Stylizing digital sheet music with music fonts

For composers, songwriters, and those who dabble in transcribing music for fun, digitized sheet music is often found left with their default fonts in tact. Music notation software such as Finale™ or Sibelius™ automatically loads music fonts on the user’s computer upon install — Finale uses a music font labeled as “Maestro” by default while Sibelius typically uses “Opus Std” for music notation. On top of these music font settings, Times New Roman is usually paired with these music fonts by default, though in Sibelius the default font depends on what type of score or instruments you’ll be writing music for.


Plantin Std paired with Opus Std in Sibelius for the default piano score template

The majority of digitized sheet music may look similar to the transcription above, but if you feel like stylizing your sheet music, it’s quite easy to change font settings in Sibelius. With the addition of Urtext Music Fonts type foundry, we’re happy to give composers and arrangers options to make music look better.

If you’ve already started composing or transcribing your song in Sibelius, you can edit your font selection and apply it to your existing notation.


Main Text Font — By changing this font, you’ll change the text that shows the composer and part names (as in the music example above, where “Piano” and “Muzio Clementi” are noted). You can choose any (non-music) font you have installed on your computer.

Main Music Font — This selection will change all common music symbols, such as  key and time signatures, notes (both noteheads and flags are affected), and rests.

Music Text Font — Any additional expressive or articulation markings will be affected by this font selection. This includes dynamic markings (such as the bold “pp”s for pianissimo and “ff”s for fortissimo) as well as fermatas and trill markings, which are briefly explained below.

Here are some examples of dynamics and technical markings in Urtext Music FontsKapellmeister OT (in purple):


Once you’ve decided which font you’ll use for text and which font(s) you’ll use for the music notation, hit OK and watch your sheet music be transformed. In the example below, Plantin has been switched out for P22 Morris Golden and Opus Std has been switched out for Clementi OT, giving the excerpt from Muzio Clementi’s Piano Sonatina a more appropriate feeling:


In a side-by-side comparison, the following excerpt starts with the default music font (Opus Std), and where noted by the asterisk, changes to Clementi OT:


Other major differences are usually noticed at the beginning of the music, with the key signature (in this piece, the sharp “♯” sign) and time signature (the “fraction” 2/4). You’ll also see a difference of style in the way clefs (here, what precedes the “♯” sign) are drawn between music fonts:


To those unfamiliar with music notation, you can see also differences in the music fonts by comparing the design of the notes — the shape and weight of the notehead (the round part of the note) may differ as well as its flags (the part that waves itself off note stems on eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and any other note that has flags). This is better seen than explained; below is a comparison of eighth notes (again, in purple) in the Urtext Music Fonts available at FontShop:


You’ll notice that some noteheads are more elliptical (like that of Brumaire) while others are more round. Also, some flags are straight and angular while others are curved. With tastes and styles in music so varied, why should sheet music all look the same?

While Urtext’s range of music fonts address traditional styles, capturing the feeling of hand-engraved music from the Baroque and Classical periods, these music fonts are still fit to be used for any modern-day composer.

One Comment

  1. MusicMamaRob
    Posted May 3, 2013 at 4:27 AM | Permalink

    I transpose music for my a cappella group using Sibelius and found this article very informative and enjoyable to read. Thank you for providing the side-by-side comparisons. I’m glad to find out that someone is creating different fonts for music.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s