Sibelius 8.1 released; rest placement, ending lines, MP3 export among improvements


Today at the NAMM show Avid announced the release of Sibelius 8.1. A free update for most users already using 8.0, Sibelius 8.1 adds a handful of new features, including rests that avoid notes in other voices; exporting directly to MP3 format, and repeat ending lines (such as “1.” and “2.”) that are placed correctly by default.

Other improvements include better trackpad support on Mac and official support for Mac OS X El Capitan. Performance improvements and bug fixes round out the list of changes.

Joe Pearson, Avid’s product designer for Sibelius, said that “It’s been a real pleasure to finally work on some grass roots notation features in Sibelius and deliver them in our 8.1 update.  I hope users will find it both useful and encouraging that we’re deriving features directly from their feedback on public sites such as IdeaScale and the Sibelius forum.”


The major new engraving feature is the handling of rest placement, so let’s begin there.

Rests avoid notes in other voices

Engraving rules

Rests that automatically scoot out of the way of a note in another voice has long been a top wish-list item, not only for Sibelius users, but for Finale and MuseScore as well — none of the programs had the ability to intelligently position rests according to context prior to today’s Sibelius update.

Joe Pearson said, “With intelligent rests, we set out to solve a common problem with simple to understand rules. The idea is that Sibelius should now make it easier than ever for you to produce clear, accurate and more beautiful scores, whilst still leaving you in ultimate control as the user.”

It’s actually quite a challenging problem. Collision avoidance is the most basic element of the solution, but for readability’s sake, you don’t want rests that go all over the place. So the rests must also be aware of their surrounding notes as well.

Sibelius 8.1 addresses this with several options that are found in the new Rests area of Appearance > Engraving Rules:


The screenshot above shows the default options for scores newly created in Sibelius 8.1. For scores created in earlier versions, Rests avoid notes in other voices is switched off, which disables all of the other options.

Rests avoid notes in other voices is the most basic option. This is simple collision avoidance – rests avoid colliding with notes in other voices. When you think of all the other collision avoidance already built into Sibelius since the Magnetic Layout feature was introduced, this fits naturally into that concept.

Rests in Sibelius 8.0 and earlier
Rests in Sibelius 8.0 and earlier
Rests in Sibelius 8.1
Rests in Sibelius 8.1

Notice how, in bar 2, the rest on beat 2 is also avoiding the time occupied by the half note. So maybe it’s best to think of this as not just collision avoidance, but time-space avoidance as well.

When Align rests vertically with surrounding pitches when writing in multiple voices is checked, and the Beam groups radio button is selected, Sibelius will group rests by beam groups:

Align rests vertically – Beam groups

In voice 2 of bar 2 of the above example, the half rest on beat one stays up because it is not part of the beam group (four eighth notes in this case). The quarter rest on beat 3 is pulled down by the low G on beat 4. In bar 3, the quarter rest on beat 4 is pulled down by the low A dotted half note, because its value of three beats extends into the next beam group.

If Beam groups and Bars is selected, Sibelius will take the entire bar into consideration, but there are subtleties:

Align rests vertically – Beam groups and bars

In bar 2 of the above example (voice 2), there is no intervening note in the first beam group, so the half rest gets pulled down to align with beats 3 and 4 of the bar. In bar 3, the E quarter note on beat 1 determines the position of the quarter rest on beat 2, and the low G quarter note on beat 4 determines the position of the quarter rest on beat 3.

Finally, if Rests continue in same vertical alignment until writing in single voice is checked, Sibelius will take the position of the rests in the most recent bar into consideration when writing rests in subsequent bars, until music with only one voice is written.

Rests continue in same vertical alignment: Off
Rests continue in same vertical alignment: On
Rests continue in same vertical alignment: On

See how the position of the whole rest in bar 2 in the above example is different.


For rests that fall between groups of beats, Sibelius will interpolate the position of those rests to create a path for the eye to follow. The effect varies depending upon which of the options are selected in the Engraving Rules.

For instance, if Beam groups is selected, the rests that fall between two tessituras are interpolated:


However, if Beam groups and Bars is selected, the rests that fall between two tessituras within a bar are interpolated, but remaining rests hold their position:


In practical use

Like Magnetic Layout, engravers and other detail-oriented types will want to understand the minutiae of the rules. Most users, however, will likely just want to know: Does it work?

For the most part, the answer is yes. Again, I would liken it to Magnetic Layout. It doesn’t achieve perfect results all of the time, and there are some edge cases where further tweaking to the algorithm is called for. But if you’re starting a new score from scratch in Sibelius 8.1, you’ll generally get very good results with this feature.

As was the case before, you can always override the position of a rest by manually moving it. Keep in mind, though, that if the feature is switched on, the default position of a rest (either by being left alone or by being reset by Appearance > Design and Position > Reset Position) will now be where Sibelius places it according to the new Engraving Rules.

When exporting to an earlier version of Sibelius, the rest positions are frozen so that they appear as if you had moved them manually. (Come to think of it, this would be a nice option to have within Sibelius 8.1 itself, akin to the Freeze Positions option in Layout > Magnetic Layout, but it’s not currently possible.)

I consulted various engraving textbooks and was curious to see how Sibelius 8.1, with its default settings, replicated the notation examples compared to Sibelius 8.0 and earlier. The results were quite good, as you can see below — particularly on some of the more complicated examples.

The texts I consulted were Elaine Gould’s Behind Bars; Gardner Read’s Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice; and Tom Gerou and Linda Lusk’s Essential Dictionary of Music Notation. (Click on each image for a large version)





You’ll still need a couple of plug-ins to handle certain situations, like when rests of the same duration appear on the same beat. For that, Bob Zawalich’s Hide Duplicate Rests is the solution. Rests that appear in between beamed notes didn’t receive any special treatment in this update, either; Float Rests is the answer to that problem. It would be nice if Sibelius could automatically handle those cases.

Still, the rest position feature in Sibelius 8.1 is a worthy accomplishment and marks the first real engraving improvement since Sibelius 7.


  1. Bob Zawalich

    Thanks for the detailed review, Philip! Sort of too bad about the version format change, but it is nice to see some new actual notation features, even if they are relatively modest (it is just a point release). I can see the rest avoidance stuff being useful.

  2. Peter Roos

    Thanks Philip — rests avoiding notes in another voice is a good improvement. Happy to see, first and foremost, that Sibelius is still being actively improved.

  3. Joe Pearson

    We wanted to maintain the same backwards compatibility that Sibelius has always been good at, so we were forced to revise the file version. This allows the File tab > Export > Previous version process to freeze the newly positioned rests, such that they appear in the same position in older copies of Sibelius.

    I do however agree that it’s not going to be a scalable model if we continue adding features like this, so we’re working on some sort of solution that should make this more transparent in the future.

  4. Kenneth Gaw

    Thanks for this review. The new features appear to me to be useful and relevant for most users. I think that continuing development which focuses on Sibelius as both a composition tool and an engraving tool is the only way to ensure its long term future.

    I am concerned, however, that many educational institutions, particularly schools, may be priced out of using Sibelius by the yearly subscription. It is often easier to get funding for a one off upgrade than to commit to long term funding in an uncertain financial climate. It is also unlikely that institutions will want to invest in an software license that they might lose ( or be unable to upgrade) if they cannot maintain the payments. Musescore is not quite so good, but it’s free….????

    1. Joe Pearson

      Hi Kenneth,

      We do offer handsome discounts for our educational users, especially multi-seat licenses for schools and other establishments.


  5. Robert A Moody

    I am particular to the ability to go straight to .mp3. Unfortunately, the update brought constant crashing when exporting to audio for me. I export my work at various tempi for practiced purposes and I am lucky to get two exports completed now without Sibelius crashing.

    I am using Sounds 7, Windows 10 and work from an SSD. Export seems a lot faster…when it works.

    1. Joe Pearson

      Hi Robert,

      Sorry to hear that! Have you tried the usual troubleshooting steps like updating your sound card drivers?

      Feel free to pop me an e-mail and I can ask one of our tech support team to get in touch. [email protected] . It may turn out that this is a bug that we could address in a future release too.


      1. Robert A Moody

        Thanks Joe. I am in-between exports but in my attempts to solve the problem myself, I uninstalled Sibelius, downloaded a fresh copy and reinstalled it. The last couple of exports after that have worked properly. So we’ll see.

  6. Derek Williams

    Really useful time saver if it performs to spec.

  7. adriana figueroa

    Hi! I have sibelius 7.1.3
    is it possible to buy an upgrade to sibelius 8.1?

  8. Vladimir Fortin

    Hi, sorry for offtopic. If have created new line. It worked fine until I closed Sibelius. Next time all my own lines disapeared. Is it possible to export it to another file? Can you help me please? I use Sibelius 7.5

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