You never forget the first time

The first snowdrops of spring (Courtesy paterjt on Flickr)

With spring and a sense of renewal in the air, last week I had the pleasure of seeing Sibelius do something new for the first time. It’s a small pleasure, often repeated throughout the course of each development cycle, but you never forget the first time you see an idea you had brought to life in the software some time later.

Unfortunately I can’t share with you the nature of this most recent advancement in Sibelius, although it is a very small thing. But I thought I would share some of the previous “first times” that I remember over the past several years. More after the jump!


Magnetic Layout is one of the most remarkable bits of programming that has ever gone into Sibelius. It was seven years ago that I first sat down with Jonathan Finn and outlined my idea for a possible approach to automatic collision avoidance, based around two simple principles: firstly, that the closer an object lies naturally to the staff, the higher its precedence should be and therefore the less likely it should be to move; and secondly, that simply avoiding collisions wouldn’t be good enough – Sibelius would have to be able to align some objects as well as preventing them from bumping them into other things.

It took some five years before that germ of an idea was transformed through the skill and dedication of our developers into functioning code, and when finally objects in Sibelius began repelling each other, it was truly a great moment. Admittedly, there were some kinks in the code: at that point, everything was repulsive, so notes and clefs were being repelled away from the staff lines on and between which they were supposed to sit, but it was a start! It didn’t take too long after that for the program to start doing more useful kinds of collision avoidance, and pretty soon we could tell that Magnetic Layout was going to be a truly killer feature.

Parts party

A few years before that, when we were working on dynamic parts for Sibelius 4, two of our developers had sat down and figured out in detail all the parts of Sibelius they were going to have to change in order to accommodate the concept of the same staff, the notes on that staff, and the objects attached to that staff, appearing in more than one view, and with independent spacing, layout, positioning information in each one. This was in itself a Herculean task, Sibelius already being a large and complex application. Away they went, and they beavered away at the innards of Sibelius for what seemed like months, until one day, one of those two developers called me over to his desk.

On his monitor he had two windows arranged side by side: one was the full score, and the other was something that looked like a regular extracted part. He selected the first note in the full score, and dragged it upwards with the mouse: as if by magic, the corresponding note in the part became selected, and moved at the same time.


Believe it or not, the very first feature that was developed for Sibelius 5 was making ManuScript plug-ins undoable. We had barely finished working on Sibelius 4 when two of our developers (the same two who worked on refactoring Sibelius to accommodate dynamic parts, as it happens) set to work on overcoming the design limitations that had hitherto prevented plug-ins from being undone.

Whenever you would run a plug-in in Sibelius, a scary warning would appear, telling you that the operation you were about to perform wasn’t undoable, and to save your score before proceeding. It was completely out of character with the unlimited levels of undo offered by the rest of the application.

So the developers disappeared for just a couple of weeks, and completely refactored the way ManuScript interacted with the score and the undo system. They invited me to run a plug-in, and then hit Ctrl+Z afterwards. Lo and behold, the note names that had been added above the staff by the plug-in just moments before duly disappeared.

We took out that warning message with great pleasure, knowing that these couple of weeks of work would play an important part in making plug-ins a truly useful part of Sibelius’s toolset. And since the release of Sibelius 5, we have seen literally hundreds of plug-ins developed for the program to do all sorts of things.

Great delight

Seeing Sibelius do something new for the first time is truly one of the great delights of my job. I hope that you, dear Sibelius user, feel something of that delight when you run a new version of Sibelius for the first time, and see all of the new things that we have built for you – but secretly I am glad that the many little joys to be had in watching Sibelius evolve day by day, behind closed doors, are things that only a few of us get to share.

Are there any moments of discovery in your own use of Sibelius that brought a smile to your face? Tell me about them by leaving a comment below.


  1. Bryan Harmsen

    The first time I used Sibelius 5 with Virtual Drumline. The ability to autoload my VDL sounds into Kontakt and Kontakt Player via Sound Sets, Dictionary Definitions, and House Styles was probably one of my biggest “Ah Ha!” moments – right next to Magnetic Layout and ReWire syncing :-)

    Honestly, the first time I used Sibelius after switching from Finale probably sits at the top of the list.

  2. Richard Bruner

    Being able to run third party virtual instruments in version 5 and 6 is pretty cool. I make some of my own sound sets for virtual instruments I have that don’t currently have sound sets, and when I first load up Sibelius with a new sound set and pick an instrument and have it work correctly is exciting!
    A small thing I liked a lot on trying the Sibelius 6 demo was entering a one bar drum pattern and then using a one bar repeat sign and having the first bar play back again without having to copy and hide it. That helps tremendously with rhythm section parts and playback.

  3. Dwight Lyseight

    I am a first time user and am almost at the end of the Sibelius First 30 day trail version, and it’s really great. In the 20 odd days I have used it to do scores for the church male chorale i sing with and they all love what is does where I can print out the tenor1 & 2, bass 1 & 2, so every body can have their parts with words to follow. I had a challenge when the choir leader gave me score that was in 5/4 time and near the end went to 6/4, 12/8 then 4/4. Remember now I am a first time user, but because I am trying the sell them on the idea that we need this for all the choirs at church, I decided to take on the challenge. I completed it in about 4 hours. I guess why it took so long too is that the speed of my computer only allows me to input the notes using the mouse of the laptop keyboard. If the processor was faster I could have played it in and edited it in a shorter time. But it was well worth the challenge as it allowed me by reading the manual to familiarize myself with the different shortcuts and other functions. I used it to do some original songs for the trio I sing with and there also it assisted me in giving each person their harmony parts along with the words. I played with a reggae band some 30 years ago where I had some songs that were recorded using Voyture. Luckily they were saved in midi format so it was easy to open them and find the sounds and have the completed song with sound in under 2 to 3 hours. So I have used it for choir music, country gospel and reggae, and it works well with each of them. One thing though I needed some congo drums in one of the songs and searched as I did I couldn’t find any, can you help? I is a good product though and I have been telling other musicians about it. Thanks for all the hard work that makes making music and scoring so much easier. Bless you. Dwight

  4. Paul Shimmons

    The ability to actually hear REAL sounding drums was amazing finally!

    The first experience still hits me EVERYTIME for EVERY score I work on as I see magnetic layout at work and remember how many times I would simply skip putting things into scores because it took SO long to “un-collide” them.

  5. Peter Roos, San Francisco

    I won’t forget my first experience with Sibelius which was in the fall of 2007. After getting Sibelius 5, installing it and playing around with a little bit, my first thought was: Holy sh** – I can actually make music with this! Forget about those crazy piano rolls DAW screens! I changed careers and went back to music. Sibelius never fails to surprise and delight me.

  6. Robert Puff

    I think one of those magical moments for me early on was when I realized that I could select all of the bottom notes in a number of bars of a two note divisi with one key shortcut and change all of the selected notes to voice two (complete with proper stem directions) with a second. It was amazing to watch something that had taken me close to a half hour to do in Finale unfold on the screen instantly.

    Ever try a brand new feature in Sibelius and just laugh out loud because it’s so totally awesome? I gotta say, I’ve done it more than once!

  7. Mat

    Far and away, it was the R key. Not so much as a writing weapon, but being able to sketch a bar of percussion into a score, and suddenly I had a running main idea. Or when I had to write one 16th note then hold down R for a whole bar…

    I love R

  8. Justin Tokke

    My moment was Magnetic Layout. I had used Sibelius since version 3 and thought it was a great program but was always frustrated at how finicky dynamics were and how long it always took for scores to be prepped in final proofreading, let alone non-dynamic parts! Anyone remember those days? :) Magnetic Layout cut my score-prep time in half and made it soooo easy to make a score quickly. I barely have to do anything now!

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