Create lead sheets in “The Real Book” style in Finale and Sibelius


A common convention in jazz and standard lead sheets produced in the style of The Real Book is to display the clef and key signature only at the beginning of the first system of the chart:

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This style likely was a result of a shortcut to eliminate the laborious task of hand-copying these markings onto each and every line. Even though modern scorewriters automate this task, some still prefer the style of the hand-copied charts. Indeed, even the authorized sixth edition of The Real Book, for which the music was set on computer, replicates this style.

The wisdom of setting music in a way that arguably increases the likelihood of error is debatable, but should you wish to do so, here’s how in the two most common notation programs.


Finale offers better built-in support for this feature than Sibelius does. First, go to Document > Document Options… > Clefs. Check “Display Clef Only on First Staff System”:


Do the same for Document > Document Options… > Key Signatures. Check “Display Key Signature Only on First Staff System”:


To force barlines to display at the beginning of each system, go to Document > Document Options… > Barlines and be sure to check “Left Barlines: Display on Single Staves”:


You’ll have a chart that looks like this:


(Update: Eagle-eyed reader and Sibelius expert Bob Zawalich pointed out that the Finale example shown above has a left barline on bar 1, which is not the convention in The Real Book style. To switch off this left barline for bar 1 only, select bar 1, go to Edit > Edit Measure Attributes… and in the “Left Barline” row, select “Invisible”.)


Sibelius doesn’t offer quite the same document-level support for this style that Finale does, although the feature has been requested. With a little ingenuity, though, it can be accomplished.

First, triple-click the staff to select it for the entire piece. Once you type Q or go to Notations > Clef, you’ll want to go to the bottom of the clef gallery and select “More Options”. Here, you’ll bring up the old-style Clef dialog from Sibelius 6 and earlier.

Choose your clef and be sure to uncheck “Draw on subsequent staves”:


Next, make a passage selection for your entire staff, except for the first bar (in other words, from bar 2 through the rest of the piece). Select Home > Select > Filter > Bar Numbers, and open Home > Inspector. Even if you’re not displaying bar numbers in your score, do this anyway, although nothing will appear to be selected!

In the Inspector, uncheck Key signature:


Finally, in Appearance > House Style > Engraving Rules > Barlines, be certain that “Barline at start of single staves” is checked:


Your chart will look like this:


Whether you use Finale or Sibelius to create your lead sheet, keep that key signature in your memory when you play the song at your next gig!

Updated 12:28 pm to reflect Bob Zawalich’s observations.


  1. Kelly Fenton

    Now to get a better handwritten font…! ;)


  2. Patricia De Carli

    Make Kelly Fenton’s words my words ;)

  3. Richie Vitale

    Great article Phil!

    Still I do take umbrage with the statement: The wisdom of setting music in a way that arguably increases the likelihood of error is debatable . . . .

    The debate is only among high school students (who miss key signatures no matter where they are placed) and perhaps classical musicians, or musicians that do not read music written this way on a daily basis.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Kelly, Patricia: I wonder if any developments are afoot in SMuFL-land?

      Richie: Thanks! Your point is well-taken and this style is certainly an established convention for this type of music.

  4. Geoff Thomas

    Enjoyable article – clear and easy to follow: thanks!
    On the “way that arguably increases the likelihood of error”, I agree with both you and Richie. (By the way, Richie, why is it students can’t remember a key signature, or even an accidental through a bar?!).
    The problem arises on a weekly basis for me, firstly when working with amateur music makers and, secondly, when performing a wide range of music. My last seven days has involved playing for rehearsals of a Mozart opera, dance standards from a lead sheet, keyboards in a wind band which covers film music and bass guitar in some show selections. Song or dance standards which are typically in one or two keys are no problem, but selections which frequently change key are tricky without regular reminders at the beginning of each stave. Horses for courses, certainly, but since the whole point of writing music is to make it easy to perform, I will always use the more traditional (classical if you like, Richie) method. It would be a pity if we all agreed, though, so thanks again Phil for raising this one and for the excellent solution.

  5. Richie Vitale

    Good point Geoff! This should be on a case by case basis.

    With many KS changes in a score, or more traditional musicians, I’d probably have the KS on a per stave basis. This is why I’ve requested it to be in preferences in Sibelius and yet in Sibelius’ IdeaScale Feature Request it was voted against 7 times!

    It is especially irksome in bass parts that use primarily slash chords/notes that have 5 or 6 flats.

  6. coire walker

    Hi, I’m new to Sibelius and it’s not working as you describe. What am I doing wrong here? Once I get to this: “Select Home > Select > Filter > Bar Numbers, and open Home > Inspector.” that inspector box does not open. The screen flashes once each time I click inspector, but nothing. Also, “Select Home > Select > Filter > Bar Numbers” is usually how we write things in the top menu, not the ribbon, so I just wanted to make sure that was correct as well. Either way, I can’t join the Sibelius forum without my activation code, which I didn’t get because I’m a student and was authorized differently, and Avid support won’t take my calls because it spits out my customer support ticket # to a full message box and then hangs up. What a crappy company.

  7. Geoff Thomas

    Hi Coire
    If you are using Sib 7 or later, this does work, well it does on mine! From the home page, make sure you click on filter, then select bar numbers. It’s worth selecting all bars from bar 2 before you do this. The bar numbers should go blue. Then select the inspector icon. The box should open, allowing you to delete key sigs and clefs in all systems except the first. Hope this helps.
    By the way, I did have an activation code and Avid didn’t or wouldn’t recognize it!

  8. Philip Peter

    Hi Phillip, hi everyone,
    is there a similar way to get these results in Dorico 3.5? No key and clef on subsequent staves, use of handwritten fonts like Pori Chords et cetera?
    Could you think of posting a Dorico way to get there as well?
    Thanks a lot,
    Philip (from Germany)

  9. Allan Sitar

    @Philip Peter and @ Philip Rothman, Yes, indeed a very good article, and now with after a few years of Dorico being in the game, maybe Philip you could re-visit on this subject as it would be a great asset to us chart writers. If you have the know-how, I think many would appreciate your new approach after a decade in the article above. ;)

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