Read the friendly manual

The Sibelius 2 User Guide is available on eBay, for the nostalgia-minded
The Sibelius 2 User Guide is available on eBay, for the nostalgia-minded

Often I receive questions from friends, colleagues and strangers alike, asking for help with one Sibelius question or another. While I’m not an official source of information, I try to help when I can, although it’s not always possible for me to reply to every question.

Sometimes the question is along the lines of “Sibelius can’t recognize my sound card using my specially configured computer running an out-of-date operating system PLEASE HELP” — sorry, no can do. Sometimes the question is complicated, but possible (and even fun) to solve, such as “How do I make a B flat Clarinet playing in the concert key of E major show a transposed key signature of G flat major instead of F sharp major?” (More on the answer here.)

Sometimes, though, the question is easily found in the manual, such as “How do I add a bar?” I was really asked this question the other day. I don’t necessarily blame the user; we can debate ad nauseam whether Sibelius is intuitively designed, and in this era of smartphone apps and other software with little or no documentation, consumers are conditioned to fend for themselves until they figure it out or give up.

But Sibelius is a powerful tool and it comes with extensive documentation, in which many answers can be found. “RTFM” is a common, if impolite acronym, meaning “look it up.” In Sibelius’s case, I think the “F” actually stands for “friendly” because the help documentation is so well-written. (The “manual” actually refers to the whopping 780-page Reference as well as four smaller documents: the tutorials, the “What’s New” primer, the Sibelius Sounds guide and the action-packed ManuScript Language guide.)

We can bemoan the lack of an included printed manual, although if you have a tablet, reading the reference materials can actually be quite pleasant (see this earlier blog post on how). You can read the Reference from start to finish, or skip around, or skim the sections where you most often need help. There are even several “visual” indices if you don’t know the name of what you’re looking for, a glossary, and an extensive index. Each section and its sub-sections are bookmarked, making for easy navigation whether you’re viewing the Reference on a computer screen or a tablet.

reference 1
Using bookmarks in the Reference in Preview (Mac OS X)

Taking the time to look something up might seem quaint in the era of smartphone and tablet apps. But it takes a fraction of the time you might otherwise spend flailing about and growing frustrated — and who knows, you might just chuckle at one of the several cheeky bits sprinkled in along the way (“Tab can be fun…oh yes it can!”).


  1. Mimi Mansky

    The RTFM seems as though it would be helpful, since the online 780-page reference guide doesn’t always give clear easy-to-understand instructions.

  2. Mimi Mansky

    The RTFM seems as though it would be helpful.

  3. Jim

    I’ve found the Sibelius reference guide to be unbelieveably helpful on a number of occasions. So glad it exists.

    Most importantly, so glad it’s an electronic guide, allowing me to search for specific terms.

  4. Paul W

    I belong to the “old” school and like to hold a book, as I learn so much more {turning the pages} than just searching for an answer to a specific Question. Managed to get a printed copy of the Sibelius 7 Reference Guide and have found it so helpful {like the chapters headed: “For advanced users only”} and so enlightening.
    Could not understand why software developers put introductory notes and operating manuals on the installing disk/s, especially if you are having problems etc.
    Also, what about those people who are “new” to Sibelius and haven’t had the wealth of knowledge gained from “growing up” with the different versions.

  5. Peter Roos

    The Sibelius Reference is a gem in terms of clarity, comprehensiveness and general introduction into a lot of music notation issues.

    @Paul: you can order a hard copy from Avid if you prefer to read a hard cover book.

    @Lance: if you have any questions you cannot find the answer to in the Reference, feel free to ask on the Sibelius forum / chat page. It is a wonderful place to visit, full of friendly fellow users. Unless you have a really complex technical issues ordinarily there is no need to buy a support ticket from Avid for issues relating to Sibelius.

  6. Mike

    I’m afraid this application is awful, even though it’s probably the best out of all the tablature editors!

    The manual is very poorly written. Programmers or geeks should never design websites or create manuals. It is something 99% of them are awful at.

    Ironically the best manuals are written by someone who has medium level computer skills twinned with excellent communication skills, and the awareness to get people of different levels to test the documentation (i.e. if less than 8 out of 10 people can’t do the thing you are describing then you have probably failed).

    I have been programming and using computers for over 25 years and I’ve also used guitar tab for decades. If I can’t get some of the things working, then yes you have completely failed! i.e. if an expert fails to do something it is because:

    1. Your software is COMPLETELY non-intuitive.
    2. The manual was never checked outside of the people who developed the software! Feedback was never taken seriously from outside, or never asked for at all.

    It would be quicker to do the tab by hand and photocopy it! When technology is slower than the old-fashioned method then it has failed.

    Please improve your software!

    Harsh feedback is the best feedback if your ego can hack it!!!!

  7. Mimi Mansky

    The software needs to be made easier, as there are too many complicated steps to get something to work.

  8. Barry Johnstone

    In July, my wife and me are going across ‘the ditch’ and visiting Australia. We are going to Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. What shop and where can I buy the ‘Siblius 7 Reference Guide’?

  9. Paul W

    Dear Barry,
    I did a “google” search and found an online outlet {at a reasonable cost “Down Under” here in Australia} that stocked the “Sibelius 7 Reference Manual”. (My usual online Book outlets did not stock it.)
    On Monday 15th April 2013 [23:00] found: another is: also found:
    (Did not check P&H for each of these sites)
    Hope this is of help.

  10. Paul Hartley

    As a private music teacher, in my 4th decade of this profession, I bring creditability to what I am about to say.
    I rely on being able to use Sibelius with a big portion of my students and am able to do so using version 6. Since version 7 is so completely different, it is of no value to me. I suspect I am not the only one out there who feels the same way.
    Now, here is what I have decided to do. I will still keep using version 6 since it is a functional tool for me.
    I will look at version 7 as simply a problem to be solved. When I need something done, I must use version 6.
    I am going to spend a little time studying 7 in hopes that it will someday become a useful tool.
    I am very disappointed with Sib.7 I did not want to start from scratch again.

  11. Claude White

    Sibelius 7 is a waste of time. I can’t find one thing it does better than 6. Of course, having upgraded regularly from Sibelius 2 over the years I bought right into the hype. Then discovered the company had been sold to people who are not interested in music notation at all. Thanks a lot to all involved, the creators, the buyers, and the programmers.

    1. Mimi Mansky

      I’ve been using Sib 7 longer than 6; I like the fact that Sib 7 has the capability for naming notes and chords. I don’t recall if Sib 6 has this function.


  12. Charles Gaskell

    I’ve just started to try and teach myself Cubase 7.5 and have to say that I far prefer the Sibelius reference manual to the Cubase Operation Manual. A small example, I thought I needed to use markers (it actually turned out I needed the Object Selection tool, but that’s another gripe). The manual spends quite a bit of time explaining that there are two types of marker, and going into considerable detail on how they can be used – however it is not until the third page that it tells you HOW to insert a marker, even though it told you that you need to do this in the second sentence of the introduction to the section!

    Rant over…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *