Sibelius Word Menus

A useful, but often overlooked feature of Sibelius are Word Menus. Word Menus are built-in lists of useful words: terms, musical symbol text etc, available via contextual menu or keyboard shortcuts when you are entering various types of text.

Word menus are tightly integrated with Text Styles. Each Text Style can have a Word Menu associated with it. For instance, Expression text produces a menu of dynamics and  Technique text produces common technique words like “pizz.” and “arco”.

To get you started, Sibelius has created some default Word Menus and filled them with common words or strings of characters you might use in your music.  To get to a Word Menu for a particular text style, you can right-click in either Mac or Windows while you are in a particular text style. So, for instance, type the keyboard shortcut for Technique text : CNTRL-T (Windows) or CMND-T (Mac) and when the cursor shows you it is ready to accept text input, right-click, and the contextual menu list for that Text Style will appear. Just select the word from the list, and it will appear as if you had typed it.

Not only is a contextual list of various words and text symbols available, but Sibelius also gives you keyboard shortcuts for some of the most common words and music symbols (and you can define your own). For instance, type the keyboard shortcut for Expression text : CNTRL-E (Windows) or CMND-E (Mac). Now release the E key, but leave the modifier key depressed. Now, with the CONTROL OR COMMAND key still down, type “mp” to create a mezzo-piano dynamic which automatically displays in the correct music text font. This is a very fast way to enter dynamics. Just leave down the modifier key and type ppp, pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff, fff etc.

Note that in the case where you are typing in individual characters to create a dynamic, you will notice a few keystrokes that are not readily available. For instance, CNTRL-Z (Windows) or CMND-Z (Mac) are reserved for UNDO, so you can’t simply leave the modifier key down and type “sfz” to create a sforzando (although “sf” is possible, since the “s” and “f” work). In these cases, just use the contextual menu, or as we’ll see in a minute, you can assign a new key shortcut to the “sfz” dynamic.


How does Sibelius know which Word Menu to display? As mentioned earlier, Word Menus can be assigned to work with one or more specific text styles. Let’s see how this works.

Locate Edit Text Styles (you’ll find this in the Text Tab of Sibelius 7 and House Styles > Edit Text Styles of Sibelius 6):

When the dialog opens, you can see the current Word Menu assignment (and change it if you want) by selecting a Text Style and going into the Edit dialog. There, you will see the current assignment (and optionally, change it to another Word Menu):

It’s worth noting that you can assign one Word Menu to several text styles. For instance, you might want a text style that is an italicized version of a normally non-italic text style. Simply apply the same Word Menu to both styles.


The word menus that are available right out of the box are great, but did you know you can add new Word Menus, and customize the words and shortcuts in the existing ones?

Go to Sibelius > Preferences > Word Menus. When the dialog opens, you’ll see a list of the current Word Menus in the left column. As you highlight each menu, you’ll see the associated Words for that Word Menu update in the right column.

Let’s add a new technique, “div. a3”  to the existing menu. Click on Technique Words in the left column, then click the New button underneath the list of words. You will see the Text field in the upper right of the dialog change to highlighted text that says “New Word”. Type “div. a3” in the highlighted field, and then optionally, add a key shortcut. Make sure you click the “Apply” button. Once you’ve clicked Apply, you can move it up or down in the list, to organize where you’d like it to appear in the menu. Now, when you are typing Technique text, “div. a3” will be one of the options that appears for you in the list.

To assign new shortcuts or change the default shortcuts:

  1. Selecting the word in the right column list
  2. click  in the shortcut field
  3. type the keystroke you want for the shortcut
  4. press the apply button

You can also create an entirely new Word Menu and fill it any way you like, then link to it from Edit Text Styles. For example, you might create a Harp Pedaling text style, and create a corresponding Word Menu with all of the different harp pedalgrams, or a specialized list of boxed text words for percussion or mutes.

Text Styles can be designed for the display of regular text, or for music notation elements. “Metric Modulations” is a good example of a Word Menu and Text Style that are designed specifically to display music characters. If you look in the Word Menus at the items in the “Metric Modulations” menu, you’ll see that the text entered into the New Word text fields look like regular text, e.g. “q=q”, but display as real quarter notes, eighth notes, etc. This is because the text style that this Word Menu is attached to, the Metric Modulation Text Style, uses the Opus Metronome text style. This is a very powerful feature, once you are aware that for specialty Word Menus such as this one, the font that the text style has an impact on how the Word Menu items are displayed:

Start thinking about the words and symbols you type most often in Sibelius; I know you’ll find the Word Menus to be a great power tool. For instance, I can never remember the keystrokes to use to create proper fractions, so I’ve added them to my Technique Word Menu. This allows me to very easily add text instructions such as “½ section pizz., ½ arco”, or “slow ¼ tone vibrato”:

Want to add fractions to your word menus? You should simply be able to copy the fraction symbols above right from this page, and paste them into the New Word field of the Word Menu.

That’s it! I hope you found this post to be helpful. Keep your comments and FB likes coming, and if you have a how-to notation question, please email me!


for the students of the Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program.

13 Replies to “Sibelius Word Menus”

  1. Robert,

    As usual, this is terrific. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge. I’ve been a regular user of Sibelius for 6 years now and have produced hundreds of scores on it. I had no idea about this feature.


  2. Thank you for all this detail. Every time I go to set up a Word Menu I find myself scratching my head trying to remember specific steps!

    I use organ samples a lot and being able to make up Word Menus for stop registrations has been invaluable. I include MIDI messages which are conveniently hidden when the menu items are pasted into scores.



  3. Excellent tutorial. Regarding sfz, I’ve always input the final z using Ctrl+shift+z (that’s after invoking the expression style using Ctrl+E). I don’t know whether this is built in, or whether it’s a macro I put in years ago. Anyway, the full routine is: Ctrl+E, [keep holding Ctrl down] Ctrl+s, Ctrl+f, Ctrl+Shift+z.

    Regards, Gareth

    1. Thanks for this, Gareth. The OS has some keystrokes like Cntrl-Z (Windows) or CMND-Z (Mac) reserved, so your tip allows users to keep logical key mnemonics for both the Sibelius and the OS requirements.

  4. Caro Robert:
    Um amigo me perguntou como fazer no Sibelius a cifra D7(94), sendo o 9 sobre o 4 sobrescritos. Desculpe se não expliquei bem. No menu das cifras encontre outros semelhantes como 4/2, mas o que preciso não encontrei. Podes me ajudar. Sou leitor assíduo do seu blog e tenho aprendido muito.
    Araranguá – Brasil

    1. Sorry for not understanding – do you mean a 9 sus4 chord symbol (with the 9 vertically over the sus4) or something else? Thanks for clarifying.

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