Controlling Symbols, Hooks & Dashed Extension Lines in Sibelius & Finale

Q: I am currently studying Elaine Gould’s “Behind Bars” and on page 30 she states: “Terminate the octave transposition with a corner”. In Finale, octave lines seem to automatically end with a corner whereas in Sibelius the line finishes as a vertical stroke which the writer advises to avoid.

How can I make a proper corner at the end of the extension line in Sibelius, if at all possible?

A: Both Finale and Sibelius by default use line strokes rather than shapes to create both the horizontal extension line and the vertical end “hook” for the Octave up and Octave down symbols and other lines.

Both programs also allow the use of a Symbol to end a line, so you can end a line with an  arrowhead, corner or any other shape. The advantage of using vector lines for this is that it allows the engraver to precisely mate the line width of the extension line and the hook very precisely so that the line and hook appear to be an extension of the same line.

However, if you observe closely as you enter lines of varying lengths, you’ll notice that sometimes, you appear to get a proper “corner” and sometimes, the dashes don’t appear to connect with the line; the hook appears as a separate vertical line:

This is related to where in the Dash / Gap sequence the line is at any given length.  Lines of one length end with a dash, which mates with the hook to create a proper corner, as in the example on the left; a slightly longer or shorter line ends with a Gap, causing a separation with the hook.

So, how can we make the end of the extension line appear as a “corner” rather than as two separate elements?

The first and easiest solution is to simply increase or decrease the extension line’s length. Both Finale and Sibelius show a selection handle at the end of their extension lines, which you can drag left or right.

Look at it this way; if your dash and gap are both .5 spaces, you should never need to change the extension line’s length by more than .5 spaces to get the vertical hook and final dash to mate up as a corner.

Next, I would play with slightly moving the start point of the line before you change the line length. A half space or less can make the difference here. The point is that a very small horizontal change will allow you to change the end point of the line so that you have a proper corner. You are essentially splitting the difference with the alignment on both ends to arrive at something that is visually correct.

Sometimes, however, because of the circumstances, it isn’t possible to mate the horizontal dash and vertical hook exactly. So, let’s examine some other more drastic options, which we can hold in reserve:

If it works stylistically, for a special circumstance, you could make a copy of the existing line, then add a small increase to the distance between the end of the start symbol / text and the start of the extension line itself. For very precise measurements, a very small change, such as a quarter space can make the difference. By offsetting the start of the line relative to the starting symbol or text, with the text in its (new) proper position, you are changing the exact horizontal position where the extension line and hook mate up at the end to become a corner.

Since horizontal layout is most typically in flux earlier in the engraving process, you would typically only bother to create a custom line like this once the layout is “locked” into a final state, and you’ve tried the other options above.

In Sibelius, you can move the starting symbol to the left (use a negative number in the “spaces right” field), while in Finale you move the start of the line right using “Line Adjustments > Start H: > After Text ).

Both Finale and Sibelius also allow you to control the dash length, the distance between the dashes and the length of the vertical “hook” at the end of the extension line that forms the bracket. in Finale, the defaults (in spaces) are Dash .75sp, Gap .75sp and Hook .5sp. In Sibelius, the defaults are Dash .6sp, Gap .5 sp and Hook 1.5sp.

Sometimes, a small change in the Dash and Gap settings result in more corners happening automatically.

Finally, you can use a Symbol (e.g. font character) at the end of the extension line to create a proper corner. This method comes with some basic caveats. First, you have much less flexibility regarding line thickness. You can change both the font size of the end bracket character and the line thickness in both Finale and Sibelius, but the degree of control is not as exact.

Additionally, there is the problem of actually locating a font character you can use as this symbol. Sibelius has an “end bracket” symbol in the Conductor section of its Symbols, but it would only work over the staff, not under, and Finale has no such equivalent. There are various non-music symbol fonts that have these these shapes, but in the end, this is a pretty fussy way to get to something that is designed to be fairly simple and synchronized in both programs.

In summary, my recommendation would be to start by making subtle changes to the extension line length to get the proper corner for your extension lines.

Next, I would play with slightly moving the start point of the line, followed by readjusting the line length to create a proper corner. An adjustment of a half space or even less can make the difference here.

Finally, if you visually need the start point and end point to remain static, you can resort to making a custom copy of the line ith a slightly different amount of space between the end of the starting symbol and the extension line, which is just another way of distributing the space so things look correct and balanced.


for Michele Galvagno


2 Replies to “Controlling Symbols, Hooks & Dashed Extension Lines in Sibelius & Finale”

  1. Thank you so much, Robert!

    That clarified a lot concerning how to handle the situation. In the end I tried to take the best of both worlds because what was bothering me, actually, was the 1.5 space length of the hook in Sibelius. Once fixed it at 0.6 (= to the dash), the whole passage looked much lighter to look and therefore more agreeable to read.

    In Finale I see that the extension line of the 8va sign does not start on the top end of the ‘8va’ symbol, but in the middle, which makes it look somewhat crampy. For sure there is a hidden somewhere to fix, but being that I use Sibelius more than Finale by now I have for sure overlooked it.

    Thanks so much for your help!

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