Enter and Edit Dynamics as Music text characters in Sibelius

I see a lot of music that has dynamics entered in Times New Roman Italic or Times New Roman Italic Bold:

There is something not quite right about this “engraved” looking bar of music, right? The Opus Text Std Music text font would look more “correct” for the dynamics. However, even though this  font is assigned as the Music Text Font in many of the Sibelius Manuscript Papers, you may find your dynamics look like the above, rather than:

Let’s walk through a couple of different ways to enter these dynamic text symbols, and importantly, let’s take a look at how to fix them after the fact, using the Change Dynamics plugin in Sibelius:

One way to enter dynamics text is by using the Contextual Menu. Type CNTRL-E (Windows) or CMND-E (Mac) so that the text cursor appears beneath the staff (or above it on a vocal staff), then right-click to see a list of Dynamics and Expression text:

Sibelius Expression Text Contextual Menu
(click to enlarge)

You’ll notice that the list contains a combination of regular italicized text, and “music text”; text Sibelius calls a “Character Style“. From this list, you can easily select the dynamic you are looking for, and it will be in the correct font; the “Music Text” font (“Opus Text Std” in this case). The contextual menu is a great way to enter dynamics. The only caveat is that it’s not particularly fast… So, how do I just type the dynamics in?… In the correct font?

You may have noticed that some of the menu items already have keyboard shortcuts assigned (you can assign your own shortcuts as well). Take a look at the “piano” and “forte” symbols in particular.  (For Windows, pretend the “clover” symbol is your CONTROL key.)

The key to successfully typing dynamics in with the “Music Character Style” font is to leave the CONTROL (or CMND) modifier held down as you type the various keys:

  1. Type the shortcut for Expression Text (CMND-E, Mac or CNTRL-E, Windows)
  2. Release the E key, but leave the MODIFIER key (CMND or CNTRL) depressed.
  3. Now type “p” for piano, or “f” for forte, and the dynamics will be entered with the correct font.

You may have also noticed the music text character m” in the Contextual Menu list (CMND-M on Mac or CNTRL-M on Windows. This allows us to create mezzo-piano and mezzo forte dynamics, effectively giving us the complete range of standard dynamics, from “pppp” to “ffff“.

Let’s try it out. Want mezzo-forte? Type CNTRL-E (or CMND-E on Mac), then with the modifier key still held down, type “mf”. Want forte-piano? Type CNTRL-E (CMND-E) then “fp”, again, making sure to leave the modifier key held down.

You can also create dynamics like “sfz” using this method, since “s” and “z” also work the same way, just keep the modifier key down when you enter them, and they will show up in the music text font.

Did you happen to notice certain keystroke combinations that seem like they might conflict with other operations in Sibelius? (e.g. like COMMAND-S or CONTROL-P). Don’t worry. You aren’t going to accidentally PRINT the document or anything while using these shortcuts. While you are in the text entry mode, these key commands are only affecting the text entry or editing itself.

There is one exception for the dynamics shortcuts. CNTRL-Z (CMND-Z) *is* actually used while you are in the text entry / editing mode to UNDO text entries. So, for “z“, you need to use the capital letter rather than the lower case one. Hold down the SHIFT key along with  z” to get it to appear as music text (CNTRL or CMND still held down, of course). The keystroke sequence for “sfz” would be CNTRL (or) CMND-E, s, f, SHIFT-Z (modifier is held down through the entire entry).

That’s it! That’s all there is to it. With a little practice, you’ll find this method of entry to be extremely fast.


If you already entered dynamics as regular text in one or more scores, don’t worry; it’s easy to fix using the Change Dynamics Plugin.

In Sibelius 7, go to the Text Tab, and locate the Change Dynamics Plugin. (In Sibelius 6, go to Plugins>Text>Change Dynamics):

The Change Dynamics plugin is very useful for quickly changing the overall dynamic level of a passage of music in your score after the fact, but it also has a little known, yet powerful bonus feature – it allows you to restore your dynamics to the Music Text Font.

When the plugin dialog comes up, you can choose to run the plugin on a region of the piece or on the whole score. Notice the option that says “Update the font of dynamics that don’t change”, which should be checked by default.

Important: In this case, we don’t want to change anything but the font of the dynamics, so make sure that the “Custom Dynamic Mapping” radio button is selected. Also, if you have extreme dynamics such as “pppp” make sure that you uncheck the “limit extremes” option.

Sibelius Change Dynamics Plugin

When you click OK, the Custom Dynamic Mapping dialog will come up. For now, don’t change any values in this dialog and just press return or click OK.

The plugin will run, updating the font of all of your dynamics to the correct one.

I should mention that if you are in the habit of combining dynamics with regular expression text in the same line, as in “mp cresc.”, Sibelius is going to offer to highlight these areas for you, since it can’t always tell exactly which text should be changed in these combined instructions:

(I usually recommend entering dynamics text by itself – Sibelius does a great job of collision avoidance and text alignment, so you don’t really need to combine them in Sibelius 6 or 7. So , you can enter “mp” as one bit and then enter “cresc.” as a separate bit with no ill effects.)

That’s about it. After running the plugin, your dynamics should all be updated to the Music Text font:

Take control of your dynamics in Sibelius. That’s it! That’s all there is to it.


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