Don’t extract parts


If you’ve used music notation software — specifically Finale or Sibelius — for longer than about a decade, you’ll recall there was a time when the file and the score were essentially one and the same. If you wanted to make a set of parts from your score, you had to extract the parts into separate files.

For a score of considerable length and forces, this was sometimes an all-night process, quite literally. You’d start the part extraction process, go to sleep, and wake up the next morning with 30 or so files, each corresponding to an instrument in your score.

But what was the alternative? Compared to hand-copying out the parts, letting the computer work while you caught a few winks wasn’t so bad. Some clever users, especially in the recording world, used a different technique of setting up an empty template, and then copying and pasting each line into its own file.

In time, improvements in the software and computing power made extracting parts a much quicker process, but the result was still the same: separate files for each instrument. If you wanted to change anything in your music, and you wanted the parts to have fealty to the score — whether it was something complicated like adding a bunch of new bars or a simple change like increasing the tempo by a tick — it required opening each file, making the correction, and saving it anew.

When Sibelius 4 introduced Dynamic Parts feature in 2005, and Finale 2007 followed in due course with Linked Parts a year later, it revolutionized the workflow of creating a set of performance materials for a piece of music. Since then, I’ve hardly ever needed to extract parts from a Finale or Sibelius file — and you shouldn’t have to, either.

MuseScore 2 added the feature recently, and of course, in Dorico, there is not even a way to extract a part — if there were, Steinberg’s Daniel Spreadbury said, paraphrasing Steve Jobs, “If we make Dorico so that you have to extract parts, we messed up.”

To be sure, keeping the score and parts in the same file is not without its quirks and workarounds. This is not intended as a comprehensive how-to list, but here are a few things I regularly encounter, and how I get around them:

Hide elements in your score

I’ve found that keeping the score and parts together in one file works best on music with one instrument to a staff, and in which players are playing fairly constantly, without the need for many cues. A string quartet or wind quintet are good examples, though music for larger forces works just fine as long as those elements are present.

If you have elements in your score such as text or symbols you want to display in the score but not the parts, or vice versa, both Finale and Sibelius have ways to do that for most items.

If there is music that you need to display in one but not the other, Finale and Sibelius handle that a bit differently:

  • In Finale, you select the bars you wish to hide and apply to them one of the Blank Notation with Rests staff styles, and set it to apply only in the score or part — meaning, you apply the style to the part or score where you want to hide the music.
  • In Sibelius, you select the music and choose Home > Edit > Show in Score if you want the music to show in the score and be hidden in the parts, or Show in Parts if you want the music to show in the parts and be hidden in the score. Sibelius’s Paste as Cue feature, found in Home > Clipboard, will do the latter automatically if Hide cues in full score is checked in File > Preferences.

Hiding entire staves in the score but displaying them in the part is possible, too. One use for this is making a piano/vocal part to be used only for rehearsal purposes. The vocal lines show in both the score and part, but the piano reduction shows only in the part.

  • In Finale, go to the Staff Attributes for the staves in the piano grand staff and select Behaviors > Force Hide Staff > in Score Only (Collapse). You’ll still see the staff in Scroll View but the stave will be hidden in Page View and thus will not appear in the printed score. The part is not affected.
  • In Sibelius, it’s not quite as easy, but it’s possible. Triple-click to select the entire staff and choose Home > Edit > Show in Parts to hide the music in the full score, as described above. Then choose Layout > Hiding Staves > Hide Empty Staves. You’ll still see the staves with Panorama switched on but the music will be hidden. Keep in mind, though, if you add anything to those staves later, they’ll reappear in the full score, and you’ll need to apply these steps again. My colleague John Hinchey has a blog post that describes the use of this technique along with a plug-in.

Make a “parts” score

My most common workflow for larger scores is to create two files: a “score” score and a “parts” score. Wait – earlier I bemoaned having multiple files for the same piece. But I’m only talking about having two files, not 30 or more, for a typical orchestra piece. That’s a lot less unwieldy.

This allows you to get around a number of constraints when using a single parts/score file:

  • You can split out any “voiced” parts that may share a staff in the score, such as Trumpet 1 and 2. Yes, Finale has a voiced parts feature, and I use it sometimes, but it imposes other constraints (grace notes, ahem).
  • You can place cues with impunity and not worry about hiding them in the full score.
  • You can have better control over the font size and styles. Sibelius has better options for having separate score and parts settings, but you have more freedom by working in separate files.
  • You can have any number of staves in your “parts” score which may serve a purpose (such as a scratch staff or temporary staff for reducing music) that you don’t have to worry about hiding in a real score. If they aren’t assigned to a part, they cause no problem.
  • You can easily place text that would look strange appearing in a full score, such as a percussion list or “V.S.” markings, without being concerned with hiding them in your score.

When extracting parts is useful

This is not to say that extracting parts is totally useless. Take the piano/vocal part mentioned above. Perhaps that part needs to be siphoned off from the full score because it will be edited further and published separately. You can extract the part into its own file, with all the settings and formatting intact, and continue working with it without being concerned with keep the full score intact.

Another instance in which it may be easier to extract parts would be in very complex scores with unusual notation or unique layout elements.

But for most projects, extracting parts into separate files is a relic of the earlier days of notation software that has thankfully been improved upon.

What are some of your techniques when working with scores and parts? Do you still extract parts? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.


  1. Christopher Smith

    Very nice article, though Finale “grace notes in voiced parts (ahem)” was a little bit of an understatement! ;-)

    But you didn’t even say the worst thing about trying to have score and parts in the same file in Finale, which is cues WILL NOT WORK in scores with voiced parts. Flute 1 will be Layer 1 only, Flute 2 in the same score staff will be Layer 2 only, and neither part will show the cue in Layer 4, which you have to hide in the score anyway. If you put the cue in Layer 1, you should put a whole rest in Layer 2 (or vice versa), which shows the same problem.

    Furthermore, if the cue overlaps into a measure where the instrument actually plays, it’s game over with linked, voiced parts. The only way around this is one file for the score and one file for the parts, as you suggested.

    I think Finale should have a “layer” dedicated to cues, which will show up in voiced parts. Also they should fix the damned grace notes. It’s been ten years with that bug!

    1. Marc Cerisier

      When you set up your parts in Finale, you tell it what to do when on one voice is present. So Tpt 2 might be layer 2 unless no layers are present and then the lower note of what is there in a single layer. If there’s only one note, it will be the “lower” for this purpose.

      1. Christopher Smith

        Yes, I know very well how the voiced parts work. As soon as Flute 1 and Flute 2 have ANY rhythm different, or a solo in one part, then you have to use layers, and your cues are screwed.

    2. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Christopher! Yes, it seems we’ve experienced the same issues and workarounds.

      1. John Hinchey

        I have run into this with Finale as well! It kind of ‘hamstrings’ the feature where you can have 2 parts on a staff in the score (Tpt 1&2 for example) and separate parts Tpt1, Tpt2, when it comes to cue, game over. At that point you have to go to a parts score or use the Sibelius technique of a staves that show in score and hide in parts. In my experience, even though it’s extra steps, if you want to avoid a “parts score” Sibelus gives you more options for queuing and separate parts.

        1. Christopher Smith

          You can have a staff hidden in the score that only appears in the part in Finale as well. But by the time I’m getting to that level of kludge (where I have to make a change in two different places) I may as well have a kludge that’s easier to manage and keep track of, which for me, is score in one file, all parts in another.

          1. John Hinchey

            Yes, I was aware of the hide staves in score option in Finale, sorry if I wasn’t clear, that’s what I meant by the ‘Sibelius’ technique. And I agree, even with all the kludging in either program, I’d rather have it all in one score rather than 2.

  2. Tim Whalen

    I don’t think this is possible without extracting parts, but maybe someone has found a way.

    Let’s say in a saxophone part I have a written melody for 8 bars. It’s over one chord, say F-7 for the entire 8 measures. My piano part is just comping F-7 for those 8 bars. Is there a way to put repeats around one measure in the piano part that with “8x,” rather than the full 8 bars? In commercial parts, this can sometimes be the difference between 4 pages and 7. haha

    Any thoughts?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Tim, extracting the part may indeed be a solution here. Of course if you’re numbering your bars, you’d then have to alter your extracted part file to take into account the deleted bars, by making a bar number change (Sibelius) or changing/making a new measure number region (Finale).

    2. Christopher Smith

      A solution that allows you keep linked parts with all the measure numbers the same is to make a multimeasure rest 8 bars long, then edit the shape and the number so that they don’t show. Add in the repeats as shape expressions, add in the “play 8 times” as a text expression, and hide them in the score.

      This is somewhat too much kludging for me, though. An 8-bar section like this on one chord can easily fit on one system with standard notation. I also hold tight to the principle that one measure for one player should be one measure for all players. Finale forces us into this, which I like.

      1. John Hinchey

        What you are describing is pretty much the only situation I extract parts. I assume the goal is to have few page turns for the rhythm section and I understand that.

  3. Leonid Peleshev

    I believe that dynamic parts are very useful in classical scores which don’t require special notations or desk subdivisions in strings. I am working 95% of the time with contemporary academic music and you have situations where you have 8 desks vl. 1, 7 desks vl. 2 and so on, which are together on page 1 and all divided on page 2, whereas on page 3 the first 5 players, so desk 1, 2 and the half of the third desk play the same with some minor divisions and you jsut write either divisi or numbers which player plays what from teh chord. I believe that in such cases it is easier to work with extracted parts. Thus you can also be sure that while moving the notes between staves in the parts won’t change the whole score as well. It is much easier with woodwinds or brass. In easier projects I do work with dynamic parts, but it takes quite an amount of time to prepare the score for the parts before I start editing them. As I come from SCORE4 originally and still do some projects in it due to it durability (just yesterday worked on the files that were originally engraved 1991without a single problem – try to do it in Finale))), I am not afraid of more than 30 files as there is something like more than a couple of thousands separate files in a big project. My most important concern – if I do anything in a dynamic part in sibelius it affects the score on the spot and if I haven’t seen it directly, the music is gone or some divisions are now wrong, so I have to look into the original score to check it. Or the problem with System dividers which can be either in both the score and dynamic parts or neither score nor dynamic parts. If it were possible in Sibeilus to combine parts automatically so that I can choose the players and move them to one staff, but the pitches will still be divided in the parts, I would certainly go for dynamic parts, but at the moment, I am afraid, I will stick to exported ones.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Leonid, I believe you can do what you are describing by using a separate “parts” score as I’ve described, where you don’t need to be concerned with the full score layout, and not totally extract the parts into separate files.

  4. John Hinchey

    And note the Composer’s Mosaic by MOTU had linked parts that worked great 10 years before Sibelius or Finale, the reason I stayed with it until it was discontinued.

    In Sibelius the only reason I would extract part is if the client wants something like a rhythm part that has a difference number of bars than the horns on the page. The example is the rhythm section plays the exact sample thing on the choruses and doesn’t need them written out again, where as the horns have different parts on every chorus. So extract the rhythm, but I always use the bar numbering feature to number repeats so rhythm has ‘9/17/25’ so in end everyone has a matching bar numbers. This is the only type of situation I need to extract parts in Sibelius.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Good point, John. As far as memory lane, I think the now-defunct Igor Engraver had linked parts too? I never used it, though.

    2. Rex Thomas

      Here here, John! Same with me; I stuck with Mosaic even after it was discontinued until Sibelius 4, or 5, don’t remember. Actually, I never understood “extract parts” nor the need since I’ve been able to get where I need to go with “dynamic parts”.

  5. Adriano

    I am 73 years old, and happily working with SIBELIUS since it was created (and it was working only on ACORN computers). I was a bit disappointed after the recent version came out, where parts would become separate music files, and not remain anymore within the original score file. But from the very beginnings I had always decided to create a separate “part score” (I was calling it exactly like this already at that time), in which, before starting to extract all parts, I had already inserted all (smaller) cue notes and other important things. I think this is still the best and most logical (and secure?) system for not all too complex scores for classical symphony orchestra.

  6. Mark Arnest

    I have only one file even for large scores. Instead of a “score” score and a “parts” score, I have one hideous-looking file that contains, for example, separate staves for “Flute 1&2,” “Flute 1,” and “Flute 2.” The conductor’s score is actually a custom “part,” showing only the sections (e.g., Flutes 1&2), while the players get the individual parts. A change still has to be made in two places, but they’re made in the same score to staves that are adjacent or nearly adjacent to one another.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Mark, that’s useful. The only issue with that (which could be a major one or not depending on your type of music) is that you lose the benefits of having different settings in the score and parts — both Sibelius and Finale treat the score differently than a part in a number of ways.

  7. Eric Benjamin

    He problem I had with a “Part” score is that, working fast and not being obsessive/compulsive, I might make edits in the “Part” score that don’t make it into the master score. Is there a way of linking Part score to Master score that won’t defeat the purpose of having a Part score to begin with?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Eric, not that I know of.

  8. Peter Hamlin

    This is excellent. I’m a fan of the separate “parts” score. As you say — it’s not overly complicated to keep only two scores in sync.

    In some pieces I’ve extracted only the parts that have multiple instruments and edited them separately. Not fun, but sometimes it seems like the best solution if there are only a few parts like that.

    I’m old enough to remember doing all this by hand. I conjure up that memory whenever I start feeling sorry for myself working with computer notation. I still remember the first time — back in the ’80’s — when I pushed a button on the computer to print out the parts and then went to bed. The zipper-sound of the dot-matrix printer was like a lullaby!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Peter! Whenever I curse the computer and start to feel sorry for myself, I watch the Henle engraving video.

  9. Derek Williams

    I too used Mark of the Unicorn’s Composer’s Mosaic until the company let it die on the vine. This had dynamic parts built in, but it was nearly impossible to do as Sibelius achieved 10 years later by allowing change in text position in a part, and other part specific attributes that wouldn’t then move to an undesirable place in the full score, and vice versa.

    However, despite already having tried all the ingenious workarounds suggested above over many years, I’ve never found a way to go satisfactorily from staves with shared parts, such as Flutes 1&2, and exported Flute 1 and Flute 2. Having them both in the one score with the other hidden makes the score too unwieldy for me, and so I ended up with separate Conductor and Parts scores. Edits in one have to be meticulously copied into the other, and this is nothing but a right PITA.

    I’ve yet to take a look at how Dorico handles this, but it seems to me from a design perspective that it should be possible to store all the data in source staves and then simply filter what appears in various parts, shared or otherwise, and the full score. If anyone has achieved a solution to this problem with Dorico, I’d be pleased to know about it!

  10. Tom

    I always extract parts in Finale, yes, from a “parts score” – mainly because I’m a creature of habit.

    In my work, I don’t find any trouble in reconciling edits / corrections between the parts, the parts score, and the camera-ready score. In fact, I think the process keeps me more alert and keener about said changes.

    Finally, for parts on a shared stave, Finale’s “process extracted parts” (?) is very handy for splitting trumpet 1 and 2 (for example). Using the “save as” command finalizes this process very easily.

  11. Marc Schwartz


    I jumped with excitement when I saw the title of this post. I’ve recently been put in charge of training 10 amateur Sibelius users on how to produce publish-ready scores and parts for a composer here in NYC. When I began, I was using the “score” score and “parts” score technique. When I started training them and began receiving tons of submissions (they were all working remotely), all of a sudden 2 separate Sibelius scores per arrangement was becoming a horrible pain in the neck.

    I felt like I needed to comment here because you hit the nail on the head. I recently set out on a mission to find a way to never have to separate scores and parts again. In doing so, I wrote an entire step-by-step guide for these new Sibelius users including all of the information you have here. There are still a few things that get in my way (as with every Sibelius user) but it is extremely refreshing to reassure my findings with your blog post.

    I am a consistent reader of your blog and learn something new every time I’m on here. Keep up the good work!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Marc, thanks for reading and your comments are greatly welcomed and much appreciated! Thanks!

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