Constrain attachment points in Sibelius and Finale


If you need to use both Sibelius and Finale for music notation, you know that while there are some considerable differences between the two applications, there are also some welcome similarities.

One of those is the concept of an “attachment point” — it’s even called the same thing in both applications — meaning the note or beat, and, importantly, the staff, to which an object in the score is anchored. Even if you only use one of the applications, you’ll still want to know about this concept and what it means.

Take the following example (Sibelius on the left, Finale on the right):

It’s a little harder to see in Sibelius, but in both applications, the dashed lines that appear when the objects are selected indicates their attachment to the note in the example.

This has important implications:

  • If the objects aren’t attached to the correct note, they may not be included in a selection, which means that they may not be copied and pasted correctly
  • If the note spacing changes, objects that are attached properly will generally keep their position, which incorrectly attached objects will tend to float closer or farther away from the note than intended
  • If an object is attached to the wrong staff, not only will its vertical position be adversely affected if the distance between two staves changes, but more seriously, the object won’t appear in the intended linked or extracted part

OK, so you understand the importance of attachment points, but what if you want to move an object’s position? If you simply drag the objects, you could wind up with something like this:

The trick is to use a modifier key on your keyboard, and hold it while you drag the object. In both Sibelius and Finale, that modifier key is Alt (also referred to as Option on Mac). The only difference between the two applications is the order in which you click and press the key:

  • In Sibelius, first click the object and keep the mouse button held down, then press and hold down Alt
  • In Finale, first press and hold down Alt, then click the object

Once you’ve done that, you can drag the objects and their attachment points will stay fixed (I’ve exaggerated their positions for the purposes of this example):

While we’re at it, here’s another modifier key to learn: the Shift key will constrain the movement of the object in the direction in which you first move it. Again, this works in both applications, and they can even be used in combination (e.g., holding Shift and Alt to constrain an object’s movement in a particular direction and move it without re-attaching it at any point).

It’s worth noting that in both Sibelius and Finale, it is impossible to change the attachment of any object in a part. If you drag an object in a part, its attachment point will remain fixed; only its horizontal and vertical offsets will be affected. If you wish to change the attachment of an object, move it to its new position in the full score, and it will also move in the part. In Sibelius, if you drag an object in a part too far away from its attachment point, the dashed line will turn an increasing shade of red, indicating that maybe the object shouldn’t be moved so far away.

Sibelius also includes a handy plug-in called Check Attachments that can detect instances in which an object may have been dragged too far away from its intended staff, which can be found in Review > Plug-ins > Proof Reading.

Finale doesn’t have such a feature, to my knowledge, but my colleague Robert Puff taught me a way to visually identify such cases: change to View > Scroll View, then go to Tools > Staff > Respace Staves. Under Space Above Each Selected Staff, set “Scale To” to a large enough number to spread the staves far apart. This should make it easy to spot any items that should have been attached to the staff above.

Finale 2014 introduced an improvement where hairpins have attachment points, just like expressions do, and can be independently adjusted in the parts, just like in Sibelius.

While these tips may not make you more or less, ahem, attached, to one application or the other, it’s good to know that this technique works the same way in both of them.


  1. Matthew H

    Excellent, thanks for this. I have been tearing my hair out about this, and great to know that it’s so similar (if frustratingly different) in both Finale and Sibelius.

  2. Jouni Hirvelä

    thanks for the post. The Alt modifier is something I have longed for without knowing it already exists. But I don’t quite understand what you mean with the Shift modifier constraining the movement. When I click and shift+drag an object in Sibelius 6 it just moves along.
    best, Jouni

    1. Philip Rothman

      I’m glad the post is useful!

      Jouni: The Shift modifier will constrain the movement along either a vertical or horizontal axis, depending on the direction you first move the object. For example, if you hold down Shift and then drag in a horizontal direction, you won’t be able to drag the object vertically.

  3. Jouni

    Thanks, I see now what you mean. This might be actually very useful also. Actually while experimenting with this I noticed that it does not really matter which way I start to drag, pressing Shift allows me to drag in all four rectangular directions from the starting point, but not diagonally.

  4. Uwe Mahnken

    Unfortunately this doesn’t work with the arrow keys, one have to drag with the mouse – correct?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Uwe: Correct; I don’t know of a way to do this solely with the keyboard.

  5. Peter Simcich

    Hi, Philip,
    You might want to clarify something in the above. When you select the object, you must keep the mouse button pressed down, else you will copy the object! It might seem obvious, but it’s not…I recall I was somewhat confused when I first tried doing this.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Great point, Peter! I’ve updated the post.

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