Controlling Layout with Auto & Manual Breaks in Sibelius

Q: What I want to achieve is control over the number of bars per line as a general rule in Sibelius (4 per line, as in the jazz chart style), but with occasional exceptions, e.g. an intro or pickup bar followed by 4 bars (drum chart, gap is guitar intro), or 3 or 5 bars on a line here or there where necessary. Can you give me any helpful hints on how you achieve this?

A: As you say, this type of layout is common for drum / rhythm section parts. To achieve this, I use Auto Layout in combination with locking the systems as I go.

If you are trying to create a drum part without note information, e.g. essentially using multirests to create bars of TIME, creating the basic layout of the part with multirests OFF can help visualize this type of symmetrical layout. Use CMND-SHIFT-M (Mac) or CNTRL-SHIFT-M (Windows) to toggle multirests off.

Let’s say you want the first 16 bars to display 4 bars per system. Go into Auto Breaks… In Sibelius 6, go to Layout > Auto Breaks… in Sibelius 7, select Auto Breaks from the Breaks Group of the Layout Tab.  Check Use Auto System Breaks, and choose the Every X Bars radio button. Type a 4 in the edit field.

Now go back out to the score. The whole part is showing 4 bars per line. Select the first 16 bars and lock these systems. CMND-SHIFT-L (Mac) or CNTRL-SHIFT-L (Windows).

If you were to add a pickup bar at this point, Sibelius would still keep 4 full bars with the pickup in the first system. Note that CNTRL-SHIFT-U or CMND-SHIFT-U unlocks the systems that you’ve manually locked.

But, suppose you have an uneven number of bars in the next section up to the next rehearsal mark. For this section, you might want the notes to flow more in relation to the amount of activity in the staff, and ideally wind up with a rehearsal mark, double bar or tempo mark at the left margin to start the next section / system.

Go back into Auto Breaks, but this time, choose the “At or Before” radio button options. Check rehearsal marks, double barlines, key changes etc to control where the next “reset” occurs.

Now, when you go back out into the score, the music flows via note spacing up to the next rehearsal or tempo mark, which nows start at the start of a system. Lock this group of bars, and then go back into the Auto Breaks dialog as you proceed through the score, fixing the layout as you go.

Another version of this same concept is to start with the basic Auto Breaks set to 4 bars per line in Sibelius. Now out in the score itself, you can “break the rule” manually.

To move a bar down into the next system, forcing a reset of 4 bars from that point forward, select the barline preceding the bar you want to move, and while it is highlighted, press the return key on the main keyboard.

For drum parts using multirests to show TIME, you could use this technique to create a single 8 bar system by selecting two 4 bar systems and using Make Into System.

To move one or more bars to the system above, select the bar(s) in the lower system and with the Shift Key select the system above.  OPT-SHIFT-M (Mac) or ALT-SHIFT-M (Windows), which makes a selected group of bars into a system. (Make Into A System).

Once you’ve manually locked the systems, your music won’t move around regardless of the settings in Auto Breaks… and, using this technique, Auto Breaks doesn’t have to be a global setting – you can fine tune your layout any way you want.

for Sebastian Palmer, U.K.

4 Replies to “Controlling Layout with Auto & Manual Breaks in Sibelius”


  1. This is good for a consistent number of bars per line and I’m glad to become aware of it.

    The SHIFT-OPT-M as mentioned in Mr Puff’s article is invaluable if you want to have a different number of bars in each system – to accommodate multi rests, several bars of whole notes, or awkward page turns (especially involving repeats): select the bars you want to include in one line then the SHIFT-OPT-M. This can help cut down the number of pages per part. It saves paper and ink when printing for larger ensembles.

    If you want to assign a certain group of staves to a single page (to facilitate page turns etc), select the appropriate systems and hit SHIFT-OPT-COM-M.
    What a great post, thank you!

  2. Sibelius is controlling note input like government is controlling ours lives. And that is piss me off with auto controlling layouts and haw many notes I can put in between a bars and making suggestions what should be there. When I use a scanner I need to remove some notes and recompose , but Sibelius making mess. To fix a scanner document is impossible mission for me. I want to put between bars as many notes I want and move bars anywhere I want. Rudy

    1. Rudy, I’m still struggling with 7.5 from time to time. But I have retained my updated version of 5. That’s where I can do everything very quickly, smoothly… There may be a few additional tools in 7.5, but I don’t even f*&$ing care. I use 7.5 for lead sheets on my laptop from time to time, but the old pre-Avid versions are the best, in my opinion.

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