Reply To: Creating Accompaniment CDs
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I don’t have experience with Sibelius (I have Finale)… but which version of it do you have and do you use Windows or Mac? From what I’ve heard, in the newer versions of Sibelius, you don’t have to go through the extra step of recording into Audacity; you can save the file directly as a wav which can be burned to CD. I know you can save directly as an mp3 or wav on Finale. I don’t know if that would make any difference in the sound, though, because it would still give you whatever sounds are built in to the program. Also, some of the newer versions have better sounds… Finale includes Garritan orchestra sounds which are pretty good quality, and again, I don’t have Sibelius but according to the info I Googled the newer versions also have higher quality instrument sounds. It might be worth it to upgrade to a newer version…. or see if maybe there’s some setting in the version you have that will allow you to choose a different instrument bank.
I personally prefer to record accompaniments into a program used for recording rather than one meant for notation, as it makes it much easier to have expressive-sounding accompaniments. For PC I’ve used Sonar, and for Mac I’ve used Garageband and Pro Tools. Even if your piano skills are “useless,” 🙂 you can slow down the tempo as much as you need to, enter the parts one hand at a time, go back and fix wrong notes and quantize rhythms if you were slightly behind/ahead of the beat. You don’t end up with an accompaniment that sounds like it was played by a robot, because it records the expressiveness/dynamics of your playing (and you can adjust that as well, if you hit a note too soft or loud here or there). All of these programs have the added advantage of being able to combine midi with digital audio recording, so you don’t have to do your midi/audio recording in 2 separate programs. And the piano sounds that are built in (Sonar comes with “soft synth” sounds that you can select) are pretty good, better than the built in midi sounds that come with most sound cards, anyway.
If this isn’t an option, although this might not help you for performance CDs… if you have some kind of a keyboard or a digital piano that has a decent sound, you might be able to set up your midi in Sibelius to play through an external device (the keyboard, connected to the computer with a midi interface) rather than through the internal sound card or the built in sounds on your computer. That might give you a nicer sound for playback during class… and although it would be a pain with extra equipment, if you have a laptop you could hook it up to play through the keyboard for concerts. I have my computer play back midi through my digital piano during class, and it has a richer sound than any of the built-in sounds on the computer. Or… again, this is extra work, but if you wanted to use this to make a CD, you could route your midi out through your keyboard or piano, then route the audio from the keyboard (using the line out or headphone jack) back into the computer and record it with Audacity. I have a little old Yamaha keyboard that is not much good for performing but the sounds are decent on it–I’ve used it to record accompaniments with it a few times since it has built in drum patterns on it (this was before I started using Garageband), and digital audio recordings I did with it sound just fine. There really isn’t a quick and easy way to make your midi sound better, though, unless you have a newer version of your software with a nicer selection of built-in sounds… so again, you might have to upgrade to get a better sound than you have (unless you already have a newer version and there are some options you haven’t figured out how to use yet).