Finale : Feathered Beams in Cross-Staff Notation

Feathered Beams in Finale are straightforward to create in a single staff (see this tutorial).

However, creating feathered beams in a grand staff with cross-staff notation is a little more involved, so it seems like an excellent topic.

In this tutorial, we’ll examine several methods for creating cross-staff feathered beaming in Finale. Thanks to Peter Thomsen, Luke Dahn and Zuill for their contributions to this tutorial, and a shout out to Alexander Blank at Indiana University for bringing us all together on the OF NOTE blog!

A basic problem that occurs when creating cross-staff beaming in combination with feathered beams is that the feathered beams change width over their duration, but the stems remain at a constant length.  We wind up with some stems at an inappropriate length, sticking out from under the beam:

METHOD 1 – contributed by Zuill

1) Enter the notes in either staff, then use the Note Mover Tool to select specific notes and move them into the opposite staff.
2) Use the Secondary Beam Angle tool in Special Tools to create the feathered beam.
3) Hide the errant stems by masking the stem portions that stick over the beam. Create a new Staff Attached Text Expression with an opaque enclosure to do this.
This text “expression” can be a space character, but a text character isn’t necessarily required here. The Enclosure Designer itself defines the masked area, and has a number of options for creating a specific shape (e.g. diamond or triangle) and / or fixed size which can help you avoid the beams themselves:

For more information, see “Create White Space Where Text & Barlines Intersect.”

METHOD 2 – contributed by Peter Thomsen

1) Enter the notes in the lower staff, then, use the Secondary Beam Angle tool in Special Tools to create the feathered beam.

 2) Copy the contents of the lower staff into the upper staff. Adjust pitches as needed, and hide accidentals.

3) In the upper staff, using the Beam Width tool in Special Tools, set the beam width to zero.

4) In the lower staff, reverse the stemming in the last note in each beamed group.

5) Use the Custom Stem tool in Special Tools to replace un-needed stems with an empty shape.

 6) Use the Note Shape tool in Special Tools to replace un-needed noteheads with a space character (slot 32).

7) Finally in the upper staff, adjust the beam angle.

METHOD 3 – contributed by Peter Thomsen

1) Create the first beam group in the lower staff as in Method 2, using the Secondary Beam Angle tool in Special Tools to set the feathered beam angles. Then, using the Note Mover Tool, select specific notes in the lower staff to move them into the treble staff.

2) Break the beams at the end of the second beam group to move the last pair of notes (in Speedy Note, break the beam at the cursor point with the “/” key on the keypad).

3) As you did in the first half of the bar (step 1 above), use the Note Mover Tool to select this separated group of notes in the lower staff, and move them to the treble staff.

4) Use the Beam Width tool in Special Tools to set the beam width of the cross-staff notes to zero.

5) Lock the systems, apply music spacing and update the layout.

6) Adjust beam angle of the cross-staff notes.

7) Finally, in the lower staff, use the Beam Extension tool in Special Tools to lengthen the feathered beam.

METHOD 4 – contributed by Luke Dahn

Finally, this PDF walkthrough from composer Luke Dahn outlines a series of steps for yet another solution. This solution takes advantage of the fact that (a) A tuplet of virtually any ratio can be created in Finale and (b) the stems on quarter notes can be individually lengthened or shortened to the proper length relative to the feathered beam.

I’d like to hear from you. Do you have a solution for cross-staff feathered beaming that isn’t covered here? (I know, right?)

Thanks for reading! That’s it – that’s all there is to it.


5 Replies to “Finale : Feathered Beams in Cross-Staff Notation”

  1. Excellent walk through. I will suggest a nicety to enhance your cross-staff notation: unless the notes in the cross-staff beamed passage are going to line up with another part, it looks far better to align the stems evenly (or in the appropriate accelerating spacing) rather than the note heads.

    At the very least, back-to-back stems should be pulled apart and head-to-head stems should be drawn together.

    1. Yes, great point, Matthew. Thank you. If we are staying within Special Tools, a further step for any of these methods would be to use the Note Position tool to manually move the stems appropriately.


  2. Very interesting. Luke Dahl’s method is the most sophisticated, but they all share the problem (in Sibelius, too) that the stems [] should be equidistant. SCORE takes care of this with with its STUD (Stems Up And Down) command which renders the problem moot.

    I use a Mac, and I use the program Ruler to measure the distance between the first stem and the last, and it will allow me to step guide lines at certain intervals (after one has done the math to find the difference and divide by the number of stems). I can then, for example, in Sibelius, align a note’s stem with the guidelines using the Inspector. It’s a real pain and time-consuming, but the results look so much better. Is there a better way?



    1. Yes, you are absolutely correct, David. Thank you. A further finesse to any of these methods would be to adjust the distance between stems; either so they are equidistant, or, as Matthew states in his comment, stems that show appropriately accelerating spacing relative to the feathered beams.

      As you point out, in Sibelius, you can manually adjust the distance between stems using the Properties Panel (v6) or Inspector (v7). For equidistant stems, I’ve found that if I highlight all of the notes (except the first or the last depending on which side of the beam you are on) on one side of the beam, I can use the little arrow on the X offset in properties / inspector to change the positioning gradually – e.g. the stems slide over together until they appear the same distance apart. In Finale, it’s a similar proposition; the Note Position tool in Special tools allows individual manual adjustment of the the stem and associated notehead.

      But you are absolutely right; it certainly isn’t automated in either Finale or Sibelius.


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