Using Sibelius Effectively: a guide to Sibelius Ultimate


Note: This article, first published in 2021, has been updated in 2023 for the new edition of the book.

Like all of the professional music notation software programs on the market today, in Sibelius Ultimate it’s possible to create anything from a simple piece of music to the most complex compositions, and everything in between. Moreover, a comprehensive understanding of Sibelius would have to include all genres of notation, playback, hardware connectivity, exporting, importing … it’s enough to consider giving up before you even get started.

It’s no surprise, then, that in order to document Sibelius’s features, the latest edition of the Reference Guide weighs in at 811 pages. No wonder that Avid stopped selling a printed copy years ago.

Although there are many helpful tips sprinkled liberally throughout the Reference that go well beyond the cut-and-dried description of what’s contained in a dialog box, finding that nugget of useful information is likely to be a chore — all the more so if you’re primarily concerned with creating good quality notation and less concerned with the other bells and whistles.

What if you had someone walk you through Sibelius’s functions in a clear and collegial way, and not only explain how the program works, but actually give their honest-to-goodness opinions about the software’s strengths and shortcomings, and helpfully guide you along the best possible path? You know, how to use Sibelius effectively?

Enter Using Sibelius Effectively: A Guide to Sibelius Ultimate, the very appropriately-titled ebook by Luciano Williamson, which does just that — condensing years of experience and expertise using Sibelius into a thoughtful, practical 80-page explainer.

First published in 2021, and completely updated in 2023, it’s written in an easy-to-follow, engaging style, with a focus on helping you produce quality music notation from the program.

This guide, which Luciano originally wrote for the composition students at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and began life as a lecture plan covering common tasks in Sibelius, quickly grew into a document longer “than every essay I ever wrote while studying at the college, combined,” Luciano said.

The purpose of Using Sibelius Effectively is clear: “This guide is not intended to replace a book on music notation (there are many fine examples of these), nor is it a thorough guide on every single feature in Sibelius (the Sibelius Reference Guide included with the software already exists!),” Luciano says in his preface to the guide. “Rather, this guide will walk you through the basic steps of creating a new score in Sibelius the ‘right’ (i.e. most effective) way, while ideally covering 90% of the things 90% of engravers need 90% of the time. While I have my own (strong) opinions on many notation conventions, in this guide I am only interested in describing how to achieve the results you want in the most efficient and future-proof manner.”

What’s more, since its first publication in 2021, the book has been completely updated to address the latest improvements in the software. Luciano said, “Wow, Sibelius has changed a lot in the past couple of years! There have been many updates since January 2021, and there are major additions to the guide. 2021 began with Find in Ribbon becoming the new Command Search, and this alone could justify a new edition, as it brings even more tools right to the QWERTY keyboard, speeding up your workflow. Then we got Sibelius for iPad, followed soon after by Sibelius for iPhone – the workflows and innovations developed for these devices make their way back into the desktop versions in time. 2022 is the big year, however. Line improvements! Section headers! Staff names! Score subsets! I tried to test everything out for a new edition in early 2023 but then along came improvements to score subsets and independent dynamic parts – and here we are, at last.”

After prefacing the guide with a very brief history of computer music engraving, Luciano gets going and organizes the guide into three main sections: Preparation, Making Notes (and more), and Useful Extras. The guide walks you through what do to before you even open Sibelius through the steps of putting items on the page, editing objects, laying out your music, and making parts.

Even the most basic concepts are presented with morsels of priceless information, and can help you avoid all-too-common pitfalls. For instance, key signatures are dispensed with quickly, but not before a crucial bit of material is conveyed: “If you are writing without a key, make sure you choose No key and not C major, or your clarinets will be playing in D for no good reason.” I’ve made that point before including right here on Scoring Notes, but I have to say Luciano explains it more clearly and immediately, so the point is made and you can move right along.

From “Using Sibelius Effectively”

There are other sections where Luciano goes into a bit more detail and illustrates tips that you’ll be grateful to know about. In a brief passage describing slurs and ties, you’ll learn how to pop in and out of Sibelius’s Engraving Rules to change some settings that will improve the appearance of these items. The results are made abundantly clear in the illustrated examples.

There’s an additional bonus: Luciano explains not only how, but why you would want to make these changes. As you read the rationale, you’ll find yourself nodding along in agreement, both because you see the wisdom of the explanation, and also thanks to a bit of self-affirmation that you invested $9.99 in picking up a copy of this useful guide and keeping it nearby on your desktop or other device.

From “Using Sibelius Effectively”

Using Sibelius Effectively makes Sibelius accessible to the user who wants professional, practical guidance on making music that looks great, offering opinions and insider tips on the best approaches. The clarifying approach is laser-focused on music notation tips and tricks, and doesn’t digress into playback, video, or other Sibelius features that aren’t directly related to producing notated output.

This 80-page guide, while sizeable for what it accomplishes, doesn’t come close to documenting every last Sibelius feature — after all, you’ve still got the official 811-page Reference as well as many other sources of helpful material, including the many years’ worth of articles on Scoring Notes. But it excels in taking the essence of those sources and organizing their most essential concepts into a way that it says on the tin: how to use Sibelius effectively.

This is the rare item that will appeal to both beginners and power users alike. Whether you find yourself learning something new, reinforcing something you already knew, or slapping your forehead and wishing you had imparted its wisdom years ago, Using Sibelius Effectively will up your Sibelius game.

Using Sibelius Effectively: A Guide to Sibelius Ultimate is available as an ebook in PDF format for $9.99 at Notation Central, our marketplace for music notation technology.

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