Today Avid released Sibelius 2018.4, announcing it at their Avid Connect event in Las Vegas, Nevada. This update, the second of the year and using the new year-dot-month version number introduced with 2018.1, is another broad release with many new features and some longstanding requests addressed. Areas of improvement include multi-edits for text, a new note spacing rule affecting multiple voices and other cases, deleting and adding bars at the beginning of the score, smarter ties, and many more other enhancements.
Avid also announced a new naming strategy in their product lines so that each line has the same three tiers: a very basic free entry-level version denoted by the “First” suffix; a consumer or student level with no suffix; and a pro-level version called “Ultimate”.
Thus, the three product levels of the Sibelius family are now:
- Sibelius First (a new free, entry-level product, to be released in June)
- Sibelius (formerly Sibelius First)
- Sibelius Ultimate (formerly Sibelius)
A bit more on all that later. Suffice it to say for now that everything in this review refers to Sibelius Ultimate, although both out of habit and ease, we’re still calling it “Sibelius”.
Let’s not let the naming shakeup obscure what is really a very impressive and meaningful release for users. Sometimes companies make a big deal of re-branding when there is not much else to announce, but thankfully that is not the case here. Sibelius 2018.4 continues the course started with 2018.1 and there are lots of goodies to enjoy. Let’s get to it.
In 2018.1, Sibelius gained the ability to apply slurs, hairpins, and other lines across multiple systems at once. The feature works on both homophonic and polyphonic passages, where a user can simply make a passage selection, press the appropriate shortcut or select the desired line, and Sibelius will apply the line in the correct place.
2018.4 brings that ability to text entry, and it works in much the same way. Select a passage, and type, e.g., Ctrl/Cmd-E to enter an expression, and Sibelius will correctly place your expression at the first note in the passage for each of the staves.
The passage need not be contiguous:
You can apply text to a selection of notes as well, instead of a passage, which could work to your advantage:
But also have unintended consequences:
If you apply text to a passage containing multiple voices, the text will only apply to to the highest (smallest-numbered) voice:
But if individual notes are selected, the text will apply to all voices:
One side effect of these improvements is that it is no longer possible, for the moment, to apply text to a selection of an empty bar, which can be useful in certain circumstances. You will need to select the bar rest itself in order to do so, at least until a fix is applied in a future update.
Editing existing text simultaneously is done by selecting each item you want to change, pressing Return or double-clicking on any item, and then editing it:
All of the selected items will change to match each other, which means, for instance, you can’t select a “p” and “mp” and add, say, “espress.” to each of them while retaining the individual dynamics.
If you try to edit multiple text styles at once — e.g., both Expression and Technique — Sibelius will not allow it, given the unusual results that could occur.
Multi-editing works for most kinds of staff text. Unfortunately, the feature is not (yet) extended to chord symbols or lyrics, the latter of which would be enormously helpful, say, in correcting a syllable across all voices in SATB choir music.
Multi-editing text only works for staff text, meaning that that applying system text with a style such as Tempo will work the same as always — only appearing above those instruments indicated in Appearance > System Object Positions. But it also means that you can’t apply multiple instances of system text on note-by-note selections, nor can you edit multiple instances of system text at once.
Finally, the feature works on a staff-by-staff basis, not on an instrument-by-instrument basis — a distinction worth taking note of when selecting a passage that includes a keyboard instrument, as both staves of the grand staff will have text applied if they are selected.
Power users will still find uses for plug-ins such as Kenneth Gaw’s Multiply Dynamics, which can intelligently copy an existing dynamic to multiple staves, and Multiple Text Entry, which can automatically add complementary instructions like “pizz.” and “arco” in one shot. But having much of this functionality now native to Sibelius is a huge improvement.
Coupled with the multi-edit improvements in 2018.1, Sibelius has come a long way in speeding up the repetitive tasks that were all but taken for granted when marking up a score:
New note spacing rule and behavior
Competing with multi-editing text for the most significant change in Sibelius 2018.4 is the suite of improvements made in note spacing.
In his post today announcing Sibelius 2018.4, senior product manager Sam Butler said that although note spacing in Sibelius has generally been satisfactory, it “has had a few reliability issues, especially when writing in multiple voices or when adding and deleting objects. More often than not, you have to do [Appearance > Reset Notes >] Reset Note Spacing, or nudge the spacing with Shift+Alt+Arrow keys, or even worse, manually set the position of the notes using the X property in the Inspector. Now, the need to do those things will be really, really rare.”
Quantifying “really, really rare” may vary among the most compulsive engravers, but generally the claim is true; Sibelius 2018.4 offers a number of note spacing improvements that should result in less tweaking overall for most users.
New voice position rule
In the Sibelius Reference it says that “The rules for positioning notes in multiple voices are very complex and best not contemplated by humans.”
While we do very much miss the cheekiness in later updates to the Reference (and sometimes long for it in the Dorico documentation), perhaps this statement blunted the will to actually make improvements in this area.
No longer. Sibelius 2018.4 offers a new Voice position rule in Appearance > Engraving Rules. Version 3 (as opposed to Version 2, long the default) tackles some thorny cases, especially when there is “ambiguity around which note is dotted, or even what the note values are themselves,” Sam said. Manually moving the notes or using the venerable Narrow Two Voices plug-in should be needed far less often.
A good comparison of the differences can be observed by toggling between Version 2 and Version 3 spacing:
The changes can be summarized as follows:
- Unisons in two voices with different noteheads no longer collide
- Rhythm dot spacing and placement is improved
- Dotted half notes and whole notes in voice 1 no longer collide with simultaneous notes in voice 2
- Leger lines of voices at the same rhythmic position no longer touch
- Whole notes in two voices, same pitch, now go side-by-side and are not superimposed
- Crossing voices are now laid out head-to-head, rather than stem-to-stem as they were in previous versions
- Unison dotted notes of the same value now always share a rhythm dot
In his post, Sam has included a comparison of examples of “before” and “after” the new spacing. I have recreated many of those examples in Finale and Dorico, and you can download them as PDFs here to compare for yourself:
- Voice spacing test – Sibelius old spacing (Version 2)
- Voice spacing test – Sibelius new spacing (Version 3)
- Voice spacing test – Finale 25.5 defaults
- Voice spacing test – Dorico 1.2.10 defaults
Any scores that you’ve created in earlier Sibelius versions and open in 2018.4 will use the older Version 2 rule (or Version 1 or 1.2 if you were using one of those, by chance). You can leave your document alone and carry on as before, but if you should like to take advantage of the Version 3 rule, you’ll need to do the following:
- Go to Appearance > Engraving Rules > Notes and Tremolos and choose Version 3 under Voice position rule
- Select the music you want to respace
- Go to Appearance > Design and Position and click Reset Position
- Go to Appearance > Reset Notes and click Reset Note Spacing
So while it does seem possible that the rules for positioning notes in multiple voices can in fact be contemplated by humans, this human will recognize his own limits for contemplating such matters, and leave it to you, the reader, to review these changes in as much or as little detail as you like. The new algorithm is not 100% perfect, and perhaps such a goal is unattainable considering the vagaries of music notation. But on balance, this is much better than it was before. Kudos.
Respacing music during note input and editing
There is a new option in Preferences > Note Input > Editing, switched on by default: Respace multi-voice passages during note input and editing.
Before this was implemented, Sibelius would automatically respace some music, but fail to account for entries during note inpit such as this one, using multiple voices:
In this case, respacing the music using Reset Note Spacing fixed the spacing. In 2018.4, Sibelius gets it right without further action required.
Technically, this is a program-wide preference that controls when note spacing and not a change to the note-spacing algorithm per se, so changing this setting won’t change the spacing in your current score.
Changes to the note spacing algorithm
There are improvements to note spacing in 2018.4 that resetting note spacing wouldn’t have fixed before.
One of those is dots on rests. Here’s the before:
Another improvement is evident in a pattern with beaming over rests. Yet another improvement subtly allots space for articulations. These are most evident in tight spacing situations, like this contrived example. Before:
After — notice how Sibelius is making more space for these elements:
Perhaps a better example involving articulations is evident here. Before 2018.4 there would be no difference in the spacing when articulations were applied.
Now there is a difference, allowing for the music to be read more easily.
There have been some improvements to the way the music automatically respaces when lyrics are involved. Deleting a lyric in 2018.4 will cause the music to automatically respace, when it didn’t in earlier versions (same for guitar frames):
But there are still some cases where applying Reset Note Spacing is needed:
The thorny case of a double barline preceded by a clef, which necessitates the use of the Respace Clef Change plug-in, still remains.
Despite room for further improvement in this area, these changes are worthwhile and are to be appreciated. Much less will need to be manually adjusted in 2018.4 than in earlier versions.
Add and delete the first bar of music without losing text
Bob Zawalich contributed to this section.
A limitation of Sibelius’s design is that, unlike in Finale or Dorico, there isn’t really a concept of page-attached text. All text (other than page numbers and text on blank pages) is attached to a bar.
This goes for the title, composer, dedication, copyright, header, etc. If you don’t believe me, make a system (purple) section of the first bar. You’ll see an airline hub-and-spoke-style assortment of attachment lines all leading to the first bar (click for larger image):
If you wanted to delete that first bar, you’d lose all that text:
In Sibelius 2018.4, this has been changed, so that deleting the first bar of music leaves all the system text intact (including the initial tempo marking):
A small caveat, though: notice that the initial time signature is deleted, so you will have to re-apply it. Hopefully this will be addressed in a subsequent update.
A similar improvement is seen when adding a bar at the very beginning (Home > Bars > Add > Add Single Bar). Instead of pushing all of the text to bar 2 (potentially causing problems with multirests in the parts, among other things), the text attached to bar 1 stays attached to bar 1.
Bob Zawalich wrote the following plug-ins to work around these issues before they were addressed in 2018.4:
Add Pickup Bar has been checked and updated, and the current version will work fine in 2018.4. You may choose to still use it, but you can now start with no selection, add an irregular bar of the desired size, and click at the start of the score to add it, and adjust bar numbers and barlines as needed. The title and other system text from the first bar will be moved to the pickup bar.
Delete Pickup Bar has also been updated. It can still be used to delete bar 1 in a score, and it will retain the time signature. The other plug-ins listed above really should no longer be needed, and they have not yet been evaluated or updated.
There are also a number of downloadable plugins that move system text. These include:
- Delete Leading Empty Bars, which has been updated to handle this problem, so get the current version.
- Unfold Repeats, which seems not to work correctly in 2018.4, so it is best avoided for the moment.
Finally, there are several functions that ship with the Sibelius that are technically plug-ins, and some of these will cause the system text that was in the first bar of the score to be duplicated when run in 2018.4. These include the plug-ins Split Bar (Home > Bars > Split), Merge Bars (Home > Bars > Join), and Resize Bars. Work is being done to fix these plugins, but as of 2018.4, if you run them on the first bar, they will cause system text to be duplicated.
If you get duplicate text, you click on the duplicates and delete them, or make a passage selection of the first bar in the score and run the downloadable plug-in Delete Duplicate Text Lines Symbols (category Text), which will remove most, but not all of the duplicates. Be sure to install the most recent version of this plug-in.
The duplicated text problems should be fixed in the reasonably near future.
Changing the pitch of tied notes
Here’s a nice one: Selecting the first note in a series of tied notes and moving it up or down by dragging it or via the Up or Down Arrow will change the pitch of all the notes in the tied group, even across barlines:
As grateful as we are for this and with the improvements to ties made in 2018.1, though, we’re left wanting more. Changing the pitch chromatically via Shift-Page Up/Down (did you know about that trick?) doesn’t affect the rest of the notes, and neither does adding an accidental via the Keypad. While we’re on the subject, wouldn’t it be nice to make a passage selection and have articulations only apply to the first note of each tied group, instead of all of the notes? We’re a picky bunch, aren’t we?
Changing barline style via a passage selection
It is possible, finally, to make barline changes en masse by making a passage selection. The barline change applies to all of the passage’s constituent barlines. That’s about as simple as it gets. Well done!
Note that, as in the example given above, it is only necessary to select a passage for one staff; the barline changes apply to the entire system.
This is now the easiest way to change the barline for a consecutive series of bars; if you would like to change the barlines of non-consecutive bars, you can Ctrl/Command-click them and then select the barline style (introduced in 2018.1).
Sam’s post says that “Widespread low-level improvements have been made to the way Sibelius handles certain data structures – particularly noticeable when working with large scores on slower computers.”
I asked product designer Joe Pearson for a bit more context on that. He said, “Sylvain Girard, our principal software engineer, identified some inefficiencies in the way that Sibelius handled lists of items (low level, lists of objects in memory etc.). We reckon the issues have been in Sibelius pretty much forever. For the user, you should generally find Sibelius’s performance is improved. Try navigating or note input on a large score and it’s very noticeable; in fact pretty much every operation in Sibelius should be improved, but how much is variable.”
It is worth noting that while this may at least partially improve the performance issue that has been reported on high-resolution Macs, that issue still remains. Avid has said that they are working on dedicated improvements in that area.
Many of these were sore points for quite a while:
- In rare cases, typing into Find in Ribbon would crash on Mac. This no longer happens.
- The space after a cautionary key signature change is now not too wide. If you find that is is, add a System Break at that point and Reset Note Spacing. This will snap things into line once again.
- Highlights are now displayed and printed correctly once more when they span across multiple systems and pages
- When selecting a coinciding double barline and rehearsal mark, Alt-clicking elsewhere in the score no longer creates a new rehearsal mark and double barline in the wrong place
- When copying and pasting from one slurred phrase to another, slurs are no longer duplicated
- On Windows, the Help button (question mark in the upper right corner) in the Print Spooler window was unnecessary, so it has been removed
- In very rare cases, Sibelius would crash when opening a score with a different playback configuration from the Quick Start
- Plug-ins > Simplify Notation > Remove Overlapping Notes no longer says its effect cannot be undone
- Comments containing em dashes (—) now display correctly once more
- It’s now possible again to add lines to passages of bars that only contain rests
- A low-level issue in the undo queue that would occasionally cause Sibelius to unexpectedly quit is now resolved
Ultimately… Who’s on First?
Let’s get it out of the way: After 20 years of the top-level product being known simply as “Sibelius”, changing the name to “Sibelius Ultimate” is a strange change and, even given the very impressive updates in this latest release, comes off as hyperbolic. Avid is prone to announcing things as “revolutionary” and “groundbreaking” on a regular basis, so we will take that all with a bit of a shrug, though perhaps a different descriptor (think Logic Pro or Cubase Pro) would have been more appropriate, if pedestrian-sounding. Why not go for broke and add an exclamation point and italics: Sibelius Ultimate!
Sarcasm aside, the stranger change is re-positioning the educational product as “Sibelius”, which no doubt will be a source of unnecessary confusion, at least for the short-term. Calling the educational-level product the same thing as the overall product line, which itself was the same name as the pro program until today, well, it’s a head-scratcher.
I do understand the desire to harmonize Sibelius with the Pro Tools and Media Composer products (there is no “HD” version of Sibelius) but it’s a little ham-fisted. The Cubase lineup is an example of how this could be clearer: “Cubase” refers to the product line, and then there’s “Cubase Pro”, “Cubase Artist”, and “Cubase Elements” to delineate the various versions.
Perhaps it’s a larger strategy to get more customers in the door at the lower price point of (the new) Sibelius, or even the free Sibelius First, and then entice them with the “Ultimate” upgrade later on. Ah well, in any event, I have degrees in music composition, not in marketing, so we’ll leave it there. As mentioned earlier, let’s not let the marketing department rain on what is otherwise a very nice parade.
Avid has provided a detailed series of searchable charts comparing the Sibelius three tiers on the Sibelius product web site.
Whether it’s in response to the depth of the burgeoning capabilities of Dorico, or a result of the Sibelius team hitting their stride as a unit, or getting accustomed to the more-or-less quarterly update cycle, or a result of something else, or a little bit of all of the above, the last several Sibelius updates have impressed in a way many users thought was not possible anymore.
If you’re still using Sibelius 7.5 or earlier, I can unequivocally recommend upgrading to the latest version. Several of my recent projects would not have been in possible in those earlier versions, having made extensive use of multiple staff sizes and magnetic glissandi lines in one such project. I still have 7.1.3 and 7.5.1 on my computer just in case I need to make small edits to an earlier file without being concerned with exporting back to those file formats, but for new projects it’s 2018.4.
Speaking of file formats, Sibelius 2018.4 uses the same file format as Sibelius 8.6 and later, so files created with 2018.4 will open in those versions without further exporting required. Be aware, though, that if you are using the Version 3 voice position rule, your music will revert back to Version 2 in those earlier versions and the spacing of your music will change.
Let’s hope that the “Ultimate” in the Sibelius product name is not a declaration of final achievement, but rather a statement of aspiration that sets the course for subsequent updates along the lines of what we’ve been seeing recently. If so, then 2018 will be a very good year for Sibelius and for its users.
The Sibelius 2018.4 update is free for all Sibelius users with active subscriptions and upgrade plans. The updated installers are available from Avid Application Manager or through users’ Avid Accounts.