Making tuplet fragments in Sibelius and Dorico


Have you listened to Thomas Adès’ Piano Quintet and now you want to use irrational time signatures? Or did you listen to In Seven Days and you’re vibing with split tuplets? Today we’re going to look at creating these in Sibelius and Dorico.

If you work with contemporary music a lot, you’ve probably come across irrational time signatures and split or incomplete tuplets. These are still fairly new, and there’s no standard notation for them; some scores will use a closed tuplet bracket over a smaller group (or, indeed, a larger group) of notes, and some will leave a time signature as the only indication of an irrational meter. Both of these approaches are valid. My preferred method, however, is to use an open-ended tuplet bracket to indicate the note durations have been altered but the implied tuplet is incomplete.

Let me first show you how to make this in Sibelius.

Making tuplet fragments in Sibelius

Here is a very important piece of music. We need an incomplete triplet bracket for the end of the third bar.

An important piece of music that in need of a tuplet fragment line

Making the number

First create a new text style (Text > Styles > Edit Text Styles, select Tuplets from the list and click New Text Style…). Rename it to something appropriate (like ‘Triplet fragment’), and base it on the existing Tuplets style (the box below the name). Uncheck all the properties down the left side of the Font tab — this will ensure the text style is always identical to the original tuplets style. Under the Border tab tick the box for Erase Background (this is so the line will break behind the number). You may need to experiment with the frame size later on, depending on the typeface you use.

Making the line

Make a new staff line based on Bracket above (start) (Notations > Lines > Edit Lines, select the bracket and click New…). Rename this too (‘Triplet fragment’ works well). Set the hook at the start to -1 spaces up to match the regular tuplets.

Now open Centered Text… and choose the new text style you just created. This is an interrupted triplet, so type “3”. The position will likely need tweaking, depending on your typeface.

Now that’s all done, you can add your new line style to your score; it should appear under Brackets (Notations > Lines > More, or shortcut L). Drag the end back (to taste) and you’re done!

A good-lookin' split tuplet


There are a couple of drawbacks, however. The first is this line will only work above the stave. You can make a new version for below the stave pretty quickly though — just create a second line based on the first, and set the hook to +1 instead. Make sure to rename it to something appropriate too. Then head to Appearance > Design and Position > Default Positions, find the new line on the left (remember to select Lines) and change Vertical position relative to staff to -4. Reset the position and it will move below the stave, where it can be tweaked.

The second drawback is this line is only for triplets. If you want quintuplets or septuplets or anything else you’ll need to define new line styles based on these. Nevertheless, these are some pretty handy lines to have if you want to write some interesting rhythms.

Split tuplets above and below the stave

Now let’s do the same thing in Dorico.

Making tuplet fragments in Dorico

The process to do this in Dorico is broadly the same as Sibelius. Here’s the same excerpt in Dorico:

The same excerpt, in Dorico

(Here’s a useful tip: you can type 3/4|2/6 in the Time Signatures popover to get a bar with the right time signature and a dotted barline — much easier than the workarounds in Sibelius. The “sixth-notes” will play back as standard crotchets/eighth-notes, but you can use hidden tempo marks if you care about playback.)

This time start by creating a new line: in Write mode open the Lines panel on the right, scroll down and click Edit Lines (it doesn’t matter whether you click this under Horizontal or Vertical — the Edit Lines dialog will open showing horizontal lines by default). Click the plus to create a new line, and again change the name to something sensible. The Body style should be Solid line body (thin) by default — this is good.

Creating Line Annotations

The hook and the number are called Line Annotations in Dorico, and we need to create both. Click Line Annotation Editor… and select the Hook category in the top left. Click the plus to create a new annotation (don’t forget to name it something sensible!) and set the length to 3/4 — this is the default hook length on tuplets in Dorico (if you’ve changed yours for any reason, change this too). Everything else (Line width: 1/8, Direction: Inward, Rotation: Aligned with axis) should be correct by default.

Hook settings for tuplet fragments in dorico

Now go to the Music Symbol category. This is where we’ll make the number. Click plus and a symbol creation dialog will appear; for Range choose Tuplets, select the 3 and click Add Glyph (bottom right). It should automatically be in the correct position by default, so click OK to go back to the Edit Line Annotations dialog.

Creating the triplet number for tuplet fragments in dorico

(It’s possible — and perhaps more intuitive — to make the number in the Text category, but the vertical alignment isn’t quite right; creating it as a Music Symbol is more accurate).

Make sure Vertical attachment is Center and Rotation is Aligned with axis, and increase both Gap on the left/right to 1/2 (to match the default gap on normal tuplets). Don’t forget to name this something sensible too! Then click OK.

Putting it together

Now we’ll add these annotations to our line. Change the Start cap to the hook you created. On the right column select Center Annotation and pick the number you created. If you want to completely replicate the default behaviour of tuplets change the Distance from staff line to 1/4. Everything else should be correct by default.

line settings for tuplet fragment in dorico

Your line is now ready! Go back into your score, select the notes you want to apply it to and find it in the Lines panel (remember to set both the start and end to Attach to rhythmic position).

As with Sibelius, this line will only work for interrupted triplets — you’ll need to create new lines for any other subdivision. Unlike Sibelius, however, the hook on this line will always point towards the stave so you can flip it below by selecting it and pressing F.

finished tuplet fragment in dorico

Job done!

I hope you’ve found this tutorial helpful, and feel more confident in your rhythmic adventures. Do you know how to do this in Finale or MuseScore? Let us know how in the comments below. Happy engraving!

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Editor’s note: The first half of this post was originally published on Luciano Williamson’s “Check Your Notes” blog as “Making tuplet fragments in Sibelius” and is re-published on Scoring Notes with kind permission.


  1. Quetzal Marchiori

    Another solution could be to make the last note of the tuplet invisible (the only problem then would be the end of the tuplet line).

  2. Jari Eskola

    Finally! I’ve been marvelling this since the 1990’s when I saw the ink-penned parts to Adès’s Powder Her Face. Thank you, a great post.

  3. Bob Zawalich

    Great article – thanks for the information.

    In Sibelius, I believe that if you use such lines you will need to hide the original tuplet bracket and tuplet number (In the Inspector changing tuplet properties or by selecting the tuplet bracket and number and hiding them), before adding the line.

    To use the altered line in multiple scores you can either export a House Style that contains the line, and import it into other scores or Manuscript Papers, or copy the line in a score where it is defined into your score to transfer the definition to the new score.

    It is too bad that tuplets don’t have a “Line Style” the way Lines do. If that were true (and if you could change the Line Style on the fly the way you can do Text Styles), one could simply define new lines styles based on the original Tuplet Line style, and swap them in. In effect, a Tuplet currently uses the line style “Tuplet”, so you can redefine that line style and the change will show up in all tuplets. But you can’t have different tuplets use different line styles. Having that would make lots of things easier – for one thing you would not need a different line for every tuplet number/format.

  4. Bob Zawalich

    And one more idea: In the Tuplets Over Barlines plugin we needed fake tuplet brackets and numbers for the composite tuplets, and the tuplet numbers could be almost anything. We used normal bracket lines for the line portion, and then used text objects with a custom text style that included Erase Background for the numbers. I believe we may have had to play with the draw order as well to ensure that the text was always on top of the line, which was a problem in PDFs but not printouts.

    You could apply that same idea here if you needed multiple numbers. You end up needing to position 2 objects (Line and Text), and worry about them moving when positions are reset, but you really only need to have a single custom object for the Erase Background property, and lines with missing end hooks.

    You win a few, and you lose a few…

  5. Bob Zawalich

    And there is always the “Use a white graphic or text object or box line and drag it over the end of the tuplet line” technique as well. It too involves a separate object that can be misplaced, but so do all the other techniques, and in this case the tuplet itself would stay in place.

    Or, you could redefine the Tuplet Text Style to include Erase Background. Then have the tuplets display the number but no bracket, and use the line you created with no hooks as appropriate. the number would stay in place, it could be anything, and the line would be overriden where the text was displayed.

    The possibilities are endless! But I will stop now :)

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