Getting selective with filters

A coffee filter, yesterday. (Courtesy tonx on Flickr)

One of the axioms for efficient use of Sibelius is: “Copy, don’t re-input.” If you can copy and paste something rather than input it again, you’re going to save time. Sibelius provides many ways to copy and paste, including Alt+click, R to repeat something after itself, multicopy (to fill one or more staves with one or more copies of a selection), and good old-fashioned copy and paste.

All of the above methods affect what is pasted where, or how many times something should be pasted. But how do you change what is copied in the first place? That’s where filters come in.

Filters are one of the most powerful features in Sibelius, but possibly one of the most under-used. A filter is a way of reducing the current selection, leaving only objects that meet certain criteria selected. Typically this would mean taking a passage selection (surrounded by a single blue box), where everything attached to the staves in that selection is selected, and leaving only objects of a certain type selected, such as dynamics (hairpins and Expression text) or slurs, or even very specific things like notes on the first beat of the bar that also have a staccato articulation.

Sibelius provides a big dialog for designing your own filters, which you’ll find at Edit Filter > Advanced Filter, but we’ll leave discussion of that dialog box for another time.

In this brief tutorial, I want to demonstrate how the preset filters you will find below the Advanced Filter dialog in the Edit Filter submenu can help save you time as you work on your score. We call these presets quick filters.

There are four groups of quick filters in the submenu, separated by menu separators. Broadly speaking, the first group is for text of various kinds, the second group is for markings such as lines, tuplets, symbols and so on, the third group is for voices and notes in chords, and the final group is for separating multiple players on the same staff for the purposes of part extraction.

Let’s imagine a few simple tasks that are quicker to perform with filters than other methods.

Applying dynamics to multiple staves

You’re working on your magnum opus for orchestra whose forces will surpass those even of Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony. You’ve added the dynamics in your first piccolo part, but how to quickly add those same dynamics to the other 14 piccolo, flute, alto flute, bass flute and Thuringian nose flute staves playing the same phrase?

The answer is, of course, to use filters: simply select the passage in the first piccolo part containing the dynamics, then choose Edit Filter > Dynamics (or use the handy shortcut Shift+Alt+D): now only the Expression text and hairpins below the staff are selected.

To quickly apply these dynamics to the other staves, simply make a selection of the first bar in each of the other staves by clicking on the first, holding Shift and clicking on the last, then type Ctrl+V (Windows) or CommandV (Mac) to paste the dynamics onto all of the other staves in a single operation.

Extracting a melody from a chordal texture

As a crack orchestrator working for one of the world’s top film composers, you’ve received a piano sketch from your esteemed employer. How to quickly take that powerful melody from the right-hand chords and transfer it to the horns and trumpets?

Easy: select the passage containing the melody, and choose Edit Filter > Notes in Chords (For Copying) > Top Note or Single Notes. Now only the top note of each chord, or the single note if there is no chord at that position, is selected, ready for pasting into another staff.

Changing the appearance of tuplets

It’s late Friday afternoon and a warm pint of ale at your local hostelry is beckoning, but before you can put down your mouse for the weekend, more than fifty triplets in your latest jaunty radio jingle for the local carpet warehouse need to be adjusted ahead of the scoring session first thing tomorrow morning.

No matter: simply select the whole score, then choose Edit Filter > Tuplets, open the Properties window, expand the Notes panel, and change the bracket appearance to match your session conductor’s tastes.

Filters save you time

Yes, these have all been rather contrived examples, but hopefully the point is clear: filters save you time.

Do you have any particular favourite filtering techniques? Share them in the comments.


  1. Peter Roos, San Francisco

    Filters is a great feature indeed – saves a lot of time. I like the way you can quickly select one of two voices on a staff with multiple voices, or specific notes in staves with chords in one voice.

  2. Bob Zawalich

    Filtering is indeed, one of the more powerful things you can do with Sibelius; thanks for the tutorial, Daniel.

    One interesting feature of the Advanced Filter that justifies its increased complexity, is its ability to Deselect, rather than Select, the objects that match the filter. So you could select every notes that is *not* a quarter note, for example.

    There are also a number of specialized filtering plugins available for free from the Sibelius Plugin Download page in the Filter and Find category. If you can’t find the filter you want built-in, it could be worthwhile checking out the plugins.

  3. June

    Excellent post, thank you! I’m so grateful for these nuts and bolts posts. I wish you had a separate feed just for “using Sibelius” posts.

  4. Tim Parkin

    This is a great tutorial Daniel, and the use of filtering is I think my weekest area of knowledge across the whole Sibelius programme.

  5. Michael Stone

    I make a lot of lead sheets, and I like to filter the chord symbols to make them bigger and easier to read.

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