X / Cross Noteheads in Music Notation

X noteheads, also referred to as “cross” or “crossed” noteheads have a number of functions in modern music notation.

In percussion writing, they are the go-to for non-pitched metallophone instruments such as cymbals or tamtam or gong. For drum set, particularly in jazz or rock charts, cymbals are typically the most active part, and X noteheads help these stand out from the other parts on a 5 line staff.

In vocal music, x noteheads are often used tor spoken text, or for unvoiced sounds / vocal effects. In both instrumental and vocal writing, they can be used to indicate notes of indefinite pitch. And in jazz charts, X noteheads can be used to indicate “ghost” notes in a melodic line.

(for drum set writing, there is an actual “ghost” notehead, which is a regular notehead in parenthesis.)

Cross (x) noteheads can also be used as a special effect to indicate hand / finger damping of instruments such as guitar, or tuned percussion such as vibraphone.

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Add a2, a3, a4 playback for NotePerformer in Sibelius

The Sibelius Sounds library which ships with Sibelius 7 and later does not have support for reduced player configurations such as a2, a3, a4 etc., but if you are a NotePerformer user, you are in luck.

NotePerformer 3 installs a plugin in Sibelius called “NotePerformer a2, a3 … MIDI message” which appears in the Plug-ins page of the home tab.

This plugin adds a MIDI controller message to a beat, or the start of a selected region for playback when using NotePerformer.

In other words, you can apply this plugin to add hidden MIDI controller info at the same location as the “a2” text, so that NotePerformer produces correct playback of a2 etc.

You can use the plugin to add this MIDI Controller data each time, or you can also add this controller info directly in your score either manually or automatically with NotePerformer.

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Mapping Pitches in Sibelius

Sometimes you want to change the pitches in a score without doing a normal transposition. There are a number of Sibelius plugins that can change a pitch to any other pitch.

Pitch Mapping

This shipping plugin (Note Input > Transformations > More>Pitch Mapping) was one of the very early plugins in Sibelius.

The default dialog lets you map all the spellings of a given pitch to a single spelling. In this example, C, B#, and Dbb will be respelled as C (or any other name you choose from the list). This mapping will apply to all selected notes with the same pitch name, in any octave.

For respelling, you can choose natural notes, single or double sharps or flats, or leave some notes unchanged, so you can respell some but not all the selected notes.  The plugin will ignore quartertones, and it cannot respell to quartertones. Even now, in 2020, plugins are unable to create notes with quartertone accidentals.

New Pitch Higher… gives some options for determining whether the replaced pitches will be higher or lower than the original pitch. The details are explained in the dialog that comes up.

Not only can you respell notes this way, you can also change a note to any other valid pitch. C can be mapped to G# or Fbb if you so desire. As before, all notes with the same pitch name in any octave are mapped to the same new note name, in an appropriate octave.

If you choose More Options…, you get a dialog that lets you map each spelling or a given pitch separately, so you can spell C, B#, and Dbb to different notes if you like.

Transform Scale

The downloadable plugin Transform Scale is a “front end” for the Pitch Mapping plugin. It lets you transform the selected notes to a different scale or mode, and/or change the root of a scale. Changing the root without changing the scale type is the same as transposing.

There are 22 built-in scales, plus you can edit the existing scales or add your own. Scales are all chromatic (12-tones) scales. You can specify fewer than 12 notes, and the plugin will choose pitches for any you leave out. Details are in the Add/Edit scales dialog.

The Percussion Pitch Map plugin

I wrote Percussion Pitch Map to help deal with pitch and notehead mapping for percussion instruments, but it was pointed out to me that you can use it to map any pitches, and, unlike the other plugins, it allows you to choose the octave for both the source and destination notes.

To use it this way, you need to create your own pitch map, which is a simple text file. You can create it in a text editor, and move it to the appropriate folder location, or create and edit a pitch map in the plugin.

There is a lot of detail to deal with, so I suggest you look at this Of Note blog post, and read the PDF file that will be downloaded with the plugin, and which can also be found here.

One detail to note: if you are using Percussion Pitch Map strictly as a pitch map, the first line in your custom pitch map file should be:

// Strict pitch, C4

Thanks to Robert Puff, who came up with the concept of the Percussion Pitch Map plugin and wrote the built-in percussion pitch maps, and to James Batty, who came up with the idea of using it as an octave-changing pitch mapper (and pointed out a nasty bug, which has been fixed).

Map away!

Using the Select Graphic feature of Sibelius for correspondence & desktop publishing

Q: Occasionally when I write to someone I want to include a few music symbols, say, a metronome indication or generic notes and rests to illustrate a rhythm; it’s frustrating not to be able to copy and paste directly from Sibelius. What font do you recommend for typing independent musical symbols?

A: For this task, Sibelius has a cool feature which allows you to paste musical examples as a graphic into other programs which is perfect for this purpose.

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Create Lead / Top Line Chord Notation for Rock, Jazz & Pop Charts in Sibelius

Lead Line Chord Notation, also referred to as Topline Notation is a shorthand notation convention that is sometimes used for rock, jazz and pop guitar or keyboard charts.

Lead Line / Topline notation is a good way to get the chord voicings you are looking for as a composer or arranger, particularly if you don’t actually play guitar (or piano); it allows you to specify melodic motion of the chords without having to supply details of voicings you may or may not know are practical (or possible) on that instrument.

To create this type of notation, visually, the stems are extended past the noteheads to show that the chords are voiced below (or above) the written lead notes. Here is an example:

Let’s take a look at how to create this type of notation in Sibelius.

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Beyond Defaults : Create ½, whole-tone, flat, natural & sharp trill lines in Sibelius

There are a couple of common approaches for indicating trills with specific trill-to pitches in your music score. One way is to indicate the trill-to pitch as a stemless, cue sized note in a parenthesis.


This is an extremely clear and elegant way to present the trill-to information. However, for “commercial” scores, this method is somewhat labor-intensive to create in the current software, and furthermore, isn’t completely bulletproof in terms of the trill-to pitch maintaining its horizontal positioning after music spacing .

Trills containing an intervalic jump larger than a whole step are commonly referred to as “fingered tremolo”, and displayed as pairs of notes with tremolo slashes.

Another method of displaying trills, which is very common in popular and commercial orchestral music as well as film and video game scores, largely because it is so efficient for entry, is to include a flat, natural or sharp symbol above, or just to the right of the “tr” symbol. For commercial scores, you also frequently see the trill-to note indicated as an intervalic distance, like a ½ step or a whole-tone (wt).

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Sibelius Quick Tip: Create a Bar Rest for a specific Voice

Q: How can I enter a bar rest for a specific voice in Sibelius?

For instance, when I write music in two voices, in the event that the first voice pauses, bar rests are automatically notated above the second voice, should it continue:

Conversely, this is not the case.

A: Locate the bar rest on the second Keypad layout, which can be used during note input to enter whole rests in a specific voice…

… or to turn existing notes or rests into a bar rest.

A German version of this quick tip („Ganztaktpausen erstellen in Sibelius”) is available here.

Karin Vadon is a classically trained musician, singer-songwriter and music copyist from Vienna, Austria who authors a german-language music notation blog for Sibelius and Dorico users.