Sibelius: Use Percussion Pictographs for Staff Names or Instrument Changes

This tutorial is also available for Finale.

I recently typeset a piece of music for children’s choir and percussion. The percussion part, which was on three different instrument lines, needed to be as clear and readable as possible for the kids performing. The publisher requested that we use percussion pictographs instead of abbreviated text for the percussion instrument names after the first system:


I thought this would make an interesting tutorial, useful for worksheets and other specialty applications (like my kid’s choir project). I hope you agree. Let’s take it from the top…

Percussion pictographs are standardized graphical icons used to represent percussion instruments in music scores. Percussion Pictographs were first proposed and developed at the International Conference on New Music Notation held at the University of Ghent in Belgium in 1974. The current set of symbols includes instruments, mallets and beaters:


Sibelius supports this standard with its “Opus Percussion” font. The pictograph symbols can accessed directly from the Symbols Gallery / Dialog and attached to an instrument’s entrance above a percussion or drum staff. Type Z to open the Symbols Dialog (Sibelius 6) or Symbols Gallery (Sibelius 7).

If you know the keystroke for a particular symbol, you can also type in its symbol directly using the Percussion Instruments Text Style, or changing the font to the Opus Percussion font (which is used by the Percussion Instruments Text Style).

In Sibelius 6, select Create>Text>Special Text>Percussion Instruments. In Sibelius 7, choose the Percussion Instruments Style from the Symbols (special) group.

To display Staff Names as Percussion Pictographs, double click on the Full Staff Name or Abbreviated Staff Name text in the score, type in the appropriate keystroke, then change the font to Opus Percussion Std.

To create Percussion Instrument Change Pictographs, double click the Instrument Change text in the score, type in the appropriate keystroke, then change  the font to Opus Percussion Std. Done.

Sidebar: If any percussion pictograph in the Sibelius Symbols gallery / dialog is made of two or more combined symbols in Sibelius, it will not translate as a single percussion pictograph when used as text.

The secret to being able to use a pictograph as a percussion staff name, or to substitute a percussion symbol for Instrument Change text in a percussion staff hinges on having the Character Set / Font Table for Opus Percussion available, which shows you the character / keystroke for each percussion symbol.

I’ve printed out a character map for the Opus Percussion font which I can access when I need to learn the keystroke for a particular icon / symbol. Download the Character Map / Font Table for the Opus Percussion font for Mac or PC.

In addition to the Character maps, you’ll also see Sibelius files for both Sibelius 6 & 7 which have all the percussion symbols as text characters, along with a legend of what each pictograph means. You can copy and paste the text objects from this file, or put them into your Ideas Library for later recall.

You’ll notice that none of the pictograph characters are standard lower or upper case letters a, b, c or A, B, C etc. – for the most part, all of the symbols are found in the high ASCII character set. This is presumably Sibelius gently requesting you to use the Symbols Gallery / Dialog, not realizing I’d be writing this tutorial with an actual use for the font characters themselves at some point!

That’s it! That’s all there is to it. Thanks for reading, and as always, I appreciate your comments and questions about this topic.


Thanks to Bob Zawalich for providing the copy & paste source files, and also for the Windows Character Map / Font Table for PC.


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