What does typing sheet music on my keyboard look like?

Sheet music on faded paper.

It looks something like this: 5 e control 4 b control 5 b 4 a

Let’s look at a simple piece of real-world music: “The Rakish Highlandman,” as published in 1795 within James Aird’s A Selection of Scotch, English Irish and Foreign Airs, Volume 3, Page 175, Tune number 449.

This will provided good practice for the skills described in How do I efficiently write sheet music on my computer?

Starting a new score

Open your chosen notation tool and create a new score.  The exact order will vary, but somewhere in the score settings you will need to specify:

“The Rakish Highlandman” is a jig in 6/8 time, with no upbeat.

Use the key of D Major (F♯ and C♯). This tune is more precisely in E Dorian, but most notation programs do not make this distinction1.

If you are offered a treble clef staff, you could use that, but it will probably play your music using piano sounds. Choose your own instrumentation to specify violin, accordion or some other appropriate folk instrument2.

In MuseScore and Finale, you are asked for the number of bars in advance.  This piece has 16 bars.

Entering the notes

MuseScore

Sheet music.

Starting “The Rakish Highlandman” in MuseScore

Press n once to enter Note Input mode.

If working on Mac OS, replace the control key with command in the steps that follow.

A part

Bar 1 5 e control 4 b control 5 b 4 a
Bar 2 4 g b g 5 . e
Bar 3 4 f a f 5 d 4 g
Bar 4 4 f a f 5 . d
Bar 5 5 e 4 b control 5 b 4 a
Bar 6 4 g b g 5 e 4 g
Bar 7 4 f a f 5 d 4 f
Bar 8 5 . e e

B part

Bar 9 5 b control 4 a 5 b 4 c
Bar 10 5 d 4 c 5 . d
Bar 11 4 f control a f 5 d 4 g
Bar 12 4 f a f 5 . d
Bar 13 5 b control 4 a 5 b 4 c
Bar 14 5 d 4 c 5 . d
Bar 15 4 f control a f 5 d 4 f
Bar 16 5 . e e

Sibelius

Sheet music.

Starting “The Rakish Highlandman” in Sibelius

Enter the first crotchet using the mouse. From then on you should have both hands on the keyboard.

If working on Mac OS, replace the control key with command in the steps that follow.

A part

Bar 1 3 b control 4 b 3 a
Bar 2 3 g b g 4 . e
Bar 3 3 f a f 4 d 3 g
Bar 4 3 f a f 4 . d
Bar 5 4 e 3 b control 4 b 3 a
Bar 6 3 g b g 4 e 3 g
Bar 7 3 f a f 4 d 3 f
Bar 8 4 . e e

B part

Bar 9 4 b control 3 a 4 b 3 c
Bar 10 4 d 3 c 4 . d
Bar 11 3 f control a f 4 d 3 g
Bar 12 3 f a f 4 . d
Bar 13 4 b control 3 a 4 b 3 c
Bar 14 4 d 3 c 4 . d
Bar 15 3 f control a f 4 d 3 f
Bar 16 4 . e e

If you have bars left over, remove them by:

  1. Press escape or n to get out of “Input Notes” mode3.
  2. Click on the first empty bar to select it.
  3. Shift-click on the last empty bar to select all of the bars between the two.
  4. Go to the “Home” tab, and under “Bars” click on “Delete”.

Finale

Sheet music.

Starting “The Rakish Highlandman” in Finale

If the Simple Entry Tool is not active, select it with the mouse. From then on, you should have both hands on the keyboard.

Screen capture of toolbar showing button with quaver on it highlighted.

Finale Main Tool Palette with Simple Entry Tool chosen

A part

Bar 1 shift 5 e shift 4 b 5 b 4 a
Bar 2 4 g b g 5 e .
Bar 3 4 f a f 5 d 4 g
Bar 4 4 f a f 5 d .
Bar 5 5 e shift 4 b 5 b 4 a
Bar 6 4 g b g 5 e 4 g
Bar 7 4 f a f 5 d 4 f
Bar 8 5 e . e .

B part

Bar 9 shift 5 b 4 a 5 b 4 c
Bar 10 5 d 4 c 5 d .
Bar 11 shift 4 f a f 5 d 4 g
Bar 12 4 f a f 5 d .
Bar 13 shift 5 b 4 a 5 b 4 c
Bar 14 5 d 4 c 5 d .
Bar 15 shift 4 f a f 5 d 4 f
Bar 16 5 e . e .

Even if you specified 16 bars, Finale will create a 17th bar after you enter the final note.  To remove it:

Screen capture of toolbar showing button with arrow cursor on it highlighted.

Finale Main Tool Palette with Selection Tool chosen

  1. Switch from the Simple Entry Tool to the Selection Tool (arrow button at the left edge of the Main Tool Palette).
  2. Double-click on the final bar.
  3. Press the delete key.

Adding the repeats

Before this is finished, it needs some repeats. You will need the mouse for this.

In MuseScore, go to “Palettes”, open “Barlines” and drag start and end repeat symbols to the appropriate spots.

In Sibelius, select the barline you need to change, then go to the “Notations” tab and select “Barline” → “Start Repeat” or “Barline” → “End Repeat”.

In Finale:

  1. Choose the “Barline” tool (the button looks like an end repeat symbol).
  2. Double-click on the bar requiring a repeat symbol.
  3. Choose the start or end repeat as appropriate.

Was this worth the effort?

You could probably have notated “The Rakish Highlandman” by hand in the time it took to reach this point.  But, the skills learnt will scale to entire symphonies or stage musical scores where handwritten notation does not.

You also now have a nice short melody on your computer, which means you can try all sorts of experiments with it.  Here are some possibilities:

  1. See how your computer makes it sound when played on different instruments.
  2. Transpose it into different keys.
  3. Add a harmony part, or even an entire orchestral arrangement4.
  4. Add some percussion.
  1. There is one notation tool that does acknowledge Dorian and Mixolydian modes: the ABC Notation formatting language, designed especially for folk tunes. []
  2. Sibelius and Finale offer “Fiddle” as an instrument name; this will probably sound and format exactly like a “Violin” part. []
  3. In Sibelius, escape will guarantee that you are out of any specialist editing mode, while n will toggle “Input Notes” on and off. []
  4. Hint for adding harmony to this piece: most of the chords should be E Minor and D Major. []

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