Sibelius 7.5’s new features are primarily in the areas of navigation, performance, playback, sharing, and social media.
There is no precedent for a “point five” version of Sibelius, although the concept is not new in the world of music software. Indeed, just recently, Steinberg released the latest version of its DAW, Cubase 7.5, and back in 2010 Native Instruments released a 4.5 version of Kontakt, its software sampler. Both were paid upgrades, and today’s announcement of Sibelius 7.5 follows this example.
For over a decade, the Sibelius upgrade release cycle was reliably predictable. Major new versions were released every two years, usually in the late spring or early summer. Bug fixes and modest feature enhancements would follow for approximately a year afterwards, and the cycle would repeat. Each Sibelius release had significant and sometimes groundbreaking new features.
The release of Sibelius 7.5 breaks that regular pattern, due, no doubt, to the well-documented restructuring that began at Avid in the summer of 2012. It has been 15 months since the last Sibelius update, 7.1.3, and more than two and a half years since Avid released 7.0. With the dust now having been settled, especially with the move of longtime Sibelius team member Sam Butler into the role of senior product manager, progress on the product is happening in a public way once again. In a blog post published today, Sam said that “Our goal with Sibelius 7.5 was to design innovative new features that build on the solid foundation of Sibelius to help you write and arrange music easier and faster than ever before.”
Bobby Lombardi, Avid’s director of product management, told me that while the company felt it was doing everything possible to communicate to the public that its developers were working on a new release, Avid was very aware of the growing concern amongst its customers about whether Sibelius development was continuing at all. Ramping up with a new team, coupled with Avid’s priorities of updating its languishing Scorch web plug-in and iOS app, meant that realistically developing a fully-featured Sibelius 8 would take even more time. So Avid decided to release an intermediate version – 7.5 – that would assure users that development was proceeding, and still have enough new features to be considered a worthy upgrade.
Of course, the old Finsbury Park team worked on Sibelius for over a year after the release of 7.0. One can reasonably assume that that team wasn’t solely working on bug fixes the whole time. How much of Sibelius 7.5 represents their vision and work is anyone’s guess, but it’s likely that the origin of some, if not most of Sibelius 7.5’s new features can be traced back quite a while.
A review of what’s new in Sibelius 7.5 follows.
Sibelius 7.5’s new features
Timeline: A new navigation tool
Sibelius 7.5’s most visible new feature is the Timeline panel, located at View > Panels > Timeline. It is designed by default to dock across the bottom of the document window, but can be optionally resized, undocked or moved to a separate display. It allows the user to easily navigate to any place in the score by simply clicking on one of the landmarks, which can be optionally hidden or shown depending on the user’s preferences and the nature of the particular score.
Presets can be named and saved in Preferences > Timeline:
Landmarks to choose from comprise rehearsal marks, comments, tempo and metronome markings, time and key signatures, repeats, titles, hit points, and other types of system text, including a new “Musical structure” text style.
Timeline looks for landmarks in your score, and assigns a color-coded lane to each of these objects. If no landmarks of a particular type are present (say you have no hit points or comments in your score), then those lanes are automatically hidden. You can optionally display a ruler in the Timeline, which will display bar numbers and timecode that correspond to your settings in Play > Video > Timecode, and match up with what displays in the Transport panel.
Bars are represented in a grid, and the background color of each bar is colored light or dark depending of whether there is music in it or not. A highlighted area represents the viewable portion of the score, and the Timeline is sophisticated enough to highlight noncontiguous sections if that’s what’s in your display. If a staff passage is selected in your score, that passage turns blue in the Timeline; likewise, if a system passage is selected in the score, it shows as purple in the Timeline. If a landmark is truncated due to space limitations in the Timeline, hovering over it will show it fully; hovering over a bar in the grid will show a small pop-up displaying the instrument name and bar number.
The Timeline is an outstanding new feature, and yet it could be even better. It is purely navigational – perhaps by design, to prevent users from making unwanted changes in their scores. But the Timeline so resembles a sequencer-style track editor that instinctively I found myself clicking within it and trying to copy or move items, or trying to re-order the tracks in the left-hand column by simply dragging them. It is so tempting to try to option (Alt)+drag a rehearsal mark in the Timeline to create a new one, but it can’t be done. Although the Timeline represents a selection you make within your score, the reverse cannot be done; you can’t actually make a selection from the Timeline.
During playback, the Timeline will update along with your score, representing the viewable highlighted portion. But unlike a DAW, there is no corresponding playback line in the Timeline, and there is no “catch” option – meaning that if, during playback, the score extends beyond the Timeline’s viewable area, you must manually move or re-size the Timeline.
Still, the Timeline is a welcome improvement. Built-in support for navigating to a particular bar or page has always been included in previous versions of Sibelius, but you usually had to know in advance where you wanted to go and type in the appropriate number. Certain plug-ins have augmented this somewhat, and the Navigator panel was groundbreaking for its time (it’s still available in Sibelius 7.5, with a new option to disable automatic scrolling). But the Timeline makes it especially convenient to quickly jump to points in a document based upon visual landmarks. If you work on large scores with many such items, you may well indeed find this a time-saving feature.
Note that the shortcut for the Timeline is Ctrl+Alt+N or Opt-Command-N. This replaces the old shortcut for the Navigator, which no longer has a default keyboard shortcut.
Rhythmic feel with independent soloist options
Sibelius’s playback options have long included options for varying rhythmic playback styles, such as swing. However, this setting applied to all of the instruments in your score, not to one player at a time. Even casual jazz fans are familiar with the concept of certain soloists playing behind or ahead of the beat to great effect, but this was previously very difficult to achieve in Sibelius without extensive manipulation of the Live Playback data.
Sibelius 7.5 addresses this concept with a panoply of new “rhythmic feels” (Bebop, Cool, Ballad Swing, and Neo-bop are but a few of the mostly jazz-influenced new options). Some, like Notes inégales and Viennese waltz, are improved versions of the rhythmic feels in Sibelius 7 and earlier, which have been accorded “legacy” status in Sibelius 7.5.
As before, the overall performance style can be set in Play > Interpretation > Performance. Digging deeper, though, one finds detailed options in the Effect Values section of Play > Interpretation > Dictionary, such as options in System Text to adjust a particular beat subdivision (i.e., eighth notes for swing; quarter notes for waltzes) or what to do with smaller note divisions (i.e., make them double-time, like in a hard-swinging style). You can adjust the proportions and dynamic emphasis of the subdivisions, allowing subtle control over how notes are emphasized within a groove.
Moreover, all of these options are available in the Staff Text tab of this same dialog — which means that, yes, these features are available on a per-instrument basis, allowing for some sophisticated combinations of instruments. One of these options is the ability to shift all notes ahead or behind the beat by a certain amount. This can be used, for instance, to have a drummer play “on top” of the beat (the default word in Sibelius is “ahead,” but you can customize the Dictionary however you like). Simply add the desired word as Technique text for that particular staff, the same way you might add “pizz.” or “mute”:
Curiously, though, the defaults for some of the definitions appear to be at odds with each other. Using my previous example, if I have a chart with a tempo label of “Swing”, the default playback proportions of the beat subdivisions are roughly 61%/38% – about what you’d expect. However, if I place the label “ahead” on one of my instruments, those defaults are 50%/50% – meaning that I’d have a drummer playing ahead of the beat, but with straight eighths – surely not the desired effect! One can get around this, perhaps, by adjusting or adding more definitions to the Dictionary. But a better implementation would have been for the various Effect Values to be individually enabled.
Still, with some experimentation, users will be able to achieve far more realistic playback results than were possible in earlier versions of Sibelius. It’s worth noting that if you create your own rhythmic feel in the Dictionary, it will appear as a global option in the Style section of the Performance dialog – a clever touch.
Other playback enhancements
Sibelius 7.5 offers up a host of impressive playback improvements besides the aforementioned rhythmic feels.
Among these is what is being called “Espressivo 2”, a more sophisticated algorithm for shaping musical phrases. Essentially Sibelius is taking more of the music into context when determining how much to emphasize certain notes, with the overall effect of smoother and more natural playback. It’s a pleasant improvement, and not unlike what can be achieved with Finale’s Human Playback feature or Wallander Instruments’ NotePerformer for Sibelius. The extent to which you notice the differences compared to previous Sibelius versions will depend upon the type of music you write. As before, the degree of expression can be controlled in the Style section of Play > Interpretation > Performance.
Another related improvement, again with the intent of more closely approximating human performance, is the ability to emphasize the strong beats of the meter. Separate settings are possible for pitched instruments and unpitched percussion. This is controlled in the Emphasize Meter section of the Performance dialog.
Sibelius 7.5 will distinguish between acciaccaturas (grace notes with a slashed line) and appoggiaturas (grace notes without the slash), if Play back single appoggiaturas is selected in the new Grace notes section of the Performance dialog. If you’re creating, say, baroque music, this is a very handy feature, as the appoggiatura will play back on the beat, stealing time away from the note that it precedes.
Further options for grace notes are possible in the Inspector, which sports several options that can be selected on a case-by-case basis:
Speaking of baroque music, Sibelius 7.5 will play back not only certain mordents, but also turns and trills placed as symbols, when Play back mordents is selected in the new Ornaments section of the Performance dialog For instance, a passage notated as:
Will play back as:
This is especially lovely; the various options for defining the playback properties of these items are set by default, but can be adjusted on the Symbols tab in Play > Interpretation > Dictionary, by selecting Play ornament and choosing your option:
While we’re on the Symbols tab of the Dictionary, you’ll also notice new options for inserting silence and shortening the duration of notes. This is because caesuras and breath marks now play back in Sibelius, when caesuras are entered as system-attached symbols and breath marks are entered as staff-attached symbols. (These global settings can be individually adjusted in the Inspector.)
If you write percussion music, you’ll notice a new option for Velocity reduction for grace notes on unpitched staves in the aforementioned Grace notes section of the Performance dialog. In other words, a snare drum passage such as:
will be performed more naturally as if there were a crescendo within each ruff, if an option other than None is chosen here.
Finally, Sibelius 7.5 will, for the first time, recognize tempo text such as “a tempo”, “come prima” and “tempo primo”, obviating the need to insert a non-displaying metronome mark to accompany these text items. You’ll find definitions for these words in the Dictionary, controlled by the new Reset Tempo effect. Options include resetting the tempo to the previous tempo (for “a tempo”), the tempo at the start of a section or movement (by default for “come prima” and “tempo primo”), or the tempo at the very beginning of the score (you could change, say, your definition of “tempo primo” to this if you prefer).
A couple other playback-related fixes: A system-attached coda symbol on its own can now be used to denote the start of a coda section for playback purposes (as opposed to having to write “Coda”), and Tempo markings are no longer imported from MIDI files with many more decimal places than are necessary (something Neil Sands addressed in a recent plug-in update).
Sharing, social media, and exporting
Sibelius First, the version of Sibelius that is marketed to amateurs and younger users, offers certain social and sharing features not available in the full version – until now.
Sibelius 7.5 includes various direct sharing options, found in the new File > Share:
- E-mail your score from within Sibelius, with various options to include in your e-mail a proper subject and message, as well as a file exported to a previous Sibelius version, and PDFs of the score and parts;
- Publish your score to Score Exchange;
- Publish a video of your score to YouTube or Facebook;
- Publish audio from your score to SoundCloud
Further, the File > Export section gains the ability to export a video of your score, and also the option to export your score for use with Avid Scorch, the iOS app that can read, play and transpose Sibelius files. Settings include the ability to optimize the score for viewing on an iPad as well as adjusting your page margins and staff size accordingly.
Some may scoff at some of these new sharing and exporting options. But many users, among them educators and students, will heartily embrace these features. I can envision the direct e-mail option saving precious time even for pros, especially with the one-step exporting options included:
Modest improvements have been made in user control over where saved and exported files go by default. Previously located in Preferences > File, this has now been given its own section in Preferences > Saving and Exporting, where one can not only set the default folders for scores and backups, but also different folders for each type of exported file (such as audio, video, PDF, MusicXML, etc.) I’m not sure how useful this is (as I typically organize my files within folders according to the project, not the file type), but perhaps some will find it convenient.
What would have been more beneficial here instead is an option for power users who would like to save things like House Styles, plug-ins, and configuration settings to folders other than the ones that Sibelius has used by default, especially for syncing across multiple computers. Finale users enjoy such a capability.
The makers of computer operating systems are deliberately making it more difficult to find many of these user-specific folders (which are often in a hidden library) in an attempt to make the OS experience more user-friendly. No doubt there are those who already have their various ways around this limitation, but it would have been helpful if Sibelius 7.5 made this type of customization easier.
Sibelius 7 had already been localized into English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, and Spanish. Sibelius 7.5 includes support for Brazilian Portuguese and Russian. Lyric syllabification for Portuguese is also newly introduced in Sibelius 7.5.
A small, but welcome improvement regarding system-attached symbols: a new Draw on all staves option is a time-saving enhancement when applying, say, a caesura that should appear on every staff in the score at the same position. (Finale users will recognize this as the rough, but less customizable equivalent of the Score List functionality when placing expressions in that program.)
Also, small progress has been made on one of Sibelius users’ favorite bugaboos: tuplets. It is now possible in Sibelius 7.5 to copy an item to the clipboard, such as a dynamic or a group of notes, and paste it directly onto a selected note of a tuplet, without encountering a warning dialog. There were already easy ways around this, such as option (Alt)+clicking, or selecting the entire tuplet instead of a single note, but it’s progress, nonetheless. It’s still not possible to paste a tuplet across a barline, and all of the other well-known limitations are still present.
There have been no other improvements to engraving, scoring, layout, or any of the other core notation features of Sibelius since Sibelius 7.1.3. Items on users’ wish-lists, like Dynamic Parts that intelligently separate voicings inherited from the score, many different staff sizes on a per-instrument and/or per-system basis, magnetic lines, and engraver-quality handling of accidentals, will have to wait for a future version of Sibelius.
The interface in Sibelius 7.5, except for the Timeline, remains identical to Sibelius 7. Whether you did or didn’t like the change to the Ribbon and its related features, you won’t find anything different in Sibelius 7.5.
Sibelius 7.5 saves its files in a different file version than Sibelius 7 files. Sibelius 7.5 will open 7.1.3 files just fine, but the reverse is not true. Interestingly, when attempting to open a 7.5 file in 7.1.3, a message appears saying that the score was created with a “newer version of Sibelius 7” and that a “free update may be available”, which of course isn’t quite the case:
Like in all other Sibelius versions, exporting 7.5 files to a previous version, including Sibelius 7, is supported. While file versions have understandably been updated with each major upgrade to accommodate new features, those features have usually included significant notation or interface changes, which aren’t present in Sibelius 7.5.
It would have been better if Sibelius 7.5 could have used the same file version as Sibelius 7 without requiring exporting. Sibelius 7.5 is so similar to Sibelius 7.1.3, at least on the notation side, that one could foresee a situation where someone casually sends a colleague 7.5 files without realizing that the recipient has 7.1.3, not knowing of the backwards incompatibility between the two “point releases”.
Another related side effect is that you can’t copy and paste between Sibelius 7.1.3 and 7.5. This is perhaps not surprising — previous Sibelius versions don’t share a clipboard, either — but these versions look and behave so similarly that one could easily be forgiven for expecting otherwise.
Oh — if you relied on the Latest News section of the Quick Start dialog to access the most recent articles from this blog, you’ll have to get here another way if you upgrade to Sibelius 7.5. Avid has replaced the feed in this area with one from their official blog, which the company also quietly did on their web site last month. It is more appropriate, of course, for Avid to link to its official blog — “Avid Blogs Sibelius” — rather than the unofficial one that you are reading right now. In good spirit and fun, though, I will note that this blog — the “Sibelius blog” — has more than 500 articles and counting, dating back to 2008, on a whole host of topics. The official Avid Blogs Sibelius has a total of seven articles at the time this post was published. But every tree starts out as a seed!
Installation, compatibility and minimum requirements
Sibelius 7.5 will run on PCs running Windows 7 and higher, and on Macs running 10.6.8 and higher. Sibelius 7.1.3 is the last version of Sibelius to support Windows XP and Vista.
Minimum hardware requirements are 1 GB RAM and, 750 MB hard disk space, although 4 GB RAM and an additional 40 GB of storage space are recommended if you want to use the included Sibelius Sounds library. A DVD drive is not needed if you download the software instead of installing it from discs.
Thankfully, those upgrading from Sibelius 7.1.3 to Sibelius 7.5 do not need to re-install the whole sound library. An updater will install updates to the existing patches.
Of course, the better your processor and the more RAM and storage space you have (especially in the form of an SSD and flash storage), the better Sibelius and other programs will generally perform.
When installing Sibelius 7.5, you’ll be presented with an option to uninstall Sibelius 7, or to keep it on your computer:
I chose to keep it, and it happily coexists alongside my other recent versions of Sibelius, as you can see:
You’ll also have the option to copy over all of your custom House Styles, sound sets, plug-ins, and other settings like playback configurations and shortcuts from Sibelius 7 (but not earlier versions). This is recommended, and everything transfers over easily.
Price and upgrade options
On the Sibelius 7.5 product page, Avid says: “Sibelius 7.5 is coming soon — Buy, upgrade, or crossgrade to Sibelius 7 starting on January 23, 2014 and get a complimentary upgrade to version 7.5 when it’s available. Sign up to be notified when Sibelius 7.5 and the new trial are available.”
According to Avid, Sibelius 7.5 will be available worldwide in February 2014. Pricing will be as follows:
- Sibelius 7.5 (full version)—$599.95 USD, €486.56 exc. VAT, or £479.95 inc. VAT
- Sibelius 7 to 7.5 upgrade—$49.95 USD, €41.18 exc. VAT, or £39.95 inc. VAT
- Sibelius Legacy upgrade (v6 and earlier)—$149.95 USD, €116.81 exc. VAT, or £119.95 inc. VAT
- Sibelius competitive upgrade—$199.95 USD, €158.82 exc. VAT, £159.95 inc. VAT
- Sibelius trade-up from Sibelius First—$399.95 USD, €318.49 exc. VAT, £319.95 inc. VAT
Final thoughts (for now)
For the first time, Sibelius users have to ponder a paid upgrade that isn’t a major release or huge step forward for the program.
For some users, the choice is easy. If you rely on Sibelius to regularly create demos for your band, colleagues, or students, then the $50 price for upgrading for the playback and sharing improvements is a no-brainer. On the other hand, if you’re concerned primarily with engraving, and are lightning fast with your keyboard shortcuts to navigate around the score already, you can skip the upgrade (unless, of course, you work with other users that upgrade to 7.5 – the lack of seamless file interchangeability will get annoying quickly).
For everyone else not falling squarely into one of the above camps, the Timeline feature alone could prove to be invaluable to your workflow, and even if you only use playback occasionally, you’ll enjoy a more realistic expression of your music in Sibelius 7.5.
If you are already familiar with Sibelius 7, you won’t have to re-learn anything in the way you did when upgrading from Sibelius 6 or earlier. All your favorite features are still there, working in the same way as before. The flip side of this, of course, is the near-complete absence of new notation features in Sibelius 7.5, which is surely what prevents this new version from being called Sibelius 8.
Sibelius 7.5 not only keeps pace with its current competitors in the field, but in many ways it continues to outshine them, largely on the strength of the program’s deeply-rooted fundamentals. For now, Avid has answered the more pernicious rumors that Sibelius has stopped working, or that all development and support on the product has ceased, which are clearly untrue. The challenge for Avid for the future is to demonstrate and execute a vision that extends beyond incremental upgrades, hopefully recapturing the pace and spirit of Sibelius’s legendary innovation that have made it an indispensable tool for so many musicians.