How to create an AMBITUS in Sibelius 7 (part 1)

An Ambitus (sometimes anglicized to ambit) is mostly found in vocal and some instrumental scores from the Medieval/Renaissance period and it is a notational representation placed just before the clef in the modern multiple-staves system, indicating the note range for a given voice or the pitch range that a musical instrument is capable of playing (See score extract below).

Ambitus 01-1

In order to demonstrate how to effectively create an Ambitus in Sibelius 7, I am going to use as example the above musical extract “Astiterunt reges terrae – Septimum responsorium, Sabbato Sancto” by Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611).

♦ To begin, create a standard vocal score for SATB (soprano, alto, tenor and bass), then add a key signature with 1 flat “b” and a time signature of 1/4 to the first bar of the score followed by a time signature of 4/2 to the second bar.

Ambitus 01-2

Side note:

In the Medieval/Renaissance period, when the mensural notation system was in vogue, four basic mensuration signs determined the proportion between the two main units of rhythm. No measure or bar lines existed in music of this period and these signs were used to indicate the ratio of duration between different note values. It can be said that mensuration signs are the ancestors of modern time signatures.

(For more detailed information about mensural time signatures please follow this link:

♦ Next create the Ambitus notes for all the four voices using the quarter note (crotchet) shape from the first Sibelius keypad layout (Please refer back to the Tomás Luis de Victoria musical extract).

♦ Once all the quarter notes have been created, point-click on an empty part of the first bar (1/4 time signature bar) in the Soprano stave and then Shift+click to the first bar in the Bass stave to select the entire first bar of the score; then from the main Sibelius menu at the top of the screen choose Notations>Notehead Type>Stemless (Alt+Shift+8 or Option+Shift+8 on the Mac) to hide all the note stems.

Ambitus 01-3

♦ At this point select the 1/4 time signature in the first bar and type Delete on your computer keyboard to remove it. A warning message will appear on screen asking if you want to rewrite the following bars up to the next time signature, click No.

♦ Reselect all the stemless notes in bar one and open the Engraving Rules dialog box by choosing Appearance>Engraving Rules from the main menu at the top of the screen (Ctrl+Shift+E or Cmd+Shift+E on the Mac), then select Clefs and Key Signatures from the left-hand side list and change the Gap before initial clef value to 4 spaces.

Setting the parameter Gap before initial clef to 4 space is a good starting point to accommodate the Ambitus notes, but feel free to choose your desired value by experimenting on what looks good to you. Click OK to confirm the change and to return to the score.

Ambitus 01-4

♦ We are now ready to left-move all the Ambitus notes; if you still have all the notes in bar one selected, fine, otherwise reselect them. In order to shift all the selected notes to the left we need to call up the Inspector by choosing Home>Inspector from the main menu at the top of the screen (Ctrl+Shift+I or Cmd+Shift+I on the Mac).

As soon as the Inspector is visible on screen, click the little pin icon in the upper left-hand corner of the dialog box, this will prevent the Inspector from accidentally disappearing out of sight.

♦ With all the notes selected and the Inspector visible on screen, change the X value under the General tab to – 8.5 by either typing the value directly in the field box or using the little down arrow next to the filed box.

The value I just gave you is a good starting point based on the Gap before initial clef value (4 spaces) that we have previously set. Once again, feel free to change and experiment with this parameter in order to find the best Ambitus position and look for your score.

I would like to make you aware that when a key signature is not present in the score, the value we have just changed will be higher than what we have set here (around – 7.5).

Ambitus 01-5

We can now hide the Inspector by clicking on the little cross (x) in the upper right-hand corner of the dialog box.

♦ The next step entails of hiding the barline at the end of the first 1/4 bar. Simply click on the barline to select it and then from the main menu at the top of the screen choose Notations>Barline>Invisible. Alternatively, after selecting the barline, right-click the mouse button (Ctrl+click on the Mac) and choose Barline>Invisible directly from the context (pup-up) menu.

Important: Make sure that the option View>Hidden Objects in the main Sibelius menu is turned On, otherwise you won’t be able to see any hidden object in your score.

♦ Now drag the invisible barline all the way to the left until you can no longer move it, then select the 4/2 time signature and do the same to bring it closer to the key signature.


♦ At this point we want to disable all the Ambitus notes from playing back, in order to do this, point-click between the key signature and the time signature in the Soprano stave then Shift+click to the same place in the Bass stave to select the entire first bar of the score. Now call up the Inspector (Ctrl+Shift+I or Cmd+Shift+I on the Mac) and uncheck Play on pass 1.

Ambitus 01-7

♦ To complete the Ambitus look let’s add a standard vertical line ( | ) to each pair of notes for every stave. Make sure that nothing is selected in the score and type the letter L on your computer keyboard to open the Lines dialog box, then scroll down and under “Lines” choose vertical line.

Ambitus 01-8

The mouse pointer will change to dark blue indicating that Sibelius is ready to input the vertical line; simply point-click between the Ambitus notes in the Soprano stave to create the line.

♦ Before doing any manual adjustments to the vertical line, just select it if not already so, right-click the mouse button (Ctrl+click on the Mac) and choose Magnetic Layout>Off.

Ambitus 01-9

Now you can use the computer keyboard Up/Down (↑/↓) and Left/Right (←/→) arrows to adjust the vertical line length and position.

Side note:

After inputting the first vertical line, switching off Magnetic Layout and adjusting its length/position, you now have two options for creating the remaining vertical lines:

1) Select the vertical line then hold down the Alt key (Option key on the Mac) while you point-click between the next pair of Ambitus notes; repeat the same procedure for all the remaining staves.

2) Create every subsequent vertical line anew from the Lines dialog box as you did when creating the first one.

The first option is the fastest because once you copy the vertical line you can then immediately adjust its length and position, while with the second option you need to turn off Magnetic Layout each time after creating a new vertical line, otherwise you won’t be able to adjust its length and position.

♦ After creating all the vertical lines, select them, then go to the main menu at the top of the screen and choose Appearance>Align in a column (Ctrl+Shift+C or Cmd+Shift+C on the Mac); this operation ensures that all the selected lines will be perfectly align together in a column.

Ambitus 01-10

♦ To continue, let’s make the bar numbers visible for every bar by going to the main menu at the top of the screen and choosing Appearance>Engraving Rules (Ctrl+Shift+E or Cmd+Shift+E on the Mac).

In the Engraving Rules dialog box choose Bar Numbers from the left-hand side list, then under Appearance>Frequency select Every x bars and set the x value to 1. Click OK to confirm the change and to return to the score.

Ambitus 01-11

♦ As you can see, due to the fact that we have inserted a 1/4 bar at the very beginning of the score to accomodate the Ambitus notes, Sibelius now treats the first full bar of the score “bar no. 2” instead of “bar no. 1”. In order to change this, right-click the mouse button (Ctrl+click on a Mac Laptop) on any white part of the score then, from the context menu, choose Other>Bar Number Change.

Ambitus 01-12

The Bar Number Change dialog box will appear on screen, just leave everything as it is and click OK. The mouse pointer will change to dark blue indicating that Sibelius is ready to input the bar number change; simply point-click anywhere in the first full bar to change it to “bar no. 1”.

♦ At this point open again the Engraving Rules dialog box (Ctrl+Shift+E or Cmd+Shift+E on the Mac), change the Appearance>Frequency back to the default Every system and click OK to confirm the change and to return to the score.

Then, select the number 1 above the first full bar and use Ctrl+Shift+H (Cmd+Shift+H on the Mac) to hide it.

♦ Before wrapping up I would like to mention something important regarding individual vocal/instrument parts in relation to the Ambitus, whether your score has already music in it or not.

For example, when opening the Tenor voice part, you will immediately notice that the Ambitus notes collide with the treble clef, the time signature and the hidden barline that belongs to the 1/4 bar that was created to accomodate the Ambitus notes; now distant from the actual key signature.

(Be aware that in order to see any hidden object in the score you need to turn on View>Hidden Objects in the main Sibelius menu).

This issue occurs in all the individual parts and has to be addressed manually by selecting the Ambitus notes and dragging them to the left (or using the Inspector’s X offset in General Properties), then doing the same for the time signature (4/2) and for the hidden barline.


Side note:

If you ever need to split a multirest, simply deselect the Layout>Show Multirests option in the Sibelius main menu. You can then select the barline and choose Split Multirests.

♦ Another thing I would like to recommend is to reset the note spacing of the first full bar in the full score and all the parts.

Select the first bar then from the main menu at the top of the screen choose Appearance>Reset Note Spacing (Ctrl+Shift+N or Cmd+Shift+N on the Mac).


Ambitus 01-14

This is it! Thanks for sticking with me until the end of this tutorial. It is my hope that you will find some value in what I have shared here.

Max Tofone

Max Tofone is a music copyist & engraver based in Switzerland, who is the owner of MT Music Services and the author of the Street Smart Guide to Sibelius 6.

4 Replies to “How to create an AMBITUS in Sibelius 7 (part 1)”

  1. Is there a way to use the Find Range plugin (which finds the highest and lowest notes in a selection) to create the pitches for the ambitus?

  2. Dear Ruth,

    Unfortunately this is not possible because, as you probably noticed, the Find Range plugin only creates an analysis report of the various pitches in a passage selection and doesn’t allow to set a pitch range that can then be imported into a score at the desired position.

    To my knowledge at present there isn’t a Sibelius plugin that will automatically create an Ambitus by choosing a note range.

    Best Regards,


  3. Is there any way to move the clefs back in the other staves to it’s original position? Because if I change gap before clef it changes all of them.

  4. Hello Dom,

    I realized that the issue you are facing is something that I originally overlooked when I wrote the tutorial back in 2013. In order to achieve a similar result without changing the “gap before clef”, a different approach which entails adding the clefs as symbols has to be used.

    – Start by creating a SATB vocal score as originally instructed in the tutorial.

    – Create a time signature of 1/4 for the first bar and a time signature of 4/2, or what you like, for the second bar.

    – Insert the Ambitus notes as quarter notes for each of the vocal staves and change them to stemless noteheads (please refer to the original tutorial for details).

    – Select the 1/4 time signature in the first bar and delete it. In the warning message “Do you want to rewrite the following bars up…” click No.

    – Select the barline between the first and second bar and make it invisible.

    – Select the first bar (1/4) and call up the Inspector (Ctrl+Shift+I), then under the Bars section untick “Clefs” and “Key signature” if you have any in your score.

    – At this stage I will suggest entering the music into the second bar and locking the format for the 1st and 2nd bar by selecting them and using Ctrl+Shift+L. If you have a key signature in your score add it to the second bar and delete the double barline that Sibelius tends to add automatically when adding a key signature in any part of a score.

    – Now you reached the point where all the various clefs have to be inserted as symbols using the “Symbol” dialog window (Z). The positioning of the various clefs require some manual adjustment, place them between the Ambitus notes and the 4/2 time signature. I also suggest switching OFF “Magnetic Layout” for each clef in order to allow more freedom in the manual position.

    – To properly align all the clefs vertically, select them and use the “Align in a column” feature (Ctrl+Shift+C).

    – If you want to reduce the space in front of the Ambitus notes, select them and call up the Inspector (Ctrl+Shift+I), then change the X value to about -2.25 or what you think will look good to you.

    – You can also drag left or right the Invisible barline to make horizontal adjustments and/or creating more horizontal space.

    – Be aware that you will need to manually adjust everything every time you make some adjustments in the Inspector or when adding notes in bars that are part of the first score’s system. I suggest adding all the music in the first system before making any final manual adjustment and then lock the entire first system (Ctrl+Shift+L).

    This solution is a little bit fiddling because of all the manual adjustments to be made, but at least, every following systems in the score won’t have a “gap before clef”.

    Hope this helps…. Best,

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