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).

Sibelius doesn’t include any combined trill symbols by default. I’ve seen a few Sibelius scores where the composer or orchestrator has used the regular trill line, then added a flat, sharp or natural  from the Symbols dialog.

While these are passable in the score, one problem with this approach is that the symbol tends to drift away from the trill line when the music is respaced, or you view it in a transposed part.

Fortunately, it’s very straightforward to build these as fixed, combined symbols. We get some advantages by doing this; for instance, we can make the accidentals appear more directly incorporated with the trill character itself.

And, while we are at it, we can create trill ½ and trill wt combined characters.

I’d like to share these trill files with you. Simply locate and download the Sibelius file I’ve linked to here, called

Once the Sibelius file is open, select one of the trill lines (making sure that only the trill line is selected), copy it to the clipboard (CTRL-C / WIndows or CMND-C / Mac), and then paste it into your own Template document.

If you are curious about how to create these lines yourself, here are the steps:

Select Edit Text Styles from the Styles Group in the Text Tab.
(if you are still using Sibelius 6: Go to House Style > Edit Text Styles.)

  1. Select  Common Symbols, then select the New… button. Select Yes.
  2. Change Size from 19.8 points to 14 points, score and parts (in Default document).
  3. Rename to Common Symbols (smaller). OK.
Now select Edit Symbols from the Symbols Group in the Notations Tab.
(if you are still using Sibelius 6: Go to House Style > Edit Symbols.)

  1. Scroll to the bottom of the list, to User Defined.
  2. Select the first blank character box in User Defined, select Edit… or New…
  3. Enter the Symbol Editor and choose Common Symbols (smaller) as the Music Font.
  4. Scroll down and select the flat (natural, sharp) character. OK.
  5. Select the next unused character box, and choose Edit…
  6. Make sure the default Common Symbols is selected as the font (not the smaller one)
  7. Select the Trill character
  8. In the bottom right corner of the dialog, look for the Extra Symbols section. Click Add.
  9. Choose your smaller flat symbol. Highlight it.
  10. Change the vertical and horizontal positioning of the flat to look properly placed with the trill. (I positioned the flat 1 space up and 1.84 spaces to the right.)

At this point, the Symbol editor window should look something like this:

OK the Symbol editor dialog, and close the Main Symbols dialog.

Select Edit Lines from the Lines Group in the Notations Tab.
(If you are still using Sibelius 6: Go to House Style > Edit lines.)

Select the regular Trill line and select the New… button. Confirm that you wish to create a new line based on the default trill.

In the Line Editor dialog, locate Start and click the Select button next to the Symbol radio button.

Locate your Trill Flat Symbol, and choose OK.

Because of the extra space needed by the wider combined character, adjust the “Spaces Right” field to taste.

Name your line something appropriate (e.g. Trill flat)

At this point things should look something like this:

OK the dialog, and use the new trill just like you normally would.


As of this writing, there is no way to define a trill line to play back non-diatonically by default in the Playback Dictionary of Sibelius. However, playback for these trills can be defined on a case-by-case basis by going to Inspector > Playback > Trill.

With the trill line selected, open the Inspector. For a half step trill, uncheck the Diatonic checkbox, and set the number of half steps to 1.

Note that if you change the key of the piece or otherwise change the pitch of the trilled note,  an accidental such as “trill flat” on the new pitch may mean something different.

(Sibelius 6 users – the Playback Tab of the Properties Palette in Sibelius 6 gives you the same functionality as the Inspector for this particular task.)

That’s it! Please share these line trills with other Sibelius users if you find them useful. Thank you.


As a Sibelius user, have you found this post to be helpful? If you have, I hope you will subscribe to OF NOTE and follow me on for ongoing music notation news and info. 

Thanks to Jacob Ahlberg for the playback clarification suggestion.

10 Replies to “Beyond Defaults : Create ½, whole-tone, flat, natural & sharp trill lines in Sibelius”

  1. Thanks for these files! They’re very helpful. I’m completely new at Sibelius (I can’t even figure out how to create ANY new symbol at all, so at this point I’m really lost on a whole bunch of things), and these files are saving me a lot of gray hair. Thanks again!

  2. Great article. Many thanks.

    What would be the sounding result of a flat placed above a Db?
    What is the best way to indicate a semitone trill on Db?
    Tim Davies suggests using “1/2” or “W” for semitones and tones.
    I suggest using numbers instead of sharps and flats.
    Fixed measurements are not open for interpretation so long as musicians are aware of the implication of a number next to the trill mark.
    Any thoughts?
    Is there a standard that I haven’t come across?

    Many thanks.

    1. Thanks, Julian! Good point. The 1/2 and whole indicators with trills are very common in film and game scores which most typically have no key signature, and, like the trill flat, sharp and natural, faster than writing in parenthetic destination pitches. The other reason that some commercial orchestrators prefer this system is that in the case of keyed scores, you don’t need to take into consideration diatonic pitches for transposing parts (of course, if you score is transposing then the score and parts appear with the same and “trill flat” means the same thing).

  3. This is fantastic, thanks for the resource! I just made three new trill lines and can’t wait to check what else is on this blog!

    1. Hi Kim – if you go into Edit Symbols, choose the (8va) symbol and click Edit, you will see the process for this.

      Select an empty slot at the bottom of the Symbols list, then add your two characters added to the list like you see the parenthesis added in front of the 8va – you can adjust the left, right, up down of each symbol with the arrow keys.

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