Composing music has never been easier, thanks to the myriad music notation software on the market. Occasionally called engraving software and scorewriters, these software programs simplify the music scoring process, letting composers write notes, accidentals, rests, key and time signatures, and other composition symbols with ease.
Sibelius stands out among the pack because this powerful software strikes a delicate balance between being feature-packed and easy to use. In this review, we look at some of the things this notation software is capable of.
Sibelius Review: At a Glance
The Sibelius music notation software from Avid makes scoring music a dream, and composers of all stripes and budgets will find something to like about this versatile software. Its three user categories (Sibelius First, Sibelius, and Sibelius Ultimate) accommodate composers at every stage of their music-notation journey.
Sibelius First, the free version, provides basic features such as note entry and file importation. So the options available with this tier of the software are limited. However, once you upgrade to paid tiers of the software, Sibelius and Sibelius Ultimate, you unlock a huge amount of features.
The only real gripe users will have with this program is the audio playback, which leaves you wanting something richer.
- Easy-to-use interface
- Free-trial version allows users to compose for free
- Cloud sharing allows users to share their scores with others
- “Magnetic Layout” feature prevents collisions
- Huge instrument library available to paid users
- Music playback is lacking compared to other notation software
- The paid version of the software is on the pricier side
- “Exporting Files” feature only available for paid users
Avid offers the Sibelius music notation software in three tiers: Sibelius First, Sibelius, and Sibelius Ultimate.
Sibelius First grants users access to this powerful program free of charge. This allows beginners and other users who are more familiar with competitor software to test the program and see if it’s right for them.
However, these users will be limited in what they can do with the software. For example, while these users can make notations, they’re unable to export the finished file.
With the Sibelius tier, users get access to more software features, including the ability to export their MIDI files, among other things. They still have limitations on what they can do with the software, but these limitations aren’t as much as if they were using Sibelius First. In contrast to Sibelius First, users have to pay a subscription fee.
Sibelius Ultimate grants users full and comprehensive access to this music writing software. Subscription to this tier unlocks such perks as the use of unlimited instruments in a score, cloud sharing, and other features and functionality baked into the program.
Though Sibelius is renowned for its rich tools, it’s also extremely easy to use, a fact that distinguishes it from other competitor notation software.
Upon first launching the program, users can choose from the program’s selection of score templates or build their score from the ground up. They can also load scores from MIDI files, with the paid version of the software enabling them to export to MIDI, MP3, WAV, and AIFF file formats.
Moreover, since its initial release, Sibelius has gone through so many iterations to the point where the program’s learning curve is extremely low. As a result, the current version of Sibelius is accessible to anyone knowledgeable in notation writing.
In addition, people who are familiar with other music notation software will feel right at home working with Sibelius and find the process of writing a score extremely intuitive.
Input Device Support
The Sibelius music notation software supports all kinds of input devices. Some of these include virtual pianos, fretboards, and MIDI keyboards, to name a few. If you’re working with less equipment, you always have the option of using your mouse for entering notes.
Sibelius also comes with Flextime and Step Time, two perfect features for professionals working with a MIDI keyboard.
Note and Marking Input
Sibelius makes note-inputting so much easier than other music notation software. Users can connect a MIDI keyboard, virtual keyboard or other input devices for note-inputting and navigate the clutter-free interface using their mouse and computer keyboard.
Unfortunately, unpaid users can only access a limited number of the music notation features the software provides. Furthermore, they’re limited in the number of instruments they can use in a score (only 4) and can’t customize text and symbols.
On the other hand, higher tier users get access to apps that make notation even easier. The first of these apps is AudioScore Lite, letting users input their notes by singing or playing them into a microphone. Photoscore and NotateMe Lite, the second pair of apps, let users transform sheet music or notation files in PDF and JPEG into scores they can edit.
Additionally, NotateMe Lite is even capable of working with hand-written scores. However, the user will have to be using the ultimate version of the Sibelius music notation software to access this feature.
Unfortunately, this notation software is severely lacking in the playback department. Although Sibelius Ultimate provides users with an additional sound pack, the playback still pales in comparison to what you’d get with similar software.
Avid seems to be aware that this is a major drawback to their product. As such, the company has provided a companion plugin called NotePerformer, which serves the purpose of enhancing playback. But keep in mind that NotePerformer is available at an additional cost.
Importing and Exporting Files
Sibelius First users are only allowed to import MIDI files. Therefore, you’ll need either Sibelius or Sibelius Ultimate if you plan on exporting your compositions.
With the paid versions of the software, you’re not only able to export scores, but you can also break them up into separate parts during export and export various versions of the same score. Supported file formats for export include PDF, audio, and WAV, to name a few.
All Sibelius users (free and paid) are able to upload scores to the cloud. They’re also able to push changes made to scores already existing in the cloud.
As with other features of this software, Sibelius First users are limited to uploading a total of ten scores when they use cloud sharing. However, this limit only feels restrictive if you’re inclined to work on large musical pieces.
Sibelius users are able to upload double the amount of scores available to those using Sibelius First, while Sibelius Ultimate users are free to upload as many scores as they like, so long as they don’t exceed 1GB.
Finally, the uploaded files can be accessed from any web browser. Anyone who has an Avid account with access to Sibelius Scorch can view a published score, play it back, swap out instruments, or print the score straight from their web browser so long as they have the URL to the said score.
The cloud sharing feature will prove particularly useful for composers who want to proof their sheet music scores. It also facilitates collaboration among musicians who are separated by geography.
Sibelius’ “Magnetic Layout” feature closely mimics actual engraving in a way that other software can’t. When using this feature, the likelihood of collisions drops to near zero. Moreover, the magnetic layout feature makes the music notation process more accurate.
Additionally, Sibelius ships with thick slurs that are correctly placed from the get-go. It also ships with text fonts that are superior to what you get with other music notation software. These two things drastically reduce the amount of preparation needed to get into a workflow groove.
Sibelius First users are limited in the number of instruments (a total of four instruments) and staves they can use in a score. In contrast, Sibelius and Sibelius Ultimate users get access to a vast sound library of realistic sounds. The former category of users can download up to 10GB worth of sounds, while the latter gets access to the full 36GB library.
Additionally, Sibelius Ultimate users can make compositions for a huge array of instruments. If you can name the instrument, you’ll most likely find it in the Ultimate instrument library.
Also, composers can make edits to instruments mid-piece and rename them however they wish. It’s also possible to modify staves and examine the composition through a mixer.
The ease with which you can make parts is hands-down one of the best features of the Sibelius notation software. Users are able to generate orchestral parts extremely quickly, as well as update them globally when the occasion calls for it. You’re also able to create multiple parts for each staff.
Unfortunately, Sibelius First doesn’t give users access to tools for arrangements, but they still can make annotations and leave comments on scores. Unfortunately, users are also restricted to two lines of text when writing lyrics and two voices per staff.
Additionally, Sibelius has a cool Arrange feature, which works like copy and paste but for instrumental arrangements. With this feature, it’s possible to transcribe a passage for a completely new instrumental arrangement. Users are also able to create reductions out of multiple lines of music.
You can also reorder a pitch and modify note values belonging to a selection using the transformation controls. This feature saves a whole lot of time you would’ve spent manually re-entering everything.
Both Sibelius versions that require a subscription fee come with an Auto Optimize feature. This feature adjusts the spacing between staves and other items used for layout automatically to prevent collisions from occurring.
As mentioned above, this music notation software is available in three different versions: Sibelius First, Sibelius, and Sibelius Ultimate.
Users pay nothing for Sibelius First. However, once they decide to upgrade to Sibelius, a yearly subscription plan will set them back a few hundred dollars every month.
To use the complete version of the software, Sibelius Ultimate, a user will have to pay a yearly subscription fee of Avid bills on a monthly basis. As though conscious that customers will view this as a pricey commitment, Avid offers a 30-day free trial.
It’s also possible to get a perpetual license to the program for a reasonable price. But although cost-effective, the perpetual license only gives users one free upgrade to future software versions within one year of purchase.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is It Possible to Use a Midi Playback Device With Sibelius?
Yes, Sibelius can playback either through virtual instruments that have VST and AU Plugin formats or through external MIDI devices.
If your virtual instrument or MIDI hardware doesn’t fall into the General MIDI standard, make sure to check that your device supports the sound set of your choice.
If you’re unfamiliar with what a sound set is, it’s simply the file that contains information describing to Sibelius what your device is capable of. You should bear in mind that not all MIDI devices will have sound set files compatible with Sibelius notation software. Therefore, visit Sibelius’ forum to find out about compatibility information.
What’s the Difference Between the Monthly Subscription and Annual Subscription Plans?
Price-wise, an annual subscription will save you a significant chunk of change per year.
Both subscription plans will get you the most recent version of Sibelius, as well as every new feature that’s added to the most current version of the software while your subscription subsists.
You can only subscribe monthly through the Avid Store, while a yearly subscription gives you the option to be billed monthly or pay the whole amount upfront.
What Are the System Requirements for Avid Sibelius Products?
The system requirements are constantly changing as new computer software/hardware are always being released. Therefore, you should check the Sibelius website to determine the software’s compatibility with your machine.
For example, the latest versions of Sibelius Ultimate (versions 2020.6 – 2021.12 at time of writing) are only compatible with Windows 10 and Mac OS 10.12 and above. They also require that the machine has 1GB RAM and 1GB disk space.
If I Get a Perpetual License, How Do I Upgrade It?
Sibelius comes bundled with Avid Standard Support as well as software upgrades for the first year after purchase when bought outright.
To continue receiving software updates after the first year, enable the auto-renew function on your Avid Support plan. Doing so will allow you to receive alerts about new features, patches, and other software updates as they become available for download.
What Music Can I Write With Sibelius?
Sibelius empowers composers to write any musical genre imaginable, including piano pieces, jazz, rock, and even full orchestral scores. The software can also handle special notations such as guitar tab and figured bass and can do so automatically.
The Sibelius music notation software is a must-have for composers of all skill levels. It’s packed to the teeth with useful features that allow for accurate note-inputting, file sharing, collaboration, and collision prevention, among so many others.
Sibelius and Sibelius Ultimate users will appreciate the huge sound library that being a paid user grants them access to. They will also find the program’s Cloud Sharing capabilities liberating, especially if they have collaborators that live overseas.
Meanwhile, Sibelius First is a great way for any composer to give this music writing software a test drive, though they’ll probably have to upgrade to a tier with more features once they’ve made up their mind.
Though this notation software’s audio playback leaves a lot to be desired, the benefits of using this software for score composition easily outweigh this minor hangup.