Love the one you’re with

What lies beneath the surface? (Courtesy linda yvonne on Flickr)
What lies beneath the surface? (Courtesy linda yvonne on Flickr)

Ron Hess makes an interesting point in his latest article for online publication Film Music Magazine, entitled Finale vs. Sibelius: Another Perspective. If I may be so bold as to attempt a précis, it would be that users of notation software (and indeed of software in general) are too quick to look at the features of each new upgrade produced by software companies, and engage in high-level, often uninformed discourse about the capabilities of their chosen package versus its competitors, while at the same time displaying a complacency that prevents them from grasping its true “depth, redundant capacity, and retaskability and scriptability” of a tool that they may rely on, to a lesser or greater extent, to make their living.

It’s hard to disagree with this. I like to think that I’m better informed than most about the capabilities of both Sibelius and Finale, but of course in truth I am much better informed about Sibelius than I am about Finale (not least because I have had a hand in designing many of Sibelius’s features, whereas with Finale I am just another user). It’s very difficult to become virtuosic in two different tools that perform more or less the same job – indeed it’s rarely worth the effort – so it’s understandable that somebody who has scaled the learning curve of a piece of software should sit atop his plateau and cast stones at the folks likewise comfortable with their level of knowledge, without really having any depth of knowledge about those other hilltops.

Ron’s advice to re-examine your current working practices regularly is also undoubtedly wise: to an extent we rely on users’ willingness to do a little re-learning in each new version of Sibelius, as we often find that the best way to introduce some new functionality is to do it in such a way as to change something about a related (or even sometimes an unrelated feature). This might be as simple as a new feature stealing the keyboard shortcut of an existing feature, or a menu item changing name or moving to a different menu, or as complex as an existing feature being replaced wholesale by an entirely new way of doing the same thing plus more besides, with all the various stages inbetween. No decision to change an existing feature is taken lightly, but in the end we rely on users’ desire to work smarter and not harder, and take the brave choice to push forwards with a better solution rather than allow an existing poor one to ossify.

If you’ve been using Sibelius for years and you haven’t re-read (or even read once) the Sibelius Reference book, then you may be missing out on dozens of things that may have a dramatic impact on your facility with the software. If something feels clunky or slow, and you find yourself thinking, “There has to be a better way!”, chances are that there will be. Just ask the question!

Thanks, Ron, for the thought-provoking piece.


  1. Dondragmer

    I started serious music notation work in 2005. I tried out demos of Sibelius 4, the current Finale, and several other programs. I tried entering some short folk music passages. This was easy enough in each program. Then I tried some editing. In Finale, I’d move my notes, and the slurs would stay put! Sibelius 4 sold itself because its slurs moved with the notes, not on any of its fancy features.

    With Sibelius 6, I still don’t care about half its feature list, but the Magnetic Layout was worth the update price all on its own. The Magnetic Slurs in 6.1 are icing on the cake.

  2. Brian

    One thing you and Ron didn’t mention in these posts are the inherent friction in music notation software. It seems that there are two schools of thought: 1) that the interface should be invisible to the user, allowing him/her to compose unhindered by the computer to create a page of music. 2) that the interface should do as much as possible for the user by providing killer playback sounds and loads of features, in other words, is an end all to itself. It comes down to what the composer is using the program for.

    1. Daniel Spreadbury

      I think that’s fair comment, Brian. For what it’s worth, our philosophy is to try to keep the interface as invisible as possible to the user, and make as much of the interaction as possible with the software directly related to creating the score itself.

  3. DS Music

    Theres no competition! Sibelius is the no.1 music notation software! Those Finale users just need to taste Sibelius!

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