Sibelius Rhythmic & Slash Notation tweaks

Q: IMO, Sibelius’ slash noteheads (type 4, ‘beat with stem’) are too long (2 spaces high vs.1 space in Finale’s), and too thick, making rhythms difficult to read. Hard to believe that Sibelius lacks something as simple as a short slash notehead. Do these smaller noteheads exist in Sibelius, or is there a way to create them? And if so, how?

A: Excellent question. Slashes and Rhythmic Notation are commonly used for comping guitar, bass and drums in jazz charts.

  • Stemless slashes are frequently used to indicate improvised chording or comping where no specificity is required. These slashes simply indicate “time” in the current meter (In 4/4 time, 4 slashes in a measure, for example).
  • Rhythmic Notation is used to indicate a specific rhythmic figure. Regular pitches are replaced with slash note heads attached to note stems in the center of the staff

There are several ways you can change the look of the default slash and rhythmic notation in Sibelius. Let’s take a look:

By default, here are what rhythmic and slash notation look like in Sibelius:


And here is what the competitor program Finale produces by default:


You can see that the Finale slash noteheads are smaller than those in Sibelius by default, and this “oversized” effect produced by Sibelius is even more pronounced when using one of the handwritten fonts. The look of your rhythmic notation is purely a stylistic choice, but one that you should have control over regardless of your choice of notation program.

To create the smaller slash notation in the 2nd bars of the examples above, there is a super fast and easy solution. Just make these noteheads cue-sized. Select the bar, and then from the 2nd keypad, press Enter to make the slashes cue-sized:




However, note that this isn’t an ideal solution for rhythmic notation because the stems and beams will also become cue-sized.

Sibelius actually has a smaller version of the slash note head labeled “Quarter beat (small)”, which is part of the Special Symbols font (character slot 87).

One solution is to substitute the smaller available symbol built in to Sibelius for the regular sized slash:

Go into Edit Noteheads. in Sibelius 6, this is in House Style > Edit Noteheads. In Sibelius 7, select the Edit Noteheads button in the Noteheads Group of the Notation tab.

  1. Select Notehead 4 (Rythmic Notation)
  2. Click Edit
  3. Highlight the quarter note value and click Change Symbol
  4. Choose the “Quarter Beat (Small)” symbol. (Right near the default slash)
  5. Click OK


This is a quick and easy solution, but for me personally, these slashes are are a bit smaller than I would like them to appear on a rhythm chart. Compare this notation example with the cue-sized Sibelius slash above, and also with the Finale example. You can see that not only is the size of the notehead different, but the angle of the Sibelius  “Quarter beat (small)” symbol is different than the regular slash.

If you want to tweak the look of your rhythmic notation a bit further, it’s easy enough to create a smaller version of the regular slash note head at a consistent angle with the full sized slashes, and at a more legible size. Here’s how:

First, go into Edit Text Styles. In Sibelius 6, this is in House Styles > Edit Text Styles. In Sibelius 7, select the Edit Text Styles button in the Styles Group of the Text tab.

  1. Locate and select the Special Symbols Text Style.
  2. Press the New… Button
  3. Confirm the dialog
  4. Rename this Text Style to “Special Symbols (Slashes)”
  5. Change the relative point size from 19.x to 16 for both score and parts
  6. OK and close the dialogs

Now that you have created a “cue sized” version of the Special Symbols Text Style, let’s create a cue-sized slash note head.

Go into Edit Symbols. in Sibelius 6, this is in House Style > Edit Symbols. In Sibelius 7, select the Edit Symbols button in the Symbols Group of the Notation tab.

  1. Scroll down to the User Defined Section
  2. Select the first available Symbol Slot
  3. Click the Edit Button
  4. Choose your “Special Symbols (slashes)” Text for Music Font
  5. Choose character slot 86 for the regular slash character
  6. Adjust its vertical positioning to center it vertically in the staff. Try -1 space.
  7. Name it something appropriate (e.g. small slash)
  8. OK and close the dialog(s)

And here is what it looks like:


SInce you have already created a smaller version of the Special Symbols Text Style, why not also create a new smaller version of the diamond Sibelius uses for the Half Note rhythmic note head while you are here? It’s located in Slot 43.

The last remaining step is to assign the above smaller version(s) to the slash noteheads that Sibelius uses.

Go into Edit Noteheads. in Sibelius 6, this is in House Style > Edit Noteheads. In Sibelius 7, select the Edit Noteheads button in the Noteheads Group of the Notation tab.

  1. Select Notehead 4 (Rythmic Notation)
  2. Click Edit
  3. Highlight the quarter note value and click Change Symbol
  4. Choose your User Defined Slash and click OK
  5. Repeat for the half note notehead you created

You can edit the slash notation without stems (Notehead #3) as well to always produce these smaller slashes. Once you have these looking the way you like, be sure to save your new settings out as a House Style for import into future scores.

That’s all there is to it.


for Bob Karty, Oakland CA

I appreciate your comments if you have any tips and tricks in Sibelius for Rhythmic notation.

12 Replies to “Sibelius Rhythmic & Slash Notation tweaks”

  1. Thanks for the post. This is helpful and I agree, the look is much nicer with the smaller slashes. However, I still can’t figure out how to convert standard notation into slashes. My options seem to be: (1) slash note heads with the indicated rhythm but which move around the staff like a regular note or (2) slashes in the middle of the staff but without the rhythm (with basic options like even quarter notes or such). Is there a way to convert standard pitches into the usual rhythmic notation without rewriting the music?

  2. Great article !

    Thanks a lot Robert. My slashes are looking great now.


    Have you tried “Move Pitches to Transposed Mid Line” plugin ?

  3. Great post! Cue-sized rhythm notation is perfect for indicating a rhythmic figure above the stave, or hits for the rhythm section in a jazz lead sheet. Thank you, took me a good few searches to find your post, my chart is looking good at last! :)

    1. Hi Charles – you don’t actually need a plugin to create slash or rhythmic notation in Sibelius. Simply enter quarter notes on the middle line for slash notation, then select and type Option-Shift-3 on Mac (Alt-Shift-3 on Windows) to convert anything from a single note to an extended region of measures to slash notation. Rhythmic notation is the same thing – enter the rhythms on the middle line, then use Option-Shift-4 on Mac (Alt-Shift-4 on Windows0 to convert to rhythmic notation (e.g. slash notation with rhythmic stems and beams). You can also combine cues with slash notation by entering the cue sized notation in a separate voice from the slashes.

  4. I´m wondering how to create a notation where the stems get extended beyond a notehead indicating to the guitar player would harmonize a chord using the top note of a chord but would read the rhythmic values.

    1. You can’t use the regular Opus music font for this because of the character placement and definition, but there is also a Coda sign in Opus Text, and that one behaves more like regular text. Make a duplicate of a regular text style (Something like boxed text rather than Common Symbols) – choose Opus Text as the font and define a circled Border in the text style. Now when you type the keystroke for the coda sign (in Opus text on Mac it is OPT-Shift-5) you will see the coda sign enclosed with a circle. Hope that helps.

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