Sibelius v2 Scorewriting Software For PC And Mac

Published in SOS March 2002
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Reviews : Software: ALL

Sibelius has a good claim to be the industry standard for professional sheet music production, and the new version 2 promises a slew of additional features designed to make scorewriting faster, easier and more creative.

Mike Senior

When SOS last looked at Sibelius, back in May 1999, it had just made the transition to Mac and PC from its already mature and well-respected incarnation on the Acorn computer platform. At that time, reviewer Mike Crofts concluded that "for anyone wishing to work exclusively in a notation environment, it's the absolute business". Yet the program's creators, brothers Ben and Jonathan Finn, have obviously not been content to rest on their laurels. In the last two years they and their development team have bee

Sibelius v2 £595
Significantly improved MIDI playback control with a new Mixer window.
Powerful time-saving functions for large-scale work.
Facility to import TIFF graphics into your score.
Internet publishing facilities with the Scorch browser plug-in.
Excellent new manual helps make learning the software a doddle.
Imported graphics not yet well enough integrated with notation objects.
Some of the new features, while usable, need more development before they become truly useful.
An extremely powerful and open-ended notation environment, which is also a joy to use. The new features present a large advance in functionality, and will certainly save a lot of time, though some of them seem to promise more than they actually deliver at present.

n beavering away ceaselessly, not only working incrementally up to version 1.4 and beyond, but also preparing for the major upgrade and overhaul which is the newly released Sibelius v2. Version 2 is available now on PC platforms, and the same upgrade will soon be available for the Mac version, where it will include OS X compatibility.

For those of you unfamiliar with Sibelius, it is basically a word processor for music notation. There are a variety of methods of creating a Sibelius Score: you can input it manually using your computer keyboard, mouse and a connected MIDI keyboard, in real or step time; you can generate it automatically from any Standard MIDI File or by converting from a number of competitors' file types; or you can scan an existing printed score using an ordinary desktop scanner and additional Neuraton PhotoScore software. A large range of notations is supported by Sibelius, including guitar tablatures and frames, percussion staves and all sorts of early-music and avant garde markings.

You can play back what you've written at any time, in order to check for mistakes, by using the Sibelius internal sounds or by triggering an external sound module via a connected MIDI interface. The Score can be edited and formatted extremely precisely, and printed at true publishing quality. Furthermore, any set of staves within the score can be easily extracted as parts and printed separately.

But those are just the basic features of a very advanced program -- if you'd like to know more, have a glance back at the SOS May 1999 review. What I'm going to look at here is the raft of improvements that have been added since we reviewed Sibelius last. The upgrade to version 2 includes about 200 new features, and the moment you start up the newest version of Sibelius you can tell that things have changed. The visual interface has been updated in line with the current trend for all things translucent, though thankfully retaining the elegant simplicity of the 'all in one window' working environment. The Navigator and Keypad windows have become all shiny and moulded-looking, and you can even see the underlying score faintly through them both if you're running under Windows 2000 or XP.

The Need For Speed

Sibelius describe their software as the "fastest, smartest, easiest way to write music", and a large amount of effort has clearly been devoted to justifying the first of these superlatives. For a start, the new-style Keypad window now has seven collapsible Properties panels at the top, which allow you to keep commonly required layout and playback parameters in view. These panels also allow parameters to be set globally for groups of objects within any selection of bars.

This latter aspect of the Keypad window is typical of the way in which Sibelius is happier than ever to take repetitive tasks off your hands. One such chore is the selection of multiple instances of certain objects you wish to alter en masse -- say, bowing marks in a string part or dynamic markings in the second voice of a piano fugue. The new Advanced Filter dialogue banishes the drudgery of such operations in an instant, and there are preset searches (to select all the hairpins, for example) which save you having to set up the large number of available filtering variables in most cases. The word-processor-style Find and Find Again functions are equally powerful, but simply select specified objects one at a time, rather than in bulk.

If you have selected a specific group of objects, you'll also find that the facilities to copy them intelligently across multiple staves have been improved. For example, you can now copy selected dynamics from one orchestral part into all the others at a stroke, and when you copy standard notation onto a guitar tab staff it automatically translates it into tab. However, the most powerful enhancement in this respect is the new Arrange function, which takes whatever selection has been copied to the clipboard and then spreads it out over whatever instrumentation you care to specify. This allows you, for example, to take a piano score and automatically spread its musical material over all the instruments in an orchestral line-up.

The arrangement can be generated from any of a large variety of available templates, each of which defines which lines of selected music are given to which groups of instruments. These templates include different orchestral and band voicings, as well as scorings suited to different musical styles. The process has been designed to work 'in reverse' as well, so that you can, for instance, generate quick piano reductions of complete arrangements. Furthermore, you can design your own Arrange templates should you not find what you're after in the presets.

Though the Arrange feature's name might suggest it could take the place of a human arranger, I think its keyboard shortcut, a shifted variant of the standard paste command, is a much better indication of the current limits of its scope. Effectively, the Arrange feature is a powerful copy and paste function, and it doesn't really show the intelligence you'd expect from a real human arranger. The Arrange tutorial example might encourage you to think that there is something more intelligent than this at work, for the arrangement varies as the score progresses, but closer inspection reveals that this apparent musicality is actually triggered by the internal voicings in the (carefully chosen, natch) source piano piece.

Feeding the Arrange function a slightly less conducive piano piece of my own showed up some of the areas in which the algorithm is less than musical. For instance, where I would have been tempted to hand sections of wide-spanning left-hand arpeggios to different instruments, perhaps supported by a chordal string pad based on the same notes, the Arrange function could only paste the whole line of figuration into specific instruments, causing seriously out-of-range notes in a number of parts. I imagine I would also have included the time-signature changes and left out the piano pedal markings from the horn parts...

However, there is much to be said in favour of the Arrange facility, even if it won't transform your piano sketch into Rimsky-Korsakov. It at least gives you something to start working from, which means you don't have to input lines from scratch, or copy and transpose them into each individual instrumental part. If you use Arrange intelligently, you can get something pretty close to what you're after in many cases, especially if you follow the manufacturer's advice and work on short sections at a time, using different templates.

You have to be a little careful, though, if you want to get anything useful out of the Arrange function's reduction process. I tried reducing the score of Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture, which is provided amongst the program's tutorial files. With the basic reduction template the result was unusable, even as a starting point for further work -- the time it would have taken just to clean up the solid mass of duplicated notes and text would probably have made it quicker to carve a reduction by hand into a stone tablet. The template that restricted the reduction to one voice per stave at least provided something you could have worked from, but in its raw form you'd have had to hire a pianist with 27 fingers to play it!

Plug-in Power

The Filter and Find routines are great for finding sets of notation objects, but they won't help you much if you're trying to find more complex thematic elements in a piece of music. You'll be glad to know, then, among the handful of new plug-ins introduced for Sibelius 2 is one that will automatically ferret out every instance of any selected melodic or rhythmic motif in your score. The other new plug-ins include ones which automatically add string or brass fingerings above selected notes, and ones which create inverted and retrograde versions of selected material. All of these could save you a lot of time... as long as you remain realistic about what they actually do. For example, don't rely on the motif-finding plug-in to pick up everything a human would think of as motivic repetition -- it currently only spots melodic sections with the exact intervals or rhythms selected, which misses many of the motivic imitations within typical Baroque-style counterpoint, for example. The plug-in will give you a head start, but you'll still have to go through the score by hand whenever you want more than literal quotations to be found.

Similarly, while the automatic string fingerings are playable, they are by no means comfortable: nor are they hidden intelligently for notes where they would not normally be required, and nor are they positioned vertically to avoid collisions with noteheads. While Sibelius's sophisticated selection and editing processes let you swiftly correct all of these problems, it does mean that the plug-in won't be much use unless you have a good knowledge of the instrument in question anyway.

That said, if you wanted to improve on any of these plug-ins, one of the things that impresses me very much about this application is that you are provided with all the tools with which to do so. Naturally, you have to have a little programming experience, but all the development tools you need are on the Sibelius CD-ROM, and the bespoke ManuScript language has been specially designed for music notation purposes. Having had no trouble with insomnia recently, however, I declined the opportunity to develop my own plug-in during the review period, though the PDF documentation seemed sensible and detailed, and a debugging facility is built into Sibelius for testing new code.

Shortcut Short-change

One of the things which makes Sibelius so fast to use is its multitude of keyboard shortcuts, which mean less mousing around and menu surfing. I was glad to see that they are also reassignable, which is something I have always found immensely useful within Emagic's Logic Audio MIDI + Audio sequencer. That said, mo

  Six Months' Free Access To Groves On-line  
  If you have access to the Internet from the machine upon which Sibelius is installed, you can click a button within Sibelius and it will automatically direct you to the on-line version of the New Grove Dictionary Of Music & Musicians, probably the world's most highly respected reference work on Western music through the ages. The moment you register Sibelius, you are entitled to six months' free access to this 30000-article resource, up to a total of 30 hours use.  
st of the shortcut assignments are very sensibly placed, with many common actions requiring no modifier, so you may never wish to alter the defaults. In fact, given that there seems currently to be no straightforward way of importing/exporting a set of customised shortcut assignments, you may be better off sticking with the default ones even if you don't like them, simply so that you don't come unstuck when working on someone else's Sibelius system.

Though most of the Sibelius keyboard shortcuts are fine to use, I did find some of them unintuitive, most notably those associated with the cursor keys. I don't know about you, but from my experience with most other applications, I have come to expect these simply to move the cursor, or to select the next adjacent object. If you have a note selected in Sibelius, the left and right cursor keys do exactly what you expect, namely selecting the relevant adjacent note. When you get to a chord, it seems natural that the down cursor should step through the notes within that chord. In Sibelius, however, hitting the down cursor alters the pitch of the top note one step downwards instead. You actually need to hold down the Alt key to change the selection up or down. Oh, and if you've got, say, a slur selected, then the left and right cursor keys cease to work for navigation and instead reposition the slur.

I am always inclined to shun the mouse wherever possible, so I dived into the shortcut assignment window in an attempt to straighten things out. Unfortunately, it turns out that if several context-sensitive functions are

grouped on one key, as they are on the cursor keys, you can only reassign them as a group. This means that you can't assign, say, the down cursor's various selection and editing functions to independent keys. In the end, therefore, I found that the simplest thing was to leave the default shortcuts as they were, and reach for the mouse when making selections instead, which was a bit of a shame really.

Colour Codes

Though most scores are printed in black and white, the new version of Sibelius takes advantage of colour to make editing chores easier. For a start, you can get the program to redden note heads which are difficult for their target instrument to play. The built-in instrument rules are consulted to make the note dull red if it is difficult to play, but bright red if it is impossible, and you can edit the instrument rules to suit your own impressions of 'difficult' and 'impossible'.

Very useful, too, is the ability to colour-code the noteheads of the different voices on each stave, which is handy for checking voicings at a glance. There is also a Pitch Spectrum option which colours all the noteheads such that each note is coloured closest to those a fifth on either side. Though I didn't personally find this all that useful, this would clearly be handy if you find yourself editing large scores at low zoom resolutions: doublings stand out regardless of multiple leger lines or funny clefs, and small changes in pitch can be seen from the note colour if not from the note position.

All these note-colouring options are useful, but I would have liked them to be even more flexible. Custom colouring of notes and symbols would have been nice for making up educational materials, but is not currently provided. There is a nice new function which allows you to highlight note selections, and this would probably be all right for pointing up relevant sections in a general way, but it isn't flexible enough for you to highlight single notes within chords, for example.

You can also now add colour to your Sibelius scores by importing TIFF-format graphics. These can then be moved, resized (with or without altering the aspect ratio), and copied as necessary. However, before you get carried away, it's clear that this facility is not particularly mature yet. The most important deficiency with the current system is that even though transparency within images is supported, you cannot reliably specify how an individual image is layered with other images or with notation objects. Sometimes you get lucky and t

  Import & Export Facilities  
  Sibelius now not only reads its own Score files, but can also import files from other music notation programs (including various vintages of Allegro, SCORE, PrintMusic and Finale). If you are considering transferring to Sibelius from any of these applications, you'll also be pleased to know that the Sibelius plug-ins allow you to batch-process whole folders full of files, so that you can set it running by itself while you watch Eastenders...

Should you wish to add graphical finishing touches to a Score which go beyond the capabilities of the Sibelius graphics import facilities, the program lets you export your Score file in EPS, EMF, PICT and BMP file formats, allowing you to tweak them within a dedicated graphics program. This export facility will also be handy to anyone wanting to create notated examples for essays and worksheets within a word-processor package.

he image will stay over or under the notation as appropriate, but at other times it will be the wrong way around, or will switch its layer when you edit its position or the notation. The Sibelius technical support staff inform me that this is soon to be sorted out in a future upgrade, and I can easily understand why -- without reliable layering tools, the facility to import graphics loses much of its potential power.

Improved Playback

With the new version of Sibelius comes a new Mixer window which makes it simpler to control the playback of your Score over MIDI, using either the software sound generator installed with Sibelius, or external hardware sound modules. Each Score instrument is automatically assigned its own channel (with Mute, Solo and Edit buttons, as well as a fader) and you can set MIDI channels, patches, and other sound parameters here.

The fact that Sibelius lets you play back scores makes it easy to check for notation mistakes, and that should really be considered its primary purpose: the main end product of Sibelius is the score, not a performance of it. However, the new version of Sibelius does attempt to stretch itself beyond basic note-checking. Not only are notes effortlessly played back on the relevant instruments (even from percussion notation and advanced guitar tab), but the program will also recognise a variety of trills, slurs, pedal markings, dynamics, glissandi and tempo terms as well, referring to an editable performance dictionary to interpret them if necessary.

While Sibelius will interpret many things on its own, there are limitations to its intelligence in this department. Dynamics, for example, only affect the voice in which they are created, so most piano music in its raw form will play back strangely. If you want to sort out such problems, you need to create extra dynamic

  Sibelius & Timecode  
  One environment in which original orchestral works are written every day is in the field of music for picture. In such work, the music usually has to be written to align properly with the visuals, and this is done by making sure that it hits certain timecode points. Sensibly, then, the new version of Sibelius will calculate and display exact timecode values (using any of a selection of frame rates) above every bar of your score, taking tempo changes into account. The total timing of the Score can also be shown in a similar way. Note, however, that the timecode boxes are placed at a fixed distance above the top stave, and there is no flexibility to alter this spacing for individual bars. Also bear in mind that, even though timecode is displayed, there are currently no synchronisation options within Sibelius, so it's not possible for you to play back a Score in time with incoming timecode.Test Spec* 366MHz Pentium II laptop PC with 64Mb RAM, running Windows 98 SE.

Evolution MK249 USB music keyboard and MIDI interface.

markings for each voice. Of course, the problem then is that, while the playback will be more realistic, the score won't look right.

The program's answer to this is to allow you to hide any object you wish. This means that you can put in all sorts of extra notation in order to get the playback to be more realistic, but without messing up your carefully groomed page. If you wish, you can still show the hidden objects on screen -- they look greyed out so that you can tell they're different -- but they won't show up when you print. In fact, you can even specify that certain objects are to be hidden only in the Score, so that things like cues will show up only in the parts which are extracted from it.

And you're not limited just to inserting hidden notation markings, either. Sibelius actually allows you to enter MIDI messages directly into the score as hidden text, and you can even send complex SysEx messages if you're willing to punch in all the numbers required. This is an immensely useful feature, though you should bear in mind that this still doesn't make Sibelius a sequencer, because it's hard to specify exact timings for these messages. There's also no graphical editing environment for drawing in MIDI messages, and it could get a little tedious putting in lots by hand, even though a few of the plug-ins have been designed to take the sting out of common tasks such as creating a crescendo on a sustained note using controller messages.

In addition to any performance information you enter into your Score, Sibelius also has several functions which can be used make playback more expressive. The first of these, Espressivo, has been available for a while, and varies note velocities in an intelligent way which often makes for a more musical-sounding res

  Manual & Support  
  Unlike some major applications, the new version of Sibelius still comes with a proper 500-page printed manual. And not just any old manual, either, but possibly the most impressive manual I've ever come across. It just seems to have everything you'd want, presented in what I found to be a very endearing tone. It includes a walk-through of the installation process, a series of simple tutorials which teach you all the important features in about 50 pages (complete with supporting Score files), an in-depth reference section dealing with every menu and dialogue-box option, a complete listing of the default keyboard shortcuts, a glossary, and an index which actually has what you're looking for.

Worthy of particular praise is the 35-page How To section, which acts like a sort of 'visual index', with sample pages of various common types of scores, labelled to show how Sibelius refers to various notation objects. This means that you can quickly find out that the funny oblong thing in the middle of the bar is an H-bar multirest, simply by knowing what it looks like.

A slimline version of the manual in PDF format is also accessible from the Sibelius Help menu (though I found that I didn't need to use it, because things were so easy to find in the hard copy) and there's a Tip Of The Day function which feeds you an operational nugget every time you boot the program (and which can, happily, be switched off if you find it annoying!).

If there's something that you can't work out from the manual, there are a number of further resources available to help you out. To start with, there's the free Sibelius technical support service, which can be contacted by phone, fax, mail or email. Bear in mind, though, that the phone service is only free for the first three months, after which you can subscribe to it for a charge of £69 per year. On the one occasion where I couldn't work out from the manual how to create a certain custom symbol, the support service quickly and professionally put me on the right track.

Finally, the Sibelius web site has a bundle of extra stuff which could come in handy. The Help Centre has a searchable list of frequently asked questions, a forum for Sibelius users to exchange tips, and a downloads area which includes software upgrades.

ult. In addition to this there is now a new Rubato facility, which creates small real-time tempo changes for a more human result, and Rhythmic Feel, which alters playback much as would a preset sequencer groove template -- there are about 15 templates, including several types of swing, waltz, samba, rock/pop, reggae and funk.

At their best, these performance features can eliminate the unflattering mechanical feel which many people associate with computerised playback, and the Rhythmic Feel element is predictable enough in use. However, although Espressivo and Rubato are nice features to have available, if they happen to disagree with the particular music you feed them, the latter especially can produce rather lumpy results.

Rack Up The Backups

One thing which I especially like in the new version of Sibelius is the way it backs up its Scores. For a start, there is an automatic backup facility, which ensures that only the last few minutes' work will be lost in the event of a system crash. In addition to this, every time you click the Save button (or hit its keyboard shortcut) it not only saves under the existing file name, but also as a numbered duplicate in a separate folder. This folder will hold up to 40 previous versions of every score you have worked on, something which you can easily afford to do given modern drive capacities and the comparatively small sizes of Sibelius files -- even the Hebrides Overture's file only takes 350K. I'm a great believer in keeping previous versions of files, and during the review I had recourse to the backup files more than once when I'd managed to goof irreversibly.

I was also pleased to see that Sibelius have been sensible with their copy protection. There's no dongle to be dealt with here, and nor are there periodic prompts to reinsert the original CD. You simply ring Sibelius to register your CD number and your unique computer number (generated by the software) and you are supplied with a code which enables the program to save on your machine. If you wish to transfer saving to another machine, it's a simple procedure to disable saving on the first machine, thereby generating a transfer code which enables saving on the second machine.

Because the unregistered Sibelius only has its saving disabled, there is nothing to stop you sending Score files to holders of unregistered copies, as these can still be used as readers. However, there's another way to share Sibelius Score files: you can post them on a web page for people to view within their Internet browsers using the Scorch plug-in, available free from the Sibelius web site. The plug-in has a similar look and feel to Sibelius, though it is a lot simpler, and allows Score files to be played back directly from the browser, and saved and printed if these features have been enabled for that web page. However, files cannot be edited using Scorch, although they can be transposed (a process which I found to

  Sibelius On The Net: Interview With Benn Finn  
  Much of Sibelius' development energy has been focused on Internet distribution of sheet music. SOS spoke to Sibelius co-founder Ben Finn, and asked him how he thought this new distribution channel would change the way sheet music is sold and consumed.

Benn Finn: "Posting scores on the Internet is great for educational purposes, where schools and universities want to put their coursework up on their web sites so that students can download it at home for printing and editing. We also think that Internet score delivery is going to increase the sheet music market a lot. The reason people don't buy sheet music as much as they might is that it's quite hard to find a suitable music shop, and then it probably won't have what you want in stock anyway -- you'll have to order it and come back to collect it. We think that the Internet will particularly increase the sales of 'impulse' purchases. It's not really economic for music shops to sell individual songs any more, for example. But Internet delivery is good for that, because two or three pages can be conveniently printed out and don't really need to be bound.

"The Sibelius Music web site is turning out to be quite popular -- we get something like 200 new scores submitted per week, and we check each one to make sure that it doesn't constitute a copyright breach. The most popular pieces will be getting a few hundred printouts per week when they're at their peak. We pay cheques every quarter, and some people get several hundred pounds each time. No-one gets rich on sheet music, but it's good publicity for individual musicians."

produce some rather strange notated results on occasion, although the playback was fine) and instrumentation can sometimes be changed.

Though you can set up your web page to disable saving of the Score file from Scorch, the file is actually part of the web page, so this wouldn't stop anyone with a full copy of Sibelius from downloading and editing your Score using that. So how can this system be secure enough to use in commercial Internet music publishing? Two ways...

The first method is simply to use the dedicated toolbar button within Sibelius to publish your Score file for free on, a site Sibelius have set up for the purpose. Files submitted to the site are encoded such that only the Scorch plug-in can read them, which allows you to prevent anyone downloading the unencoded file for printing or editing in Sibelius until they have paid to do so. Sibelius offer a deal whereby you receive 50 percent of any monies thus gathered, which seems pretty good.

Your second option is to pay for a special Internet edition of Sibelius, with which you can encode your own read-only files. Clearly, this will be the most sensible route if you're wanting to set up your own score publishing site, but unless you're publishing a lot of material and expecting a lot of business, it will probably be more cost-effective to take advantage of the Sibelius site.

Spit & Polish

Sibelius have added a lot to their software over the last couple of years, and I can't help being very impressed with the package as a whole. This is an extremely sophisticated and powerful notation program, but in spite of this it was child's play to learn and use. The simplicity of the interface and speed at which everything updates as you scroll, zoom and edit also gives Sibelius a refreshing feeling of immediacy. Furthermore, it crashed only three times during the couple of months of the review period, even on a machine littered with other software.

The new features add considerably to the program's capability without jeopardising any of its

  Another nifty addition in Sibelius v2 is the facility to show (in blue) the distances between any non-note object and the stave numerically, for easy alignment. You can switch these rulers on globally, or have them show only for selected objects. Rulers are also available to show the alignment and positioning of the staves.  
operational elegance, even though a few of the extras don't shout 'professional!' quite as loudly as the more mature facilities. I liked the Arrange function, Advanced Filter, timecode options and plug-ins in particular, despite their current limitations, as they took the sting out of some of the most tedious tasks associated with notation work.

The main negative feature of Sibelius for many SOS readers will be that it's at the top of the tree, price-wise -- about £150 more expensive than its closest competitor in the UK, Coda Music Technology's Finale 2002. However, if you're going to fork out for specialist notation software at all, then you're probably going to use it a lot, so the lovely user interface, powerful bulk-processing tools and great manual justify this price differential, in my opinion. It is rare to encounter any piece of software which is this much of a pleasure to work with, and I would thoroughly recommend Sibelius if you're planning to work seriously with notation. If you don't try it before choosing a notation package, I reckon you'll end up kicking yourself.

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