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.

Stem extensions are controlled as part of the settings for a particular Notehead.

In Sibelius 7 or later, choose Edit Noteheads from the Noteheads Group in the Notations Tab (in Sibelius 6 choose House Style > Edit Noteheads). When the dialog opens, select the first “regular” notehead style, and then choose New to create a new notehead based on this existing one:

… then scroll down to the end of the list to locate your newly created notehead. Select it, and press the Edit… button.

Once in the dialog, name your new notehead something appropriate, then use negative values to extend the length of stems beyond the notehead for either stems up or stems down situations:

For Stem Up, I’ve used a negative value to lengthen the stems by 2 spaces. For Stem Down, I’ve used a similar setting. I’ve arbitrarily chosen in this example to extend the stems of either direction by two spaces beyond the notehead.

There isn’t necessarily a convention for the length of the stem extension for this notation style, but a stem extension length of one octave is fairly common (longer than what I show here). A value of +-3.5 spaces for Stem Up and Stem Down will give this visual result for both stem directions.


Note that in a chord, if the top note is the only notehead that is not Headless, then ledger lines will show if the Headless notes are outside the staff.

The visibility of ledger lines is controlled by the top note of the chord.

If the single normal notehead is something *other* than the top note (with all other noteheads being headless), then the ledger lines will not show. The problem is that the “regular” stem will be too long if you try to use a note other than the top one as the “lead” note.

Therefore, to create Topline notation where the visible lead line is within the staff, and where the Headless notes display without ledger lines, and *also* where the chord voicing plays back from a single voice, a second “normal” notehead must be defined and used as the visible lead line:



If you want to play back chord voicings underneath your lead line while displaying the Lead / Top line notation style, first, enter the chord voicings as regular notation, and then filter to select all but the top note of each chord. Change these selected notes to Headless noteheads (Notehead #7) which will hide these notes and their associated accidentals, leaving only the Top / Lead line and the extended stems:

Note that durational dots will display even if the notehead is hidden, as do ties (the ties are needed to facilitate proper playback, anyway). But, of course, there is a solution. You can enter the lead line by itself with the notehead stem length adjustments above, then put the remaining chord notes in another voice, and hide that voice.

for Carlos Oliveira


Lead / Top Line Chord Notation in Finale & Sibelius

3 Replies to “Create Lead / Top Line Chord Notation for Rock, Jazz & Pop Charts in Sibelius”

  1. Very nice description of a complex problem. I am impressed with the level of detail you handled – rhythm dots and ledger lines and ties and all.

    It seems to me that it I were going to do this, and wanted the entire chord to play, I might just always make a copy of the notes in another voice, and hide them all (and any generated rests), using Edit>Hide or Show, then delete all the notes except the top note from the original chord, and change the notehead to be silent and have the extended stems (and have ledger lines turned on).

    It is tedious (but could probably be mostly automated), but it should take care of all the special cases.

    Nevertheless, thanks for providing such a clear exposition of the possibilities for implementing this!

    I think that would work for all cases as long as you had an available voice

    1. Thanks, Bob! Of course, if any or all of this could be automated with a plugin in Sibelius, that would be amazing. If such a plugin should ever exist, I would love to post about it on OF NOTE.


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