With apologies for the extended radio silence, I’m back with some news. If you’ve been thinking about upgrading to Sibelius 7, but haven’t yet taken the plunge, now’s a great time to get your feet wet: for a limited time, Avid has cut the price of the single-user Sibelius 7 upgrade by 25%. If you’re currently running a single-user copy of Sibelius 6 or earlier, whether you originally bought a professional, academic or competitive crossgrade license, you’re eligible for the discounted Sibelius 7 upgrade.
The discount also extends to the bundles with PhotoScore Ultimate 7 and AudioScore Ultimate 7 (or both), so if you’ve been thinking about adding music scanning or audio transcription tools to your arsenal, there’s never been a better time.
You might be wondering whether now’s the time to invest in a new version of Sibelius, given the recent news about Avid’s corporate restructuring. You might have heard that Sibelius 7 is so different to Sibelius 6 that it’s like learning a whole new program. You might even have received an email from an opportunistic competitor offering you the chance to “upgrade” to an inferior product at a favourable price.
Well, the reality is that Sibelius 7 is the best, fastest and most feature-rich version of Sibelius we’ve ever built. It’s the culmination of the work of the dedicated team of designers and programmers here in London who have been working on the product for more than a decade. Speaking personally, I worked very hard to design the best possible version of Sibelius that I could, and I want everybody in the community to be benefiting from it.
There’s much more to Sibelius 7 than the change to use a task-orientated ribbon UI (we’ll come on to that). Firstly, it’s the world’s only fully-native 64-bit notation software, able to use all of the RAM in your computer so that you can use the most demanding professional sample libraries directly within Sibelius with ease (check out the Sound Set Project to see which libraries can be seamlessly integrated into Sibelius 7).
Secondly, the foundations of the program have been completely rewritten to use a modern, cross-platform application framework, which has provided benefits all over the program: the on-screen display is more beautiful than ever, the difference being especially striking on Windows, which uses the very latest DirectWrite technology for rendering type with sub-pixel anti-aliasing; dialogs look and feel better, with many of them now resizable, and all of them fully mouse and keyboard accessible (e.g. using the mouse wheel to scroll through custom lists, or tabbing through all of the controls); there is much greater support for graphics import and export, including high-quality PDF export directly from within the program, and support for the open vector format SVG for both import and export; the handling of text and typography is significantly improved, with a level of control over font families and styles, and character effects such as tracking, leading, scaling etc. unrivalled by any other notation software (and some desktop publishing software!).
Thirdly, Sibelius is more interoperable than ever. MusicXML import has been improved, and Sibelius 7 supports MusicXML export directly, providing faster and more complete export than the Dolet plug-in. Sibelius 7 now supports the latest ReWire technology from Propellerhead, allowing you to ReWire directly to 32-bit or 64-bit hosts. If you traded up to a previous version of Sibelius from another notation program, you may have struggled to learn Sibelius’s note input method: Sibelius 7 includes a new note input method that is based around choosing the pitch before the duration (rather than Sibelius’s customary approach of choosing the duration before the pitch).
Fourthly, Sibelius 7 includes an astonishingly broad and high-quality sound library, with beautiful sounds recorded by one of Europe’s top orchestras and engineered by a leading sound designer, plus a wide range of vintage keyboards, drums, guitars, synths, jazz and rock instruments, with a variety of extended techniques and tweakable parameters (check out the complete documentation for an idea of just how comprehensive it is). Sounds of this scope and quality have never before been included with any notation program.
Fifthly, the program is full of small touches that collectively make a big difference to how efficiently you can work in it. For just a small selection: the new status bar, that provides detailed information about where you are in the score at a glance; the new, faster way to create time signatures, where you can simply hit T then type (say) 4 Space 4 and hit Return to create a 4/4 time signature; sticky slurs, which automatically extend during note input, and, more generally, sticky lines of all kinds; sticky tuplets, which makes inputting long sequences of triplets much quicker and more efficient; Full Screen mode on Mac; the ability to save your preferred window positions so that every score you work on opens up with Sibelius set up just how you like it; the Inspector window, which shows only the parameters that are contextually relevant, and is completely keyboard accessible; the ability to quickly and easily install new ManuScript plug-ins from directly within the software; the beautiful Plantin font licensed from Monotype Imaging as the default text font in new scores; the Quick Start window, with its handy thumbnails of your recent scores and quicker, more efficient way to start a new score with manuscript papers organised into categories; and many more besides. These small improvements alone would be enough for one of Sibelius’s competitors to call a major new version, but they are just examples of the touches we have tried to add throughout Sibelius 7 to make it faster, smarter and easier.
And what about that ribbon? I’ve already written about the ribbon at some length, and I don’t wish to repeat myself, but in summary: yes, the ribbon looks very different to the old menus and toolbar that Sibelius 6 and earlier sported, but it has many advantages. Features are more logically grouped together. More important or commonly-used features are more prominent (with larger buttons located towards the left-hand side of each group, and more important groups located towards the left-hand end of each tab). Commonly-required features that previously required trips into dialogs are accessible directly from the ribbon (such as changing staff size, page size, staff spacing, instrument name visibility, bar number frequency, and so on). Every button and menu on the ribbon has an extended tool tip (called a screen tip) that explains in detail what it does and why you should use it. The ‘Find in ribbon’ box at the top right-hand corner of the window allows you to find practically any feature of the program instantly, simply by typing in one or two keywords. Every single control is keyboard accessible, using a sequence of keystrokes called key tips.
And, of course, you can hide the ribbon if you don’t want to see it (simply double-click a ribbon tab, or click the little green arrow at the top right-hand corner). Once the ribbon is hidden, it, together with the document tab bar below it, takes up no more vertical space than the toolbar in Sibelius 6 and earlier. You can set the ribbon to be hidden by default if you wish (using the options on the Files page of Preferences). Plus I took great care to retain as many keyboard shortcuts as possible from previous versions of Sibelius. If you know how to drive Sibelius 6 or earlier using keyboard shortcuts, you can drive Sibelius 7 using those same keyboard shortcuts, ribbon or no ribbon.
Finally, it’s the only version of Sibelius that’s fully supported on the latest operating systems, including Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion (and it will be supported on the forthcoming Windows 8). And, with your upgrade, you will receive 90 days’ complimentary assisted support by phone or via the online support centre, so if you do encounter any problems getting up and running, Avid’s expert team of Sibelius support staff (who are not affected at all by any other recent internal reorganisations at the company) will be there to help you every step of the way. Plus, of course, you can draw on the expertise of fellow experienced users who freely offer their expertise on the Sibelius user forum.
In summary, I’m very proud of Sibelius 7, and I want everybody to have the chance to use it.
The small print
If you have Sibelius First, Sibelius Student, or another of the cut-down versions of Sibelius, then you’re not eligible for the discounted Sibelius 7 upgrade, but you can still trade up to Sibelius 7 at a very special price.
If you are at an educational institution and you’re using a networked or stand-alone site license, again, you’re not eligible for the discounted single-user upgrade, but (unless you’re in Australia or New Zealand) you can still save 20% on the cost of upgrading your school or university’s site license to Sibelius 7, but be quick, because that offer ends on 30 September.