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Sibelius Software Sibelius 5 (Mac/Win)

February 1, 2008
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screen shot image of Sibelius 5

FIG. 1: Sibelius 5's modular windows can be arranged to suit your work flow. The new version includes a scrolling music view, a database of musical ideas, improved music-playback capabilities, and many other improvements.

Sibelius Software recently released version 5 of Sibelius, one of the leading professional notation programs. A number of new features, small enhancements, and bug fixes make this a worthwhile upgrade for many existing users and also make it an even more compelling option for those looking for a new notation program (see Fig. 1). Sibelius has been a solid, well-designed, and feature-rich program for quite some time, so this version is more evolutionary than revolutionary. Note that Sibelius 5 is the first major release since Digidesign, a division of Avid, acquired Sibelius in 2006.

The Big Picture

Prior to version 5, Sibelius's work flow was oriented around the Page view, which allowed for an integrated, free-form approach to note entry and layout. However, the constant vertical scrolling that Page view required made for a disorienting process, especially when working with a large number of staves. Page view is still available, but the new Panorama mode shows notation as a continuously scrolling line of music. This approach makes for faster and more streamlined note entry (see Fig. 2). Having a scroll wheel in your mouse is particularly useful in Panorama mode, as it rapidly scrolls the material left and right.

Panorama integrates well with other Sibelius features. For example, during note entry you can use the Focus On Staves command to selectively hide the instruments you are not working on, and then switch to Show All Staves to add global expressions and markings. And once you've completed entering notes, you can return to Page view to tweak the global layout of the master score, then go into Parts view to make the inevitable layout adjustments to individual parts before printing. Panorama's contribution to this improved work-flow paradigm is the most valuable part of this upgrade.

What's the Idea?

The Ideas Hub, a searchable database of musical snippets for use when the creative well runs dry, is another significant new feature (see Fig. 3). An Idea can consist of anything from a single note to many bars of music, and it's simple to add new Ideas to the database or to place elements from the Ideas window into your score. You can tag Ideas with a wide variety of keywords, which allows you to search for snippets based on tempo, mood, instrumentation, and so forth. Each Idea is assigned a color-coded genre: country is yellow, jazz is pink, Motown is beige, and so on.

Sibelius comes with 2,000 Ideas to get you started. You audition Ideas through the playback engine as if they were a separate score. You can also trade Ideas with other users via the Idea Import feature.

The Ideas Hub is a terrific resource for beginning composers who want to learn their craft by rearranging prewritten elements. I could see this as being very useful in teaching composition — the teacher could generate a series of Ideas, then give them to students to mold and shape into new compositions. If you're the type of composer who comes up with riffs or melodic fragments that you like to assemble into larger works, the Ideas Hub will really appeal to you.

Potent Playback

Sibelius's playback capabilities have improved in a number of ways. The program now ships with Native Instruments Kontakt Player 2 and Sibelius Sounds Essentials, a large “best of” sample library with elements taken from Sibelius's Rock and Pop Collection; Garritan Personal Orchestra, Marching Band, and Jazz and Big Band; and Tapspace's Virtual Drumline. If you have other sample libraries or external instruments that you'd prefer to trigger, Sibelius can route playback to VST and AU instruments as well as to external MIDI devices.

image of sheet music

FIG. 2: The new Panorama mode allows for a scrolling, linear approach to note entry that can speed up the scoring process.

Sibelius 5 also has greatly improved internal mixing features, allowing for individual channels for each staff in the score. It also supports group faders, four effects buses, and a master volume fader. Each of the effects buses has spaces for two VST or AU effects in series, and the master fader has spaces for four. Unfortunately, you can't select the effects directly from within the Mixer window — you must go to the Playback Devices window and then select the Effects tab, which is cumbersome. Once you've routed the plug-in, though, you can bring up its editing window by clicking on its parameter button within the Mixer window.

Sibelius 5 also supports offline rendering, so if you've loaded it up with more samples and plug-ins than your computer can handle, you can still render a clear, pop-free audio file outside of real time.

Looking Good

Sibelius has added a very cool alternative to its existing Inkpen family of fonts. Reprise is a set of nine fonts that you can use to create lead sheets with a handwritten look; the font's appearance is a bit thinner and curvier than Inkpen's bold style. There's also a new Opus font that includes note names within the note heads — great for teaching beginners. Composers and teachers of early or avant-garde music will appreciate 2 new Opus fonts that add 200 more music symbols oriented to those particular genres.

For percussionists, wind players, and other musicians who have to switch instruments during the performance of a piece, Sibelius 5 has added the Instrument Change window. It's as easy to change instruments as it is to assign the initial instrument to the staff — simply select a point in time on the staff, then choose Instrument Change from the Create menu, and the Instrument Selection window appears. Select the new instrument, and Sibelius places a text instruction to the musician to change instruments at the previous instrument's last note. It also automatically handles any transpositions needed.

Lay It Out

There are other improvements in the flexibility and layout of page numbers, bar numbers, and rehearsal marks. Bar numbers can now be moved and adjusted like any other text object, and you can either add a letter to a numeral (1A, 1B, 1C) or replace a numeral with a letter. Rehearsal marks now have similar capabilities. Page numbers can have formats such as i, ii, iii or A, B, C and can be hidden or shown on each page separately.

Sibelius 5 has a series of new functions aimed at simplifying the creation of cues within parts. To create a cue for a part, simply copy the cue passage to the clipboard, select the target part, and choose Paste As Cue from the Edit menu. Sibelius handles the transpositions and makes a cue-size part in the appropriate location with the cued instrument's name. Additional commands allow Sibelius to suggest cue locations and to check cues to make sure they correspond with the original parts. This series of routines simplifies a rather tedious task for those who orchestrate and prepare parts.

Sibelius's look and feel is mostly unchanged from previous versions — a user who is upgrading will feel immediately comfortable, though a few commands have moved to different menus. There have also been well over 100 other small improvements, such as additional plug-ins, additional layout options buried in the enormously detailed setup windows, and additional text styles and note head types. Mac owners will be glad to know that Sibelius 5 is Universal Binary compliant, so it will blaze along on current-generation Intel Macs.

Room for Improvement?

screen shot image

FIG. 3: The Ideas window is a searchable database of musical snippets useful for kick-starting your compositional process.

If there is room for much improvement in Sibelius 5, I'm not sure where it would be. There are a few small, niggling things you might run into. For example, if you accidentally delete a rest, it will make the rest invisible within your score, except when you arrow through it in Note-entry mode, at which point it will appear again. Certain staff expressions get duplicated visually on the master score while others don't, though all of them print out correctly. (The Sibelius team points out that this is standard notation practice.) The positioning of these system objects can be defined from the System Object Positions item in the House Styles menu. As mentioned earlier, you should be able to select effects within the Mixer window rather than having to go to a separate setup window to do so.

Also, the display shows a green, 1-pixel bar that represents audio-playback position. At first I thought it was a graphical bug. If you find the playback line distracting, you can hide it by clicking on View/Playback Line. You can't grab the green line to select playback position but have to do it from a timeline slider in the playback window instead.

Small gripes aside, this program feels complete. It can notate virtually any style of music you throw at it, and it does so smoothly and precisely. I have yet to find a notation task I could not accomplish with Sibelius. The only limitations have been in my learning to navigate the deeper intricacies of the application. Though EM sends me a lot of products to review, I had paid for my upgrade to Sibelius 5 and was so impressed that I asked EM to let me review it.

Sibelius 5 is a complete, deep, and very fluid application that makes every aspect of what can be a mundane task a pleasure. Versions 3 and 4 were already quite superb, but version 5's Panorama mode really enhances and completes the primary work-flow paradigm. If you own version 3 or have upgraded to an Intel Mac, upgrade to version 5 immediately. If you own version 4, the answer to the upgrade question is really determined by how you like to work, but Panorama is still a pretty strong argument to do so. If you use another notation program, the decision becomes murkier still — learning curves for this class of software can be steep, but Sibelius is certainly worth a close look. And if you are using a pencil and paper, run, don't walk, to your nearest music-notation software emporium and check out this program.


Nick Peck is a composer/keyboardist/sound designer/engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area. His newest album, Fire Trucks I Have Known, has just been released. Visit http://underthebigtree.com or email nick@underthebigtree.com.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

notation software $599 (MSRP)
educational edition $329

PROS: Panorama mode simplifies note-entry process. Ideas window adds searchable database of musical elements. Many small improvements and additional features.

CONS: Occasional minor work-flow glitches and graphical anomalies.

FEATURES 1 2 3 4 5
EASE OF USE 1 2 3 4 5
AUDIO QUALITY 1 2 3 4 5
VALUE 1 2 3 4 5

Sibelius Software
www.sibelius.com

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