Better Sibelius slurs for opposite stem direction on outer notes


In her music notation reference Behind Bars, (how many times do we begin a sentence that way?) Elaine Gould says, “When outer notes have opposite stem directions, move the slur at the stem end towards the noteheads so it does not tilt contrary to the direction of the pitches.”

But anyone using Sibelius’s default slur settings is treated to this abomination:

Fortunately, you can manually adjust the position of any slur in Sibelius. But who has time for that in today’s modern society?

In thinking of ways to spend fewer hours adjusting slurs and more time watching cat videos, I happened upon the settings in Appearance > Engraving Rules > Slurs — specifically the ones in Slur near note stem > Vertically:

The settings in a Sibelius default document are set at -0.25 spaces beyond the stem and 0.25 spaces beyond the the stem for eighth notes or shorter. What if we adjust those settings to -1.5 spaces apiece, like so?

We get this result:

Much better! But there’s the last slur in the example, which is touching the beam.

Fortunately, there’s another setting at our disposal. It’s in Layout > Magnetic Layout > Magnetic Layout Options.

By changing the settings for Beam > Avoid Collisions > Minimum distance around object to 0.25 spaces for Above and Below, the last slur in our example has enough breathing room once again:

Now, it should be noted that changing that last setting will have other ramifications besides slurs; other objects near a beam, such as technique text, will be repelled an additional 0.25 spaces. Perhaps you could split the difference with a slightly smaller value, such at 0.16 spaces.

Ideally there would be an additional setting in the Engraving Rules > Slurs to handle the space from beamed notes separately from that of flagged notes, instead of relying on the duration, so that adjusting the Magnetic Layout Options would not be necessary. Right now the Magnetic Layout Options for the Beam are propping up something that would otherwise look very strange:

But since Magnetic Layout is a fact of life in today’s modern notation software, I’m OK with it carrying us across the goal line here.

What do you think? Have you been manually adjusting slurs for years? Is there a potential downside to this approach that we haven’t considered? Or are you now celebrating all the free time you’ll have by using these new automatic settings? Please let me know in the comments.


  1. Bernie Cossentino

    I like this a lot. I don’t apply many slurs in my copying, and so I usually resort to manual adjustments when needed. But I’m definitely giving these Engraving adjustments a go, particularly on my Inkpen templates.

    Kudos Philip! :)

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Bernie!

  2. Vladimir Tubic

    Thank you, I’m trying this out now, looks lovely so far! Could save a lot of time in the future.

  3. Tiago

    Great topic. Looking at Gould’s example, – 1.5 spaces beyond stem works great in the first bar but seems too much for the second measure. -1.41 works perfectly for the second bar but it isn’t enough for measure one. -1.41 works also better in case you have triplets bracket pushing the slurs too close to note heads.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Interesting, thanks, Tiago! Good tip! Perhaps one would set the default setting based on the prevailing music in the project.

  4. Bob Zawalich

    If this gets all worked out, I would imagine that you could set up the default as you like them and set up some house styles that way. You might also use the plugin Import House Styles to Manuscript Papers to update the MS Papers you use often with these settings. The plugin will create a user copy of any shipping Manuscript Papers that you use as well as any you have made up on your own, and would be a nice way to just integrate the new settings into normal workflow.

    Nice work, Philip!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Bob, as always!

  5. Nathan Shirley

    This is a great idea, but after playing around with it, at least for me, this is causing more problems than it’s fixing. It’s even worse when adjusting the magnetic layout settings. I think Sibelius just needs a specific rule to change slur behavior when the stems of outer notes aren’t pointing the same direction.

    Again it’s a great idea, and might be worth it for short slurs in relatively clean instrumental parts (I might give it a try for that). For moderately complex piano music, it’s a bit of a mess, particularly when the piano music is fairly condensed or when there are multiple voices in a single staff with slurs drawn on the stem side of slured notes.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Nathan. Let’s stay on top of this and see if they can improve this more in a future version.

  6. Tim W

    A very useful post. It is also worth noting that the problem does not arise when the stem of notes on the middle line of the stave are appropriately directed. Thus in the second bar of the “abomination” at the top of the post, all stems should go up. Too few engravers seem to bother about the direction of stems on these middle line notes, even when there are no slurs.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Tim – that is very true. Well spotted. Although certain editions do call for the middle line to always be stems down; I believe Gould mentions this option.

  7. Derek Williams

    Jolly useful, thanks Philip! Been trying it out, but early days as to whether it will impact unexpectedly on existing scores.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Great! Thanks, Derek. Keep us posted.

  8. İlkay Bora Öder

    Philip, You are a legend! Thank you for this usefull information. My slurs looking much more beatiful now

    1. Philip Rothman

      Ha ha, thanks Ilkay! I always appreciate your comments. I’m glad it’s working for you.

  9. Pasquale Tassone

    Thank you Philip for your generosity of spirit in presenting these useful articles for us. I realize it’s time consuming for you and that makes it even more appreciated. Bravo!!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Pasquale! It is a pleasure to do so, and I’m very grateful for your kind remarks.

  10. Derek Williams

    Gosh, brilliant! Why isn’t this the default?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Good question! Although I think that a better long-term fix for Sibelius would be to add more refined engraving options for slurs that could tackle this and other situations.

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