simple Entry) and Sibelius have the option of selecting a note value and then entering the note by typing the letters A through G on the computer keyboard. If I don’t have access to a MIDI keyboard, this is the option that I use. Select the note value on the numeric keypad and then type the letter of the desired pitch. The key to faster entry speed is to use a two-hand approach. Put your right hand over the numeric keypad and your left hand over the alphabetic keys. Select the value with your right hand then type the letter with your left.
(The above graphic is from my Berkleeonline course: Music Notation using Sibelius)
When you type in letter names the octave may not be correct. Use the shortcut to transpose octaves: Sibelius = hold down CTRL (Command on Mac) and press the up or down arrows. With Finale hold the Shift key and use the up or down arrows. How do you enter a rest? Both Finale (in Simple Entry) and Sibelius use the same approach: select the note value on the numeric keypad and press zero on the keypad to enter a rest. To enter chords, both Finale (in Simple Entry) and Sibelius use the same approach: press the number keys across the top of the computer keyboard to enter chords. With a note selected press 3 to add a third above, 5 for a fifth above and so forth. Hold down the Shift key to enter intervals below the selected note.
The fastest way to enter notation in step-time is with a MIDI keyboard or controller.
I place one hand on the MIDI keyboard and the other hand over the numeric keypad. Use the mouse only to select the bar. Then, let go of the mouse and select the duration on the numeric keypad and play the note or chord on the MIDI keyboard. If there is a rest, press the zero key on the numeric keypad. Chords are a snap – just play the chord! Also, octaves are not a problem because you can play it on the MIDI keyboard or controller in the proper octave.
Look at the Music/Screen (not your hands)
Next, develop an approach where you are looking a the music notation to be entered and then check computer screen after the note is entered. I place my music stand next to my monitor. Look at the notation to be entered and the touch type to enter it. Then check the computer screen to be sure it was entered correctly. Your hands are working by touch. When I see a mistake, I fix it immediately. Use the undo function that works on most every program CTRL+Z (Windows); Command+Z (Mac).
Use Multiple Approaches
You may find that switching between the various step-time options is beneficial. For example, when I am entering slash notation, it requires entering one pitch for several bars, I will select the quarter note value on the numeric keypad and then press and hold the letter B on the keyboard. Since the computer keyboard repeats, you can enter the same pitch quite fast.
1. Use the mouse for note entry sparingly. Use it to select the starting point in your score and for editing after the notation has been entered.
2. Use the numeric keypad to select durations
3. Use a MIDI keyboard or MIDI controller to enter pitches
4. Learn to touch-type and focus your attention on the music and computer screen.
In my next post, I’ll review some tips for entering notation in real-time and for using copy and paste to speed the entry process. What do you find to be the fastest step-time note entry technique?