Replace line styles in Sibelius


If you work with music notation software — or most anything else — there comes a time when, after doing a repetitive task one too many times, you think there has to be a better, more efficient way of accomplishing your goal.

Have you ever encountered a situation in Sibelius where you wanted to, for instance, change a selection of dashed lines to dotted lines?

If so, I’m very happy to share one of my favorite plug-ins with you: Replace Line Style. This estimable tool was created by Bob Zawalich, and I wouldn’t want to be without it.

How to use Replace Line Style

I’ve had the good fortune of serving as the editorial advisor to The Aaron Copland Fund for Music over the past decade, and in that capacity I’ve overseen the creation of new editions of Aaron Copland’s most venerated compositions. Longtime followers of this blog may recall reading about my work on Appalachian Spring, the Third Symphony, and Billy the Kid, along with learning about the tools and techniques I’ve used in the process of making those editions.

More recently, I had the pleasure of collaborating with editors Jennifer DeLapp-Birkett and Aaron Sherber on the first completed engraving of the original version of Appalachian Spring, providing musicians and scholars access to the score as it has been performed for more than 75 years by the Martha Graham Company. On each page of the score, the editors have included stills from the 1958 film of the ballet, with Graham dancing the lead role, in order to highlight the connection between music and dance. This edition is published by A-R Editions in partnership with Music of the United States of America (MUSA).

This is a critical edition, so you’ll often see indications such as dashed hairpins in the second violins, violas, and cellos:

These hairpins, along with many other similar markings, signify that the composer didn’t actually notate them in his manuscript, but an editor reasonably concluded that they were intended, based on context.

That’s great for scholars who are studying the score and poring over the robust editorial commentary that accompanies this edition. It’s another matter when presenting this music in performance, where you don’t want the violist to equivocate on the matter of executing a crescendo — you just want to make it as clear as possible to tell them what to do.

So when I needed to create a set of performance materials (score and parts) for Appalachian Spring, I wanted to replace all of the dashed crescendo lines with solid crescendos.

Enter Replace Line Style. I simply selected the entire score (you can use the plug-in on the entire score or any selection — even a single line) and ran the plug-in.

I was presented with this dialog:

All of the line styles that are present in the selection appear in the left column, while all of the available line styles appear on the right.

It couldn’t be easier to use — just click OK, and in an instant, your lines are replaced, along with a report telling you how many replacements were made.

There are just a couple of caveats to be aware of. The first is that system lines can only be replaced by system lines, and staff lines can only be replaced by staff lines. System objects, you’ll recall, apply to all instruments in a score, even if they might only appear in one or two positions (System Object Positions). So you can’t replace, say, a ritard. line with a diminuendo hairpin.

The other is that if you have created your own custom (user-defined) line, and you wish to replace an existing line with it, it will need to already be present somewhere in the score in order for the plug-in to find it. If you haven’t yet used your custom line in your score, you can temporarily place it anywhere in your score, and delete it after you run the plug-in.

Those are hardly insurmountable limitations for such a valuable tool. You’ll find Replace Line Style in File > Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins, in the Lines category.


  1. Bernhard Eder

    Since in Dorico that is a default option available in the pop up menu, I am seriously wondering why they can’t add this as a fixed feature in Sibelius as well.

    Bob Zawalich is a saint with all the great work he is doing to make our lives simpler in Sibelius, but we should not have to rely upon him and other wonderful people OUTSIDE of the development team to do their job for them!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Bernhard! It’s a fair point. Earlier in 2020, Sibelius added a feature which is Dorico-like with respect to changing ties from solid to dashed to dotted, which is done through a toggle in the Inspector, similar to the way it’s done in Dorico’s Properties. So the concept is there.

      1. Bernhard Eder

        Hi Philip, I have used that mentioned feature a couple of times, so why they not added the option for hairpins etc. in the inspector as well puzzles me ;-)

        I’m a constant follower here and on Facebook, to keep up with what’s going on both in Sibelius and Dorico.
        Thank you for your effort to keep us up to date on a regular basis!

        1. Philip Rothman

          Thanks, Bernhard. I really appreciate it!

  2. Bob Zawalich

    Thanks for the writeup Philip. This was a plugin from the Sib 5 days, and it is nice to see it is still useful.

    For some reason there is no way to change the Lines Styles in Sibelius. Even in a plugin, the Style properties are read-only, so the plugin needs to create a new line and delete the old one to get this to work. Having a Style drop down in the Lines panel for the Inspector would make this plugin unnecessary, which would be great.

    The reason that you have to put a copy of a user defined line in the score for the plugin to find is that plugins have no way to enumerate things like Text Styles or Line Styles or Symbols or Noteheads. I have to make up a hard-coded list of Style Ids for the built-in Lines (which needs to be updated if there are ever new lines), and I had to translate the names for the 4 or 5 languages this plugin supports. I have asked for “enumerators” forever, but I don’t expect to ever see them.

    It will be interesting to see, once I stop writing plugins, if there will be a flood of new features to fill in any gaps. I don’t really think so. But anyway, for now this plugin at least makes it easier than doing the delete and add yourself.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Bob, for creating this tool!

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