I want to recreate a repeated section of music in Sibelius which I found in an online score. Here is a screenshot of the relevant bar from the repeated passage:
excerpt with small "alternative notes" in repeat

The passage is repeated three times, and each time, the notes change using the small notes inserted above the larger ones, as indicated by the 1,2,3 notation.

My question has 2 parts:

  1. How does one create the small notes above the original - they are not parts of chords, but are clearly alternates, so simply adding them above the original and choosing small noteheads does not work - they play back as chords. They are small, and displaced to the right.
  2. How does one create the small numbers, 1,2,3 which indicate to the performer which one is played on which repeat.

As ever, the problems are twofold: how to create the notation, and how to get correct playback in Sibelius.

  • 7
    Don't do it, this is a horror to sight read.
    – tommsch
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 17:30
  • 1
    Yes, concurring with @tommsch, for reading purposes just write it in the three different ways. I've been reading and sight-reading piano parts of all sorts for 50+ years, and have never encountered that... (for what that's worth). Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 19:44
  • @paulgarrett Thanks for sharing your experience. That is interesting to hear, and it explains why I could not find it using various google searches. When I found the actual form posted on the internet, it seemed quite natural to me - maybe just a very modern way of doing it perhaps. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 9:21

4 Answers 4


I'd use 2 voltas instead. It's easy to do in Sibelius and it could be argued it's easier to read too.

  • Thanks for your suggestion @Creynders. That is of course a solution. However, the music is multi-stave, with several other parts, all of which have simple repeats. With your suggested solution, it means copying all the other parts into their own volta on each stave, and for those players, it is certainly not easier to read, and confusing, when they are simple repeats. The original composer/transcriber certainly found the shown method the best solution. Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 14:40
  • 1
    @PaulHarrison - Unless everyone is reading from the same multi-staff sheet music, I don't see a problem with this 3-repeat solution. Just give the part in the question the triple volta and all other parts a single volta with "1, 2, 3" printed on it.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 14:44
  • Thanks for the kind suggestions to use voltas. I agree that it could be a solution. However, could anyone please tell me how to create in Sibelius the little notes and numbers shown in the question please? Thanks. Commented Dec 28, 2021 at 15:03
  • Did you know that 'Play 3 times' in Tempo text is sufficient instruction to make Sibelius play a repeated section, without volta endings, three times?
    – Laurence
    Commented Aug 8, 2022 at 19:00

After thinking about this and trying a few things out, I am now in the happy position of being able to answer my own question! This is what I did:

  1. create all the notes I needed as conventional chords.
  2. create a special note-head for my needs (called "Alternate"), starting from the standard small notehead on the notepad types panel. As well as being small, I edited it not to have a stem (this is one of the standard options for editing noteheads).
  3. After selecting the relevant bar, I used the "Filter" function to select first the top note of all the chords in the bar (and later, the second note).
  4. Redefine those notes to have my Alternate noteheads.
  5. While still having those notes selected, I entered the Inspector and programmed it to only play the top notes on the 3rd pass and the second notes on the 2nd pass during playback.
  6. While still in the Inspector, I used the variable X control (standard in the Inspector) to move the top notes well to the right and the second notes a little to the right
  7. Finally, I used simple text to create the 1,2, 3 markings, and edited their size, moving them into position with the mouse.

Here is the resulting bar after printing to pdf.

enter image description here

It is not too far from the original I was attempting to reproduce, and it plays back as required! Thanks for your interest.

  • Glad you found out how to do it! But still, I'd definitely prefer voltas, the notes are too close to each other IMO.
    – Creynders
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 11:27
  • Your pianist would want to murder you for this
    – Divide1918
    Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 7:02
  • @Divide1918 Thanks for your thoughts , but my pianist says he is very happy with it. Commented Dec 30, 2021 at 9:17

You may use two ossia staffs above the treble staff.

  • 2
    Those ossias better come with labels, or I'll randomly select the standard sheet music or an ossia every time I encounter that measure. (For example, I pick 1-3-2 on one day and 3-2-3 the next.)
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Dec 29, 2021 at 14:31

A follow-on to @Paul Harrison's answer:

If you want to keep the slight separation between the pairs of small notes you could put them in two different voices with slightly different x-offsets. It's a bit fiddly setting up the group, but once you've done one it responds well to copy/paste.

There's already a suitable notehead, #8 (Stemless). Set it to Cue-sized in the score.

Did you know that repeat barlines and 'Play 3 times' in Tempo Text is all you need to get a simple 3X repeat?

enter image description here

I must share everyone else's dislike of this notation, particularly if anyone is going to have to actually READ it, rather than just using it as an aide-memoire. Apart from anything else, the numbers will be read as fingerings - if rather impractical ones!

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