Take Control of Multirests in Sibelius and Finale

Let’s talk about rests. Multimeasure Rests, that is. You may not have given them much thought, but Multimeasure Rests play a key role in how your parts look. In this tutorial, we’ll learn how to control multirest settings and also, how add a unique touch to your charts in Finale and Sibelius with custom multirests.

In modern charts, the standard type of multimeasure rest is called an “H-bar”. The defaults for Finale and Sibelius are nearly identical. Here are the Engraved Style defaults:


One way to subtly give your parts look a distinctive look is to adjust the distance between the ends of the multimeasure rests and the barlines, or the “white space”. You can see that the Finale and Sibelius defaults are slightly different from one another. How these are set is largely a matter of personal taste, and even a small adjustment can make a big difference in the look of your parts. This distance setting is equally controllable in both programs. Let’s take a look:

In Finale 2011 (or 2010), Go to Document > Document Options > Multimeasure Rests. At the top of the pane, you will see two numeric entry fields; “Adjust Start Point” and “Adjust End Point”. Typically, these will be equal amounts, shown here, 1.5 spaces:

(adding “s” after the number enters the value in spaces regardless of view settings)

It’s pretty easy to experiment with different widths and come up with something you like the look of.

In Finale, you can also change the start or end point of any individual multirest. You might use this, for instance, to adjust the end point of an individual multirest to avoid a collision with a clef change at the end of the multirest. To edit an individual endpoint of one multirest, use the Selection Tool to highlight it, then right-click and select Multimeasure Rests > Edit from the contextual menu.

In Sibelius 7 (or Sibelius 6), the start and end point of the multimeasure rest are changed with a single “Distance from multirest to barline:” value, found in Engraving Rules > Bar Rests. Try different values in increments of .5 space.  In Sibelius 7, Engraving Rules are found in the House Style Group of the Appearance Tab:



If you like the look of really narrow H-Bars, but adjusting the start and end points isn’t quite doing it for you, it may be time for Plan B.

Sibelius has a preset Narrow option in Engraving Rules > Bar Rests, which gives a look similar to what several commercial copying houses in L.A. use:

Finale can use any shape for a multirest (more on that in a minute). You can create a shape in the Shape Designer, then export that shape as a shape library, and then import it into new scores or your template as needed:

To save you some work, I have created a Finale file with the narrow shape used by several commercial copying houses in L.A. Download the file here, and follow the instructions in the document, and you’ll be up and running in a couple of minutes. More information on Finale’s Shape Designer is here if you want to roll your own.


It is common practice these days to start numbering H-bar multimeasure rests at 2 bars, however, there is a convention in some jazz charts to number single bars of rest. Both Sibelius and Finale can do this easily.

For Sibelius, check “Show ‘1’ above bar rests”, which numbers single bars of rest:

For Finale, change “Start Number At:” to “1” in the Document > Document Options > Multimeasure Rests dialog::


The bar layout of commercial and jazz charts tend to be more symmetrical than engraved music. Historically, this practice was born out of necessity – First, a lot of music, especially popular and jazz music tends to *be* symmetrical blocks of 12 or 16 bars, and a matching score and parts with 4 bars to the page in the score and 4 bars to a line in the parts made it much easier to stay on track when copying. A bonus is that musicians can easily find their place in a pop chart if every system has the same number of bars.

Under a deadline, hand copyists would create a master parts layout, filling in as much common information as possible before creating a photocopy and filling in new material. Essentially, the layouts were created *before* the note entry – the exact opposite of how we think when preparing music on the computer today! And, handwritten music takes more space to write out legibly, which was another reason the 4 bars per line system evolved.

This practice of symmetrical copying is still in use today, although it is becoming less common. In keeping with this style, sometimes it is necessary to create a multirest that fills up most of a system, like this:

However, a system like the above will look almost equally divided by default in either program. Here’s how to control the width of this one multirest:

FInale and Sibelius : select the system you want to modify the rest in, and lock that system. Now, select the multirest by itself.

In Sibelius, go to House Style > Note Spacing Rule… Locate the “Fixed empty bar width” radio button, and enter a value of approx. 40 spaces in a Letter sized part (where the multirest takes up all but one bar in the system):

Ok the dialog and respace the multirest using CNTRL-SHIFT-N (Windows) or CMND-SHIFT-N (Mac). Remember to reset the radio button back to the default (or retype the smaller value if it was already fixed) when you are done.

You can also select the barline preceding the multirest and drag it wider in some cases. Note that the note spacing method will produce more consistent results, and what I personally recommend. But if you are in a hurry, try dragging the barline after locking the system… You can always UNDO if you don’t like the result…

In Finale, with the multirest selected, right click and select Multimeasure Rests > Edit. Look for Measure Width in the Options section and enter a value of approx. 40 spaces for a Letter sized part (where the multirest takes up all but one bar in the system):

That’s it! That’s all there is to it. You are in control.


There is convention from the very early days of music publishing which combines two bar (breve or double whole rest) and one bar (semibreve) rest symbols in different combinations to show the total bars of rest:

(Every multirest duration can be made from combinations of these two symbols. Sometimes, a “Long”, or 4 bar rest symbol is referred to, but this symbol is essentially two breve symbols stacked vertically)

Some publishers follow this convention up through 9 bars, while some start H-bar style multirests at 8 bars.

In Finale > Document Options > Multimeasure Rests, check “Use Symbols for Rests Less Than: X Measures:

In Sibelius >  Engraving Rules, choose “Old Style” in appearance:

In Sibelius 7 you can optionally check “Draw old style multirests up to (through) 9 bars”.

Even if you aren’t typesetting music from the 1800’s, you might occasionally use these ornate rests as a design element for in your music typesetting.


One of the challenges with jazz charts is how to emulate a true handwritten look on the computer. The computer is great for consistency, but this strength can also be a weakness: a professionally hand copied chart is beautiful to look at because not only is the music presented very consistently, the calligraphy of each copyist is unique.

A number of handwritten music fonts and associated templates were born out of some individual professional music copyist’s desire to present their own unique hand copied look on the computer.

My friend and colleague Lee Monroe is a professional music copyist who did just that. Lee and his company, Express Music created a very unique House Style using custom fonts with extra touches, one of which is a custom Multimeasure Rest shape. This shape emulates a popular Multirest style found in handwritten jazz charts:

The unique custom fonts and attention to the little details makes Lee’s charts instantly recognizable, as if they really were hand copied.

Of course, not everyone is a fontographer. Besides, both Sibelius and Finale offer several good handwritten font options these days! But it *would* be cool to “un-cookie-cutter-ize” the multirests for jazz charts… Let’s take a look at some options in both Finale and Sibelius:

FINALE can use any shape you create as a multirest.  Here’s how to create a “jazz” style multirest similar to Lee’s chart above:

In Document > Document Options > Multimeasure Rests, you’ll see a Select… button. By default, there will already be a number in the field, and if so, clicking the Select… button will take you right into the Shape Designer dialog:

If you click on the shape, you will see that it appears to all be one object:

Go up to the Shape Designer menu and select Ungroup. The handles will change. If you want, you can delete the horizontal ends of the lines:

With the end lines gone, select the multirest middle line. You can make the line a little thicker by choosing Line Thickness from the main Shape Designer menu. Try .75 space. Now, with the line still selected, copy it to the clipboard and then paste. You’ll now have two identical lines. Select one end of the new line, and drag it shorter. Center it. Now Select all, and choose Group from the main Shape Expression menu in the menu bar:

That’s it! Ok the dialog(s) and begin using the new rest shape. If you are really crafty with the Shape Designer, you can even create tapered ends for a true hand written look… If you are anxious to get started, download this file, and follow the instructions to load this shape into your own Finale template.

SIBELIUS has an option in Engraving Rules > Bar Rests to draw the H-bar using a symbol:

The result looks like this when using the Reprise font:

And there are plenty of ways to customize from here. For instance, just angling the end brackets changes up the look:

Here are steps to create the angled ends above:

  • In the Styles Group of the Text Tab in Sibelius 7, click on Edit Text Styles
  • Select the Special Symbols text style, then New.
  • Sibelius will ask if you want to create a new text style based on the selected one:

Click yes. When the dialog opens, rename the style to “Special Symbols, Angled”. Under Advanced formats in the lower left of the dialog (font tab), change the Angle to 150 degrees (or whatever looks best to you).

OK and close the dialog.

Now go to the Notations Tab and select Edit Symbols from the Symbols Group. When the Symbol Dialog opens, scroll down to the second row of the Rests category, and select the “Multirest End” symbol. Click the Edit button. When the Symbol Editor window opens, locate the Music font: popup and choose the Angled version of Special Symbols you just created:

OK the editor and close the Symbol dialog. You will see the angled ends.

Using a similar technique, we can also change the thickness of the middle bar by changing the font size of your second Special Symbols text style smaller or larger rather than angled. (For instance, in an engraved piece, you might want a subtly thinner bar to match a particular house style.)

Another jazz chart variation is to create a larger (rather than angled) version of the Special Symbols text style, then go to the Notations Tab and select Edit Symbols from the Symbols Group.

When the Symbol Dialog opens, scroll down to the second row of the Rests category, and select the “Multirest middle” symbol. Click the Edit button. When the Symbol Editor window opens, locate the Music font: popup and choose the larger version of Special Symbols text style you just created. OK the editor dialog.

Now, select the “Multirest End” (the first box in that row), and click the Edit button. When the dialog opens, type “32” into the “Number:” field. (this is a blank, or null character; the space character):

Back in your chart, the multirests become a single hand-drawn line:

You can even combine Symbols to create a casually unique handwritten multirest shape:

Although currently, it isn’t possible to use imported Graphic specifically as a Multirest shape, the new ability in Sibelius 7 to import a Graphic as a Symbol appears to offer some exciting possibilities for customization of Multirests – perhaps one day allowing you to scan in your favorite handwritten multirest shape, for instance.

If you are a Finale user, I also encourage you to take a look at the freely available JW Space Empty Rests plugin, which is able to scale multirest length based on the number of bars for a more published look. (Sibelius does this automatically).


OK, challenge time. I encourage you to incorporate a little extra flair into your multimeasure rests. Make the spaces between entrances count! 


2 thoughts on “Take Control of Multirests in Sibelius and Finale

  1. Thanks for the great post, I have one question.. do you know how to edit the number so it can say “Play 8” or “Tacet 8” for example in a drum chart.

  2. Hi there,

    Great article. I am re-writing a percussion part for a ballet. As I am reding to duplicate the same structures, especially around rehearsal marks, the multi-rests are important. I’m finding that Sibelius throws up odd groups, and there isn’t any text interference. I really need to just select the bars I want and apply a multi-rest to it but it isn’t playing nice.

    Any suggestions?



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