Sibelius 5’s Ideas Pad aims to change the way you track thoughts and compose in your notation software. Or you can cut and paste from its presets, bringing “presets” to scoring for the first time. Hopefully you’ll err on the side of original ideas, but the next time Don Music can’t think of a cadence — you’re in luck. (Help! How does a plagal cadence go again?)

Sibelius 5 is a big upgrade to the notation tool, now part of Avid. The biggest change of all: real VST and Audio Unit plug-in support on Mac and Windows. This merging of audio software and scoring software has been a long time coming. We saw limited support in Finale, but Sibelius actually fully supports racks of VST and AU instruments and effects to use on your scores, integrating with the Sibelius mixer for playback control, and merging into groups for control of sections of your orchestra/ensemble. There’s even MIDI control: the Sib site says “… if you have an M-Audio keyboard you can use its own faders and transport buttons to control Sibelius’s playback.” Wow, terrific! (Um, I’m guessing that will work for any MIDI keyboard once you assign the proper controllers, not just M-Audio hardware — but still good news.)

Sibelius 5 mixer

Yep, these are real plug-ins running in Sibelius 5. And now you can use any VST/AU effect or instrument you like, not just the included player.

In case you want out-of-the-box instruments and not just plug-ins, Sibelius now includes 2 GB of orchestral, band, and other instruments from Garritan and others.

Also new in this version:

Ideas Hub: This is a really interesting idea, perhaps acknowledging that people now often compose directly into notation software. Ideas Hub is a scrapbook of musical ideas you can sort and paste at will. There are also 2000 ready-made ideas included … which is, honestly, a little strange to think about. Hopefully someone out there will create a really insane, avant-garde piece using nothing but those snippets, played at impossible tempi, etc. “Preset ideas” aside, this feature could be really interesting — though it may not make me throw away my manuscript paper Moleskin.

Continuous score viewing (“Panorama”): The ability to view a score continuously rather than in page layout has long been a feature of Finale; Sibelius’ developers actually resisted implementing something similar, but apparently they’ve found a way to do it with which they’re now happy. The UI design here looks very nice; it’ll be interesting to see if people prefer this to scrolling around a page.

Easy cues / instrument changes: ‘Bout time. I had actually been one of the people pushing for real instrument changes, and wrote a lengthy explanation of how I thought it should work to the folks on the product side. I imagine I wasn’t alone: usually when you get a whole bunch of people requesting a particular implementation is when it happens. And enough of this “automatic cue” nonsense — writing cues should be copy and paste. In Sib 5, it is: “Just copy the music you want to appear in the cue, and choose Paste As Cue. Sibelius 5 does the rest for you.” Yup. That’s what I wanted.

New layout options: This is far less comprehensive than I had hoped, but it’s a start: custom margin pages for different pages, and some other layout tweaks. There are also new, more flexible tools for numbering bars, rehearsal marks, and pages — things that previously required some nasty workarounds.

Copy lyrics from text files. Again, ’bout time.

Plug-in undo. Okay, “’bout time” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Plug-ins now look actually useful.

Cluster notation! … basically, lots of other new early music / new music / theory notations and other small tweaks.

Universal Binary and Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard support.

I’ll be meeting up with the Sibelius people next month here in New York and will be getting my hands on the software soon, so expect more details. Notation is digital music, too, after all, in the age of computers. Looks like lots of little tweaks, but in notation, it’s often the small changes that make the difference — the stuff that you’ve had to live with while scoring. It might not make the glossiest marketing materials, but it’s those timesavers that really make difference. (Remember when Sibelius finally fixed its broken tuplet notation? I think I wrote twice as much scored music that year.)

Anyone wanting to have a Finale vs. Sibelius debate in comments, go ahead. I’ll try to stay out of it.

What’s new in Sibelius 5 []