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Sibelius 4

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Sibelius 4

Whenever a new version of software comes out, the big question is whether it’s worth the cost of the upgrade. In the case of Sibelius 4, the latest music notation package from Ben and Jonathan Finn, the answer is clearly yes. If you teach music or compose and arrange for groups of musicians, Sibelius 4 will quickly pay for itself in saved time and labor.

The power and simplicity of the older version are still there: seamless input of notes with mouse, computer keys, a MIDI controller, or even a scanner; limitless selections of notation styles, dynamics and tempo markings; Web publication or crisply printed, professional looking scores and parts. Those core capabilities are even easier to use now with a new tool bar, improved playback controls, and more keyboard shortcuts. And Sibelius 4 gets novice users off to a good start with its set of 19 video tutorials, featuring Ben Finn’s Oxford-accented voiceover. They’ve even made the clear and witty manual user-friendlier by breaking it into two parts: a thin handbook you can actually hold in one hand, with “quick tour” and “how to” sections, and a separate, hefty, reference tome for the shelf.

But the case for buying the upgrade is made in two new, laborsaving features that are so right for this kind of software you wonder why they weren’t there all along. The first is called Dynamic Parts. In the older version of Sibelius, and in all the current versions of competitive software I’ve seen, you first create a complete score and then extract individual parts for each instrument or voice. Then, if you are anything like me, after you hear your piece performed or just spend some more time thinking about it, you want to make some changes. The trouble is the score and the parts are all independent computer files, so you have to change them one at a time. And if you are anything like me, that won’t be the last time for changes.

Dynamic Parts is a godsend for composers and arrangers who never stop fiddling. Individual parts are one with the score. They are all created at the same time. Change a note in the score and the part is changed automatically. Change a note in the part and the score is changed. Notwithstanding that convenient linkage, you still have independent control over the layout of parts so they always come out looking professional. And all this technological magic is simple to control with a new floating window and a few mouse clicks. This is exactly the way a computer should take the drudgery out of your life.

The other new timesaving feature, called Worksheet Creator, is for teachers. Sibelius 4 comes with library of over 1,700 worksheets, exercises, songs, instrumental pieces, lyrics, posters, flashcards and such. Much of the material can be used on computers as well as on paper. And all of it can be posted to the new Web site where your students can get to it. Sibelius will even generate quizzes with randomly selected questions so they are different every time. (It will produce an answer sheet for teacher, too.) Teachers can also use a wide range of ready-made templates to create their own worksheets and exercises and swap them with other teachers on

The Worksheet Creator would be a bit better if there was an easy way to thumb through the library to get a quick preview of all that’s there. As it is, to get to each sheet you have to make your way through as many as eight screens, choosing among categories such as group size and vague topics like “elements of music” vs. “writing and creating music.” Eventually, you get to see the actual worksheet. But then if you want to see the next item in the library, you have to start back at the beginning. Even with that caveat, once you familiarize yourself with the library, this new feature will save lots of class-preparation time.

Sibelius 4 has added another valuable new feature for anyone who writes music for movies. You can now import most any digital movie format and see it on screen beside your music score. The slide bar that moves you around the score also controls the video, so they are always synchronized. Find a place in the video that you want to accent with music and a mouse click adds a “hit point” in the score to guide your composition. It has all the power and simplicity you’d expect from Sibelius.

Support is simple to get, too. When I was putting Sibelius 4 through its paces, I came up with a couple of questions, logged onto their well-organized and well-maintained Help Center, and in short order had my answers.

Sibelius 4 is pricey at around $600. But it’s discounted for educators to $329, and an educator’s upgrade is only $129. This one is well worth it.

Originally Published