When you want to display polyphony in a drum set, piano, harp or vocal part, you should use Voices in Sibelius and Layers in Finale. Both programs have the capability of using up to four independent parts in one staff using four different Voices (Sibelius) or Layers (Finale).

It is common to use two voices/layers in drums, piano and vocal parts. However, it is rare to use three voices or layers and extremely rare to use four layers.

Both programs follow the same basic rules:

  • Stems up = Layer/Voice 1
  • Stems down = Layer/Voice 2

TIP: The most common mistake I see made is when there is a piano part or SATB vocal part with two clefs. It makes musical sense to use Layer/Voice 1 and 2 in the top staff and then Layer/Voice 3 and 4 in the bottom staff. This is not correct!  Use Layer/Voice 1 for up stems and Layer/Voice 2 for stems down in every staff. Use Layer/Voice 3 and 4 only for special (and rare) instances.

Below is an example of using Layers/Voices in Piano music.

Below is an example of using Voices/Layers in a Drum part.

 TIP: In Finale and Sibelius, you can display the voice/layer color. This is helpful to see the specific voices/layers.
Finale:  Choose View > Display Colors and be sure “Use Score Colors” is Checked.
Sibelius: Choose View > Note Colors

TIP: In Sibelius, if you reverse the common Voices and put Voice 2 with stems up and Voice 1 with stems down, the alignment of the beats will be off.


Entering Voices/Layers

Finale: Choose the appropriate Layer at the bottom left of the Finale Window.
You can also use the shortcut to select the Layer: hold down CTRL+alt (Command+option on Mac) and press the number 1, 2, 3, or 4 across the top of the computer keyboard

Sibelius: Select the bar and press the letter N. Choose the Voice from the bottom of the Keypad.
You can also use the shortcut: hold down alt (option on Mac) and press the number on the keyboard


Swapping Layers/Voices

Both programs have the capability to change a Layer/Voice from one to the other after they have been entered.


  1. Select the passage
  2. Choose Edit > Move Copy Layers
  3. Select the Layer you want to move


Sibelius 6:

  1. Select the passage
  2. Choose Edit > Voice > Select the Voice you want to swap

Sibelius 7:

  1. Select the passage
  2. Choose Note Input > Voices > Swap


Examples When Three Voices/Layers are needed

It is rare when you need to use more than two layers/voices. Below are two examples that required three layers/voices:

Example 1:  A classical guitar piece. Notice the one place that required a 3rd voice.layer.

Example 2:  A piano part. Notice where I used voice/layer 3 for the chords that enter and sustain on different beats.

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    using the 4 layers for the last example is a great idea…but how would I do that with 8th notes….four eight notes, all tied over into a half note chord (in 4/4)…can’t seem to find how to do that…except cheating with fake “ties” from the Slur tool and lenghten the notes with the Midi tool…which is weird, tedious and not really practical…(Berklee’s Arr.1 book 2 Rhythm Section Writing Excersize page 48 ROCK, the Keys part…). Thanx

    Can you email me a scan of the page?

    Tom Rudolph

    Done, it’s in your mailbox. Pdf.

    Thanks, Emiel. I emailed you the link to the YouTube video I made. Here it is for your reference.


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