Today, Avid released Sibelius 2019.4, its latest update to Sibelius. The 2019.4 update was previewed earlier this week at Musikmesse, the trade fair in Frankfurt, Germany, and was officially unveiled today in a rare weekend release at the Avid Connect event in Las Vegas.
The most significant improvements in Sibelius 2019.4 are in the areas of playback. The update introduces loop and scrubbing options for the first time. It also adds a new Sound ID for doubling players, and includes improvements in sample loading time and support for hot-swapping audio devices on Mac.
In addition to the playback improvements, Review Mode (introduced in Sibelius 2019.1) gains the capability of marking up a score without affecting its musical content. Rounding out the improvements are enhancements to finding instruments and plug-ins, and a couple of engraving and notation iterations.
Familiar to anyone who uses a DAW, Sibelius now adds loop playback as an option.
It works as you might expect: There is a new icon in the Transport (found in View > Panels) that can be switched on to invoke Loop playback; you can also access the setting from the Ribbon at Play > Transport > Play > Loop, or via a new shortcut: Option-P (Mac) or Alt+P (Windows).
Loop is like Live Tempo or Live Playback, in the sense that it is a toggle setting that stays active until you decide you don’t want to use it, in which case you can switch it off to return to normal playback. When Loop is selected, the Play icon in the Ribbon changes to a loop icon to match the icon in the Transport.
Before you start playback, you’ll want to make the selection that you wish to loop; you can do this before or after you invoke Loop. (A reminder that Command-click on Mac or Ctrl-click on Windows is a quick way to select the entire system.)
From there, you can:
- Press P to start playback from the beginning of the selection; or
- Press Y to move the playback line to the beginning selection, and then press Play or the Space bar; or
- Press Play or the Space bar from the current position of the playback line. If the playback line is before the selection, playback will enter the loop and continue looping within the selection. If the playback line is after the selection, you’ll just get normal (non-looping) playback from that point.
(In the video example above, the “pre-reading” of the playback line is due to the way NotePerformer plays a Sibelius file.)
Loop deals with repeats in a logical fashion. You might play around with making a selection that includes or straddles a repeat, to see how Sibelius deals with certain instances. Avid’s Sam Butler walks through the various permutations in more detail in his official post announcing Sibelius 2019.4 on Avid’s site.
One note that, at least in Sibelius 2019.4, enabling or disabling Loop during playback has no effect while playback is active (unlike in most DAWs where it can be applied “on-the-fly”). You’ll have to stop playback for the setting to take effect during the next playback instance.
It’s very nice to see looping playback now included in Sibelius, and in a way that will be instantly familiar to most users.
Another common DAW feature is scrubbing — the act of dragging a playhead over an area to quickly audition it in non-real time. Back in the days of tape recording, the tape was literally dragged back and forth, giving it a scrubbed effect.
Sibelius 2019.4 adds this feature, to a certain extent. When you press the right bracket ] you scrub forward; pressing the left bracket [ scrubs backward. The playback line follows when you scrub.
Note that the left and right brackets were previously assigned to rewind and fast-forward, respectively. In the standard Sibelius shortcut configuration, these have now been changed to Option-[ and ] on Mac and Alt-[ and ] on Windows. If you use a custom shortcut configuration, you’ll need to make these changes yourself.
If nothing is selected, Sibelius will scrub the entire score; if a selection is made, you’ll hear only the music from those staves, which could be useful in isolating pitches or harmonies.
The way this works is that Sibelius plays the notes at each rhythmic point, for their full duration. If you have, say, an eighth note, a half note, and three whole notes tied together, all of which start at the same rhythmic position, you’ll hear the notes drop out in order of duration, from shortest to longest.
This is different from, and not quite as useful as the way Finale handles scrubbing, in which you can linger over a position in your score using the Option-Space shortcut for as long as you like until your ears burn (or you find the wrong note in the chord).
Still, even as it is presented in Sibelius, it’s another nice tool to have in previewing and reviewing your scores.
Other playback improvements
The Playback Dictionary (Play > Interpretation > Dictionary) now includes playback of unison playing by more than one of the same instrument. It works by allowing you to match text elements from the score and pass them directly into the sound set.
So, for example, in the case of the instruction “a2”:
- Sibelius detects “a2” in the score
- The playback dictionary detects the number 2
- It then passes the number to a sound ID, in this case “.2 players”
- If the sound set supports it, then Sibelius will automatically switch sounds just like it does for other playing articulations and techniques
Some caveats here. Canceling an “a2” instruction is a bit difficult to do via conventional instructions, like indicating “1.” after an “a2” passage. The definition itself is difficult to decipher in the Playback Dictionary:
This is an interesting idea, but it needs to be more fully documented and supportive of real-world notation conventions, including accounting for various divisi, solo and tutti permutations. Until/unless this happens in a future update, and especially if you get unintended playback results, I’d recommend deleting this playback definition in your score; or, a less drastic option would be to keep the definition and just delete +$1 players from the Sound ID: field so that it has no playback effect.
Record with NotePerformer
It’s now possible to use Flexi-time (Sibelius’s term for recording with your MIDI keyboard, at Play > Transport > Record) with NotePerformer. Previously, Flexi-time suffered from a 1-second delay due to the way NotePerformer pre-reads the music. Now the 1-second delay has been eliminated so you can record directly into Sibelius and use the NotePerformer sounds.
Hot-swapping Audio Devices on Mac
Sibelius will now automatically detect a new audio device when going to Play > Setup > Playback Devices > Audio Engine Options on Mac. Previously, if you added an audio device when Sibelius was running, it required a restart of Sibelius in order to use it.
Performance with the Sibelius Player is improved; Avid says that loading sounds is up to 50% faster than before, and that large scores that previously suffered from missing articulations or instruments on playback no longer have this problem. This is one of those “under-the-hood” changes that many users will not notice, while others that were affected by this issue may well find this to be the most significant improvement in the entire update.
Review Mode markup
Review Mode, introduced in 2019.1 as a way of perusing a Sibelius file without accidentally changing the music, is more fully realized as a useful feature in 2019.4. Now while Review Mode is activated, one can make use of Sibelius’s markup features (comments, highlights, and annotations), and not be concerned that the music itself will be altered.
When Review Mode was first introduced, it was tempting to dismiss it as a silly lock icon. Now that markup has been added, it makes a lot more sense. The feature is available in all tiers of Sibelius, including the free Sibelius First tier, for use in education and collaboration. Even at the pro level, I’ll be sure to switch on Review Mode to prevent unintended edits when I use it in instances like those I described in a recent blog post about using comments.
Two dialogs have become more useful in the areas of finding items. They are similar but each work a little differently.
In Home > Instruments, in both the Change Instruments and Add or Remove Instruments dialogs, searching for a term will now return results that include any part of what you type, whereas in prior versions, your search only returned results that began with your search term.
For instance, in 2019.1 and earlier, typing “Guitar” didn’t actually return any results that were, you know, a Guitar, because there were no pre-defined guitars with instrument names that began with “Guitar”:
Now, searching for “Guitar” returns all instruments with “Guitar” in the name.
Of course, you could limit your search further by typing “Acoustic Guitar” or “Bass Guitar”, etc. and get much more useful results than in 2019.1 and earlier. And anyone that’s ever searched for “Cello”, only to be stymied, will now find that “Violoncello” appears.
Amused Dorico users may notice this is how searching for instruments and elsewhere in its editors already works in that program. But for Sibelius users unaccustomed to such niceties, it’s a helpful tweak.
File > Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins gets some love in 2019.4 with a new Find box.
Simply type in your search term and click Find, and Sibelius will jump to the first instance of the plug-in or category that contains your term. Clicking Find again will return the next plug-in containing the term.
Before this, finding plug-ins in this dialog was a needle-in-haystack affair, so this is a very welcome improvement for quicker installation of plug-ins directly within Sibelius. If you use our tool at the Resources page of NYC Music Services, you’ll find that similar results are now returned in Sibelius 2019.4, although we’ll continue to keep the NYCMS resource updated, too.
Barline joins at end of systems
There is a new option at Appearance > Engraving Rules > Barlines called Join barlines at end of systems, which does what it says regardless of the barline joins in the score. It looks weird to me, but now you have this option if you need it, and, hey, chalk one up for Finale and Dorico parity here (Finale: Document Options > Barlines > Close Barline at End of Each System; Dorico: Write mode > Notation Options > Barline Joins > Join all staves, if you’re curious).
Slash notation has thankfully gotten a bit easier to work with in Sibelius 2019.4:
- It is now possible to copy and paste slash noteheads between staves that use different clefs, and the position will be retained
- You can now move slash noteheads up and down with the mouse, and also with the arrow keys in a passage selection (previously, neither was possible; you needed to filter the noteheads and use the arrow keys to do so)
- All non-sounding noteheads (such as slashes, “silent,” and so on), no longer display dark-red or red when they are out of range for the instrument.
Fixes, other changes, thoughts, availability
A good number of other fixes have found their way into Sibelius 2019.4. Among those are improvements to licensing and stability, areas where no one wants to get hung up. Avid says that Sibelius subscriptions not being renewed correctly should be much less common, which is good news (although further progress in ease of licensing would be welcome).
Avid’s Sam Butler has a complete list of bug fixes in his official post announcing Sibelius 2019.4 on Avid’s site.
The improvements in Sibelius 2019.4 make it a solid update for anyone staying current with Sibelius, and especially so for those users relying upon its playback and review features.
The last year or so of Sibelius updates have mostly focused on code modernization, product line changes, licensing, and other items that are important to product maintenance but not obvious from a user perspective. Now that those are out of the way, and playback and review have received some attention, going forward we hope to see a return to more notation and workflow feature upgrades like we saw in 2017 and early 2018.
Non-English users should note that all non-English documentation PDFs have been removed from the 2019.4 installer and posted online in the Avid.com Knowledge Base. This was done in order to reduce the download size of the installers. When running Sibelius in any other language than English, you are given an option to be redirected to the Knowledge Base. If you are offline, the English version will continue to be available locally.
The Sibelius 2019.4 update is free for all Sibelius users with active subscriptions and upgrade plans. The updated installers are available through users’ Avid accounts and through Avid Link.