Change the appearance of octave lines in Finale and Sibelius


Both Finale and Sibelius use the “8va” and “15ma” symbols in their octave lines to represent playing a passage one or two octaves above the staff, respectively. For octave lines below the staff, Finale uses “8va” and “15ma” by default as well, although this is a change that was made in Finale 2012; Finale 2011 and earlier versions use the “8vb” and “15mb” symbols for octave lines below the staff, as does Sibelius.

There’s a whole debate about the grammatical legitimacy of those latter symbols, which I’ll leave for another day. For me, I’ve become increasingly fond of the simple “8” and “15” octave lines both above and below the staff, as appears to be the primary preference in Elaine Gould’s music engraving reference Behind Bars:

Fortunately, changing these defaults is easy to do in both Finale and Sibelius. Here’s how.


Head over to Tools > Smart Shape > Smart Shape Options. At the top of the dialog you’ll see Symbols: and Octave Up (8va) will be the first option in the pop-up menu.

Click Select… to open the Symbol Selection dialog and choose the “8” (it’s in slot 131).

Click Select to return to the Smart Shape Options dialog and repeat the process for the Octave Down symbol. Then do the same for the Two Octaves Up and Two Octaves Down symbols, selecting the “15” in slot 134 for those.

You can also make adjustments to the appearance of the octave line in this dialog, using the options in the Settings area of the dialog. Keep in mind, however, that these settings will propagate to other default Smart Shapes, such as the bracket and line.

Here’s the result:

If you’re really picky (and you have every right to be) and wish to adjust the vertical placement of the numeral relative to the line, you can’t do it in the Smart Shape Options dialog; you’ll have to create a custom line instead.


The process is similar in Sibelius. Go to Notations > Lines > Edit Lines (click the downwards and right-pointing arrow). Find the Octave up line:

Click Edit… to open the Line editor.

In Start > Symbol, click Select… to bring up the Symbol dialog. Choose the Octave symbol.

Click OK to return to the Line editor. As in Finale, you can further adjust the appearance of the line here, if you wish. In this case, however, the changes you make will only affect the type of line which is currently being edited (the octave up line in this case). In other words, if you wish to change the thickness of all of your octave lines, you’ll need to navigate to each line’s editor and make the same changes.

Click OK to exit the Line editor and make similar changes for your other octave lines.

And here’s your new octave line in Sibelius:


  1. Bob Hayden-Gilbert

    I’ve used a and b for nearly 70 years. They’re clear and unequivocal, whereas 8 and 15 could easily be misinterpreted.

  2. aar

    Routines in both Finale and Sibelius) are tedious.
    In Sibelius, e.g. the routine “flip” (edit>flip) inverts stems, beams, fermatas and other objects. – . simply typing an X does the job.

    How much simpler it would have been to make the flip routine apply to 8va as well!

    1. Philip Rothman

      That’s a good idea, you should suggest it to them!

  3. aar

    Actually, my previous post is academic. In Sibelius 7 and Sibelius 8, I see that both 8va above and 8va below are available to simply select – no tedious editing needed at all!

    Don’t know about Finale, but they should do the same, and dump the tedium.

  4. Teemu

    Hello! Can you do a tutorial how to make a technique line (look at col legno and am Steg appearance in this score from IMSLP)

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Teemu: Sure, I can do that in a future post.

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