Three Things: Magnetic Layout

By in John Hinchey's Three Things, Music Creation, Notation

It is always great to learn new techniques that speed up your workflow in an application you’ve been using for a while isn’t it? In this series of blog posts, I’m going to stick to three things on a topic that I believe will help speed up your work flow.


A feature with great attraction!

Magnetic layout is a very powerful feature that is often misunderstood. It automatically positions notation items in your score to carefully calculated positions horizontally and vertically to avoid collisions. But some users find it a frustrating when objects are placed in unexpected or unwanted positions. Let’s see if I can give you a few tips that will let you use magnetic layout to your advantage.


One: You can just turn it off for the whole score

Occasionally a colleague will call me and say, “I just want to turn it off!” Well if that is what you really want to do, you certainly can.

Go to the Layout Tab > Magnetic Layout.

Just click on that yellow box with the magnet that says “Magnetic Layout,” it will turn white. Now the Magnetic Layout feature is completely disabled on your score. The position of all your score objects will be at the default positions and stay there, even if they collide with another object.


Two: You can turn off a specific type of object

Maybe you’ve turned it off completely and realized, it’s not so bad and there is just one type of object that is causing your problems. A good example may be bar numbers. As you can see in this example, the bar numbers are not sitting up close to the bottom of the staff, which is their default position.

Go to Layout Tab > Magnetic Layout. Click on the edit box in the bottom right corner and the window below appears. Click on the “Object Type” header and the column will automatically be sorted into alphabetical order. Select “Bar number” and uncheck the “Mag.” box.

Now Magnetic Layout is turned off on just bar numbers in your score.

Three: You can turn off just one specific object

The first two tips are really unnecessary in the majority of cases where I run into Magnetic Layout hiccups. There is a lot of programming going on behind the scenes, but one thing it does is to group similar objects horizontally. You will often see this happening to chord symbols, lyrics, and expressions. The problem that often crops up is when one of these objects is moved out of position by a note, forcing the other similar objects on the same staff system out of position. In this example, the lyrics in the first 2 bars are forced lower by the lyric “Me!” in the third bar.

The first instinct many users have is to start dragging the lyrics in the first two bars up. You will find this technique counter productive. The lyrics in the first two bars are not the problem. Turning off Magnetic Layout off for just “Me!” will do the trick. To do that, click on “Me!” Go to Layout Tab > Magnetic Layout and click on the pull down menu next to Object and select “off”.

A faster way to do the same thing is click on “Me!” and then opt click (right click) and you can turn off Magnetic Layout from the contextual menu. Now all the lyrics pop back up to the default position. “Me!” is now colliding with the note but you can easily drag it into the desired position.

This technique works well with lyrics, expressions, chord symbols, other text, and lines as well. The trick is to find the object that is forcing the others out of position. But it’s pretty easy to spot if you to scan horizontally along the staff until you see the object that is closest to a note. That is the one to turn off. Remember that you can also select two or more objects and turn them all off at the same time as needed. Once you learn to work with Magnetic Layout, you will find that it is an indispensable feature!

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I am a producer, arranger, composer and trombonist based in Nashville Tennessee, with over 30 years of experience in the entertainment industry. For more information, please visit my website,, and for more Sibelius tips, visit “Notes On Notes” blog at