How Sibelius can help musicians with dyslexia


Last Thursday I had the pleasure of running a break-out session at the British Dyslexia Association’s first Music Conference, which was held at the Royal Academy of Music. I was invited to speak about how Sibelius could be used by musicians with dyslexia, and over the course of a lively session we discussed a number of ways in which software can play a role in helping overcome some of the challenges these people face. More after the jump.

Enlarging music

One of the simplest ways to make music easier to read is simply to make it larger. Of course, when viewing music on the computer screen, you can change the zoom level to make the music as large as you like, but when you print it out this doesn’t work. Rather than blow things up on a photocopier, you can simply use the Staff size control in Layout > Document Setup to make the music as large as you like.

When changing the size of the music, you may also need to change the distance between staves and systems to make things as clear as possible. The quickest way to do that is to select the whole score (Ctrl+A on Windows or CommandA on Mac), choose Layout > Reset Space Above Staff and Reset Space Below Staff to remove any existing vertical spacing overrides, then choose House Style > Engraving Rules, go to the Staves page, and change the spaces between staves and spaces between systems values.

If you need more help with adjusting layout, see this earlier post.

Increasing contrast

People with dyslexia sometimes struggle to read black text on a white background, and with music things are no different. So it can be very useful to change the paper texture colour on the Textures page of File > Preferences (in the Sibelius menu on Mac). The consensus in the session was that a cream background was ideal, and in particular the Cream, fine laid paper texture was the favourite.

Coloured markers at the ends of lines

When reading music, moving from one system to the next can be disorientating. (When reading music off the display in Sibelius, you can use View > Panorama to eliminate this problem by viewing the complete score as a single continuous system.)

One technique to counteract the difficulty of moving from one system to the next is to put a coloured marker at the end of one system, and a marker of the same colour at the start of the next system, then a marker of a different colour at the end of that system, a marker of the same colour at the start of the next system, and so on.

You could use an arrow line from Create > Line or a box from Create > Symbol as your marker: change its colour using Edit > Color, then copy and paste the marker to the start of the next system. Rinse and repeat.

Proportional spacing

For most purposes, proportional spacing – where the space allocated to one note value is exactly half as big as the space allocated to the next largest note value – is not considered good practice for printed music, but musicians with dyslexia can find it easier to read music that is spaced in this way.

You can create proportional spacing in Sibelius by editing the values in House Style > Note Spacing Rule. The screenshot below shows some useful values:

Once you’ve set up these values, select the whole score and choose Layout > Reset Note Spacing.

Remove everything but the notes

Another aid to reading the music more easily is to remove all extraneous markings, such as dynamics, hairpins, slurs, and so on. If you already have some printed music that you’re trying to learn, use PhotoScore (Lite or Ultimate) to scan in the music (but don’t forget not to infringe anybody’s copyright) and send it to Sibelius, or input it from scratch.

Once you have it in Sibelius, you can then use filters to remove other markings, e.g. Edit > Filter > Slurs followed by a hit of the Delete key to remove slurs, Edit > Filter > Dynamics followed by Delete to remove dynamics, and so on.

Loop playback

One final tip is for playback. While learning a piece it may be useful to loop a section in order to be able to hear it over and over again. Mark the start of the section to be looped with some Tempo text that uses the word marker followed by anything you like, e.g. marker 1. Mark the end of the section to be looped with some Tempo text that says jump to followed by whatever word you used to follow marker, e.g. jump to 1.

Now when you play back, Sibelius will reach the jump to text and then jump back to marker. Use the slider in the Playback window to adjust the tempo to taste.

For more information

If you have any questions about dyslexia, contact the British Dyslexia Association for support and help. Thanks to Debbie and the rest of the folks at the BDA for inviting me to speak, and thanks to the delegates for making my session so interactive!


  1. pianocomposer

    In my opinion Sibelius is the worst software for dyslexia. I get so tired staring at the screen reading all the time everything takes forever the musical though it long gone while I am trying to align a feature or make a crescendo longer. Everything is so time consuming have to be so precise imputing each note by reading no manual connection. I really hope ome day I have enough money for a staffpad by windows. The eliminates all these problems and makes ones life easier.

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