The Chord Symbols As Polychords plug-in for Sibelius


The fraction format is often used for polychords, which are two full chords stacked on top of each other, represented by a horizontal line between the two chords. (This is different from a chord symbol with an altered bass, which is represented by a diagonal slash between the chord symbol and the bass note.) Sibelius does not support entering polychords as chord symbols.

A polychord

To remedy this, the Chord Symbols As Polychords plug-in allows polychords to be made up of Chord Symbol objects. It takes pairs of selected chord symbols or legacy chord symbols and stacks the first of the pair on top of the second, separated by a text object made of underscore characters in the Chord symbol text style.

Since the plug-in will treat successive chords as a pair, you should be careful to only select chords that you want to be made into polychords.

You may need to adjust the dialog settings for different chord fonts. The plug-in supports Sibelius’s native chord symbol fonts Opus, Inkpen2, and Reprise, as well as the third-party fonts Norfolk and Pori, available for free from NYC Music Services.

The settings, except for Chord font family for separator length, are saved across Sibelius sessions.

How to use the plug-in

  1. Select the chord symbols that you want to pair up. Be sure the top chord is either to the left of or on top of the bottom chord.
  2. Run the plug-in and check that the offsets are what you want. You may need to experiment with the dialog settings if this is a different chord font than the last one you used.
  3. Check that the Chord font family selected in the dialog matches or is similar to the Chord symbol text style. This will make the separator length match the chord symbols.
  4. If you want to process both slash chords and pairs of chords, you will need to run the plug-in twice. Process the slash chords in the first pass.

Options and examples

Polychords are three separate objects which can move independently. Magnetic Layout is turned off for all three objects. It’s important to not use Reset Position on the chords or text line, or the three elements will end up overlapped.

There is also an option to convert slash chords to polychords, so you could create a chord symbol with just a bass note and then edit the bottom part of the resulting polychord. If the original chord symbol had been a Chord Symbol object, then resulting chords will also be Chord Symbol objects.

Here is an example of some chord symbols (the LLL, LD, and LN chords are legacy Text objects). Note that, because Magnetic Layout is turned off, some chords which used Magnetic Layout to avoid notes will be too close to the notes after conversion to polychords, and will need to be manually adjusted (but not with Reset Position!) It is usually better to adjust the position of the chord symbols to avoid the notes before running the plugin.

Positioning and spacing

Usually you will not have to worry about how the chords are positioned, but this discussion may help if they are not going where you want them to.

The polychord will be given the bar and horizontal position of the top chord. The lower Y position of the two chords will be the Y position of the bottom chord, and the top chord is, by default, 3 spaces above the bottom chord. The separator line is placed at half the gap between chords below the top chord.

You can adjust the gap between chords, and adjust the position of the separator line.

The defaults work pretty well for scores that come from standard house styles, but if the chords or separator overlap you will need to experiment with the dialog options to find a good spacing. You should select a representative pair of chords and:

  • Change the Gap between chords field and Extra gap fields and try it until you feel there is a suitable gap between the chords. Then try it on several chords with different roots and accidentals.
  • If the separator is not where you want it vertically put in a positive small number in Extra gap for separator to raise it, and a negative number to lower it.

Sorting and determining order

The plug-in looks at pairs of chord symbols, and considers the first chord it finds to be the top chord, and the second chord to be the bottom chord of the resulting fraction.

Chords are sorted by staff, bar, and position in the bar, followed by the Y position (highest first) and X position. If you are stacking chords be sure that there are at the same rhythmic/beat position and put the top chord above the bottom chord.

If you are not using a passage selection, the chords will still be processed left to right. The order in which you selected the chords will be ignored. If you want pairs to be processed in a specific order, position them so the plugin will process them in that order.

Stacked extensions

If any of the chords (non-legacy only) use stacked extensions, the plug-in will add in the Extra gap for stacked extensions. You may want to adjust the position of the separator as well for different fonts.

Separator length

The separator is a text object of underscore characters, and the number of separator characters is based on the width of the characters in the chord symbol font itself. You should choose the font family that matches, or is most similar to, the chord symbol font used in the score, and this will match the length of the separator to the font characters.

Use Extra characters in separator to adjust the length in groups of chords. To manually edit the separator after the polychord is created, select the polychord and use Tab or Shift-Tab to select the separator, then edit it to add or remove underscores. It is difficult to select the separator directly with the mouse, especially when the chords overlap the text.

It is tempting to think that a line would be better than text as a separator, but lines do not have a fixed length; they can shrink or grow as a score is reformatted, and this can lead to unpleasant surprises.

Reset to defaults

Reset to Defaults will fill the edit boxes in the dialog with the default spacing values, which can be handy if you have tinkered with the values.


If you run Reset Position on a polychord, it will collapse into a pile over overlapping objects. Repair will attempt to rebuild a polychord when it finds two chord symbols and a separator line at the same position. It cannot tell which note should be the top chord, so it just chooses the first chord symbol it finds, so you may find repaired polychords have been reversed, or the base position is not what is desired, and you will need to fix them manually. Repair is a tool of last resort.

Selecting polychords for copy/paste

Since polychords are made of three objects, you need to be careful not to drag the objects apart. It is tricky to select the objects as a group, especially because the separator can be hard to click on.

Probably the easiest way to select a group is to click near one of the chord symbols with the Shift key held down on PC, or Command on Mac, and then drag with the mouse. The Sibelius Reference calls this a “marquee” or “lasso” selection. Thanks to Robin Walker for suggesting this option.

You can select one of the objects and use Ctrl-Tab (PC) or Command-Tab (Mac), or Ctrl-Shift-Tab (PC) or Command-Shift-Tab (Mac) to select the other objects in the polychord, but this is trickier than it seems. The order of tabbing changes if some of the chord symbols are legacy symbols, so it takes some experimenting to get this to work.

You can filter polychords using the Filter With Deselect plug-in, using the option Chord Symbols – All. Assign a shortcut to this plug-in and run it without the dialog if you want to copy and paste a number of polychords.

Chord Symbols As Polychords will select any newly created polychords to make it easier to copy them immediately after the plugin is run.

Downloading and use

Chord Symbols As Polychords was inspired by the work that Bernie Cossentino and Jeff Kellem did for the Norfolk and Pori chord fonts.

It can be downloaded directly through Sibelius 7 and higher at File > Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins > Chord Symbols. Users may also install it manually in Sibelius 6 or higher by visiting the plug-in download page and following the usual manual installation procedure, or by using the Install New Plug-in plug-in.


  1. Bernie Cossentino

    Great work Bob :)

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