Sibelius today gets the biggest upgrade I’ve seen from the tool in a long time, with major improvements to the way the notation package lays out musical objects on the score, and ReWire support so you can integrate it with your host of choice.

This is an especially meaningful upgrade to me, as I’ve spent a lot of time with Sibelius since its first Mac release about a decade ago, both composing and teaching with it. In case you missed it Friday, I just spoke about some tips that can help with working in both education and composing:

Five Sibelius 5 Notation Tips, for Education and Experimentation with Scores

A couple of the recent upgrades, while nice enough, were not necessarily “must-haves” – a natural part of any upgrade cycle. But this to me looks different.

Here’s what’s new in Sibelius 6:

  • Magnetic Layout: Sibelius has always been “magnetic” in that it automatically reflows objects and page layout to keep everything looking “tidy” as its English creators would say. It’s also always been fast at the task. The problem is, a lot of objects have still required lots of manual tweaking. Sibelius users, you know what I’m talking about: hours spent fine-tuning dynamics and text indications, rehearsal marks, and the like. Basically, all the objects that we’ren’t magnetic now are. (see above)
  • Magnetic Layout implementation: In addition to the more intelligent objects and space optimization, you’ll see clever collision avoidance, and red-colored collision highlighting when a collision is unavoidable. It also looks like there are nice new guides for, say, making a forte, piano, and hairpin descrescendo all line up, something that required painful manual tweaks previously.
  • Versions and comments: Scores now track and manage revisions, and you can create comments on the score. Theoretically, this is for collaboration and teaching, though I imagine it’ll be useful even to a solo composer as a score is developed – enough so that you may start to haul your laptop to rehearsals instead of just paper.
  • ReWire: Sibelius will now act as a ReWire client, so you can record the output of the notation software itself (see the new instruments), or simply sync Sibelius to an existing project. Avid is naturally talking all about Pro Tools, but because the integration is with ReWire and not just Pro Tools, Ableton Live, SONAR, Logic, DP, and the like all become possible, too. I’ve never much liked the notation facilities in standard DAWs, so that’s good news – and this should be huge for the composer just wanting to record a quick mock-up with virtual instruments as well as someone doing film score.
  • stemlets Notation improvements: Slurs have always been reasonably elegant and automatic in Sibelius, but when it comes to manually overriding those controls, they’ve been more challenging. Sibelius 6 includes (appropriately enough) six handles for controlling slurs. There are also optional stemlets when beaming across rests (hugely helpful for people who write complex, cough, rhythms in their music), automatic feathered beams (instead of the hack we’ve been using), and smarter articulation placement. There are new jazz repeat bars, and cautionary accidentals are finally added automatically. These are minor things, but quite frankly, it’s little details like that that often make the biggest day-to-day difference. (The cautionary accidentals alone might be worth an upgrade.)
  • New integrated instruments: Profiting from Sibelius’ acquisition by Avid (formerly its Digidesign unit), Sibelius now acquires the lovely virtual instruments from the AIR team who have been doing soft synths for Pro Tools. There’s a new player, plus M-Audio’s General MIDI sound player. This replaces a previous player from Native Instruments. I love NI, but the NI player in Sibelius often wasn’t quite plug-and-play, and this promises to be an improvement. (See additional notes below.)


Comparing scores with Versions.

There are other features, as well. Keyboard and Fretboard windows provide visual feedback to those just learning musical notation. (The guitar fretboard is handy, too, for keyboardists like me who need to think through what a guitarist would do with our music – it was an early feature of Sibelius’ entry-level guitar product G7.) Classroom Control allows educators to monitor students, send and receive scores, and monitor changes, which could help with file exchange or even administering exams in Sibelius.


One feature may be especially revolutionary for certain user applications. Live Tempo finally allows you to tap in a conductor track so you can control tempo fluctuations manually. This is more sophisticated than the (useful) similar feature in Finale – it integrates with Sibelius’ existing fluid tempo functionality, allows subdivision of beats and other musical possibilities, and can be recorded and played back and edited by section.

All in all, this is a very significant upgrade. I’m still disappointed that Sibelius – and mainstream notation in general – remains so inflexible for lots of alternative notations, and that seems not to improve in this release. But as I noted in my tips from last week, there are workarounds, and for sheer usability and saving time, these improvements all look welcome. I’m also pleased with the subtle notation changes – these are little things, but I think it refines the quality of score you can produce and saves time. We expect review copies soon, so stay tuned.


Q&A on Slurs, New Instruments

CDM asked Daniel Spreadbury of Sibelius to talk to us about some of the specifics of the new instruments from AIR and the slurs.

sib6_mixerCDM: As I understand it, the sounds have been ported to the new instrument engine, built by AIR. What does this mean for bringing scores you’ve produced in earlier versions of Sibelius into Sibelius 6 for playback?

D S: When you open a score that was created in Sibelius 5 that used the old version of Sibelius Sounds Essentials played back by Kontakt Player 2, Sibelius 6 will silently update the score to use the new version of Sibelius Sounds Essentials played back by the Sibelius Player.

99 times out of 100 this will be an improvement on the playback you heard inSibelius 5. Although the updated Essentials library excludes a set of GM sounds (now provided by a separate virtual GM module, which can nevertheless be used simultaneously with the Sibelius Player if desired), and some sounds from old providers (e.g. recorder, handbells, piano, harp) have been replaced with alternatives from Garritan, Tapspace or AIR, there are many new and improved sounds that better complement each other than the sounds with Sibelius 5. For example, Essentials for Sibelius 5 contained only a solo violin sound from GPO and the other solo strings came from the GM set, so ensembles like e.g. string quartets didn’t sound great. In Sibelius 6, we have licensed further solo string sounds from GPO, so a string quartet will sound substantially better. And we’ve tried to do this across the board, for all the common genres of music.

For that one time in 100 when the original library would sound better, provided users still have Sibelius 5 installed, they will be able to choose to use the Kontakt Player 2 version of the library by choosing ‘Sibelius Essentials (32 sounds, Kontakt)’ from the Configuration menu in Play > Playback Devices.

CDM: Slurs with more manual control handles are something we had seen previously in Sibelius’ rival, Finale. Can you describe what’s different about Sibelius’ implementation?

Sibelius’s slurs have a number of advantages, including the power to copy and paste a tweaked slur and have its tweaks reliably reproduced when pasted elsewhere, the ability to tweak multiple selected slurs simultaneously via the Properties window, reliable keyboard editing of the position of each handle and control point, and so on. Sibelius 6 also implements the standard slur positioning rules (i.e. slur below when all stems point up, but slur above if any stem points down; in two voices, slurs go above stem up notes and below stem down notes, etc.) but retains the ability to simply flip slurs by hitting X. Slurs are also now properly editable on both sides of a system or page break.


Sibelius’s method of editing slurs (including multiple slurs simultaneously) and copying slurs while retaining these edits, together with the fact that creating, extending and retracting slurs is in general simpler in Sibelius, gives slurs inSibelius 6 the edge.

Ed. note: Based on my experience with previous releases of both programs, this sounds about right – now I just need to pick something to compose this summer so I can give Sibelius 6 a try! –PK

If you have more questions about the new release, ask them here, and we’ll have a look as the new release comes out or pass along technical specifics to the folks at Sibelius.

  • Will

    The ReWire addition alone is making me salivate for an upgrade! But can you clarify whether Sibelius functions as just a ReWire slave, or whether it can be a master as well?

    I am so glad you are covering notation software as well as DAW stuff. And since I use Ableton Live and Sibelius in particular, I'm even gladder. 🙂

  • I believe it's a ReWire client/slave only. (Amusingly, sounds like Propellerhead actually call it "slave.")

    I guess the one advantage of a host would be that you could host Reason, but you can already host plug-ins, so probably best to leave the hosting jobs to your DAW.

  • binklebonk

    "Hear my Prayer oh Lord, and let my crying come to thee"

    Nice anthem, Henry,

    Hilarious they should use it as an example graphic, I think the line exactly sums up what most people are screaming at their computers after spending any amount of time trying to use rewire.

  • Beams across rests is worth the price of admission. I've been waiting for this.

  • @Dennis: It was previously possible to beam across rests (as you may know), but yes, having the stemlets makes this look *much* better and more readable. I'm also curious if they've changed the way the beam-across-rests rules work, as I found them a bit annoying previously.

  • @Peter: right, thanks for the clarification. I meant the stemlets. Actually, this was even possible before too, but it required a bunch of ugly hacks. I'm very curious to see how they've implemented it now.

  • It looks as though you'll just switch stemlets on – presumably in the beam groups – and have it Just Work. I guess you have as many stemlets as you draw in rests, yes? I know this is vastly preferred nowadays as a notation, and with good reason, I think. Very clear to look at.

  • This may be a crazy idea, but I like the idea of being able to draw with a graphics tablet and having the notation software use all that information to, well, notate.

    Unlike freeform english, music notation follows quite a lot of rules, which I can imagine would mean theres a lot less interpretation required to make this happen.

    Done before?

  • Keith – yes, actually was done before. There was a research group at (Brown, I think?)

    They had a free app that was distributed with Windows tablets. It was similar to the Graffiti language on the original Palm – i.e., there was a short-hand. But it worked reasonably well. I think no one ran with it and there wasn't hardware support. If touch starts to spread, that could be different, though…

  • poorsod

    I, of course, am the problem with the idea of touch-screen notation since my handwriting is interminable. My noteheads tend to end up on both the line and the space either side, and I can't draw rests at all! Looks like I'll be sticking with the ol' MIDI keyboard and mouse 🙁

    Besides that, Sibelius 6 looks amazing!
    ReWire master, not just slave, would be nice, so you can use Sibelius as a kind of sequencer and then Reason or whatever to make the sounds.

  • Sibelius is already a plug-in host, so you really don't need ReWire hosting *unless* you're using Reason specifically. 😉

    And yes, part of the reason I don't miss the notation thing is that it's so quick using the keyboard shortcuts and/or MIDI input.

  • Griot Speak

    My quest seems to be trying to find the app for arranging jazz combos. I do not have strong ear training and, as such, rely on inputting chord names.

    this was fine in finale for simple lead sheets, but can someone weigh in on what program provides 'the smoothest' workflow for slash notation and the like?

    I would like to enter chords and slashes, with slash notation for rhythms.

  • Julie Jester

    I just finished visiting the Sibelius website and there is one new feature you didn't mention: the new AudioScore plugin from Neuratron that FINALLY allows those of us who don't play keyboards to input music directly into a Sibelius score using a microphone. I noticed quite some time ago that Finale had their own version of this kind of software (MicNotator) and have been waiting ever since for Sibelius to produce something of the sort. Although I've been less than thrilled with PhotoScore's performance (I've always had to retype all of my lyrics because PhotoScore never imported them correctly, and piano scores usually wind up a complete mess), I am hoping that this new Neuratron product will work a little better.

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  • Ernie Jackson

    A few things:
    Hey Dennis!
    I use a graphics tablet for notation input – have done so for 5 years. A simple Wacom tablet and it's great. I also use the P.I. Engineering Programmable Keypad for shortcuts. Sibelius is already easy. These tools I mentioned make it even simpler. I'm still trying to get my Jazzmutant to work with it!

    The Audioscore feature is a killer. I was skeptical a while back, but I am sold.

    It's about to get funky in notationville people – get ready – stemlets and all!

  • @Griot: A number of tools would do what you're asking, but I quite like the workflow in Sibelius. I don't think you'd regret Sibelius as a choice. Entry is very, very easy, and Sib 6 just added additional notation for repeated bars, etc. Quickly entering chords / slashes and lining everything up without a lot of interference on your part really is quite easy. It's not your only choice, but it's one I've been really happy with.

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  • June

    FINALLY… magnetic layout. This is precisely what I was talking about in my comment on the most recent post ("Sibelius 5 Notation Tips").

    And finally: real slur control.

    Along with the scroll view (which Sibelius should've had from the beginning), it seems like finally they've taken care of some of the things Sibelius was missing relative to Finale, further cementing Sibelius's place as the best notation program at this point.

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  • Kent

    Where can someone find a really good instructional book about Sib 6 (besides the users manual)

  • vm

    I'm absolutely blown away by sibelius 6. and also by ableton live, which I haven't used until now. this is how I found this page actually, hahaha. I'm trying to rewire sibelius through ableton. they say it's not been tested, but it should work… let's see how it goes.. 😀 I'm amazed that ableton is so elegant and can import and use successfully and superbly my library of giga samples. my jaw is under the table!

  • I composed a new classical string quartet this summer, playing the four parts in Logic with a metronome. It produces a score in Logic.
    A different approach to quantizing per fragment is necessary.

    I expect Sibelius to at least also print the dynamics, accents, crescendi
    from the midi file I will export to Sibelius. Logic does not do this automatically.

    Can I further experiment with quantize in Sibelius or should I finish it first in Logic and then simply export the midi to Sibelius?
    Or rather something else than midi?