Three Things: Where Did My Bar Numbers Go?

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

It’s always great to learn new techniques that speed up your work flow 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 workflow.

Where Did My Bar Numbers Go?

This is one of those questions that I am often asked by colleagues and clients with whom I consult—usually in the form of a panicked phone call or email. They have a score where the bar numbers are fine up to a point but then they stop. No matter what they try there are no bar numbers in a bar or two, or perhaps even to the end of the score. If you are in this panicked state, skip to tip number three because that is almost always the solution. If not, read on and learn a few of the finer points about bar numbers in Sibelius.


One: Are they turned on?

Bar numbers in the score and parts can be different fonts, different positions and at different frequencies. The case may be that you are missing all the bar numbers in a score or part, or perhaps you are just seeing them at the start of the staff system and you want them to appear on every bar.

To rectify this situation:

  1. Open the score or the part in question
  2. Go to Appearance Tab > House Style > Engraving Rules > Bar Numbers

Adjustments can be made in the Appearance section. Here you can turn off or set the frequency of the bar numbers, hide them at rehearsal marks, and more. What is important to note is that these settings can be different in the score than in the parts. They can also be different from part to part. Perhaps you want bar numbers every system below the staff in the brass parts, but every bar above the system in the piano/vocal score. You can make those adjustments here.


Two: Are they hidden?

This is a situation I’ve run into when I have received a score from someone else, in which, for some reason, a bar number is hidden on purpose. You may see this:

If you want to bring the bar number back and continue a consecutive numbering, go to Text Tab > Numbering > Bar Number Change and you will see this window:

Click on the radio button for ‘Follow previous bar numbers’ and click OK. Your cursor will turn blue and become loaded. Click on the bar in question. Now you will see the bar numbers return to a consecutive order.


Three: Unresolved navigation is the most likely culprit

Almost always, bar numbers are missing because of an unresolved navigation issue. There is a repeat bar line or system text, such as D.S. or D.C., that is not following the rules. Sibelius bases its playback of the score on these rules. If Sibelius is confused about how to playback your score, your musicians will be too! In my experience, it is always a variation of one of these two scenarios.


Unresolved repeat barlines

The examples I’m showing you here are in a very limited number of bars so you can see them all in one screen shot. You will usually find these repeats spread far apart in the score. You will see in this part that the bar numbers stop after bar 16. Sibelius does not know what do after the repeat at the end of bar 16.

The fix depends on what navigation you want to convey. In this case, if you delete the repeat barline at the end of bar 13, the bar numbering will return to normal. You have clear first and second endings with an appropriate repeat.

But let’s say what you really wanted was a first, second, and third ending. If you create appropriate ending brackets, Sibelius knows how to play this back and the bar numbers will reappear.

Unresolved system text navigation

In this case, a client sent me a score with system text of D.C. al Fine that dictated the navigation of the score.

As I mentioned in the previous example, I have to shorten the number of bars between the repeat bar and the D.C. al Fine. But you can see the missing bar number on the first ending. After reviewing this, I came to the conclusion that this is ineffective navigation. It’s kind of an old school, pen and paper shorthand way to notate the form. My recommendation was to delete the D.C. al Fine and add bars later in the arrangement to compensate. But my client is a very old school pen and paper guy and he wanted it the way he wanted it. What can I tell you? If a client really wants something, you do your best to deliver! At this point it’s important to note that Sibelius is basing its playback on the definition of the system text ‘D.C. al Fine’ found at Play Tab > Interpetation > Dictionary > System Text.

If you go to this window and scroll down the list, you will see D[C. ]*al [Ff]ine—select it and click Delete. You will now see the bar numbers have returned to the normal sequence because D.C. al Fine is no longer affecting playback. So I can now give the client a great looking score and parts, just the way he wanted.

So next time this happens to you, don’t panic. Carefully follow your navigation and get those bar numbers back on track!

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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