Customizing beam groups in Sibelius


As Elaine Gould succinctly puts it in her music notation reference Behind Bars, “Divisions of a beat are beamed together in all meters, in order to simplify reading beats:”

From Behind Bars

Anyone who’s tried to read vocal music beamed in the “traditional” manner will appreciate why that old convention has been jettisoned in favor of beaming divisions of a beat together:

In Sibelius, when you create a time signature (Notations > Common > Time Signature or shortcut T), Sibelius will choose common beam groupings for you. However, as beaming is dependent upon context, there may be many instances in which the beam grouping Sibelius has chosen for you does not match your musical intentions.

If this is the case, and you’ve been wrestling with the Keypad to individually change beam groups and wondering if there’s an easier way, you’re in luck.

Time Signature > Beam and Rest Groups

It starts with clicking the little-noticed More Options at the bottom of the Time Signature gallery.

This takes you to the Time Signature dialog (which prior to Sibelius 7, was what appeared straight away when pressing T):

Here, choose your desired time signature from the most common options, or enter a less common one in Other. Then, click Beam and Rest Groups… to begin the real fun.

Let’s consider the most garden-variety time signature, 4/4. By default, Sibelius will beam four groups of eighth notes together, like so:

This is reflected as 4,4 in the Group 8ths (quavers) as field, in the Beam and Rest Groups dialog:

But, what if my preference is to beam groups of two eighth notes together instead, like this?

Not a problem. I would simply create a time signature of 4/4 and change the setting to 2,2,2,2:

Should you want to do so, you can group 16th or 32nds differently, or, more likely, subdivide their secondary beams.

In the case of 6/8 time, if you use the following settings:

You’ll get this result:

Of course, you can change these settings for many permutations of beam groups, and they do not have to be evenly distributed groups of notes. Here’s one in 9/8:

The result is default grouping of notes like you might see in Dave Brubeck’s Blue Rondo à la Turk:

Reset Beam Groups

Ah!, you might say, but what about the fourth bar? Well, that brings us to our next trick. Select the bar and choose Appearance > Reset Notes > Reset Beam Groups. This actually allows you to override the default settings in any particular selection of bars.

In this instance, we’ll override the 2,2,2,3 setting we applied earlier, and instead apply a more conventional 3,3,3 grouping to the selection.

One more thing: Separate tuplets from adjacent notes (or not)

Eagle-eyed readers might have noticed a little checkbox at the bottom of these dialogs: Beams Over Tuplets > Separate tuplets from adjacent notes.

What does it do?

Let’s say you have a passage like this, where the tuplets are separated from the beam:

This would be easier to read and to discern the beat groups if the tuplets were joined to the other notes in the group.

Simply uncheck the Separate tuplets from adjacent notes checkbox to achieve this result, without needing to manually alter each instance:

Now that you know how to use these tools, let the beat — and beam — go on! Do you have any other good beaming tips? Let us know in the comments.


  1. Charles Gaskell

    There is no easy way I know of though to make the default in 5/4 for a note that lasts a whole bar (i.e. 5 beats) to be a dotted minim tied to a minim (or minim tied to a dotted minim) rather than semibreve tied to a crotchet.

    (where the music has come from a MIDI file)

  2. Peter Ballinger

    I spend a lot of time correcting the group 1/8th rest followed by 3 1/8th notes, in 4/4 or 2/2 time signature. Setting “beam and rest groups” to 4,4 doesn’t work, as it separates the first 1/8th note from the beamed 2nd and 3rd 1/8th notes. Is there a retroactive fix for this? (Example: first measure of Beethoven’s Op. 53 Sonata)

  3. Roberto

    In a passage of eight 32nds, Sibelius lets us separate the long triple beam into two subgroups of 4 32nds each, joined by a single beam. Is that a way to get Sibelius to use a double beam (as for 16ths) instead?
    Perhaps a situation in which this is more necessary would be a passage with only 64ths and 32nds in which one wants to subdivide the long beam into groups. The effect of single beams joining the smaller groups is less clear than it would be with double beams.
    Thanks for your input.

  4. Lee Armstrong

    I would also like to know the answer to Peter’s question, if possible, please. I am currently scoring Rimsky-Korsakov’s piano quintet for nonet and there is A LOT of rest / quaver / quaver / quaver at the end of bars which I’d like to beam together rather than have rest / single quaver / two beamed quavers, if that makes sense. I can do it one by one, but it will take ages! Any help much appreciated.

  5. Efraim

    I have the new Sibelius artist version, and the beams and rest function isn’t there anymore.
    Can somebody please tell me if its to do this, in Sibelius artist?

    Thank you

    Regards Efraim

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