Sibelius 8.4 released with more custom staff sizes; Scorch for iPad updated


update-downloadToday Avid released Sibelius 8.4, a free update for all 8.x users with an active license or support plan. Sibelius 8.4’s new feature essentially adds two more staff sizes, for a total of four, for use in a Sibelius document. As a result, certain elements of the dialogs and user interface have been adjusted.

Custom staff sizes in Sibelius 8.4

In prior versions of Sibelius, there were two staff sizes available: the normal staff size and a small staff size. Small staves were set in the Home > Instruments > Add or Remove Instruments by checking a Small staff box. These had a default of 75% of the normal size, which could be adjusted in Appearance > Engraving Rules > Staves.

Sibelius 8.4 gives the user four staff sizes. The Normal size is essentially the master size, and the “child sizes” are scaled proportionally to it. The note spacing algorithm is based on the Normal size.

By default, the sizes are set at:

  • Normal, set at 100%
  • Medium, set at 85%
  • Small, set at 75%
  • Extra small, set at 65%

When you set up a score for the first time and click Change Instruments, or access Add or Remove Instruments while working on your score, you’ll notice that the Small staff checkbox has been removed. Instead, you’ll now see a new Staff Size column in the Staves in score table. From here, you can select the staff size for each instrument.


The values are displayed in inches, millimeters, or points, depending on the measurement unit you have selected in Layout > Document Setup. If you change the size of the default staff in Document Setup or directly in the Ribbon at Layout > Staff Size, the other staff sizes change proportionally.

The percentages noted earlier aren’t visible to the user. I would suggest that they should be made so, just like earlier Sibelius versions, perhaps in addition to displaying the measurements. For now, if you wish to adjust the values of the staff sizes, you’ll see some new options in the Staff Design area in Appearance > Engraving Rules > Staves.


Click on a value or use the spinner to enter an adjustment. Be aware, though, that the UI here sports some teething pains. If you enter a new value and click OK without clicking out of the text area, Sibelius forgets what you’ve entered. If you enter an illogical value (e.g., a Normal size that is smaller than a Medium size, or an Extra small size that is larger than a small size), Sibelius allows you to proceed to click OK but will reject your entries without warning. Finally, if you adjust the Normal value, the other values don’t update proportionally — different behavior than if an adjustment to the Normal size is entered via Document Setup or directly in the Ribbon at Layout > Staff Size.

The latter has already been confirmed as a bug by Avid, and hopefully the other items will be fixed as well, in addition to some display problems on Windows high-resolution devices. As noted earlier, allowing the user to adjust percentages of the custom staff sizes, instead of numeric values, in my opinion would be a more sensible option, since the actual values of those staves will fluctuate proportionally in response to the size of the Normal staff.

One additional aspect to this new feature is that you can now define the default staff size of an an instrument — note the “(instrument default)” in the first picture, above. This is done by going to Home > Instruments > Edit Instruments, choosing your instrument, clicking Edit Instrument… and then Edit Staff Type… to bring up the Staff Type dialog. From here you’ll be able to set the default staff size of the instrument:


An instrument can be one size in the score and another size in a part by making the adjustment while working in a part in Home > Instruments > Edit Instruments, as in previous Sibelius versions. Another bug to be aware of, though: Prior to 8.4, the Small staff checkbox was disabled for all instruments other than those displayed in the part. In 8.4, you can change staff sizes of instruments not even in the part, with the unfortunate result of adversely affecting your score. This bug needs to be fixed to prevent this behavior from happening.

Custom staff sizes in Sibelius are stored in the document and exported in house styles. They are also supported by MusicXML on both export and import, and I was able to confirm that this worked well in both directions with Finale.

Original Sibelius file on left, exported to MusicXML and opened as Finale file on right
Original Sibelius file on left, exported to MusicXML and opened as Finale file on right

Speaking of Finale, the real usefulness of custom staff sizes in that program is the ability to resize a staff on a system-by-system basis (and indeed, to adjust the size of an entire system without affecting the others).

Staff and system resize options in Finale

We don’t quite have that ability yet with Sibelius 8.4 — custom staff sizes apply to the entire score. But hopefully the groundwork has been laid for such an improvement in the future. Indeed, senior product manager Sam Butler said:

The custom staff sizes feature that we’re introducing today is in fact just the first step in a larger feature that we’re working on for a future Sibelius release. We’ll be able to reveal more about that in the next few weeks!

Other fixes, installation and updating

Sibelius 8.4 shores up a couple of instances of crashing under rare circumstances, and also fixes the collision of a key signature with a start repeat barline (introduced in an earlier update).

The addition of the custom staff size feature is very nice, but as has been the case with several of the “point” releases over the past year, it’s not without problems. In this case the trade-off between the usefulness of the new feature as it currently stands versus the pitfalls it introduces makes updating to 8.4 from 8.3 not quite worth it yet, in my view.

If you do update, keep in mind that Sibelius 8.4 will overwrite any 8.x version you have on your computer, but will leave other versions intact, unless you tell the installer to uninstall those versions. You also have the separate option of copying supporting files from Sibelius 7.5, if you’re upgrading from that version.

Sibelius 8.4 uses the same file format as Sibelius 8.1, 8.2 and 8.3.

If you have Sibelius 8.3 or earlier, you will be prompted to update by the Application Manager. It’s free for most users of 8.x unless you bought a monthly subscription plan that has already expired.

Sibelius 8.4 will run on any 64-bit system running Windows 7 or later or Mac OS 10.9 or later. Various purchase options, including subscriptions, perpetual licenses, and upgrades are available from Avid’s online store and other resellers such as Amazon and Sweetwater.

Deadline approaching for those on 7.5 or earlier

If you are using Sibelius 7.5 or earlier and haven’t yet upgraded to 8, be aware that the June 30, 2016 deadline to upgrade at a discount is fast approaching.

Scorch for iOS

It’s worth noting that Avid’s Scorch iPad app for Sibelius files (not to be confused with the defunct Scorch browser plug-in) has been updated to 1.5.2 to work with the latest Sibelius files. It adds compatibility for the new staff size feature and fixes a problem where the List view could become sluggish if there were a lot of scores. It also adds the ability to connect and play back via Bluetooth and USB MIDI devices.

In time it would not be surprising to see more regular updates to Scorch released in tandem with Sibelius updates. Sibelius product designer Joe Pearson hinted as much recently when he said, “In terms of future development, you can expect to see much more regular updates as we go forward.”

Scorch costs $2 (£1.49) and is available from Apple on its App Store.


  1. Jim Harrison

    “Sibelius 8.4 uses the same file format as Sibelius 8.1, 8.2 and 8.3.”

    Given that there’s a new property for system-level stave sizes, I’d have expected that the Sibelius binary file format would have changed to accommodate this.
    ..or has this feature been planned and accommodated in the file format since 8.1?

    1. Joe Pearson

      Hi Jim,

      Actually no, Sibelius’ file format is naturally backwards and forwards compatible. The main reason for requiring an export process for some legacy versions of Sibelius is so that we can adapt the data so that a given score will appear similarly in a previous version of Sibelius.


  2. Wheat Williams

    Scorch 1.5.2 for iOS? Are you kidding me? The last meaningful version update was released in 2011. There has been zero support or marketing of this product since that time. What a total joke. Everybody long ago gave up on this product; what inducement would anybody have to go back to it?

    1. William Kay

      The development of Scorch for iOS has been lacklustre, but I do like the program. As an accompanist, I’m often asked at very short notice to accompany a piece (for example in a funeral) where there is no readily available score. I can quickly transcribe something in Sibelius and then transfer it to the Scorch app – which gives me the ability to transpose my rough-and-ready lead sheet, as 9 times out of 10 the soloist wants accompanying in a key way-off the original.

      The app has been unstable for quite some time, so hopefully they’re starting to get to grips with it again!

  3. Raphael Thoene

    I updated to Sibelius 8.4 and the installation process was succesful. Nonetheless, after starting Sibelius, I get the following message: There was an error initializing the licensing engine. Any suggestions?

    1. Joe Pearson

      Hi Raphael,

      I imagine you’ll have fixed this by now, but just in case you haven’t, this is addressed in Sibelius 8.4.1, a free update to Sibelius 8.4.


  4. Byron C Mayes

    Regarding Scorch for iPad:

    Do you finally let us recover/reset lost passwords?

  5. Bob Zawalich

    This is not a technical support blog – you should ask these kinds of questions at the Sibelius tech support forum at, where there will be people who can answer your questions.

  6. Andy J Patterson

    Very frustrated with Sibelius right now. I know gone are the days of the friendly (and free tech support — I miss Walter and the guys from there), but I received no notification of an upgrade until too late. Now the grace period is over. I also can’t get hold of Sibelius to help me upgrade. I’ve called many times and gotten nothing in return. I’m trying to give them money and they’re not even helping a little. Someone help.

    1. Joe Pearson

      Hi Andy,

      I’ll ask one of our tech support team to get in touch.


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