Create a part with an alternate transposition in Sibelius


Recently I received an urgent message from an orchestra librarian: “Do you have PDF files for A clarinet parts? Our principal *just* asked if they were available. It is being rehearsed in about a half hour!”

I didn’t have those parts immediately available — the parts were in B♭ — but I had the Sibelius file, and I know a little about music notation software. Challenge accepted!

The crude but effective solution might have been to simply use Sibelius’s Note Input > Transpose function (Shift-T) to bump everything up a minor second. Indeed, with limited time and knowledge of the software, if you found this solution, selected everything, and created a part to get you through the imminent rehearsal, you would deservedly be the hero.

But that’s not the technically correct solution. The Transpose function, or its equivalent in all the notation software programs — Finale, Dorico, MuseScore, and pretty much any program possesses this most basic of features, after all — will actually, you know, transpose the music, meaning that it will sound a minor second higher than it did before when you play it back. Not to mention, if you copy and paste that music elsewhere, the pitches would be wrong. Oh, and did we mention key signatures? If you transpose a single staff, the key signatures won’t come along for the ride, so you’ll have a lot of undesirable non-harmonic notes and accidentals to contend with.

The Transpose feature might seem like the right tool for the job, but it’s not

For all those reasons, using Transpose for such a task is ultimately incorrect, and could cause unintended consequences later.

Instead, the right way to do this is to effect an instrument change, with a little help from Sibelius’s house style and layout tools.

Copy and Change Instrument, Multiple Part Appearance, and Copy Part Layout — the trifecta of tools for the job

Copy and Change Instrument

You may already know about instrument changes. Found in Home > Instruments > Change, it’s what allows you to change, say, an Oboe to an English Horn, or an Alto Sax to a Tenor Sax in the middle of a piece.

An example of an instrument change

You may also know that it’s also used to facilitate transpositions for the same instrument, such as the aforementioned Clarinet in B♭ to Clarinet in A.

What you may not know, however, is that you can have a part with an instrument that’s entirely different than what’s in the score. That’s because, in Sibelius, when you apply an instrument change while working in a part, it only affects the part, and not the score. The same is true for clefs.

What’s more, you can create a separate part for each instrument transposition you wish to facilitate. This “have your cake and eat it too” solution is a lesser-known benefit of music notation software.

By now, we’re accustomed to using “linked” or “dynamic” parts so that you don’t need to extract parts. We usually see a one-to-one relationship between a staff in the score and a part, because this is what’s needed most of the time, and the software typically automatically sets up a file in this way.

But it’s possible to have a one-to-many relationship between a staff and any number of parts. You can create a Clarinet in B♭ part based on the Clarinet staff in the score, and create a separate Clarinet in A part based on that same staff.

Sibelius even has a feature that automates the process somewhat. It’s called Copy and Change Instrument, and you’ll find in in the Parts > Setup tab.

So, if you wish to create a Clarinet in A part that’s based on the same staff as your Clarinet in B♭ part, simply open your Clarinet in B♭ part, go to Parts > Setup > Copy and Change Instrument, and select Clarinet in A. Click OK and voilà — you’ve now got a new part.

Multiple Part Appearance

Copy and Change Instrument saves you the manual steps of adding a new part based on an existing part, but if you truly want to create an alternate part that resembles the original one as closely as possible with respect to formatting and layout, you’ll need to follow a couple more steps.

The first thing to do is export your original part’s house style. In this example, I’d go to my Clarinet in B♭ part and, in Appearance > House Style > House Style, click Export. Name it something you can easily find in a moment, like “Clarinet part”.

Then, open the new part in the active window — the Clarinet in A part, in this example — and go to Parts > Layout > Part Appearance > Current Part. This brings up the Multiple Part Appearance dialog — a bit of a misnomer here, since we’re only working on a single part, but don’t let that worry you — and, in the House Style tab, click the Import House Style button:

As it says, once you import a house style into the part, it will override everything else in the dialog, so don’t bother clicking anything else.

From the left-hand side, choose the name of the house style you’ve just exported (“Clarinet part” in this example), and make sure the three checkboxes are checked (everything else will be greyed out, since they don’t apply when you import a parts house style).

Click OK to apply and again to exit Multiple Appearance. This will make sure that your page size, staff size, auto breaks, bar number settings, and any other part-specific settings are the same in both parts.

Copy Part Layout

Importing the house style doesn’t actually copy over any part-specific system and page breaks, however. For that, there is yet another step.

Go back to the original part — Clarinet in B♭, in our example — and choose Parts > Layout > Copy Part Layout. The Source part should be selected on the left, and the Destination part(s) should be selected on the right (you can select multiple parts here, if you like). Copy Part Layout will also copy over part-specific positioning of system objects, like tempo text and rehearsal marks.

Click OK, and you should find that your new part now very closely resembles the original one in nearly all respects, except for the instrument and its transposition.

Tidying up

Copy Part Layout will also copy over part-specific positioning of system objects, like tempo text and rehearsal marks. This may be desirable, or you may find that you need to adjust these items in your new part.

Each part is based on the same source staff in the score, which means if you change any music in this staff in the score, or in one part are the other, both parts will dynamically update, as you can see from this animation:

However, you are able to spell notes differently in each part. If you have any accidentals that you wish to respell in your new part, you can do so by pressing Return, without affecting the other part or the score:

It may be useful to switch on View > Differences in Parts, if it is isn’t already, so that you can keep track of such differences, which will be colored in orange.

Of course, the usual benefits to dynamic parts are available to you, meaning that you can change the position of many elements in one part without affecting the other part or the score, to make fine adjustments.

And, even though you’ll probably want your new part to have the same layout as the original part (that’s why we went through these steps, after all), it’s not strictly necessary, so you can feel free to change the layout, if you like. For instance, you could use this technique to have two different layouts for the same instrument, if you needed to do that, for some reason.

There are lots of ways to make use of this feature. Band directors who need to create a treble clef baritone in B♭ part from a bass clef euphonium part, to choose just one of many examples, will find this capability extremely handy.

How are you using this? Did you find this helpful? Let us know in the comments. This post is long enough already, but the concept is similar in other software like Finale and Dorico, so see those posts, where we walk through the steps in those programs.

Interested in the music featured in this post? Check out Quinn Mason’s A Joyous Trilogy for orchestra, available at Notation Central.


  1. Derek Williams

    ‘Copy and Change Instrument’, ‘Multiple Part Appearance’, Copy Part Layout – all very powerful. Thank you, Philip!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Derek!

  2. Ron

    This looks like it could be useful for times when I want 2 or more Acoustic Guitar parts as options for the same guitarist, each part with different capo settings. As it is, I’ve been creating a new staff in the score, copying and pasting the original Ac Gtr to the new staff, then transposing that new staff so the chords will reflect the capo setting for that staff. But if I change a chord or rhythm in the original staff, I need to remember to do that in the copied, different capo staff. [Why different capo settings, you ask? I’ve had different guitarists with different preferences — “No capo, please.” versus “This would sound much better capo’d 1 (or 3, etc.).”]

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Ron – yes, this method is perfect for what you describe. Try it out and let us know.

  3. Barnaby Priest

    That is s really useful post. Thank you. I’m editing a collection of 18th century orchestral scores in varying keys, so the original horn parts are key appropriate. In my edited version, I have transposed the original parts into F for modern players, but would like to include parts in the original key as well for those players using crooks rather than piston horns. Your post shows me how to do this in a straightforward manner whilst maintaining the integrity of the score. As I said at the top. Many thanks for showing the way

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Barnaby – happy to hear it! This indeed would be exactly the way to do it.

  4. Tom Rudolph

    Thanks, Philip. Another informative post. I was not aware of the Copy and Change Instrument option. I will use this in the future.


    1. Philip Rothman

      Excellent, thanks, Tom!

  5. Michael Ware

    Thank you! I needed to create some alternate parts for a project today. It came at exactly the right time. Question: Is there are way to make accommodations in the alternate part for range? I have an alto sax part that is a sub for horn. How do I make changes in a few measures of my substitute part without changing the original part or the score?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Michael,

      Glad this was useful. One approach would be to hide the original music in the alternate part, and create the alternate music in another voice. In the score, hide the alternate music, and then, in the alternate part, unhide it. It will show in the alternate part but remain hidden everywhere else.

  6. Adam

    Is there a way to divorce the copied part from its source… at first I thought I wanted them to remain linked, and now I’m finding it would be more useful to just make it separate so I can edit them independently… I realize I could make a new instrument “from scratch” and then copy everything over, copy part layout, etc… but wondering if there’s a shorter method to ‘unlink’ these two parts once they’re created that way… thanks!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Not really – copying and pasting, etc. would be the way to go in this case.

  7. Bob Zawalich

    I just stumbled on this while researching something else. This is an absolutely brilliant explanation of a really tricky set of operations, clearly described, with plenty of circles and arrows.

    I feel like I have just gone on a huge roller coaster ride, and at the very end I was sitting in the car with my fingers still clenching the handle, panting, and someone appears out of nowhere with a pile of papers, saying, “Here are your A clarinet parts – enjoy” then walking off into the crowd.


    1. Philip Rothman

      We hope you enjoyed the Scoring Notes amusement park!

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