Take note: Comments in Sibelius


Of all of the major commercial desktop music notation programs, Sibelius has the best built-in tools for marking up your score. In fact, it’s really the only such software that has these tools, which appear in the form of annotations, comments, and highlights.

While you might be tempted to dismiss these features as tangential or limited to use in education, they can actually be quite useful in professional situations. In this post we’ll explore Sibelius’s commenting feature and how to use it, and how to make the most of it through plug-ins.

The basics

To create a comment, click Review > Comments > New Comment, or use the shortcut Shift+Alt+C (Windows or Mac). It looks like the ubiquitous yellow sticky note found in every office.

It’s best to select the music before making a comment; that way, the comment will automatically show the name of the selected staves, and the bars selected.

Once you’ve made a comment, you can double-click on it to edit it. You can minimize a comment by double-clicking the bar containing your name, and maximize the comment by double-clicking the resulting initials.

Comments will appear with the name in your user account, but you can choose a different name in File > Preferences > Other, where you’ll find options to show the date and time of the comment, as well.

If you’ve chosen the date and time to display but you don’t see them appearing in your comment, it’s because the comment was not wide enough to display them. To remedy this, you can drag the boundary of the comment to resize it.

If someone else comments in the score, their comment will appear in a different color.

If you’ve got lots of comments in your score, you can easily navigate among them in Review > Comments > Previous Comment and Next Comment, respectively.

To view or hide comments while working in your score, go to View > Invisibles > Comments.

You can easily filter comments (i.e., for mass deletion) in Home > Select > Filters > Comments.

If you want to print your comments along with the score, when you print in File > Print > Add, make sure that  View options is switched on.

Make the most of comments

It’s easy to see how comments can be useful in an educational setting. As a professional music preparer, though, I’ve found them to be invaluable in rehearsal and recording situations.

I always struggle with the best way to take notes on the fly in a rehearsal in real time. Mark up the score? Write out a list and cross reference the score later? Organization and accuracy is a challenge, to capture so much information — instrument, bar number, the nature of the remark, the date and time, etc. — as music is being played.

If the score I’m working exists in Sibelius, following along in the score and making comments directly in the file is far and away my preferred way of taking notes. It’s downright fun to do (and always elicits an intrigued, uh, comment, from onlookers about how easy it is).

When I was in Baltimore recently, working on the new edition of the ballet score to Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid, I marked up my file in just this way, without missing a beat, so to speak.

As you can see, comments appear in the Timeline so that you can quickly identify a potential problem passage if there is a cluster of comments.

What’s more, you can get a plug-in by Roman Molino Dunn called Export Comments, which can write all of your comments to a log file or can list them in the plug-in trace window. You can purchase the plug-in alone for $15 or as part of a bundle. It allows you to export comments as an HTML file for easy viewing in any web browser:

If that weren’t enough, you can turbo-charge your comments with Ed Hirschman’s Add Turbo Comment plug-in, available for free within Sibelius in File > Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins > Comments. He wrote a post a few years ago describing how that works, but the quick take is that it allows for far more quick customization than Sibelius’s standard comments, such as making use of stock phrases, color and font customization, and loads of display options.

Finally, check out the other free plug-ins in the Comments category: Roman’s other contributions Convert Text to Comments, and Maximize or Minimize Comments (both self-explanatory), and Bob Zawalich’s Highlights to Comment Color, which can match colors of highlights to comments to better associate a user’s highlights and comments.

Bob’s also got an amazing plug-in called Go To Comments, which can be used to navigate among comments in list format! That’s found in File > Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins > Navigation.

What do you think about this topic? Leave a — what else — comment!


  1. Derek Williams

    Really useful, thanks Philip!

  2. françois

    Very cool!!

  3. Bob Nowak

    Nice of you to bring this to everyone’s attention. I just finished marking up a score in this exact manner. Not only do all your comments apply but I see two additional advantages: 1) a quick, easy and accurate reference when you go back to the score after much time has passed — other obligations sometimes prevent you from addressing those changes right away, this way you won’t forget the fixes; 2) these are important references for PARTS. You don’t always want to print new sets of parts that just have one or two fixes. This allows you to find the fix immediately and either reprint just that page, or write the fix by hand. (Sorry — old school. Just a pencil fix or a little white out.)

    The plug-ins you mentioned are new to me — very helpful. Thanks.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Bob – this is an excellent followup. I’m glad to know you’re doing it this way. The plug-ins are really useful since they unlock so much data that is already contained in the comments.

  4. Peter Roos

    Very useful, thanks. I didn’t know about the plugins.

  5. Rex Thomas

    LOVE THIS!!! Thanks, Philip!!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Happy to hear it!

  6. Mikhail

    Здравствуйте,мои музыкальные друзья!

    I use Sibelius’ comments a lot:

    1) I place a comment on certain instrument’s stave to remind me to perhaps improve this voicing;
    2) Placing comment (to carry on and not waste time) at certain part of score, eg between different “pieces” of a medley…to remind me (should I forget) if I’m not sure at that time how to join them with a decent “bridge” with harmonically sound modulation to appropriate key;
    3) If my boss suggested something different at certain section, but I do not have time or musical inspiration at that moment to do it, I place comment to remind me;
    4) Sometimes I create extra staves (especially for brass), where I would have say TWO 1st Trumpet or Horns staves. The extra stave would usually just add extra “brassiness” or timbre change without “changing instruments”. I use comments to remind me to “HIDE” these staves before final engraving for printing;
    5) I would place comment if I need eg “African Lyrics” such as Zulu. I even place Internet Website address links in comments where to find lyrics for songs;
    6) My Director of Music LOVES 10-minute medleys, so I would place comments with YouTube links of the songs he requires;
    7) If I write eg for solo Instrument such as “Gabriel’s Oboe” but our Oboe player prefers different key, I use comment to remind me to build modulation bridge into HID key; and
    8) Many times my boss and I would go eight rounds in boxing ring what TITLE of medley should be! So I name piece “Title” and place three comments on 1st-page header. One is for AGREED Title (I mostly win…his pistol is in vault!) ;-), 2nd comment is to remind me to add ALL composers who composed songs in medleys and 3rd same but for Lyricists!

    I mostly use ONE template for NAVY BAND with EVERY possible instrument, vocals (incl choirs), instruments not normally used by Military Bands like Pipe Organ, Keyboards, Elec Guitars, Bass Guitar, Cor Anglais, some solo String Instrument (eg violin), Sop Sax, Harpsichord (if I arrange some Baroque music), Piano, EVERY existing percussion instrument our “kitchen” have (thus if I need stave for “bell tree” its there already) etc. AFTER I complete my arrangement/composition, and my boss puts his “seal of approval” on the piece, I ALWAYS check for comments BEFORE I do final engraving and spacings etc. Comments tell me which Staves (Instruments not used as well as vocal and percussion staves not used) to hide, check for any other comments and fix what is needed. If I scan from front to end of my piece and NO more comments are founded, I engrave and print!

    I find COMMENTS in Sibelius extremely useful! I would be cool though if Sibelius would add a graphic of a LED light somewhere, say on the bottom “status bar”…if “Red” score still have comments somewhere; and if “Green” NO comments are present in score. Double-clicking LED should pop up listbox indicating position of comment is score…without having to open that useless (sorry) timeline! This Comment List Box should have the actual comment also listed which should be editable…ie, DClicking on that comment line in listbox turns list-item into textbox with cursor so I might edit comment…perhaps spelling error. Much easier than to search for yellow comment, double-clicking it and edit comment. One should also be able to DELETE comment from this Comment Listbox!

    Я не знаю, что ты думаешь? Совершенно новая функция для разнообразия! Я все еще люблю “Sibelius” и “Dorico”. Finale законсервирован! ;-)

    I have not checked yet, does Dorico have comment function?

    до свидания!
    Mikhail RK

  7. WeiLe Ng

    Philip, thank you very much for showing this underrated feature. Can’t believe using Sibelius for years and never know about this comment feature that would be so helpful especially doing some big music transcription and orchestra arrangement. I always had to go back to the top and check everything again but not anymore!

    Can’t wait to try it out now!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Excellent, enjoy!

  8. Simon Hale

    Thanks for posting this Philip. I use comments all the time! Especially useful if I’m given a note/artistic direction in an email that I can then just copy and paste into the score at the relevant place so I can always refer to it as I’m working through the music. Also a great help to replace when I used to “scribble faintly” in pencil in terms of writing or even things pending like “this might have two bars added here” etc etc. Thanks for giving such a comprehensive round up of the various ways to use this (essential!) function. Highlights are pretty useful too…

    1. Philip Rothman

      Terrific, thanks, Simon! Yes, I remember your highlight scheme :-)

Leave a Comment

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