Left-align chord symbols in Sibelius


The horizontal alignment of chord symbols has been the subject of animated discussion among those that care about such things. You care, right? Of course you do, that’s why you’re reading this!

Sibelius (and Finale and Dorico) center-align chord symbols by default, meaning that the center of the chord symbol is aligned with center of the notehead. Left-aligned chord symbols place the left edge of the symbol in alignment with the leftmost part of the notehead.

We’re not here today to debate which is better, but if you’d like to change things from center-aligned to left aligned, here’s how to do it.

First, let’s visit an important but obscure dialog: Appearance > Default Positions (the downward-right pointing arrow in the Ribbon).

Click on Other objects > Chord Symbol.

Take note of the settings here: This means that the default position of newly-created chord symbols is offset 0.69 spaces horizontally from the note and 4.5 spaces vertically from the staff. Keep in mind, though, the horizontal alignment is based on the chord symbols being center aligned…for now.

Here’s our lead sheet with center-aligned chord symbols.

Go to go Text > Styles > Edit Text Styles, select Chord symbol, and click Edit…

In the Staff Text Style dialog, click the Horizontal Posn tab. Under Horizontal Alignment, make sure that Specify horizontal alignment of text frame is checked, and click Align to note > Left.

When you click OK, you’ll get this dialog. Sibelius is giving you a clue that the default position for newly-created chord symbols should be changed, and it offers to do it for you. How nice.

Click Yes, and OK out of the Edit Text Styles dialog.

The position of our chord symbols has changed, but it looks way off now! This isn’t what we had in mind.

That phrase… “default position of newly-created chord symbols…” Where have we heard that before? Ah, yes; Appearance > Default Positions.

Let’s go there now.

Sure enough, Sibelius changed 0.69 spaces to 0 spaces. So why are the chord symbols still offset?

It’s because these settings only apply to default positions. The position of existing chord symbols is still retaining that 0.69 space offset, and applying them to chord symbols which are now left-aligned.

To correct this, we must select all the chord symbols and Reset Position (Appearance > Design and Position > Reset Position).

Better! But a setting of strictly 0 spaces doesn’t look quite right to me. Let’s go once more to Appearance > Default Positions and change the horizontal setting to -1 space, meaning that the chord symbols will be left-aligned but slightly offset to the left.

Select the chord symbols and Reset Position once more.

That’s looking good!

Now, if that wasn’t enough, what about newly created chord symbols?

For those, you’ll have to again go to Appearance > Default Positions. This time, choose Text styles > Chord symbol. These settings were intended to apply to only “legacy” chord symbols created in Sibelius 5 and earlier, but they also control the position of newly created chord symbols (i.e, their position before you reset their position…which is confusing, no doubt).

Change the settings here so that they are the same as those in Other objects > Chord Symbol. Additionally be sure to set Creating Text > Vertical position to Above middle of staff:

If you save this in your house style or template, next time you can use these settings straight out of the gate without going through the whole process of changing the settings and resetting positions of the chord symbols.

Was this helpful? Do you have other suggestions for working with chord symbols in Sibelius? Let us know in the comments.


  1. Derek Williams

    Lucid and very helpful post, thank you Philip!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Derek!

  2. Rex Thomas

    That’s great! Saves me a lot of time at layout. Thanks, Philip!

  3. Tiago

    Thanks for another lesson Phillip!

    I try it out and the new position looks really great specially with simple chords with few alterations and no root notes. With more complex alterations and root notes the original default position seems to centralize chords better imho.

  4. Bob

    Do you happen to know what’s the smallest increment Sibelius allows in the “Horizontal position relative to note” fields?

    Is -0.8 or -0.5 possible, or example?

    Obviously I can try for myself, but if you’ve already done so, that’d save time.

    I have a vague memory of some fields somewhere in Sibelius maybe not accepting certain values (like maybe only increments of 0.5).

    To my eyes, -1 seems to move the symbols over a little too much to the left. It’s an improvement over the default, though. I usually end up selecting all chord symbols and nudging them to the right with the arrow key.

    Thanks so much for this, Philip!

  5. Alexis

    I keep revisiting this to point my students to it. I don’t know what we would all without you, Philip! Hope you are healthy and staying busy!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Alexis :-)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *