Review: Sibelius 4.1

Accessible music creation for beginner to expert. (May 9th, 2006)

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: Sibelius

Price: $599.00 US - ($169 upgrade)

The Good

  • License for two computers. Easy to Use. Excellent tool set. Makes music creation accessible to even the novice composer.

The Bad

  • Expensive. Updating Kontakt and PhotoScore components adds to the cost.

While studying music theory in school, I wrote and arranged music exercises, which included a lot of piano plunking and scribbling musical notes on staff paper, then erased and scribbled even more. Had I Sibelius 4 notation and music scoring software back then, there would have been a lot less plunking and scribbling. Sibelius 4 is robust software designed to write, play, print, and publish music. It is used in a wide variety of music-involved settings from elementary school through college, to professional music studios worldwide.

Allegro Non Tropo (loosely translated: Quick, but not too quick)

Sibelius 4 adds several significant new features to an already facile notation program.

Dynamic Parts: Dynamic Parts simplify the process of breaking an orchestral score down to individual instrument parts. It eases the process of editing and printing separate instrument parts so a band can play your composition. In other programs, this is an extract parts command or a plug-in, typically handled at the end of the scoring process. If changes are made to the instrument parts afterwards, the complete score must be updated and the individual parts re-extracted. With Dynamic Parts, Sibelius creates the individual instrument parts when the score is created or when new instruments are added to an existing score. Individual instrument parts can be viewed, edited, or printed at any time from the Parts Menu or Parts button in the tool bar. Changes made in the full score are updated automatically in the individual parts and vice versa. This feature alone saves an incredible amount of time.

Video Playback: Sibelius is a very popular program among film, television, and video game composers. It played a significant role in the music composition of popular shows like Lost and the Simpsons, plus movies including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Chronicles of Narnia. Previously when composing music for television, movies, or similar media projects you constantly switched between the video viewing program and Sibelius. Version 4 adds the ability to import and playback video directly within Sibelius, allowing users to compose music directly to video without leaving the program. The video is played in sync with the music being created and arranged. It supports AVI, MPEG, WMV, and MOV formats.

WorkSheet Creator: Sibelius' large presence as an integral part of music education means it supports the unique needs of music educators. Version 4 offers additional features, including the new Worksheet Creator that assists teachers in creating music curriculum materials. The new site gives educators space to share teaching materials and dole out homework for students, plus offers teaching materials. Sibelius includes over 1700 worksheets, exercises, songs, and other resources, for individual students to full classrooms.

Quartz Graphics Support and more: The Sibelius windows and palettes are less distracting thanks to Mac OS X Quartz graphics support that provides transparency, and sharp on screen appearance and faster printing. Combined with new Optical Beams and Ties, plus support for additional music fonts, Sibelius projects look even better than ever. (Editor's Note: For those of you who are stymied by the terms beams and ties, I've added a link to Wikipedia's explanations and to extensive notes on bug fixes in Sibelius 4.)

Speaking of looking good, just as page layout and word processing programs offer styles that can be applied to text, Sibelius includes twenty pre-built House Styles that apply engraving rules to your music to change its appearance from very formal to more casual. Opus, Helsinki, and the Inkpen2 handwriting font are included. Your printouts can also include the date, time, and filename, which make tracking revisions much easier.

It's easy to include music passages in other documents, such as MS Word, by exporting music passages as graphics. Simply select the section of music that you want to use as an example in an article or paper, copy it as a graphic and paste into any other word processor or page layout program.


You get plenty of extras, including over 70 plug-in functions, high quality playback via Kontakt Player Silver, improved optical music recognition with PhotoScore Lite, for scanning printed sheet music into Sibelius, and Scorch. Scorch is a free web browser plug-in to publish, view, playback, and print Sibelius music projects over the Internet, plus you can sell your music via Upgrades of Kontakt Player and PhotoScore with better features will add an additional $350 to Sibelius' cost. Sibelius also imports music files from Finale, Finale Guitar, MusicXML, MIDI, SCORE, Allegro, PrintMusic 1.0, Sibelius Student, G7, and Acorn Sibelius.

Simple and Powerful

Installation and set up on the Mac takes a few minutes and the license includes installation on two computers. Over an hour of video tutorials are provided to walk you through the main features, and the entire reference manual is available on screen with the click of the mouse. Technical support, forums and resources are also available online at the Sibelius web site. An extensive FAQ covers almost everything you want to know prior to purchasing Sibelius.

Sibelius is a powerful music notation program, offering a complete and professional set of tools with a deceptively simple, uncluttered interface that masks the heavy lifting the program does. It provides the easiest way to create, play, arrange, format, and print sheet music, next to pencil and paper.

One note to the visually impaired from Dancing Dots, the Sibelius Speaking scripts do not support this new version of Sibelius yet. It says on the site, "If you already own Sibelius 4 but need Sibelius 3 in order to use Sibelius Speaking, you must contact the people at Sibelius Music Software to request a license for Sibelius 3 by special arrangement."

Requirements: Mac OS X 10.2.8/10.3.9/10.4 or later, 256Mb+ RAM, 250Mb hard disk space. MIDI keyboard recommended.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by James Alguire


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