Transpose by Interval in Sibelius

Q: I play Alto Sax in a (small) big band. We’ve purchased Superstition by Stevie Wonder, arranged by Mike Tomaro. It’s a nifty piece of work and quite a challenge. I used Photoscore to enter my Alto Sax part into Sibelius 6, which appeared to go quite smoothly. But, Photoscore apparently didn’t spot the fact that it was a transposed part.

Is there a way that I can correct this in Sibelius and not lose all my sharps and flats? When I play it, I hear the correct notes but not at the right pitch. It would be nice to be able to change them, without having to alter each sharp or flat by hand. I’ve been trying to find an anwser but I have not been successful so far. Can you help me? Thanks very much.

A: Fortunately, this one is pretty easy to set right by (a) first making sure that the score in concert pitch is set to the correct key signature (in this case, your “score” can also be a single part) and (b) transposing the notes to the corresponding concert / transposed pitches. You can do both operations from within the Transpose dialog in Sibelius.

Let’s say you have a chart in three flats concert. The corresponding Alto Sax part is going to appear as C maj / A minor:


But, as you’ve discovered, Photoscore interpreted this as concert pitch, which means that when the Sibelius file is transposed, not only is the key signature incorrect, but the music displays up a major 6th:


Side note: depending on the version of Photoscore you are using, a Transposing scores option in Photoscore Preferences may be available:


(You will also need to make sure each staff is defined as the correct instrument to insure the correct transposition.)

No matter. Once in Sibelius, it is straightforward to fix this after the fact.


If your scan is of a single part only, after making sure that the Instrument is, in fact defined correctly (in this case, Alto Saxophone), select everything using Cmnd-A Mac or Cntrl-A Windows (you’ll see the purple double “system” selection line). Now, in Sibelius 6, select Transpose from the Notes Menu. In Sibelius 7, choose the Transpose function from the Note Input Group of the Note Input tab.

For Alto Sax, set the transposition Down a Major 6th (the opposite direction from the actual transposition). You’ll notice that the dialog also allows you to set the correct concert pitch key signature – in this case, both the notes and the key signature need to be transposed:


What about the case where you scanned score pages rather than a single part? If you scanned a score, and the concert pitch instruments are showing up correctly, but the transposing instruments are showing up incorrectly, first, confirm the master key signature is set correctly at concert pitch by typing “K” for key signature, then setting the correct concert pitch key at the start of the piece.

After confirming that each transposing staff is set to the proper Sibelius instrument (so that they will transpose correctly), use a staff-selection (single selection line) from start to finish on each transposing, and use the Transpose feature specifying the interval only (the key signature options will be grayed out in the dialog unless you have chosen System selection.)

Remember to transpose in the *opposite direction* from the actual instrument transposition: for Bb trumpet or Clarinet, you will transpose *down* a major 2nd, for Bass Clarinet or Tenor Saxophone *down* a major 9th, for Baritone Sax, *down* an octave and a 6th, etc.

The Sibelius transpose dialog is an easy way to set instrument transpositions right, and works for similar problems you may experience with conversions of one type or another.

I want to also mention a very useful Sibelius plugin written by Bob Zawalich here, called “Transpose By Interval”, which works with both Sibelius 6 and 7. This useful plugin transposes selected notes and also chord symbols by interval. It supports more intervals that the Sibelius Transpose function, including diminished 2nds, 3rds, 6ths, and 7ths, as well as larger intervals:


The “Transpose by Interval” plugin can be downloaded from the Sibelius Help Center.

That’s it! That’s all there is to it.


for Els Ruiters, Netherands

2 Replies to “Transpose by Interval in Sibelius”

  1. Great explanation, Robert!

    As the writer of the plugin, I wanted to note that the “Perfect 2nd” in the example above will not actually be created, since such an interval does not exist. If you hit OK it will tell you to choose a different combination. Sibelius itself avoids this by only allowing Major/Perfect, so it would interpret a 2nd as a major 2nd. But I wanted to allow both minor and diminished 2nds, so I list the options separately, and hope you will not choose a meaningless combination. But even if you do, I will let you change it!

    Bob Zawalich

    1. Thanks, Bob! Great plugin, BTW. Your point is well taken. I’ve replaced the previous screen shot with a transposition that matches the regular Sibelius transpose dialog. The main thing for the screen shot is that you can see all of the additional intervals that are supported by the Transpose by Interval plugin.

      Robert Puff

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