In recent times, I spend 5 to 15 hours a day composing or arranging scores in Sibelius, whether it’s for one of my film score, a concert piece, or an arrangement. Working in Sibelius has become somewhat of a second nature to me, and notating music in Sibelius is much faster for me than with pen[cil]. (Though, for the record – I still use the Moleskine Music Notebook for sketching.)
I’ve been using Sibelius on a laptop for several years, and have just recently figured out a really comfortable mobile setup, which makes my relationship with Sibelius a lot more productive, at a cumulative cost of approximately $35. There are two principal items you should consider buying —
1) NUMERIC KEYPAD As many users know, many of Sibelius’s principal features are tucked into shortcuts that correspond with the functions of a numeric keypad. While the numeric keypad exists on full computer keyboards, you can rarely find it on a laptop keyboard.
To complicate matters, Sibelius’s keypad functions are mapped by default to an 18-key keypad that was popular 10 years ago and is scarcely available today. On their website, Sibelius recommends 3 keypads, two of which are $59. There are, however, a couple of cheaper alternatives that work just as well:
a) If you own an iPod or an iPod Touch, you may want to check out the apps NumberKey and NumPad, both of which give you access to an 18-key keypad. Numpad in particular could be convenient, because it has several screens dedicated to specific Sibelius functions. There are two downsides with both programs — they work over wifi, which creates a slight but gnawing delay between the time you press a keypad button and it registers on the screen, especially if you’re on a public wifi network at a college library, for instance. The other downside is that you have no tactile response – you have to look at the pad to make sure you’re pressing the right button.
b) If you don’t own an iPod/iPhone, or you simply want a tactile response from your keyboard, then you should consider buying this cheap keypad on Ebay, for $5.95 (which includes shipping). This is my personal favorite – it’s extremely thin & light, the buttons have great response, and the cord is retractable. It costs 10% of the keypads Sibelius recommends, and does the same thing. This keypad isn’t perfect – you’ll have to reprogram the top 3 keys to correspond to Sibelius’s commands via the Preferences -> Menus & Shortcuts — but this takes 2 minutes.
2) PORTABLE LAPDESK: If you’re going to use a numeric keypad (or an iThing) to speed notation in Sibelius while on-the-go, then you’ll need to grow a third leg — it takes two to hold a laptop, and another to hold your keypad.
My solution, which I found only recently, is the Logitech Portable Lapdesk N315 — not only does it hold the laptop, but it has a retractable area specifically for a numeric keypad. It’s simple, durable and elegant, and affords me to notate in places where a proper table is lacking.
Here’s a picture of my setup in action – notice the cheapo numeric keypad on the right, seated on top of the Logitech Lapdesk.
I hope you find this useful, and of course, would love to hear your thoughts.