Make certain noteheads smaller or larger in Finale or Sibelius


My friend Steve Reading of Scores Reformed is making the stateside rounds this week, and he dropped by the shop to geek out with me about all things music notation and technology. Among our discussions was finding a way to get certain noteheads to appear slightly smaller or larger in Sibelius.


This task is quite straightforward in Finale, so I’ll start there. Simply select the passage, and run the Resize Noteheads plug-in, found in Plug-ins > Note, Beam, and Rest Editing.

For example, let’s say I wish to resize the bottom note of a chord to a very specific percentage, say, 59% for whatever reason. I would run the plug-in and enter the following settings in the dialog:


The result would be:


I could have also used the Resize Tool and clicked each individual note, or run Jari Williamsson’s JW Change plug-in to accomplish the same task.


In Sibelius, the out-of-the box options are more limited. There is a small notehead style that you can use, but you can’t easily change its percentage. Still, it’s better than nothing, so let’s explore that first.

Select the passage, then, if necessary, filter the notes you wish to change. In this example, to filter the bottom notes, go to Home > Filter > Bottom Note or Single Notes. Then, to change the notehead size of these notes, go to Notations > Noteheads > Type and select Small from the gallery.

Here’s the result:


That might be good enough for you, but what if you need a very specific percentage reduction? To do that, you’ll need to do some extra work.

First, go to Text > Styles > Edit Text Styles and select Common symbols. Click New Text Style… and click Yes, you’re sure you want to create a new text style that copies the settings.

Name your new text style something logical, like Common symbols (custom small). I happen to want my custom style to be 59% of the default size. The default size in Sibelius is 19.5 pt., so 59% of that is 11.5 pt., which is what I’ve entered for both Size in score and Size in parts.


Once you’ve done that, close out of the dialogs, and move on to the next step, which is to create custom symbols that can be used in a custom notehead style. Go to Notations > Symbols > Edit Symbols. Click New…

Name this new symbol Quarter note (custom small). Select your freshly made Common symbols (custom small) text style from the Music font list, and then select the quarter notehead (or enter 207 where it says Number:).


Click OK, and repeat the process each for a half notehead, whole notehead, and double whole notehead. (The respective symbol numbers are: half=250; whole=119; double whole=87.)

If all goes well, you’ll have a nice collection of “custom small” notehead symbols in the User-defined category of the Symbol dialog:


Now, it’s time to define a custom notehead style that uses these symbols. Go to Notations > Noteheads > Edit Noteheads and click New…

Let’s be consistent and name our new notehead style Custom small. Select the quarter note and click Change Symbol… and choose our nice new Quarter note (custom small) from the User-defined category.

Do the name for the other noteheads, and you should have a dialog that looks like this:


Click OK, then Close. Now we can finally use this new notehead style! Woohoo!

As we did at the very beginning of the Sibelius section of this tutorial, select the passage, then, if necessary, filter the notes you wish to change. In this example, to filter the bottom notes, go to Home > Filter > Bottom Note or Single Notes. To change the notehead size of these notes to our newly created style, go to Notations > Noteheads > Type and select Custom small from the bottom of the gallery.

Here’s the result:


In Steve’s case, he was actually looking to make some noteheads that were just a fraction of a size smaller than the default — around 95% or so, to allow for a little more white space around the notes. The good news is, if you’ll only need one of these custom sizes in a document, you don’t have to go through this whole process again.

Simply go to Text > Styles > Edit Text Styles and select the Common symbols (custom small) text style that we created. Change the point size for both score and parts to something else; for example, 95% of the default size of 19.5 pt is 18.5. Using Notations > Noteheads > Type > Custom small, you can change certain noteheads wherever you like. Here’s the before (100%) and after (95%):


Making custom notehead sizes in Sibelius is not for the faint of heart, but once you’ve done it once, you can export this as a house style (Appearance > House Style > Export) and import it into any document you like.

Or, here’s a nifty trick: You don’t even have to export the house style. Simply copy a passage that uses your custom noteheads and paste it into another document. All the attendant custom symbols and text styles from your source will transfer over into your destination document.

With that, Steve and I headed to lunch, but not before we started a new trend. #copyistselfies, anyone?




  1. Gordon Penny

    Thanks for the insightful advice. I will be making use of this feature, that’s for sure! Thanks again. Oh, and nice selfie! Lol

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Gordon! Our Sibelius and Finale skills are better than our photography skills, that’s for sure!

  2. John

    Thanks for the info

  3. Engela Fullard

    Developers will hopefully find a way to simplify this rather clumsy process (in Sibelius)

  4. michele maggiani

    You should allow to choose a “total” notehead value directly in “Typography Rules” as we do for the thickness of staff lines and save that all in House Styles.
    Many thanks and best regards.

  5. Scott

    Hey. Thanks for this tip!

    I have a question. After this has been applied, how do you handle accidentals attached to the reduced note being too large? I have some notes in parentheses with accidentals attached to them and when I apply the reduced cue size note the accidental in front of it is huge!


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