Review: Sibelius 7 notation software for Mac and PC

Avid makes significant improvements to Sibelius notation utility (July 19th, 2012)

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Product Manufacturer: Avid

Price: $599

The Good

  • New, intuitive interface
  • Improved sound set
  • Enhanced support for graphics
  • Updated text handling and typography
  • Easier to share and collaborate with users of competing notation software

The Bad

  • Powerful hardware required for advanced features

Installation and configuration

There are several discs to install, but the installation process is straightforward and avoids any fancy copy protection schemes--just a simple serial number. What we also liked is that installing Sibelius 7 does not remove Sibelius 6, which most users are obviously still using, so we could continue with projects that were started from version 6.

We have been using Sibelius for quite a few years now. We love how easy it is to use and how beautiful the finished scores come out looking, no matter what kind of ensemble we're writing for. Needless to say we were excited about the new version and the additions and improvements that have been made to it.

For those interested, there is a 30-day "tryout" version that can be downloaded for free.

We took a quick look at the videos on the Sibelius website, which gave us a very helpful overview of what's new.

Under the "Help" menu, among other things, users will find a series of tutorials. When we first started using Sibelius, we went through these and found them to be very helpful. There is also a PDF document under that menu, simply labeled "What's New." We opened that, along with the orchestral demo score--one of several that Sibelius comes with--so that we could follow along and try out some of the new features for ourselves.

A quick but important side note: for those working on notebooks (like us), make sure to check "Laptop shortcuts" on the preferences page.

When running Sibelius, now a "Quick Start" window will appear. If users are already working on a score and want to access "Quick Start," they can do so from the File menu. The Quick Start menu contains five tabs: "Learn," which contains videos and documentation support; "New Score," which allows users to choose from a very wide array of score templates organized by genre; "Recent," which chronologically shows the scores you've worked on; "Import"; and "Latest News." Once users choose the score template they would like to work with from the "New Score" tab, Sibelius automatically loads it up with all the sounds contained in that score.

Adding or removing instruments is now much easier. Users can simply go to the "Home" tab on the ribbon, and they will see "Add or Remove" with the picture of a trumpet above it.

Select it and the "Add or Remove Instruments" dialog box appears. All dialog boxes can now be closed just by hitting the Escape key (except for the Quick Start window on Windows), and some can even be resized.

We love the new ribbon, which is located along the top of the score. The ribbon contains 11 tabs in total, which, from left to right, correspond to general workflow, starting with "file" and ending with "view". There are also document tabs just below the ribbon, which show whatever parts users currently have open in their score. This new interface avoids the previous window clutter and allows for easy navigation--using key commands if preferred--between all the various tools one would use and want to have quick and easy access to while writing a score.

To help users learn their way around the ribbon and find things quickly, there is a handy "Find in ribbon" window at the top right of there interface; users can type in whatever they're looking for and it will take them directly there. Scroll the mouse over anything in the ribbon and a small text window comes up explaining what it is. The ribbon can easily be hidden when not in use, by clicking the triangle beside that window.

At the bottom of the score window sits the "Status Bar." One side tells users where they currently are in the score, and the other side enables users to switch between different page views, such as vertical, horizontal and panorama.

All the old familiar windows (ex. transport, keyboard, mixer) are now easily accessible via the "panels" button under the "View" tab on the ribbon.

When it comes to text and typography, Sibelius has made it much easier to manipulate text and make all kinds of fine adjustments which can be made either to an individual text object, by way of the "text" panel in the Inspector, or can be set to affect everything by way of the "Edit Text Styles" dialog under the "Text" tab in the ribbon.

The mixer (found on the "Play" tab on the ribbon) has been redesigned for control and easier use--the faders are now vertical. For example, the different mixer panels can be hidden or revealed by clicking a button on the left side of the mixer, and we really like how the whole mixer window can be dragged and dropped under the ribbon for easy, out-of-the-way access while working.

If users close the mixer and then later decide to use it again, it remembers where it was before the previous close.

Using an easy key command, tuplets now become "sticky" (create a tuplet, then hit
shift-Opt-K), and slurs (create a note, then hit "S") extend over notes as users input them. We also discovered that "H" creates a small cres. line which extends as users type in more notes. I tried these and they all work well.

Other key commands we've tried and that are well worth committing to memory:

Type "K" to get the key sig. menu, "T" for time sig., †"Q" for clef, "Z" for symbol and "L" for lines. Pressing the Escape key closes them. Type "M" for the mixer and type "M" again to close it. "W" allows users to see a part after selecting a bar from it in the score, and typing "W" again switches back to the full score. We tried them all--they work great and make workflow go that much more efficiently.

Sibelius comes with its own sound set for both jazz and orchestral instruments,. While they sound pretty good, if users want to take things up a notch, we would personally recommend the sound sets, for both jazz and orchestral, from Garritan (GPO - Garritan Personal Orchestra, and JABB - Jazz and Big Band). As a side note, there is a lite version of the Sibelius sound set for those with less powerful systems.

We haven't tried it out, but apparently the new MusicXML allows for easy exchange of scores between users of many other notation programs, which makes collaboration much easier than previously.

Overall we believe Sibelius is now more intuitive now and will be even easier for first-time users to get acquainted with and start using right away.

by Daphne Kalfon


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