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SIBELIUS SOFTWARE Sibelius 2.1 (MAC/WIN)

September 1, 2003
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In an effort to speed up and simplify the creation of scores andparts, most music-notation programs use their built-in“intelligence” to make assumptions about layout,transpositions, instrument characteristics, and many other musicalelements. If the assumptions fall neatly into line with your needs,they can indeed make your life easier. In my experience, however, theassumptions frequently require complex work-arounds to get the resultsthat I'm after.

When I was introduced to Sibelius in its original incarnation, I wasimpressed with its version of intelligence, even though I was stymiedby a few of its assumptions. I'm pleased to report that version 2.1comes even closer to the ideal balance between being smart and beingflexible.

ON THE DISC

Sibelius comes on a dual-platform disc so you can install it oneither a Macintosh or Windows computer. In fact, you can install it onboth, but it will only be fully functional on one computer at a time.The program uses a simple challenge-and-response copy-protection systemthat allows you to authorize only one machine — but with a twist.An unauthorized version of Sibelius lets you open and print scores andparts, but it doesn't let you save your work. You could therefore domost of your work on your notebook but still print from your officedesktop. If you need to do some serious work on your desktop, you cansimply transfer your authorization from one computer to the other.Doing that the first time is a bit of a pain if the two machines aren'tin the same room, but the transfer authorization numbers ordinarilydon't change, making subsequent transfers easier.

Installation on my Windows XP machine was as simple as it could be,and I was up and running in just a few minutes. When I started theprogram for the first time, it recognized my simple MIDI setup andasked me to test it.

ON THE PAGE

FIG. 1: Sibelius is always inpage-layout view, and reformatting occurs as you enter data. The Keypadin the lower right lets you select the rhythmic value or symbol. TheNavigator has been relocated from its customary lower left corner tothe upper right. Note the wood-grain "desktop" and crumpled "paper"look of the score.

Sibelius always presents your scores in page-layout view (seeFig. 1), so data entry and layout are inextricably linked. Theupside of this arrangement is that you don't have to switch betweenviews; the downside is that watching the page reformat itself with eachchange can distract you from your focus on data entry. It's fine withme as a composer, but as a copyist I sometimes find it troublesome.

On the program's main page, a small gray overview called theNavigator graphically represents the pages in the score. A whiterectangular overlay in the Navigator corresponds to the currentlyvisible part of the music. You can drag the overlay around to revealother parts of the score, or you can simply click where you want theview to go. You can also click and drag directly on the score itself tomove it where you need it. If you prefer navigating with the computerkeyboard, the Home and End keys move the score to a previous or laterpage; the Page Up and Page Down keys move you higher or lower on thecurrent page.

Sibelius's onscreen Keypad (in the lower right) is one of theprogram's best features. It provides access to five sets of notes andsymbols that you can select from your computer's numeric keypad (oronscreen with the mouse). It's an efficient system, as you will see ina moment. Above the Keypad, six collapsible Properties panels keepnumerous layout options and other parameters close at hand. Changingthe lyric font or assigning alternate note heads, for example, is quickand easy with these panels.

Sibelius takes the prize for offering the cleanest desktop; it letsyou move or hide (but not resize) the Navigator, Keypad, and Propertiespanels. In addition, you can hide the menu bar, tool bar, and even thetitle bar, leaving only the score onscreen. That's the way I prefer towork, with nothing coming between me and my score. If I really need toretrieve the Properties panels, I can use a keyboard shortcut to callthem up and then hide them again. The menus reappear when you move yourmouse to the top of the screen or when you use the appropriate keyboardshortcuts to open them.

Another unique feature in Sibelius is its use of paper and desktextures to spice up the user interface. In an effort to combat theboring (and arguably fatiguing) black-on-white display in most notationprograms, Sibelius lets you select from numerous wood grains, marbles,and similar textures for your desktop and combine them with variousother textures ranging from cotton to parchment for your score“paper.” (Both options draw from the same set of textures,so you could have wood-grain paper if you really wanted to.) You canturn the textures off completely if they bog down your video or offendyour sensibilities.

DATA ENTRY

Like any first-rate notation program, Sibelius offers a variety ofmethods for entering notes and other information into your score. Thesimplest is to choose notes and symbols from the onscreen Keypad withthe mouse and then place the notes and symbols on the score by clickingin the desired location. If you use this method past your first tenminutes with the program, though, you're wasting time and missing oneof the best features of Sibelius.

A far more efficient way to work is with your right hand on youractual numeric keypad and your left hand on the alphabet keys. Workingthat way, you can choose a rhythmic value with your right hand and apitch with your left; each note is entered as soon as you press theletter key that corresponds to the pitch name. The onscreen Keypadcontrols five layers of symbols, starting with the most common rhythmicvalues and including articulations, beaming controls, and accidentalsfrom double sharps to quarter tones. Other functions, such as repeats,slurs, glissandi, and pedalings are available with single-lettershortcuts. It's an extraordinarily efficient method and the bestjustification I've ever had for buying an external keypad for mylaptop.

FIG. 2: Flexi-time actually lets themetronome follow the tempo of real-time MIDI input. You can speed upfor simple passages and slow down for more technicalpassages.

Moving your left hand to a MIDI keyboard makes adding accidentalsand chords even easier. Of course, once you have your MIDI keyboardfired up, you'll be tempted to try real-time note entry. Sibelius makesthat easy with a function called Flexi-time (see Fig. 2). InFlexi-time mode, Sibelius actually follows your tempo, allowing you tospeed up for simple passages and slow down for complex passages. Ifthat sounds too good to be true, let me assure you that it works quitenicely. Once you become accustomed to manipulating the tempo, you canreally bend it to your whim. I did, however, run into a bit of a snagon my laptop using the built-in software synthesizer. The latency ofthe instrument made Flexi-time think I was playing consistently behindthe beat, so it kept slowing down to accommodate me. With a hardwaresynth that wasn't a problem.

Although Sibelius applies an extraordinary amount of intelligence toyour scores, I found that it sometimes allows objects to overlap. If Iforce a large number of bars onto a single system, I naturally expectto have to adjust some object spacing manually, but sometimes even thedefault spacing leaves a sharp overlapping a quarter note or lyricsbumping into each other. Spacing problems were frequent only withlyrics (because spacing follows the notes, not the text), but theoccasional overlap of notes and accidentals should never be allowed tohappen.

HOUSE OF STYLE

FIG. 3: House Styles can be saved andrecalled to make quick changes in every aspect of score appearance,from fonto to line thickness and objectspacing.

Sibelius lets you modify everything from accidental spacing to staffline width, and it lets you save sets of your preferences as HouseStyles (see Fig. 3). House Styles are a great feature if youcopy for several different clients. Switching from a civilizedclassical layout to a dramatic jazz style is a three-click operation,making it a breeze to quickly adapt the manuscript look and layout tothe needs and expectations of your clients.

As you might expect, Sibelius's playback capabilities areimpressive. The program recognizes and performs pedal indications,repeat signs, tempo markings, glissandi, trills, tremolos, and manyother markings including some idiomatic guitar markings when notatingin tablature. In addition, the playback of scores can be made morehuman (and more appropriate sounding) by choosing one of several presetperformance styles. “Espressivo” offers various degrees ofinterpretive intelligence above and beyond the notated dynamics.“Rubato” adds variations of tempo to make the performanceless mechanical. Rhythmic feel can be selected among a wide variety ofoptions from reggae to several swing variations to Viennese waltz.What's more, Sibelius's SoundStage feature automatically adjusts thereverb, panning, and volume parameters to simulate a concert stagesetting for large ensembles.

FEATURED PERFORMER

Sibelius's list of features goes on and on, including an Arrangefunction that will happily take a piano part and arrange it forstrings, full orchestra, brass ensemble, or any of more than 130 otheruser-definable ensembles. It's not going to put human arrangers out ofbusiness, but it's certainly useful for automating the less imaginativeparts of an orchestration. Sibelius can also work in the otherdirection, creating keyboard reductions from orchestral works.

Other noteworthy features include the ability to display SMPTE timecode above each measure and in the elapsed-time display — a greatfeature for film composers. Sibelius also boasts powerful newmusic-scanning capabilities (see the sidebar “Scanning Comes ofAge”), a 10,000-level Undo command, a 500-page hard-copy manual,and integrated Web-publishing capabilities.

In the final analysis, though, it's not an ever-expanding featureset that makes a music-notation program great. It's all about gettingthe data in and having control over it, and that means entry andformatting tools. Sibelius excels in both those areas, putting itsquarely in the notation-software big leagues. Whether I approach theprogram as a composer, orchestrator, copyist, or educator, I find thatSibelius makes my job easier, faster, and more efficient. And those arethree words that mean a lot to me.


Brian Smithers teaches music technology at StetsonUniversity in Deland, Florida, and is Course Director of AudioWorkstations at Full Sail Real World Education in Winter Park,Florida.

Minimum System Requirements

Sibelius2.1

MAC: Power Mac G3; Mac OS 8.6 (OS X compatible)

PC: 486 CPU (Pentium II recommended); Windows 95

SCANNING COMES OF AGE

Sibelius now ships with Neuratron PhotoScore Light, an opticalcharacter-recognition (OCR) program for printed music. I had a chanceto check out the Professional version ($199, or $699 when bundled withSibelius), which is distinguished by the wider range of elements thatit can recognize. My last experience with scanning music into anotation program left me convinced that I could enter the data manuallyin a lot less time than it took to fix the mistakes made by thecharacter-recognition algorithm. Although I approached this review witha bit of skepticism, I walked away a believer.

Musical notation is an amazingly complex and subtle sort ofabstraction, and the process of interpreting a scanned bitmap of ascore into the language of a notation program makes the job ofalphabetic OCR seem like child's play. Doing even a bad job of sortinga sharp from a flat from a natural, correctly interpreting bar linesand brackets, and deciphering complex rhythms is a noteworthyaccomplishment; doing it well is miraculous. PhotoScore does it well,and I found that I could scan a page of material and have it inSibelius ready to edit, annotate, transpose, or print in a matter ofminutes.

PhotoScore performs its magic in four steps: scanning, reading,editing, and exporting. The scan must be clean and level, and it mustbe at a suitable resolution. The PhotoScore manual, though thin, showsyou how to determine the optimum resolution for your score, and itguides you clearly through the entire process.

Reading the score is the tricky part for the recognition algorithm,although it only takes a single mouse click to make it happen.Neuratron realizes that there will inevitably be some errors at thisstage, and it provides tools (a subset of Sibelius's tools) to clean upanything that would make exporting into Sibelius problematic. Inparticular, you are well advised to resolve issues of key, meter, andrhythm before exporting the score to Sibelius.

After scanning a highly technical etude, all I had to do was fix afew rhythms, correct the meter, and change a couple of slur attachmentsbefore I exported the music to Sibelius, where I transposed it intoanother key. I then imported a duet for two alto saxophones, cleaned itup, and had Sibelius transpose one part for soprano saxophone. The pagehad one rhythmic mistake, some incorrectly attached text, and a coupleof articulation mistakes, but I was still able to produce a clean scorein less time than it would have taken me to enter the datamanually.

PhotoScore didn't do as well on examples that included ossias andother subtle elements, and it's not happy with photocopies or anythingelse that produces a scan that's less than perfect. It is also notintended to handle hand-copied scores. But those limitations areentirely reasonable, and they don't negate the time-saving potential ofthe program for typical scores.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Sibelius Software
Sibelius 2.1
music-notation software
$599

FEATURES4.0
EASE OF USE4.5
DOCUMENTATION4.0
VALUE4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Simple, powerful, and efficient data-entry methods.Highly configurable. Intelligent formatting and playback. Auto-arrangefunction. Sophisticated MIDI support. Flexi-time follows tempo ofreal-time MIDI entry. Useful and accurate scanning support.

CONS: Real-time reformatting of page layout can bedistracting. Symbols still sometimes crash into each other, especiallylyrics.

Manufacturer

Sibelius Software
tel. (888) 474-2354
e-mail infousa@sibelius.com
Web www.sibelius.com

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