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Square brackets with Sibelius

Ronald MacDonald <> First published: Mon Apr 8 22:48:53 BST 2013

This is a bit of an oddity…

I use Sibelius 6. It’s fine for inputting vast quantities of music, but as soon as you find yourself doing anything out of the ordinary, it kicks up a fuss.

Anyway, here I was, wondering how on earth to get square brackets. You know, [ and ], instead of the ( and ) ones. They’re often used for producing editions of old music.

Well, don’t you know, there are 1001+ symbols included with Sibelius, including every kind of bracket. None, however, allow you to bracket accidentals in a clean or satisfying manner without having to resort to some serious voodoo.

Impatient? Here’s the solution

Here’s what I tried:

1. Inserting square bracket symbols around each accidental


Fig. 1: Add symbol


Fig. 2: ‘Magnetic’ off, move down


Fig. 3: Move accidental and previous note


Fig. 4: CTRL+ALT+N… oh shit.

The verdict: 2/10

Sure, it might look ok here and there, but I’ve got 200+ pieces of music to edit. Also, note alignment (CTRL+SHIFT+N) quits doing its job properly. So, no.

2. Altering the accidental symbol to use [ and ]


Fig. 5: Opening the dialog box


Fig. 6: Creating the symbol


Fig. 7: Constructing the symbol and aligning brackets


Fig. 8: Final result

The verdict: 7/10

Looks better, but the sharp itself is too ‘high’ and the brackets are not being compensated for by the note spacing. Yeah, we could go change accidental spacing in house styles — but that would change ALL accidentals. So, uh, no.

3. Using the brackets from the ‘Figured Bass’ font

Rather than using symbols far the brackets and losing the ability to space the notes vs accidentals properly, let’s base the symbol on the brackets themselves. In other words, Sibelius calculates the spacing around the bracketed accidental based on the brackets.

Back to the ‘create symbol’ dialog, noting the font I’m using, here’s what happens


Fig. 9: Sharp too low, brackets too high

The verdict: 5/10

Give it a try, noticing it spaces beautifully with the note. It is, however, unusable. The bracket is too high and cannot be moved down, and moving the sharp above its baseline will make it appear too high.

4. Creating new brackets within the ‘Figured Bass’ Font

Well, the best I could come up with was to edit the font itself. I started off with Opus Figured Bass (extra), as it contains some useful bracket symbols. Then, edited and reinstalled the customised font.

NoteIf you can’t be bothered, or you’re not sure what you’re doing, email me nicely and I’ll send you the modified Opus Figured Bass font.
4.1 Download Glyphs App and load font

Glyphs (OS X only — check out FontForge for Windows/Linux) is a commercial font editor. The trial version works for 30 days, though - so seeing as we’re just altering one character, that’ll do nicely.

Copy the ‘Opus Figured Bass Extras’ font from /Library/Fonts. Make a backup of it, just in case we cock up. Open it in Glyph and you should see the following.


Fig. 10: The Glyphs window

NoteSibelius numbers glyphs in decimal. Fonts, at least any I’ve come across, are usually numbered hexadecimally, ie to the base-16. Unicode follows this pattern. That means character number 40 will be 0028 in hex… goodness only knows why Sibelius decided to number the characters in decimal! I mean, it’s not like you count the characters from the first register, right? Anyway…
4.2 Edit said font

I found the best bracket to start off with was 0x0028 (#40 in Sibelius). This just needs to be copied to a new register and moved down a tad. I assigned it 0x0027 (#39 for Sibelius).

Once that was done, I added a bit of room to the left of the character, so Sibelius would know to give the character a bit of elbow room.

Copy the ‘parenleft’ character, assign it register 0x0027 (down on the bottom left panel) and double-click. Move it down by a good bit. While you’re down there, give it space to the right.


Fig. 11: Where the bracket normally sits a) and where we want it b)

Export as OTF from GlyphsApp, reinstall font. I found opening the file in Font Book (OS X) and reinstalling from there would double-check conflicts.

Close Sibelius.

Then, rebuild font cache. In Terminal:

sudo atsutil databases -remove
sudo atsutil server -shutdown
sudo atsutil server -ping (this just checks ATServer is back up)

No need to restart. Restarting is for dummies.

4.3 Moment of truth

Open Sibelius. Check ‘Music Font’ (accessible in House Style>Edit Symbols) uses our new font for Figured Bass, or it’ll unhelpfully resort to Times New Roman. Edit the (b) and (#) symbols, removing the parenthesis and adding the new character from register 0x0039 of the Figured Bass (extras) font.


Fig. 12: Beautiful bracketed flat!

The sharp has a lower baseline. With the bracket selected, you can use the arrows around the symbol preview to move the bracket. Saves you having to create a separate glyph!

Note how I’ve assigned it to the same space as the normal parenthesis. This means I can access it via the keypad and, as this is an edition of music dating from early 1700s, I won’t be using cautionary accidentals anyway. You could substitute any other key if you like.


Fig. 13: Ah. Simply Divine.

Job done. Phew.

Want to use this in another score? Export it as your house style, or copy to a new score and re-use!