Sibelius notation on a laptop – a mobile rig solution that works for me

I’ve been a user of the notation program Sibelius since its very first version, having won a copy of it in a raffle at Juilliard, at least 10 years ago.

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.

thank you & all the best,
check out my music on myspace, soundcloud and bandcamp
follow me on twitter


  • admin says:


    Sure –

    Preferences –> Menus & Shortcuts –> Add Feature Set (give it a name)

    then select the section “Keypad (all)”

    The standard settings for the first three shortcuts in this section are:
    and *

    you want to change them to:

    any questions, let me know.

    • Anonymous says:

      Re: sure

      I am using a MacBook which I think you also use. I followed your instructions until I got to place where you actually change the settings. I think I changed the first setting. When I got to the second setting the 1st symbol (/) was still there, but I went ahead and put in the *. This showed in the box as an up arrow (shift sign) and 8. I went ahead and added the 3rd setting (-). I really can’t tell whether or not it worked as my keypad has not arrived.

      Did I do it correctly, if you can figure out what I wrote?

      • admin says:

        Re: sure

        i’m not sure – you’ll have to try it.
        it sounds like when you changed the shortcuts, the ones that were originally there remained, and you probably should remove them.

        in my settings, I see:
        ‘/’ (Windows) or ‘=’ (Mac) on keypad: = and /
        ‘*’ (Windows or ‘/’ (Mac) on keypad: *
        ‘-” (Windows) or ‘*’ (Mac) on keypad: –

        makes sense?

        • Anonymous says:

          Re: sure

          I got my keypad. Just so I am reasonably clear, does your keypad have a num lock key at the very top left corner? That key does not change?

          I still have not been able to change the next three keys to the left of that num lock key. I have followed your instructions until I get to the second key change. In order to get the asterisk to show I have to use the shift key (up arrow shows) and the 8 key. Therefore what ends up on the setting is the up arrow 8 which is not the symbol you wanted in that setting.

          What am I doing wrong?

          • admin says:

            Re: sure

            hi there,

            minor (?!) detail – you have to program those keys using the keypad
            so anotherwords, for the first shortcut, press / on the keypad
            for the second, press * on the keypad
            for the third, press – on the keypad

            yes, my keypad has a numlock, but no, it makes no difference as to whether it’s on or off.

            thanks for asking me to clarify!

          • Anonymous says:

            Re: sure


            I tried your latest suggestion. It worked. I have an arrow key as the upper right key. Is that correct?

            However the keypad now works and I can finally use the Sibelius keypad as it was meant to be used.

            Thanks, so much Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin, for your help and patience.

          • admin says:

            Re: sure

            i don’t have an arrow key on the top right, but i’m glad the suggestion worked for you!

  • Anonymous says:


    Your iThing will respond much faster over WiFi if, instead of using the wireless around you, you create and Ad Hoc network with your Mac and connect your iThing *directly* to your machine. Anyone who doesn’t know how, just Google it. There are instructions right on Apple’s support pages.

    • admin says:

      Re: WiFi

      yes, that’s true -BUT if you create an ad-hoc network, then you cannot be connected to another wireless network at the same time. You could only connect to the internet via ethernet cable.

      So for example, if you wanted to work in Sibelius and check email, or upload a file, or make a call via Skype, you wouldn’t be able to do that, unless you were plugged in with a cable.

  • Anonymous says:

    John Smith


    I’ve got a third piece that you might want to add to this set-up. I recently bought it, and I’ve actually started inadvertently developing a bit of technique for “performing” on it from all of my messing around.

    I’m referring specifically to the ‘nanokey.’

    I think it’s generally great, personally. I couldn’t stop playing it after it finally arrived in the mail.

    Also, I thought I’d mention that I found what I read about you in the New York Times article incredibly inspiring. I’m an aspiring violist and composer myself, with plenty of diverse musical inclinations. I was recommended the article by a Jazz professor and I’d already owned a copy of Bagel on the Malecon, incidentally enough. I presented it in a compoition seminar recently, too. It was pretty well received.

    • admin says:

      Re: John Smith

      John, thank you so much!! Much appreciated.

      Re NanoKey: looks fun.
      I must admit, however — ever since writing this article, I’ve actually abandoned using the keypad & lapdesk yet again, after Daniel Spreadbury (of Sibelius) and I came up with yet another set of keyboard shortcuts that seems to replace the need for using the numeric keypad. I’ll share it one day.

      As for keyboards — I’ve decided many years ago that I’m not going to use a musical keyboard for note entry, as in the early days, it was a time consuming pain to correct whatever rhythms or notes were misinterpreted during a “record”. Maybe these days it’s easier – I don’t know – but I’m quite quick at inputting notes via shortcuts that it doesn’t really matter.

      Either way, I’m all about reducing the amount of gadgets I carry, as most of the time I travel on foot, and am carrying around a viola most of the time (plus sometimes a baby, a DI box, an amp, a stand, a tux, CDs for sale, sheet music) you know how it goes.. 🙂


  • Anonymous says:

    Question: For quick note entry from Macbook Pro laptop any suggestions? Thoughts between the Advance Logickeyboard specifically created for Sibelius ( versus the KB Keyboard Cover for Apple Ultra-Thin Keyboard…?no=139? Don’t know which would be better. Seems like the Logic would be sturdy and ready to go but I’d like to make an informed decision if anyone has experience with either of the two. I know there is the USB separate numeric keypad but I’d like everything on one keyboard. Any/all advice would be appreciated! Regards, Nick

    • admin says:

      hi there — thanks! I wasn’t aware of these options with the keyboard overlay. Using a full keyboard is effective, but I don’t always have access to it while traveling.

      Ever since posting this article on the numeric keypad, I’ve actually abandoned using it, having re-programmed a few shortcuts to suit note entry without any keypads or full keyboards -just my MacBook keyboard. It works nicely — I hope to post about it later in the week, if I get a chance.


      • Anonymous says:

        Laptop shortcuts

        I would be really interested in seeing how you’ve programmed your laptop for ease of use with this program. I’d love to avoid buying an external keypad – just one more thing to lose.Any chance that you’ll post this information soon?

        Thanks much,

  • Anonymous says:

    What is the keypad you suggested on e-bay? The link states it is no longer available or has been removed.

    Susan M.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Please solve * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.