Advanced selection techniques in Sibelius

A selection of chocolates, yesterday. (Courtesy Chocolate Reviews on Flickr)

In this guest post, Bruce Munson, explains some of the advanced selection techniques you can employ in Sibelius. Bruce is a composer, arranger, copyist and Sibelius trainer, based in the San Francisco bay area, and runs regular training sessions for beginners, intermediate and advanced users at various venues in California and around the US. For more details about upcoming training courses, please check Bruce’s web site.

From when I first started teaching Sibelius in 2000, to the present, I have come to the opinion that one of the things that most slows down the use of the software is one not being able to select material correctly and quickly. Selection is very important in the software, and you will be doing a lot of it, so it is important to be quick at it. This is why, in Sibelius, selection is part of the undo and redo history, and why undo and redo are very powerful in the software. So I very much emphasize basic selection techniques in my Beginning to Intermediate Sibelius workshop. In my Intermediate to Advanced workshops, I always like to throw in a few of the more advanced tips, some of which I have listed below. Enjoy!

Selection for Copying

All Sibelius users should know that to quickly copy notes or objects like text or lines, one simply selects the desired notes or object (s) and then Alt or Opt clicks on the desired position in the destination bar (although in the many trainings that I have done around the country, I’m still surprised how many users do not know this!) The result of selecting and then Altor Opt-clicking objects (rather than notes) is that the selection is copied exactly to where one clicks the mouse, both vertically and horizontally.

What users may not know about quick copying is that if one is attempting to copy an object like an expression mark and adds Shift to Alt or Opt when clicking, the result is that the selection is copied to its default vertical position. This is very useful when quick copying text objects like dynamic marks around a score because one does not need to be careful about where one clicks vertically, and there will be fewer markings that will require repositioning after copying.

Now, even fewer users will know this: if one multiple selects a number of objects in a staff that have been moved to a vertical and horizontal position different from the default, and then Alt or Opt clicks into another position in the score, the result is that the objects are copied with their vertical and horizontal position in memory. Here is an example:

1. In a multiple instrument score, create a p expression mark followed by a crescendo line, f, diminuendo, and a final p.
2. Multiple select (click the first object, and then Ctrl- or Command-click the rest) all of the objects and use Ctrl+ or Command+down arrow keys to move all the objects down a bit all at once.
3. Then use the right arrow to move them to the right a bit
4. With the objects still selected, Alt– or Opt-click into the same horizontal position in another instrument staff in the score.

You will see that the copied objects in the destination staff retain the same vertical and horizontal position relative to the staff as the objects in the source staff. Turn on Selection Rulers or Object Rulers to confirm the vertical position: View > Rulers > Object Rulers. The Magnetic Layout vertical group line will confirm the horizontal position.

Selection for Editing

I always say the following in my Beginning to Intermediate Sibelius workshop:

“How one selects things in Sibelius often determines what one can do with the contents of that selection.”

A clear example of this is selecting bars by simply clicking in the bar with the mouse or Ctrl+ or Command+clicking in the bar with the mouse. The first, with the single blue marquis (Sibelius 6 or earlier) or blue highlight (Sibelius 7), is mainly for the purpose of editing; and the second, with the double purple marquis (Sibelius 6) or purple highlight (Sibelius 7) is mainly for the purpose of deleting bars.

But there are other interesting examples such as this one: if one selects a single note with an accidental by clicking on just the notehead (so it turns blue), and then uses the arrow keys to move it up or down, the accidental disappears. However, if one selects a passage of notes with accidentals so that there is a blue marquee (v6) or highlight (v7) around or on the passage, and then moves them all with the arrow keys, the accidentals remain, maintaining their intervallic relationships: two different ways of selecting, two different visual cues, two different results when editing.

So the question is: if I want to move just one note and have the accidental remain, how do I select it so that it has the blue marquee (v6) or the blue highlight (v7) on it? As we have seen, selecting just the notehead does not give us the desired result. The answer? Simply passage select the single note by clicking on it and then Shift-clicking on it, or use the following keyboard shortcut and mouse-sweep the notehead: Shift or Command mouse-sweep, starting outside the staff. Either way, the single note will now have a blue marquee around it (v6), or it will have the new v7 highlight on it! Now it can be moved with the arrow keys, maintaining the accidental.

Another type of selection having to do with editing involves editing accidentals. For example, if you have a passage of notes that are all G-flats, outside the key, and you decide they should all be G-naturals, or maybe you want to copy the passage to a place where they are all G-naturals, clicking on the first notehead and turning off the flat causes the next note to have the flat accidental. This is purposeful, as it allows one to edit just one accidental, leaving all notes after the edit unchanged. But if one wanted what we first started out to accomplish, it would be very frustrating to have to click and edit each note! Instead, make a passage selection of all the G-flats and then click the natural from the Keypad or hit 7 on the numeric keypad. You can also use this method to add flats or sharps to a selection.

Finally, one should be aware of the ability to edit over hidden staves: when creating scores with divisi staves, it is usually necessary to create additional staves for the divisi instruments so that the divisi instruments have separate parts. Once these staves are created and the music is copied and edited for the individual parts. One hides the music (Show in Parts) and then hides the individual part staves so that they do not appear in the score.

If there is additional editing needed to be done to the score after the separate part staves have been created, one does not always have to go into Panorama view to edit the hidden staves. It really depends on what the edit is. For example, if the edit is to remove all the slurs in a passage across all the instruments in the score, one can remain in page view, select all the visible instruments in the score by making a lasso passage selection across the material, filter slurs and hit delete. Because a passage selection has been made, the slurs will be deleted from the hidden staves as well.

Note Selection: non-mouse

Once one is in the score with something selected, one can easily select notes or bars without using the mouse:

1. To select to the right by note, simply use the shortcut: Shift-right arrow. To select to the left, use Shift-left arrow. This not universal (not in Word) as universally, Shift-left arrow would unselect. But because undo unselects in Sibelius, this is not needed and the key stroke is allocated to select to the left: very cool!
2. To select by bar, simply add Ctrl or Command to Shift+left or right arrow, as Ctrl or Command is the modifier for “more”.
3. To select vertically, either up or down, use Shift-up or down arrow.

Selection While Navigating Vertically

To navigate vertically through notes of a chord and instruments in a score, do the following:

1. Select a note in a chord and use Altor Opt-up or down arrow to navigate through the notes in a chord. The last Altor Opt-up or down arrow will select the handle of the stem.
2. To continue on to the next instrument above or below, add Ctrl or Command to Alt– or Opt-up or down arrow.

Selection for Navigating Objects

Often, objects such as slur lines and hairpins are positioned such that it is difficult to select, with the mouse, the handles that allow for adjustments to those objects. And besides, one should be using the mouse less anyway! So it is good to know the following non-mouse methods of selection:

1. If you hit Tab with nothing selected in the score, the first handle of the first object attached to the first note in the first staff of the score will be selected.
2. The next Tab will take one to the first handle of the second object, and so on until one runs out of objects and then the actual notehead that the objects are attached to becomes selected. The next Tab takes one on to the first handle of the first object attached to the second note in the same staff. – and so on.
3. ShiftTab takes one in the opposite direction, as Shift is the modifier for “opposite”.
4. Once an object handle is selected, one can navigate all of the object’s handles by using Alt– or Opt-right arrow. Left arrow will take you in the opposite direction. Once one runs out of handles, the selection moves on to the note all of the objects are attached to – and so on.

Selection for Avoiding a Lines Problem

In earlier versions of Sibelius, if one wanted to quickly put a crescendo or diminuendo line across an entire system in a staff, one would double-click in the staff to select the staff for the system and then hit H for a crescendo, or ShiftH for a diminuendo. The problem was that, when doing this, the line would extend beyond the system and on to just the start of the next system, and there was no way to easily correct this. This problem with the hairpin lines was addressed in a later version of Sibelius, but other lines, such as repeat ending lines and octave lines, still behave this way. Two questions: why is this happening, and how can one keep it from happening? The answer to the first question gives one the answer to the second:

The reason the line extends beyond the system is that the blue marquee (v6) or highlight (v7) extends just a little beyond the last barline in the system. Thus the line extends on to the next system. To keep this from happening, logically, one would need to make sure that when selecting, the marquee or highlight does not extend beyond the final barline. So, select the following way: Click in the first bar of the system and then Shift-click (passage selection) on the last note or rest in the final bar of the system. This way, the marquee or highlight will not extend beyond the last barline in the system. Then simply select the line from the Lines menu.

Selection for Editing Text Styles

When editing text styles, sometimes one is not sure which text style the text object in question belongs to. Furthermore, when importing house styles, sometimes the same text style can be duplicated, and one is not sure which instance of the same text style is in view or selected. To determine which text style one is working with, one can select it and go to the Text tab of Properties (v6), or open the Text tab on the ribbon (v7) and the text style will be listed in the text style menu.

But one can avoid this identification step completely by simply selecting the text and going to: House Styles > Edit Text Styles (v6) or clicking the dialog launcher button in the corner of the Text > Styles group in the ribbon (v7; in both versions the shortcut is Ctrl+Shift+Alt+T or ShiftOptCommandT). Once the dialogue opens up, you will see that the correct text style of the piece of text that is selected will be highlighted and ready for editing.

Selection for Going to and from Panorama, and to and from Score and Part, Maintaining Selection in View

Often, one wants to go back and forth from page view to Panorama view with the same selection in both views. This is also the case when going from score to part. By default, Sibelius does a pretty good job of making sure a bar selected in Page view remains in view when going to Panorama view and back, and the same with going from score to part and back. This is because by default, Follow selection is turned on, on the Score Position page of Preferences.

However, sometimes when entering notes or editing, it is better to have Follow selection turned off, particularly when in page view, so that the score does not unwantedly move or advance to the next page. But when Follow selection is turned off, selection views are not always maintained when going in and out of Panorama and switching from score to part. If you have Follow selection turned off and still want to get the same selection in view whether you are in Panorama or Page view, or in a score or part, then simply zoom in or zoom out: hold Ctrl or Command and type + or . This works because in Sibelius, zooming in or out automatically centers in on the selection, even if it is not in view. This method can also be used when Follow selection is turned on and the selection is on the far right or left of the screen. Finally, if you have an optimized score (i.e. empty staves are hidden) and you have an empty bar selected in Panorama, then switch to page view, the bar may or may not be selected when going to page view as the staff could be hidden at that point due to optimization.


  1. Joe Keefe

    Great tips; thanks. I will use the post as a reference and try to use these more in my Sibelius work.

  2. Mike Philcox

    I already used the Sibelius’s great option-clicking feature but learned several new details (like selecting a note either with or without its accidental, for example) that will be very useful. Thank you.

  3. Mike Crowl

    There were several things I knew here, Daniel; things that I’ve been using for some time. But there’s always one more step or one more trick – and often it’s the very thing you wished was possible to do. I’m going to put this post on Evernote so I have it handy when I need it next!

  4. John Miller

    Advanced Filter: dynamics are selected by setting Find = Text and Specific Text Styles = Expression

    That’s the answer, the question was the “how do you select just dynamic markings using Sibelius’ Advanced Filter”

    …and make sure all the other Find: checkboxes are unchecked (note: I’m relatively new at advanced filtering.)

    Since I found this page by googling with this search string: ‘sibelius how to select only dynamic markings’, I thought I’d post this for people searching for similar information.

  5. Johan

    I use Sib 7 and can’t solve the problem of moving single notes horizontally without moving all the others in the bar/system. I have 2 voices having a wholenote on the same pitch. One is visible but not the other. In Sib 6 I could move a single note in “General”-menu. What do I do now?

    1. Philip Rothman

      If you select the note and go to Home > Inspector you’ll find the same settings you used in Sibelius 6’s Properties window.

  6. Dean Thiessen

    I am using Sibelius 7 and have what you call “follow selection” turned on. Every time I input a note the whole view shifts to put it in the middle of the screen. I remember turning this ‘on’ cause I thought it might be handy, but now it is driving me crazy and i can’t remember how to turn it off. Help?

  7. Carl

    Hi I’m using Sibelius First. In order to use shape notes I have to individually select the notes and change the notehead. Is there a way of selecting all the notes on a certain pitch and change the noteheads all at once.

  8. Lily

    Question for you: When you have a note in a chord selected and you just use the right or left arrow keys to move along the line horizontally, Sibelius always automatically goes to the top note in the next chord. How do you move horizontally within the chord? Say from middle note to middle note or from bottom note to bottom note without using the mouse every time?


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