Some thoughts on Default Lines and Symbols in Sibelius

Since early versions of Sibelius, there have been Default Symbols and Lines. In the case of both Symbols and Lines, some of these are hard wired to specific functions in the program, and in the case of Lines in particular, these attributes are inherited by any “New” version you might create of that Default line.

For instance, the Default 8va line has an effect on playback. If you make a copy of this line by selecting it and clicking the “New” button, the New copy will inherit the same playback attributes. In the same way, if you change the visible attributes of the default 8va line, say, to different preceding text or change the line thickness, it will still maintain those playback characteristics.

But the ability to edit the defaults directly has some ramifications.

Recently, I received a number of score files from an orchestrator colleague of mine who had created “cue” lines in Sibelius by taking an unused staff attached line (a “string indicator, above” line) , and changing the start Symbol to “cue” text. In the process of importing my house style to bring the score to spec and create parts, I discovered that all of his “cues” had reverted back to that Default “string indicator, above” Line.

It got me thinking about how Sibelius currently handles Symbols and Lines. In Sibelius, most, but not all of the Lines are independent; designed to be applied for a specific use case after the fact.

For Lines, I would argue that it should’t be possible to edit these defaults directly at all.

Certain edits made *outside* the Edit Lines Dialog itself, such as Edit All Fonts or Edit Text Style, or by importing a house style already affect the display of the Default lines to conform to a particular house style.

To change the actual *content* of a Line, the user is encouraged to create a “New” line based on an existing one, but one isn’t actually required to do this in the current version of Sibelius.

Most of the lines aren’t hardwired to anything deeper in the program than playback, so a New version based on the existing Default can accomplish the same thing (including visible house style and playback), so there is really no reason for the user to be able to change the existing, standard use default lines directly.

Of course, the argument could be made that if you are the only one working on your Sibelius files, then what does it matter if you edit the Default settings of a Line directly?

Here is an example. In the current version of Sibelius, it is possible to change the 8va Symbol of the Default 8va Line to 8vb, the net result of which is an 8vb line that plays back up an octave instead of down an octave.

The Playback Dictionary also allows a similar conundrum. You can define playback for the Default 8va line to play back 8vb, or the Default 8vb line to play back 8va. Not that you would ever do any of this, but since these symbols have a very specific meaning, for general use, the pairing between these visual symbols and how they affect sounding pitch should never be edited.

Additionally, regardless of your level of expertise, at some point, you will likely not be the only person with access to your Sibelius score files. If you are a student, you may be shown suggested changes by your instructor. If you are composer who is getting his or her works performed, a music librarian or studio may need to change the page size for printing parts, for instance, which could involve importing a house style. If you are just starting out in Sibelius, you’ll probably want to stick with the defaults for awhile, anyway…

Ideally, if the user *does* edit a default Line, a good design approach for future versions Sibelius would be to have the edited version automatically become a New version (2) of the existing default Line, just as if they had manually selected the New button and made a version based on the Default.

In Sibelius, a small subset of the Default lines (the “Slide” line in the second keypad, for example) have a direct impact on existing music.  Think about the current Sibelius design: a user might decided to change the line thickness of the “Slide” line to use that Line for something else, and then, would be puzzled when he or she gets around to creating a Slide in the keypad and discovers the line is too thick.

I would argue that any Default Line assigned to a specific task in Sibelius should automatically create a “New” version if the edit will change its functionality somehow; e.g. if a symbol or text were added to this Default Slide Line, a “New” version (2) should be created, just as if the user had pressed the “New” button.

Symbols in Sibelius are a bit of a different animal, because the locations of many of the symbols are hardwired to keystrokes on the keypad (think accidentals or articulations), or are attached to notes or the staff / system in unique ways. By definition, more Symbol defaults are more tightly integrated with the program than Line defaults to begin with. But, for flexibility, you don’t want to remove the ability of the user to edit a specific Symbol hardwired to the keypad, or to control the look of something like a bracket end. So here, the current Sibelius design actually works well.

Of course, the mechanism of importing a House Style in Sibelius can bring both Lines and Symbols back to their proper defaults, but in the case with cue lines I experienced, the ideal would have been for the cue lines to have remained as cue lines when I imported my House Style, which would only happen if (a) my orchestrator colleague had created a “New” version of the “string indicator above” line, or (b) Sibelius had the ability to reserve its default lines and create New lines for the user automatically.

In the meantime, be sure to select an existing Line and click “New” to create a new or custom line, rather than directly editing one of the Defaults. You could very well end up working with someone who will be very glad you did.


2 Replies to “Some thoughts on Default Lines and Symbols in Sibelius”

  1. I totally agree. I recently got a score in which someone just renamed an existing built-in text style, rather than creating a new one and it took forever to figure out what was going on.

    Creating new versions of such styles is definitely the way to go, but since it is possible and ever easy to just rename, people do that.

    As you say, these kinds of things are OK to do if you will truly be the only person to ever see the file. But my experience is there will always be some point where someone else needs to manipulate the score and if you always create new copies everything will go more smoothly, especially when you are holding up a rehearsal to change a score…

    The downloadable Swap or Replace Text Styles plugin worked for me in this case – I created a new text style with a different name with the new properties, swapped all the uses of the renamed text style, and set the original text style back to its original properties.

    The downloadable plugin Replace Line Style can do the same thing for Lines, and Replace Symbol for symbols.
    You will, however, probably be happier if you never have to use these!

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