Category Archives: Songs

Songs, song suggestions, sheet music and recordings

Rachmaninov Surgery

Let’s have a big hand for the pianist

One of the joys of working with midi instruments and other electronic composition tools is that it is quite possible to write things that are impossible to play.  A composer or arranger can happily write chords that require a guitar to have seven strings or a pianist to have twelve fingers.
Now, if you’re writing for midi instruments, then that doesn’t matter; the range of an instrument and the arrangement of limbs are immaterial to a computer.  On the other hand, if you are writing a score that is intended to be played by a human musician, it helps enormously if the score is actually playable.

One of the commonest errors in creating a piano score is to write chords that exceed the span of the pianist’s hands.  I have fairly large hands and I would struggle to hit a chord with a span of a ninth without the risk of depressing adjacent keys.  For most pianists, an octave is a safe bet – though, of course, this depends on the pianist.  Take, for example, Rachmaninov’s Prelude in C# minor…

Whilst concert pianists like Hyung-ki Joo will find ways around the problems of Rachmaninov (and Sergei Rachmaninov himself played those chords by jumping), many pianists will struggle when confronted with passages like this.

A big hand for the pianist (part 1)There are generally two reasons why these occur.  Firstly, the composer has played the music into his computer and the computer has misinterpreted the split between the two hands.  (Usually the software works with a fixed split point – by default, usually middle C.  Everything from there upward is put into the right hand part, and all else in the left.)  Secondly, composers writing directly in the software create a chord with a particular sound, neglecting how it will be played.
In either case, the result will be the same, and the composer needs to do some editing.  The first route is always to see if notes can be switched between hands:-A big hand for the pianist (part 2)

In this case, there is still a problem with the final chord because it now exceeds the right hand’s span.  Furthermore, it can’t just be solved by knocking-out that bottom A; that would make the chord empty, with just a set of Ds and a lot of space in the middle.  A creative solution needs to be found, even if it doesn’t match the originally intended sound.  Something like:-A big hand for the pianist (part 3)

(As usual, the illustrations come from the Sibelius score-writing package, but in this case the issues are universal.)

Anacrusis As Afterthought

Another Tip for Sibelius Users

So you’ve written a song.  Having done that, you realise that the singers are unlikely to have perfect pitch or perfect rhythm, so it’s desirable to set the pitch and tempo for them by means of a lead-in.  To deal with that you insert a few bars at the start of the song.  Then you realise that the melody for the lead-in starts mid-way through a bar; you’ve got an anacrusis.
A what?
An anacrusis: a pick-up bar that contains less than a whole bar of music.
That’s fine, it’s perfectly musical, but it looks like this.Sibelius Tip - dealing with space before an anacrusis

That isn’t wrong, it’s just that it doesn’t look neat having that first bar mainly filled with rests.  The usual way of dealing with that is to have a pick-up bar containing fewer beats than the time signature.
But how do we do that in Sibelius, from the starting point above?

Select the first bar.
From the menu [Create] [Time Signature]
Select your time signature, then check the “Start with bar of length” box and select the length of your anacrusis.  Note that you can put a dot after the note symbol to create – say – a lead-in of three quavers (eighth notes).Sibelius - inserting a time signature

Now you want to delete the unwanted old first bar.  However, first you need to move anything that’s in or attached to that bar.  That usually means whichever you are using out of the title, subtitle, copyright line, composer, lyricist and tempo.

Select each of those elements, then [Edit] [Cut],
Select the new first bar then [Edit] [Paste].Sibelius - moving objects attached to the first bar

Similarly, move all the notes from the old first bar into the new first bar.

Having created the new first bar, with contents and links to titles, etc., it’s safe to remove the old one.

Select the old first bar (on all lines of the system) and
[Edit] [Delete Bars]

This leaves you with an unnecessary time signature at the start of the second bar.

Select the unwanted time signature.  Delete.  (The Delete key on your keyboard will have the desired effect!)  A cautionary message – “Do you want to rewrite the following bars up to the next time signature (or the end of the score)?” – pops up.  Whilst this may look alarming, in this case, because you are not changing the time signature, it will have no effect.  (Clicking “No” may well be marginally quicker!)

The result should look like this:Sibelius - an anacrusis with no leading spaces

Lyrical Panorama

This post is a tip about using the Sibelius score-writing package – a minority interest!

When writing lyrics into a Sibelius score, there are a whole variety of ways to get them misaligned.  If you write them one bar at a time, for example, Sibelius will off-set from the lowest note in the bar, so the lyrics in different bars will be off-set to different levels.  However you do it, you get a ragged effect, like this:- Misaligned lyrics
Correcting this line-by-line can be messy (and can lead to further corrections if you change the positions of line breaks after you’ve aligned the lyrics.)

These days, I tend to start with the Panorama view for correcting this.  Panorama displays the whole score as one continuous system.  The following guideline uses the menu commands to achieve all the goal; there are short-cuts for many of these commands – but since you can find them from the menus, the menus fit my  purpose here.

Let’s start by looking at the panorama: [View] [Panorama]
Now select the entire score: [Edit] [Select] [Select All]
Since we want to align just the lyrics, we filter the lyrics: [Edit] [Filter] [Lyrics]

Note of caution: you’ve just selected all the lyrics in the entire score.  If you have multiple verses below a single musical line, then aligning those will put them all on top of one another.  Not a good idea.  Instead, you need to use the Advanced Filter – [Edit] [Filter] [Advanced Filter] and use the text filter to select just the lyrics for line 1 (etc.)  Get to know the advanced filter; it’s worth your time.

Having selected the appropriate set of lyrics, [Layout] [Align in a row]

That gets all your lyrics aligned with each other.  You can then scroll across the panorama to check the spacing from the lowest note, and use the arrow keys to move all the lyrics up or down accordingly.

The result should look like this:-

Realigned Lyrics
You can, of course, use the same process to align and move other components.  Here I used

[View] [Panorama]
[Edit] [Select] [Select All]
[Edit] [Filter] [Chord Symbols]

to select and move the chord symbols closer to the stave:-
Chord symbols aligned and moved

Who Sings This Line?

This post is a tip about using the Sibelius score-writing package – a minority interest!

There is a problem that everyone encounters when transcribing songs with multiple verses: where do you put the verse numbers?  A similar issue occurs within a single verse, where sections are sung by different singers.

Since you want the verse numbers to align with the lyrics, there is a temptation to write the verse number at the start of the lyrics.  Resist the temptation!  The problem here is that Sibelius (logically) ties a lyric to the corresponding note.  Since the verse number doesn’t have a note, writers incorporate the verse number in the first word of the verse.  I see this all the time, and it’s ugly!  (For illustration purposes, I have made examples from the music hall song A Bird in a Gilded Cage by Harry von Tizler and Arthur Lamb.)  It looks like this:Illustration of Verse Numbers tied to the first wordSibelius provides a number of ways around this:-

Independent Text
There are several options for text that is not a natural part of the score.  Click on the bar where you want to create the verse number.  Use the menu to go to [Create] [Text] [Other Staff Text] then select either “Plain Text”, “Small Text” or “Tiny Text”.  That will create an entry point for your verse number, which you can then drag to an appropriate point preceding the text.

This solution is implicit in my description of the problem.  Anything that appears in the lyrics needs to be tied to a note.  Consequently, the verse number can be tied to a note before the start of the verse!  Of course, there isn’t one, but if there is space to create one, this can be done temporarily: turn a rest into a note, select the note and [Create] [Text] [Lyrics] [Lyrics Line 1] (etc.) and put in your verse number.  When you’ve numbered all the verses, change the note back to a rest – the verse numbers stay where they were.
A variation on this is to create two lyrics on the same line.  Enter the verse, then select the first note and  [Create] [Text] [Lyrics] [Lyrics Line 1] (etc.) and enter your verse number.  This writes text over the top of the first word of the verse, but you can pick up that text independently and drag it away from the start of the verse.

In all cases, the results look like this.SeparateLineNumbers

Using Boxed Text
These days, when incorporating the name of a singer, I tend to use boxed text (a special case of “Independent Text” as described above).Sibelius Boxed Text used for verse numbers and singers' names

Where the singer changes in the course of a verse, boxed text can be used either, if space permits, within the text or, as here (in Roll Up, Roll Up from Working Man by Peter Nuttall) above the stave.Sibelius Boxed Text for changes of singer

All the right notes

Customers who have found scripts on the Lazy Bee Scripts web site frequently ask about songs to go with them.  (We’re talking about school shows, family shows and pantomimes here.  It’s not a common question about murder mysteries.)  For new shows, we’ve been putting song lists on the web site, and Nickie in the Lazy Bee Scripts office has been working her way through the back-catalogue compiling on-line lists from the authors’ song suggestions.
Occasionally, this throws-up neat illustrations of the need for greater precision by an author; what we need is accuracy.  This means correct song titles and the names of the composers and lyricists.  In the song suggestions for her nativity play Little Donkey, Dominique Vaughan had specified We Will Rock You.  Fair enough.  Nickie, working from memory, put the composer down as Brian May. Then she thought that she’d better check – Queen’s raucous chant seemed out of place as the rest of the songs were Christmas Carols.  It turned out that whilst the song Dominque intended did include the words “We will rock you,” it was in fact The Rocking Carol (“Little Jesus, Sweetly Sleep”).