While most music is made up of sets of bars with the same length, you may want to notate a piece which does not use conventional bars at all or has a free rhythm. The rumor that it is not possible to notate free rhythm in Sibelius persists, but it is false. You can and it is not even difficult.
Before we begin, let us quickly think about what we might want to do:
This should give you all you need to notate 99% of your daily music. You can also notate intricate gregorian chant, up to using special fonts, but in most cases this "faux-plainsong“ notation will be sufficient.
If you have a predefined set of notes you want to notate in free rhythm within a piece, you can just create a bar that is as long as you need: Look at the screenshot, there are two bars of 4/4 filled with notes. Now we want to enter some notes that do not use the 4/4 time signature, but are to be played freely. Let’s assume those notes combined are 15/8 long. What we will do is briefly switch to a 15/8 signature and then back to 4/4.
Make sure nothing is selected in your score by hitting Esc. Click Time Signature in the Notations tab of the ribbon or press T and enter 15/8 as in the image below.
Press Enter and click immediately after the last note of the two filled bars. Then enter your notes for the free rhythm. When you have done this, switch back to 4/4 by inserting the time signature just like you did with the 15/8. You score should now look like this:
All you need to do now is get rid of the 15/8 time signature and make clear that this section is to be played freely. Click on the 15/8 signature to select it and press Backspace. Choose 'No' in the dialog that pops up.
The 15/8 signature will be gone, but the measure will still be there, as will the 4/4 after the bar. To make absolutely clear that this section is to be played as free rhythm, you can now add a double barline after the second bar: Go to Notations > Barline, select the Double Barline and put one after the second bar and one before the 4/4.
Add a little Technique Text (Cmd/Ctrl-T) to the first note of the irregular bar and type "free rhythm“ or something similar. Your score will look like this:
If you have many bars of different length, too many to always create a time signature, delete it, and so on. But there is an easy solution: Create a new score. For this example we will use the Treble staff manuscript paper, and leave everything as is with the exception of two things: set the time signature to 126/4 like in the screenshot and the key signature to Open key/atonal. Click 'Create'. When the score has loaded, you can enter your notes as usual, just keep on inputting until you want to set a barline. Go to Note Input > Plug-ins and click 'Draw Free Rhythm Barline'. Sibelius will input a barline and calculate the time signature.
Input new notes and repeat the procedure until you are finished. Then click on all the time signatures, right-click and select 'Hide' or 'Show' to toggle show/hide them. Done!
If you need to notate a phrase which is too long to fit into a single line, do this: Use the same method as in 2), but set a Free Rhythm Barline when you want a line break. If Sibelius does not continue with the next bar in the next line, you can click the barline and press Return to force a line break. Continue inputting notes and creating barlines until you are done. One thing you will need to take care of are the barlines at the end of a line. If a bar stretches over two or more lines, there must not be barlines at the end of a line. Making them vanish is easy: Open Engraving Rules - Barlines and set the Default Barline Type to Invisible.
You can then input all the barlines you actually want to be visible by inserting new ones from Notations - Barline, just as before. Done!
If you want to hide the stems on all noteheads (for plainsong), select all the notes and select Notations > Type > Stemless. Done!
This is also the place where you select special noteheads.
Sometimes you want to have stems, but need all the notes to be separate and use no beaming. Again select all the notes, switch to the third keypad layout and select 'No Beams'. Done.
I hope this tutorial helped you get your free rhythms done quickly and painlessly.