Musical symbols

In this topic we shall take a close look at all the musical symbols which are supported by VBR. But first we shall take a more detailed look at the 'Action' buttons:

The Insert-before button inserts a new slot to the left of the cursor and then inserts the selected symbol. The cursor stays where it is so you can insert a whole string of notes if you want to. The shortcut for this button is the Numpad-1 key .

The Insert-at button inserts the selected symbol at the cursor. The cursor stays where it is so that you can enter more notes or symbols in the same slot. The shortcut for this button is the Space Bar. You can also use either the Numpad-0 or the Numpad-2 keys.

The Insert-after button inserts a new slot to the right of the cursor, moves the cursor into the new slot and inserts the selected symbol. The shortcut for this button is the Numpad-3 key .

The Insert-next button is similar to Insert-after but it is a good deal more intelligent. It looks along the existing score trying to find the right place for the next note to go. It will also used tied notes where it is musically correct to do so. You willo be using this button a lot when entering a score part by part so its keyboard shortcut is easy to remember - it is, of course, the Enter key (or Numpad-Enter).

The Delete button deletes the selected symbol from under the cursor. Normally, the selected symbol must be of the same kind as the symbol you want to delete but it does not have to be identical. For example, to delete a rest, selecting any rest will do. Nor do the red arrows have to be exactly on the symbol. VBR will look for the nearest one. The shortcut for this button is the Delete key (or Numpad-del).

Note that when using the shortcut keys mentioned above, pressing the SHIFT key down at the same time will generally have the same effect as using the RIGHT hand mouse button.

Set 1: Notes and rests

When you select the first set of symbols by clicking on the 'Notes and rests' button , the symbol panel looks like this:

the symbols in this panel fall into 6 distinct groups.

  1. notes from hemi-demi-semiquaver through to breve
  2. rests of the same length
  3. accidentals - sharp, flat, natural, double sharp, double flat, natural sharp and natural flat
  4. the tie and the slur
  5. single, double and triple dots
  6. duplet, triple and n-tuplet
Remember that when adding notes to a score the stalk direction is determined by the 'Stalk Mode' buttons in the menu bar of the main window. . In either of the first two modes, the stalk direction is always as indicated. In the third 'Auto' mode, notes in the upper half of the stave are given a downstalk while notes in the lower half, an upstalk.

If, while in 'Upstalk' or 'Downstalk' mode, you want to enter a note with the opposite stalk to the one indicated, use the RIGHT hand button (or alternatively press the SHIFT key.)

When adding rests, VBR will normally work out the best position to put the rest for you. For example, if you add a rest to a slot which already contains a note, it will position the rest on the opposite side to the stalk. Sometimes you may wish to position the rest yourself. You can do this by using the RIGHT hand mouse button (or pressing the SHIFT kay) when you insert the rest. Alternatively, you can insert the rest as usual and shift it up or down using Ctrl-UP or Ctrl-DOWN.

If you want to create a cluster of notes (ie a chord) simply add more notes to the ones already there. Normally the note length will not be changed even if the note selected is not the same as the length of the existing note. If however you superimpose a note on one that is already there, the note length of the cluster will change too. For example, if you have a crotchet cluster consisting of a C and and E, then adding a minim G will actually add another crotchet. Adding a minim E will, however, change the length of the whole cluster to a minim.

To add an accidental to a note, position the red arrows on (or near) the note and click on Insert-at (or press the space-bar). Note that the insert-before and insert-after buttonsare inappropriate here and so are disabled.

If you add an accidental using the RIGHT hand mouse button (or with the SHIFT key) the accidental will be shown with brackets round it. This feature is sometimes used when the accidental is not strictly nec essary.

Ties and slurs can be added to notes in the same way as accidentals. Note that these symbols mean 'this note is tied/slurred with the next note'. It follows that, to put a slur over a group of 4 notes, only the first three notes in the group have the slur attribute. Unfortunately, on most MIDI instruments, slurring does not have any effect on the way a note is played.

The remaining symbols alter the length of the note. A single dot increases the note length by half, a double dot by three quarters and a triple dot by seven eighths.

The duplet symbol turns a crotchet in 3/4 time into a crotchet and a half. It therefore does exactly the same as a single dot but is used in different circumstances.

The triplet symbol decreases the length of the note by one third.

To enter an arbitrary N-tuplet, select the last symbol (n) and enter appropriate numbers in the two numeric up/down boxes. For exapmle, to enter a quintuplet (5 notes sounded in the space of 4) enter 5 in the first box and 4 in the second. For more detail on this see here

Finally, don't forget that you can enter a tied, dotted triplet Bb all in one go if you want to! Simply select the crotchet with the LEFT hand mouse button, then add the accidental, the tie, the dot and the triplet symbols using the RIGHT hand button.

Because you will want to select them so often, notes and rests have keyboard shortcuts as follows:
  • F1 - hemi-demi-semiquaver
  • F2 - demi-semiquaver
  • F3 - semiquaver
  • F4 - quaver
  • F5 - crotchet
  • F6 - minim
  • F7 - semibreve
  • F8 - breve
  • F9 - additional sharp
  • F10 - additional flat
  • F11 - additional natural
  • Shift-F1 - hemi-demi-semiquaver rest
  • Shift-F2 - demi-semiquaver rest
  • Shift-F3 - semiquaver rest
  • Shift-F4 - quaver rest
  • Shift-F5 - crotchet rest
  • Shift-F6 - minim rest
  • Shift-F7 - semibreve rest
  • Shift-F8 - breve rest
  • Shift-F9 - upstalk mode
  • Shift-F10 - downstalk mode
  • Shift-F11 - autostalk mode
In addition, if you press the same key twice, the dotted version is selected; three times selects a triplet note and four times, a double dotted note.

For alternative notes and non-printing rests, see the section on Advanced Techniques.

Set 2: Barlines and dynamics

When you select the second set of symbols by clicking on the 'Barlines and dynamics' button , the symbol panel looks like this:

It provides access to 13 different barlines and 16 dynamic levels.

Of the 13 barlines, only the first 4 are 'real' barlines. These are:

The height of the indications over the barline can be altered using the shortcuts Ctrl-7 and Ctrl-8

The remaining nine are 'cosmetic; barlines. They can be inseret on top of a real barline or in the middle of a bar. With the exception of the 'repeat' barlines, they do not, in general, actually do anything. They are, in order:

The last one can be used in conjunction with an empty slot to separate two fragments of music. It simply suppresses the stavelines.

All the expected dynamic levels from tacet (silent) to fff are provided. In addition, the plus symbol may be added (using the RIGHT hand mouse button) to the dynamics ppp to ff giving 16 different levels in all, namely tacet, ppp, ppp+, pp, pp+, p, p+, mp, mp+, mf, mf+, f, f+, ff, ff+, fff.

Using the LEFT hand mouse button positions the dynamic marking at its default position below the stave; using the RIGHT hand mouse button, (or by pressing the SHIFT key) you can position the marking anywhere you want on the stave.

When one of the dynamic levels is selected, a checkbox labelled 'Don't print' appears. If this box is ticked, the dynamic appears in the score in grey and is not printed on the hardcopy at all. You can use this feature to produce a gradual crescendo without cluttering up the final printed score with lots of unnecessary dynamics. You can toggle this option on and off using the '' key (the one above the Tab key). Alternatively, you can temporarily reverse this setting by pressing the ALT key when inserting the dynamic.

The numeric keys 1 to 8 select the basic dynamic levels; pressing the key twice in rapid succession selects the + version.

As you would expect, barlines apply to all the staves in a score; dynamics, however, apply only to the stave on which they sit. When putting dynamics markings into a piano score it is important to add the same dynamic to both staves. It is usual to set the 'Don't print' box for one of the markings.

If you tick the 'Second time' checkbox (added in V5.20), the selected dynamic will be added to the one already there in the following manner f/p and will be played when the music is repeated.

Set 3: Accents and hairpins etc.

When you select the third set of symbols the symbol panel looks like this:

The first 7 are kinds of accent. They are:

Naturally accents can only be added to notes which are already there. Where there are more than one note present, the 'Stalk Mode' icons determine which note is used.

When you insert these symbols, VBR will automatically try to put them in the best position taking into account the stalk direction and whether or not there is another cluster in the same place. You can use either mouse button, it makes no difference (but if you need to adjust the exact position of the accent, you can use shortcut keys Ctrl-7 and Ctrl-8)

Then there are three pause marks:

As with rests and dynamics, using the LEFT hand mouse button places the mark in the default position; using the RIGHT hand button (or pressing the SHIFT key) places it under the red arrows.

Next come a group of assorted symbols:

Most of these symbols can also be positioned using the RIGHT hand mouse button (or SHIFT key). (The exceptions are the harmonic mark and the repeat bar symbol).

Pressing the ALT key when entering a pedal sign causes it not to be printed on the hardcopy. This is useful if you want to indicate the first few pedals followed by a simile instruction. It is also the case that you may wish to insert pedal marks in order to make the score play nicely without having them printed.

In the case of the octavo mark, it is worth noting here that if the symbol is placed above the stave, the notes are played an octave higher; if it is placed below the stave, the notes are played an octave lower.

Lastly there are eight graphic elements:

When you insert these elements into a score, the ends of the graphic are indicated with blue spots which can be dragged to more appropriate positions. In general the end spots can de dragged from one slot to another and then positioned more exactly within a slot. With the exception of the square bracket, the two end points can be moved around independently

In the case of the phrase marks, two open draggable spots are also provided which allow you to change the shape of the curve. When you drag one of these, the cursor remains in the slot where the end spot lies.

Set 4: Trills etc.

The fourth set of symbols looks like this:

The first 8 are kinds of trill. They are:

In point of fact, the names are quite arbitrary as you can define any of these trills to play in virtually any way you want. For details of how to change the definitions see here. Every score starts with a default definition which you will find is adequate for most purposes.

When you insert these symbols, VBR will automatically try to put them in the best position taking into account the stalk direction and whether or not there is another cluster in the same place. You can use either mouse button, it makes no difference (but if you need to adjust the exact position of the accent, you can use shortcut keys Ctrl-7 and Ctrl-8)

Next come the grace notes. These are entered and deleted in the same way as notes but they must be applied to a slot containing an existing note. It is possible to add two or more grace notes to a note.

First the acciaccatura which is generally played before the note and as quickly as possible. Three check boxes are provided. The first determines whether the grace note is played before or on the beat. The second allows you to play two or more grace notes applied to the same note either as separated notes or as a chord. If the former, an option is provided for printing a slur on the grace notes.

Next is the appoggiatura. This is generally played on the beat and equal to half the length of the note to which it is attached. For this reason the 'On the beat' checkbox is omitted but two or more appoggiaturas can be separated and/or slurred.

Three kinds of spread chord come next. The first two are the same really except thet the second has an arrow pointing upwards and they are played from bottom to top. The third has an arrow pointing downwards and is played from top to bottom. As with the grace notes, a checkbox is provoded which determines whether the spread chord occurs on or before the beat. In addition, there is a numeric up/down box which enables you to set the speed of the spread. The greater the number the faster the notes will be played.

If you want to spread a chord over two staves of a piano part, a particularly pleasing effect can be achieved by playing the chord on the bass stave before the beat and the chord on the treble stave on the beat.

Next comes the glissando. When this is applied to a note, a line is drawn linking this note to the next note and a chromatic scale is played from one note to the other.

Finally we come to a set of tremolos. The first three break the note into a series of repeated quavers, semi-quavers and demi-semi-quavers respectively. The last one repeats a pair of notes very repidly.

Set 5: Global directives

The fifth set of symbols looks like this:

The first eight are mutually exclusive - that is to say, you can only put one at a time onto each stave. The are merely informative and have no effect on the way the score is played. Note that if you want to achieve a crescendo or an accelerando you have to do this youself using explicit dynamics markings of by changing the overall volume and/or tempo of the piece.

As with dynamic marks, using the LEFT hand mouse button places the symbol in its default position; using the RIGHT hand button places the symbol under the cursor.

The next eight from the Segno sign to the Coda, form another mutually nexclusive group. Since they all apply to all the staves, they can only be placed on the top stave. In general they do what they are supposed to do when the score is played.

The last four determine an aspect of the way the score is printed, not the way it is played. They form two pairs of brackets which suppress the printing of certain typres of symbols. The first pair is used to suppress the printing of triplet (or other n-tuplet) marks. This is very useful in certain pieces of music (like Debussy's Arabesque) which would otherwise be very cluttered with unnecessary triplet signs. Similarly, the second pair suppresses accents.

On the editing score, these directives appear as green and red square brackets respectively.

Set 6: Clefs, key signatures and kime signatures

The sixth set of symbols looks like this:

To select the desired symbol, select from one of the dropdown lists provided (or, in the case of an unusual time signature, type it in using the format 3/8 where this means 3 eighth notes in a bar) and press ENTER.

When entering a new clef in the middle of a score, all the notes between the new clef and the next one are shifted so as to keep the pitch sounding the same. If you do not want this to happen, use the RIGHT hand mouse button (or hold the SHIFT key down) when performing the insertion. The same is true when deleting a clef.

Similarly, when you enter a new key signature, the following notes are transposed so as to keep the pitch the same. (Note that this may involve making a choice as to which enharmonic notes are used eg a Bb rather than an A#) If you do not want this to happen, use the RIGHT hand mouse button (or hold the SHIFT key down) when performing the insertion. The same is true when deleting a key signature.

Occasionally you may want to write music without a time signature; plainsong, for example. In this case select the 'Free' time signature. This is indicated in the linear format as a 0/0 time signature written over the score but it is not printed on the hard copy.

Set 7: Tempo changes

To enter a new tempo at any point in the score, use the numeric up/down box to enter the desired number of crotchets per minute. Note that even if the piece is in a different time signature - eg 6/8 time, the tempo is still entered in crotchets per minute.

If you want a gradual accelerando or a ritenuto, you can also enter a non-zero number in the second box. VBR will gradually change the tempo from the current value to the new one in that many crotchets. (If you want to enter an immediate change without having to set the number in the second box to zero, just use the RIGHT hand mouse button (or the SHIFT key) when entering the tempo.)

Tempo changes are shown in blue at the top of the linear format window.

Set 8: Volume changes

(By the way, the symbol in the button is supposed to be a loudspeaker!)

To enter a new volume at any point in the score, used the numeric up/down box to enter the desired volume. (The default volume is 100% but the allowed range is 0 - 127%)

If you want a gradual crescendo or decrescendo, you can also enter a non-zero number in the second box. VBR will gradually change the volume from the current value to the new one in that many crotchets. (If you want to enter an immediate change without having to set the number in the second box to zero, just use the RIGHT hand mouse button (or the SHIFT key) when entering the volume.)

Volume changes can either be applied to an individual stave or to the whole score by setting the radio buttons to 'Local' or 'Global' respectively. At any point on a certain stave, therefore, two volume directives are in operation - one local, one global. The actual volume played is the product of these two values. For example, If the local volume is 50% and the global volume is 80%, the actual volume of that stave will be 40%. Note that unpredictable effects may occur if you overlap a local and a global gradual change. Another thing to note is that because volume changes are sent to a certain MIDI channel, any volume change entered on a certain stave will affect all those staves which share the same channel.

Global volume changes are shown in green at the top of the linear format window. Local volume changes are shown in drak green above the stave to which they apply.

Note that changing the volume is not the same as changing the dynamic level. Sophisticated MIDI instruments will change the tone of the voice when the dynamic level is changed from p to ff for instance. Changing the volume level simply alters the output volume. Dynamic changes may be mixed with volume changes in any way that you like but in general, it is better to use dynamic changes for instruments like the piano and volume changes for vocal or orchestral music. Nothing sounds more weird than a piano whose volume increases during a long sustained note!

Set 9: Expression changes

Often music played on a computer sounds very wooden because the beat is strictly accurate and every note has exactly the same volume. When a pianist plays an expressive piece such as Debussy's Arabesque, he makes subtle changes to the volume of each note and the tempo within every bar.VBR can simulate both of these effects: the first is called 'emphasis' and the second 'rubato'..

Emphasis increases the dynaimic of the first beat in the bar and decreases the dynamic of the 'off-beats'. A piece in 4/4 time is played thus: 'Dee-dum-da-dum-da-dum-da-dum'. A bar in 6/8 time is played 'Dee-dum-dum-da-dum-dum'. Emphasis can be placed anywhere in a score and all subsequent notes will be played with the new emphasis until a new emphasis directive is encountered.

The permitted range is 0 - 100. Emphasis changes are shown in violet at the top of the linear format window.

The rubato directive works in a similar way except that it inserts tempo changes into every bar. The first of these occurs about 2/3 of the way through the bar. It is important therefore that in order for the rubato effect to work properly, the directive must be placed within the first half of the bar to which it first applies. In addition, the rest of the bar should not contain any real tempo changes. As a general rule, where rubato is being used, place any tempo changes needed on the barlines.

The permitted range is 0 - 100. Rubato changes are shown in light blue at the top of the linear format window.

IMPORTANT NOTE: In addition to placing emphasis and/or rubato directives within the score, a percentage value must also be placed in the relevant field in the 'Play options' dialog box - see here for more details. The two numbers are effectively multiplied together to give the final effect so if either of the settings are zero, the effect will be zero. It is probably best to set the 'Play Options' value to 100% and enter relatively small values (up to 100%) inside the score. You can then tone down or boost all the settings at once by altering the 'Play Options' value which has a range of 0 - 200%.

Set 10: Voice changes

Normally each stave would be allocated a MIDI voice using the 'Stave options' dialog box (see here). It is perfectly possible, however, to change the voice allocated to the stave at any point in the score using the above panel. Simply select the voice required using the drop down lists provided. The instruments which appear in these lists are derived from the voice lists published for your particular MIDI instrument. For information on how to produce and edit these lists see here.

Set 11: MIDI commands

Using this panel it is possible to send a wide variety of commands to various MIDI controllers. Simply select the controller from the drop down list, enter the data you want to send and insert it into your score.

Set 12: Trill and accent definitions

As has been noted earlier, eight trill symbols and 7 accents are provided and (with the exception of the fp mark) each has a default definition. If you wish to change these definitions, you can insert a new definition into the score at any point. When you place your cursor into the score, the definitions current at that point in the score will be loaded into the panel and you can review and edit them. You can cycle through the different symbols by clicking on the pictures of the trill symbol or the accent.

The trill definition is indicated by a diagram with 5 clickable fields. The first field contains accidentals for the upper and lower notes. The second field determines whether the trill start on the upper, lower or designated note. The third field determines whether there is a turn at the beginning. The fourth field determines the number of 'shakes'. The allowed values are no shakes, 1 shake, 2 shakes or continuous shakes. The last field determines whether there is a turn at the end. A little experimenting will show that a huge number of different trills are possible. Note that only the black notes are actually played; the grey notes are ignored so the example shown above represents a standard continuous trill beginning on the designated note.

The numeric up/down box determines the speed with which the trill is played. The number indicates the number of notes played in a crotchet beat.

The accent definition has two parts: first there is the length of the note. This is expressed as a percentage. For example, staccato notes are conventionally played for half the length of the designated not. Secondly there is the volume of the note. This is also expressed as a percentage, the maximum being 127%. Note that if the volume of the stave is already at 127%, playing an accented note will not sound any louder.

Set 13: Text, lyrics and balloons

Text such as tempo markings or lyrics can be inserted anywhere in the score at any height on the stave. A number of commonly used phrases are provided on a drop-down list. Tempo indications are usually indicated in bold type while dynamic instructions such as crescendo are indicated in italic type. The different styles are entered into the text using a backslash, followed by a code letter. The following codes are recognised: \N, \B, \I, \R, \S, \T (with a smaller lower-case version as well). Alternatively, the relevant code can be inserted into the text by selecting it from the drop-down 'Styles' menu. In addition, you can use VBR's own symbol font to print notes and other symbols but as the mapping between letters and symbols is completely random, some useful precoded examples have been provided in another list called 'Tempi'.

The 'Fetch' button inserts any text found under the cursor into the textbox.

When entering lyrics it is often useful to check the 'Autospace' checkbox. When the text is entered, the slot is widened automatically to accommodate the text. The Home key can be used to turn autospacing on and the End key to turn it off. There is another subtle difference between autospaced and ordinary text. While the former is aligned with the front of the slot, the latter is aligned with the note. What this means is that short words or syllables are often better entered without autospacing. If you want to change the autospacing status of a word which you have already entered, place the cursor over the word and press CTRL-Home or Ctrl-End to apply or remove autospacing.

It is often the case that a two syllable word of sung over several notes. In this case it is customary to link the two syllables with hyphens eg "go  -  -  ing". To achieve this effect, place the text "go--" (ie "go" followed by two hyphens) in one slot and the text "ing" in the other. VBR will put in the hyphens automatically.

Sometimes a word must be sustained for a period of time. This is indicated in a score with a long line. To achieve this effect add two underscore symbols eg "home__". The line will automatically terminate at the next word but if there is no word, you can always insert a single space character instead. This has been done in the example below by putting a text space under the crotchet rest.

Sometimes a composer wishes to indicate that singers should not take a breath between two connected words. This is done by draw a kind of slur between the words. To do this in VBR, terminate the first word with two equals symbols eg "sleep==" in the following example.

In addition to normal text, VBR provides 'balloon' text which can be used to annotate a score with useful indications such as 'Acciaccatura' or 'Recapitulation starts here'. Just click on the 'Balloon' checkbox when entering the text. An example is shown below.

If you do not want the balloon text to appear on the screen or if you do not want the balloons printed on your hardcopy, you can switch them off in the preferences window. See here

Text may additionally be split into multiple lines by the use of the '|' symbol as a separator. You could use this feature to input lyrics with multiple verses but it is probably better to enter the separate verses on different lines. It can be useful in balloon text though.

If you want to add fingering to a score, I recommend using the special 'Sans-serif (small)' style provided.

For scores with a figured base you may need to use something like this '\S 6| 4'. For example:

Set 14: Guitar chords

VBR includes a database of over 100 different guitar chords. Simply select a key and a chord type from the drop=down lists provided and enter the symbol in the usual way. You can either create a new blank stave to put the guitar chords on or you can enter them over an existing stave. The advantage of the former method is that you can specify a different voice to the guitar chords.

It is also possible to enter chords which are not in the database. Simply click on the frets which you wish to play. (Click on them again to remove the spot). An open string is indicated with a red circle. Strings without any spots are not played at all. If you enter a finguration which VBR knows about, it will name it for you.

You can try out your chosen chord by clicking on the 'Play' button.

Here is an example of a score with a separate (blank) stave for the guitar.

Set 15: Quick edit buttons

The last set is different from the others. Instead of containing symbols which you can enter into a score, it consists of a number of useful buttons which allow you to make certain quick changes.

These will be considered in detail in the next chapter.