Working with instrument names in Sibelius

Tips

When you first set up a score in Sibelius, the names of the instruments are automatically assigned when the score is created. If you’re writing, say, for classical orchestra, you’ll get the full name of each instrument at the left of the first system, and abbreviated names thereafter. Even if you think you’ll never need to change these from their defaults, chances are you’ll want to make an adjustment sooner or later. Luckily, there are a number of tools and tricks available for you to do so.

Double-click to change an instrument name…

Any instrument name can be easily changed by simply double-clicking on its name and typing in something else. For instance, you can double-click on “Violoncello” and replace it with “Cello”, or change “Soprano” to “Brünnhilde”. (And, as of Sibelius 2020.9, navigating among instrument names was made easier using Ctrl/Command+Shift++ and Ctrl/Command+Shift+-  to navigate among instrument names. One extra benefit is that it’s easier to select an instrument name without any text in it via this method.)

There are two places you may need to make the change: the full name at the start of the first system, and the short, abbreviated name that appears on every subsequent system. For example, changing, say, “S.” to “Brü.” at the start of the second system, or indeed any system after the first system, will affect all systems—you don’t need to make multiple changes.

If you don’t want the abbreviated name to show at all on subsequent staves (like for a string quartet where the instrumentation is obvious), go to Appearance > Engraving Rules > Instruments. Under Instrument Names, switch Subsequently to None.

…but if you want to change the actual instrument or its transposition, use an Instrument Change instead

It’s important to remember that simply changing the name of the instrument doesn’t actually change the instrument. As an extreme example, you can re-name “Trumpets in Bb” to “Bananas”, but Sibelius will still regard your starchy fruit as a veritable brass instrument.

More seriously, simply re-naming “Trumpets in Bb” to “Trumpets in C” isn’t good enough. You need to make an instrument change for this. To do this:

  • Select the portion of the staff you want to change to a different instrument (or triple-click the staff to select the staff for the entire piece)
  • Go to Home > Instruments > Change
  • Select your new instrument from the Instrument Change dialog, and click OK

You will find that Sibelius not only automatically changes the name of your instrument, but it also changes its transposition, and even its sound, if, say, you’re using this feature to double a sax part in a clarinet part.

instrument change

Get fancy

Let’s stick with our bananas — uh, trumpets. If you have two trumpets sharing a staff, you could well type “2 Trumpets in C” or “Trumpets 1&2 in C”. But you can kick it up a notch by doing this:

trumpet

The key is to realize that instrument names are text styles and are controlled like any other style: by going to Text > Styles > Edit Text Styles (click the downwards right-pointing arrow to launch the Edit Text Styles dialog). Select the Instrument names style and click Edit… and change the Line spacing to 50%:

text-style-instrument

OK out of the dialogs. Double-click on your instrument name in the score to change it by typing:

1 Return Trumpets in C space space space Return 2

Once you get the hang of that, you can do something similar for short names and other instruments in your score. Keep in mind that you will need to add an extra Return to any instrument names that span more than one line.

Incidentally: if we back up to the Edit Text Styles dialog for moment, and click on the Horizontal Posn tab, you’ll find the option to left-justify, center, or right-justify your instrument names:

horiz-posn

Double-clicking is tedious: Use a plug-in instead

Double-clicking to change the occasional instrument name is no big deal. But what if you want to change all of them in your score?

You need Bob Zawalich’s Edit Instrument Names, or its more sophisticated cousin, Edit Part Instrument Names.

Edit Instrument Names allows you to change all the instrument names in your score in one dialog. Edit Part Instrument Names is similar, although it provides for instances in which you would want the name of your part to be different than its corresponding name in the score.

edit-part-instrument-names

A video tutorial on using plug-ins, including Edit Part Instrument Names demonstrates this concept further beginning at about the 6-minute mark.

You can, of course, use tokens to apply formatting changes to your instrument names from right within the plug-in.

Edit Instrument Names, and Edit Part Instrument Names may be downloaded directly through Sibelius 7 or later at File > Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins > Text. Users may also install them manually in Sibelius 6 by visiting the plug-in download page and following the usual manual installation procedure, or by using the Install New Plug-in plug-in.

If you have a need to reiterate the name of your instruments from within the score often, for $2 pick up Roman Molino Dunn’s Add Instrument Names To Staves. It can process multiple staves in a selection and can be a useful time-saver if you do this sort of thing often.

Learn how to do it in Finale

Now you know the ins and outs of instrument changes in Sibelius — but your next gig is in Finale! No sweat; head on over to the excellent blog of my colleague Robert Puff, and he’ll walk you through the steps to get similar results in that program.

Comments

  1. John Hinchey

    Great post! I use the Edit Instruments Names plugin all the time, I have it on a key stroke it is so handy!

  2. Bob Zawalich

    Thanks for the great post, Philip. I also enjoyed looking at your video, which I had somehow missed before. It makes getting and installing plugins a little less scary!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, John and Bob!

  3. Ron Puente

    Philip:
    Yet another great post! Thank you for sharing your wealth of information.

    Ron

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Ron!

  4. Engela Fullard

    Fantastic post, thank you. I’ve just updated my plug-ins and will be using them for sure!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Engela!

  5. Paul Mansky

    I am trying to do exactly what is being discussed here, in Sibelius 7 First, but the only options shown in Home>Instruments are “Add or Remove” and “Transposing Score”. Is this feature not enabled in First?

    Thanks from a newb…

    1. tom

      Same problem here. Home >Instruments>No options to change existing instruments.

  6. Paul Mansky

    …meaning – I am trying to change the instrument in the middle of a part, from alto sax to flute, for a player who is doubling & changing instruments in the middle of the piece.

  7. Hedd Thomas

    I have a problem with instrument names that I can’t solve. All my strings are divisi throughout and I want to have Violins I, Violins II, etc., between the two staves, which I’ve successfully done by creating an extra staff underneath the first. However, I also want to have Decks 1-6 in line with the upper and Decks 7-12 in line with the lower. How can I do this? It seems impossible to give each individual staff its own instrument name and also give pairs of staves a shared name, but this has always been a common engraving technique for divisi strings, especially in Romantic music. Thanks!

  8. Helen Thomson

    Hi there

    I am using Sibelius First, latest version as of June 2016, and I don’t appear to be able to access the dialog you’re talking about at home -> instruments -> change instrument. I can add or remove, and I can turn transposing score on or off, and that appears to be it – which is disastrous, because at the moment my imported 7-part vocal .xml score has the bass part playing at the correct pitch but displaying up the octave :(, and I don’t appear to be able to access the one dialog that would allow me to fix it. Can you help?? Thanks in advance…

  9. BobK

    Double clicking next to the left of the staff doesn’t do anything in my program. Therefore, I can’t add or change any instrument names. If I double right click I get a pull down menu. Some of the options will let me add an instrument name but it is placed above the staff and not to the left of it.

    This should be a no brainer process but it isn’t. Why doesn’t Sibelius just have a text mode where you type the text then move it to where you want it like most other programs do? Why the specific locations and processes that you have to go through to add simple text labels? By the way I’m using Version 7.5.

  10. Jorge

    Is there any way to use images instead of the instrument names? Like for example Orff symbols?
    Thanks

    1. Philip Rothman

      If the symbols exist in a font, you could use them.

  11. Samuli

    Hello,

    In the stacked intrument labelling style, how would you label the staves when having three trumpets in a score, 1 and 2 sharing a staff and 3 on its own staff?

    Trumpet 3 in C or
    Trumpet in C 3 or neither?

    Thanks for help. (Are there any example scores using the stacked number style available to view, with full and short instrument names?)

  12. Kathy

    Very helpful. I needed to add instrument names to my score, and adjusting the Instruments in Engraving Rules worked perfectly. Thank you!

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