Studio-style bar numbers in Sibelius


Placing bar numbers on every bar of your score can save precious seconds of rehearsal time. Think about every time a conductor can just say “bar 17” instead of silently counting from the beginning of a system “14, 15, 16, 17” or “After A, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6”. With rehearsal and studio time at a premium, fewer seconds counting bar numbers means more time rehearsing and recording.

Having bar numbers on every bar helps reduce errors for everyone else looking at a score as well, like the composer, orchestrator, and recording engineer.

While the particular style is of secondary importance to having them present in the first place, one convention has emerged to place bar numbers on their own non-playing staff, boxed, with a single line, like in this score (replete with conductor markings):

Whether this style suits your score or not is up to you, but here’s how to create it in Sibelius. (I discuss how to create these in Finale in another post.)

In your score, go to Home > Instruments > Edit Instruments (click the dialog launcher — that downwards right-pointing arrow).

Choose All Instruments > Others > Unnamed (treble staff) and click Edit Instrument…

For the Name in dialogs, type Bar numbers. You can call this anything you like, but Bar numbers seems more appropriate than, say, “Bananas,” since it will help you find it later.

Click Edit Staff Type… and, in the General tab, set Number of staff lines to 1. Uncheck Initial clef and Key signatures / Tuning.

Click the Notes and Rests tab and, under Note Properties, uncheck Bar rests.

Click OK, OK, and Close. You haven’t actually created anything in your score yet, but you’ve now defined the Bar numbers “instrument” that you can place in the score, which we’ll do now.

Go to Home > Instruments > Add or Remove or simply press I to open the Add or Remove Instruments dialog.

Find the Bar numbers instrument in the Add Instrument list — you can simply type Bar numbers in the Find box to easily find it — and add it to your score in the usual way, moving it up or down depending on where you want to place it in your score.

Click OK.

Next, head over to Appearance > Engraving Rules > Bar numbers and tell Sibelius to use the following settings:

  • Frequency: Every 1 bar
  • Show on first bar of sections checked
  • Show on Staves > Specific staves: Select the [Bar numbers] staff that you’ve added to your score (it’s in square brackets because it’s not a named staff — that’s ok)
  • Horizontal Position: Center in the bar checked
  • Vertical Position: Either Above middle of staff or Below middle of staff, and you may have to experiment with the Relative to staff value depending on the metrics of your font.

Next, click Edit Text Style… to go edit the Bar numbers text style. Choose a font and style you like. In the Border tab, be sure to check Boxed and Erase background, and adjust the Size as needed.

Here are my settings, which I’m currently using for the score to the premiere of David Newman’s Matilda, live in concert with the Houston Symphony next month:

Almost done! You may notice that the staff line is appearing through the bar number.

To fix this, we have to make use of Sibelius’s drawing order capabilities, which we made extensive use of in our last post about headers.

Go to Layout > Magnetic Layout > Magnetic Layout Options (the dialog launcher), and change the Order of Bar number to 31 (actually, anything 15 or higher will work).

Enjoy your new studio-style bar numbers:

It seems like a lot of work, and it is, at least the first time you set it up. The good news is that you can save this in your house style or manuscript paper for future use in any score.

At least it’s less onerous than the old way of manually writing or stamping bar numbers on every bar, like in this score:


  1. Derek Williams

    This is great Philip, thanks, and I will use it a lot. Word to the Sibelius development team: it would be useful to be able to shortcut all the above steps and select as a feature in its own right, perhaps on the Notations or Text tab of the Ribbon.

  2. Peter Roos

    Nice – thanks Philip.

  3. Judith Markovich

    The agonies of collision are over! Masterfully presented, Phillip. Thanks so much.

  4. William Kay

    Brilliant tip, which is also a good reminder of what the software can do if you dig a little below the surface!

  5. Philip Rothman

    Thanks, everyone – I’m glad you found this useful!

  6. Rex Thomas

    VERY cool!

  7. André

    Thanks, Philip. I created it for my own scores.

  8. Peter Roos

    Hi Philip:

    Quick follow up question: can I combine this with another another bar numbering style?


    ps note to self: if you add another bar numbering instrument to the staff, in order for the bar numbers to show up, make sure that in Engraving Rules > Bar Numbers > Show on Staves, all bar number staves are highlighted.

    1. Philip Rothman

      In Finale, yes; in Sibelius, no (AFAIK)

  9. Disjt

    Thanks for the great tip!
    My tip:
    it’s inconvenient to have time signatures showing in the bar-numbers instrument, so tick the ‘Used for Ossias’ in the Edit Staff Type dialog (bottom-left)

  10. Dave

    Great tip! So after doing this, the bar numbers are also showing up in individual parts – is there a way to not have them appear in parts once this is done to score? Many thanks!

    1. Dike

      You can export the parts separately and delete them. That way they won’t show up in the full score.

    2. Rod

      Dave, Did you ever get a solution to this?

  11. Brian Solomons

    Great post – has really tidied up my orchestral score. Thanks so much.

  12. Ruben Grit

    Thank you! I have a question. What does the circle with the cross mean? and the mark green?

  13. Gavin Worland

    Hey! So I have the barlines below my big band score which is great but they also show up in the middle of my top part (Reed 1) was there something I missed that I have that because I only want it at the bottom! Thanks

  14. Jeremy

    I have the same question as Gavin. My bars are showing up in the regular area of the score but also in my top line woodwind part. What’s the fix?

  15. Carl Williams

    Great article, thanks. BUT!!! All regular bar numbers in parts now have boxes even though they’re configured differently. If I remove those boxes, it removes the boxed bar numbers from the score. DOH!!!

    1. Alex

      Carl, if you do not want a boxed bar numbers in parts, go to Parts/Part Appearance/All Parts/House Style and under the Bar number text style choose – Bar Numbers (Parts). This will get the Regular Bars Numbers in All Parts.

  16. Dabney

    Does anyone have a work-around for the compulsory 1st staff issue with System Object Positions?
    The ossia thing fixes the time signatures, but you still have to select the 2nd object if you want time sigs on the first “actual” staff (large ones for film scores)—which causes things like tempos to show up twice at the top.

  17. Trevor Lee Jensen

    Hi. This worked okay, however, there is a line that connects the instruments to the bar numbers, but only on the LHS. How do I get rid of that line. It is definitely annoying.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *