Thursday, February 2, 2012

Multicopy Dynamics for Sibelius is amazing

I try to keep the material here about the end look of the notation rather than the means to make it possible, but I must make an exception in this case. I've recently been involved with the development of a new plugin for Sibelius that dramatically improves the creation of dynamic markings.


Select a vertical passage with several instruments that all come in at different places.

Press a button.

As if by magic, the dynamic of your choice sprouts at the first note of every staff with notes.

Not only is this a reality, but it's free and available now. It's called Multicopy Dynamics and it was made by the preeminent independent developer of plugins for Sibelius, Bob Zawalich.

Multicopy Dynamics in action

What follows is some background on my workflow and my desire for an improved dynamics system. Skip to the end for where to get the plugin and tips on how to get the most out of it.


I have been using Sibelius since v.1 for Windows (1999). Adding dynamics has been a constant companion for all that time. The keyboard shortcuts -- ctrl+e+m+f esc and variants -- have long since been ingrained into muscle memory. I was really excited about multicopy in Sibelius 2 (2002), especially because I didn't have to copy/paste dynamics individually. When I got my first macro keyboard (an Ergodex DX1) in 2006, one of the first things I did was to program in shortcuts for dynamics.

So, for the last 6 years, I've had essentially the same workflow: 6 dedicated buttons for the major dynamics that trigger a series of key commands. I would then copy/paste the resulting dynamic to the appropriate staves using multicopy when appropriate.

Logitech G13 gamepad: an
exceptional piece of hardware
For a number of reasons, the Ergodex became increasingly burdensome to use and I recently replaced it with a Logitech G13 gamepad. In combination with Orderdbytes' Controllermate, it is an amazingly versatile tool. Essentially, if I can envision a function, I am usually able to do it with a minimum of effort (chorded keying, extended modifiers, etc.)

My dynamics workflow had some drawbacks. Adding a single dynamic still required as many as five keystrokes to be recognized by Sibelius (quite a while if things were running slowly) and undoing a single incorrect dynamic required two undo commands. Also, while multicopy is useful for straightforward issues, anything more complex than everyone on beat one required a fair amount of handholding.

Project inception

As I was laying out the commands for the new controller, the time seemd ripe to reexamine the dynamics issue. I used Bob Zawalich's Create Add Text plugin to solve two of the issues: adding a dynamic now only required one action, speeding up the response time and only needing one undo command to reverse.

I was prepared to live with this: it was a significant improvement over the previous method. However, I was curious if my complete problem could be solved: one-step creation and multicopy. I don't have any ManuScript experience, so I contacted Bob and asked if he thought it might be possible to do. I figured that he'd either say no and here's why or yes and these are the methods you might use.

What followed was nothing short of amazing. Let me first stress that Bob doesn't make custom plugins; he only works on projects he feels are applicable to the community as a whole. At first, he wrote back saying that it would probably not be worth the effort to make. A few days later, though, he contacted me saying that he was playing around with some ideas and if I wouldn't mind testing them. What followed was a very rapid development of this plugin to a mature state.

He started out by just creating text at the beginning of all staves in a selected passage. This worked well, but didn't allow for text to be created at a single selected object. The next revision added this feature. At this point, I was very happy as my original goal had been satisfied. However, I got curious and asked if text could be created at all discretely-selected objects. Sibelius' native multicopy doesn't handle that situation (though it's not clear that it actually should). Soon afterward, Bob sent an update with that feature.

After working with the plugin, it became apparent that what really needed to happen was an upgraded filter. I don't want dynamics on empty staves or under most rests. I asked further: could I have the dynamic attached to the first notes in a given staff selection? Lo and behold, the wish was granted.

This took the plugin from a useful little tool to an exponentially faster and smarter way to interact with the program. At this point, it was pretty much done. Bob added polish in the form of specific voice selection and various dialog hiding options.

How to use for maximum effect

What it does depends on the nature of the selection: if a passage is selected, it finds the first note in each bar and creates a piece of predefined Expression text at that location. If several objects are selected, it will place the text at each of those locations.

The basic function of the plugin is probably adequate for most people: select a passage or individual objects, run the plugin, and choose what you want from the menu. Fast, simple and easy.

To supercharge it, though, you will need a copy of it and the Copy Plugin plugin (echo!) available here. (or under File > Install Plugins. Copy Plugin is under "Developer Tools", Multicopy Dynamics is under "Text")

The end goal is to have eight separate plugins, each dedicated to a specific dynamic ( ppp to fff ) and each bound to a different key command.
  1. Once installed, run Multicopy Plugin and select ppp. Press OK.
  2. Run Copy Plugin and change the name to something descriptive like ppp.
  3. Repeat for the 7 remaining dynamics (or the text of your choice)
  4. Restart Sibelius
  5. Run ppp and select "Hide Dialog Always" from the Hide dialog options dropdown (the dialog will pop up if nothing is selected when you trigger the plugin)
  6. Repeat for the other 7 plugins
  7. Bind each plugin to a different key command in Sibelius Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts > Plug-ins
  8. (Optional bonus!) Bind those key commands to a macro keyboard for one-touch access.
Use cases
  • Full score: a passage that includes several instruments who all need to be ff
  • Full score: scattered identical dynamics
  • One line: a hairpin cresc./dim. from and to a single dynamic. ( p < f > p )
  • Normal one-at-a-time dynamics
It just works. Take a breath of fresh air and watch those deadlines get just a bit farther away! Once you have those dynamics in, make sure they're properly positioned!

I want to thank Bob Zawalich for making this dream a reality. I am thrilled that this is in the world and hope that many many people find it useful. 

I would love to hear your comments on the plugin or how you're using it!

Multicopy Plugin (bottom of page)
Copy Plugin (middle of page)


Anonymous said...

What's the point being impressed by a copy/paste function in the 21th century?

Matthew Maslanka said...

If you've used Sibelius for any amount of time, you would recognize the step forward this is. It's an individually bindable intelligent copy/paste that measurably reduces the time to input dynamics. I've messed around with other clipboard shelves, but nothing supports Sibelius' internal logic except Manuscript. I'm glad it's here and it helps me out. I'm happy to be impressed :)

Harry said...

Hi this has been a real time-saver thank! would you consider posting up the template you use on in controller mate for the G13? I'm thinking of getting on and have been looking at the controller mate software.

Matthew Maslanka said...

Hi Harry,

I'm glad you're enjoying the plugin. I'll post my template presently with some commentary.


Harry said...


looking forward to the next part of behind bars also, keep up the good work.