I have just completed a five-week course in Sibelius 7. I have learned an amazing amount about the program in those weeks, and I have a new-found appreciation for everything that can be achieved with this outstanding piece of software. Every week after class I came home totally enthused about all the new possibilities I had learned for creating and editing music, and I could hardly wait until the next week’s class to find out what I would learn next.
And the crazy thing is……..I was the teacher.
Initially I didn’t want to teach this course. You see, over the last years I have become quite proficient with using Sibelius, and I have given many presentations on the use of Sibelius in the classroom. I love the program, and have always felt very comfortable using it……right up until the latest update. When I installed Sibelius 7 on my school desktop computer I was stunned by the huge leap forward the interface had taken since the release of Sibelius 6. I must admit I felt very intimidated – I had learned to navigate Sib 6 so easily, and now everything had moved – menus had become the “ribbon”, commands were in different places, there was a new Navigator function which I certainly didn’t like, even the New Score Wizard was different and unfamiliar. I did not feel that I could teach this new software – it just didn’t make sense to me any more.
So, I avoided using Sibelius 7 for a while, and just clung to my Sibelius 6 installation on my laptop for my own composing and arranging. If somebody needed a Sib 7 score from me, I’d send them a Sib 6 score and have them worry about importing it.
At the beginning of this year, though, my county upgraded the licenses on all our school computers to Sibelius 7, so I was forced to adapt. I started poking at Sib 7 by myself, but was still unsure of what I was doing. Then I was asked to teach an Introduction to Sibelius course to 15 other music teachers in the county, and I just realized I had to learn the new layout once and for all.
I took myself back to basics. For the first class, I decided I would teach my students how to create a lead sheet. I tried it for myself in Sib 7, and found it very easy, and intuitive. Since lead sheets are very simple to produce, I started to rethink the workflow of the program, rather than trying to accelerate to advanced features. I found to my surprise that the workflow is actually much better in Sib 7 – it moves naturally through the ribbon from start to finish of a project. I tried using all the keyboard shortcuts I’d learned from Sib 6, and discovered they all worked the same. If I wasn’t sure of something, I just searched through the ribbon or checked the online reference guide, and everything started to become clear.
Somehow I managed to teach the first class and give the impression that I actually knew what I was talking about. When the students asked questions, I found I knew the answers – I had learned enough to be ahead of their level and to be able to respond without ever giving the impression that I had been drowning myself just a few weeks earlier. As I left the class that evening, I knew I had conquered lead sheets and then some – I had discovered new things I thought I didn’t know.
For the second class I taught arranging through exploding short scores onto larger staffs, and for the third class I taught original composition along with orchestration techniques. To prepare for these classes I did a few simple arrangements and compositions myself, and had a lot of fun exploring the new Sibelius features. I tackled worksheets for the fourth class, and I was easily able to get through all the complicated staff and text editing that needs to be done without any worries. The new Navigator function proved invaluable for this, and I found myself using it so much I never missed the old method.
In Week 5, my students brought back their own completed scores and worksheets, and we had a great time evaluating all the quality work they had done. As I gave each of them a certificate of completion for the course, I certainly knew that each of them had gained proficiency in the software and had learned many things that they can now pass on to their students. Some of the class had previous experience with Sibelius 5 or 6, or Finale, but each of them absolutely loved the new Sibelius layout, and created scores that were way above any level that they had ever achieved before.
For me, I learned one thing above all – you can learn something new by teaching it. You don’t have to be the greatest expert in Sibelius (or Pro Tools, or Logic, or Live) before you being teaching it. So long as you think it through from the basics and stay ahead of where your students are going to be, you’ll always be comfortable. Currently, updates to software come faster than we can keep up. If we have to relearn everything from scratch to mastery before we introduce it to our students, we’ll never get to actually teach anything.
And that’s the final thought I left with my 15 students at the end of the last class – if you want to learn more about Sibelius, teach it, pass it on, and encourage others. It’s an awesome program and I’m glad to say I love it again.
Richard McCready is a composer, musician, and the Director of Music Technology at River Hill High School in Columbia, Maryland. He was born in Northern Ireland and studied tuba performance, piano, and composition at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, England. Since emigrating to the US in 1992, he has held teaching positions at The Park School of Baltimore, Towson University, and Mayfield Woods Middle School, Elkridge, MD; he has also played professionally with the Monumental Brass Quintet, the Lexington Brass Quintet, and the Denhard/McCready Duo. He has earned two Masters degrees from Towson University, one in tuba performance and one in vocal performance. He plays many musical instruments, but the focus of his teaching is Music Technology in which he is widely regarded as one of the outstanding innovators in the US. His book, Making Music with GarageBand and Mixcraft, was published in 2010. Richard was awarded the TI:ME 2013 Mike Kovins Teacher of the Year Award and also the Howard County 2013 Music Educator of the Year.