Use the semicolon to input grace notes in Sibelius; save time (updated)


Ah, the semicolon, the often misunderstood and maligned member of the punctuation family. Kurt Vonnegut once famously compared it to a “transvestite hermaphrodite”; Lynne Truss called semicolons “dangerously addictive”; and an opinion piece in the New York Times on the matter elicited more than 300 comments in response.

Yet the humble character persists; it is widely used in computer programming, for instance. And who hasn’t softened a stern-sounding text or e-mail message with a wink? ;-)

If you use Sibelius, you could be forgiven for thinking that the semicolon is useless; after all, in versions prior to Sibelius 7, typing it does nothing. Finale users are accustomed to its use; in Speedy Entry mode, typing it changes a note to a grace note.

Try doing that in Sibelius 7 or 7.5; you may well be surprised at the result!


To get the above sequence: I first selected my position for note entry; I then typed 2 on the Keypad to specify a sixteenth note; I typed F followed by the semicolon; I then repeated the a similar process for the other notes.

Switching back and forth between Keypad layouts in order to turn grace note entry on and off can be awkward; using the semicolon should save you quite a bit of time.

Kurt Vonnegut’s disciples may wish to avoid the semicolon at all costs; others may wish to reserve the character for other purposes. To change the shortcut to something else in Sibelius 7.5: Go to File > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts; select Note Input tab from the Tab or Category list; select Turn note into gracenote; choose your new shortcut. (Curiously, in Sibelius 7 this option appears in the Selection catgeory of the Tab or Category list.)

As far as I know, this shortcut is hardwired to work only for appoggiaturas; there’s not an obvious way to use it to turn notes into acciaccaturas using this method. However, Robert Enns and John Hinchey have pointed out another way to streamline grace note entry, which also works in all previous versions of Sibelius, and appears to be undocumented:

  • Select position
  • Type the note value on the Keypad (e.g, 2 for sixteenth note)
  • On your main computer keyboard — not the numeric keypad — type . (period) for an appoggiatura (unslashed grace note) or / (forward slash) for an acciaccatura (slashed grace note)
  • Enter your notes
  • Type the shortcut key — . (period) or / (forward slash) — to cancel grace note entry
  • You are now back to normal note entry

In effect, the shortcuts . (period) or / (forward slash) are shortcuts for items on the Keypad’s other layouts; you could program other shortcuts in a similar manner.

When used with Sibelius 7.5’s improved playback options for grace notes, the semicolon may well get the love it deserves.

Updated April 4, 2014 to further document where the shortcut appears in Preferences in Sibelius 7 and 7.5, and to more clearly describe the shortcuts for the Keypad.


  1. Rob

    Just as simple and works for both appog and acciac.

    Select position
    Type 2 on keypad
    Type period or forward slash for appog or acciac
    Type note value.
    Again if more than one.
    Type period or slash to cancel special entry.
    You are now back to normal note entry.
    No need to change keypads.

  2. Clarke Isackson

    I thought the grace note input was Sibelius’ weakest point. Now I know how to place more than one note. I will try to see if this also works for making ‘grace’ chords.

  3. John Hinchey

    It’s interesting, I have run into may users who have trouble with the grace note and never understood why. The technique I use is, input the figure without the grace notes (whatever the note following the grace notes needs to be), click the note following the grace notes to select it, type . (period) on the computer keyboard, then 2 on the keypad to select 16ths. Now use the computer keyboard or midi keyboard to input the grace note pitches. Very easy works every time. But I will try the new input technique! Always looking to streamline workflow. Thanks for the great post. John

  4. kb

    if I go to Sibelius >File > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts

    I _can_ select the Note Input tab from the Tab or Category list

    But I _can not_ select „Turn note into gracenote“ as this option is not available.
    I am using Sibelius 7.1.3

  5. Bob Zawalich

    I can’t find it in 7.1.3, either, though it is available in 7.5 in the Note input area of Keyboard Shortcuts.

    Changing to Standard shortcuts did not help. If I try reassigning the; to something else, it says it is assigned to Turn note to gracenote, so I can use the functionality, I just can’t reassign its shortcut.

    I am on Windows 7, and I know you and John are on Macs. I have a US English keyboard. Strange!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Bob, kb: I can’t find the option in 7.1.3 either. I’ve updated the post.

      Rob, John: Thanks for pointing out this method! It does not appear to be documented in the Reference anywhere. In fact, the Reference describes switching Keypad layouts as the “the quick way”. I’ve updated the post.

  6. Clarke Isackson

    After trying this out I am amazed. You can produce regular and chord grace notes with this procedure. I do not believe your can produce the chord-style doing the procedure explained in the book or John Hinchey’s approach (see above).

  7. Claude Voit

    for those who dont know where to find the shortcut in the keyboard shortcut maze, its in

    1. Philip Rothman

      Claude: Excellent detective work! I’ve updated the post.

  8. Barbara Lambert

    I’ve always thought grace notes were very easy to do in Sibelius- and often I use more than one, no problem, I change the value to a 16th or whatever. But 2 things I don’t like is that 1. I can’t put a slur from a grace note to a regular sized note. 2. I can’t put a grace note at the end of a bar and make it stay there. (it always goes to the following bar, which I don’t want. Any ideas from you experts?

  9. Alex

    Thank you! I found this article after listening to your podcast yesterday! (“Getting the notes in”, July 10, 2021). This was a revelation for me, after several years of inconvenient switching between the tabs of the Keypad. I was so surprised that I even paused the podcast playback to better realize this.

    But I still have a question.
    “Go to File > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts; select Note Input tab from the Tab or Category list; select Turn note into gracenote; choose your new shortcut”.

    But is it possible to configure it so that when the semicolon key ( ; ) is pressed, the acciaccatura is entered instead of appoggiatura which I almost never use?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Alex! I am glad you found this useful, and delighted that the podcast pointed you here. As far as I know, this shortcut is hardwired to work only for appoggiaturas; there’s not an obvious way to use it to turn notes into acciaccaturas using this method.

      1. Alex

        Yes, thanks for the answer. After I published my question, I re-read the article, and I realized that it contains the answer to my question. But maybe something has changed over the years.
        In any case, the method with pressing the ” / ” key still works better for me. So thanks again.
        By the way, I am from Russia. So they listen and read you there too.

        1. Philip Rothman

          That’s great, Alex! I always appreciate your comments and support.

          1. Alex

            Thank you. If there is a reason, I recommend your website to other people. For example, here is one of my posts on one of the forums.

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