NAMM 2020: Sibelius 2020.1 brings automatic staff spacing, tie improvements, and more


Note: All this week, we’ll be publishing posts from the 2020 NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. It’s a huge exhibition, so we’ll focus on what we do best: covering the field of music notation software and related technology. Follow all of our NAMM 2020 coverage at Scoring Notes, and on our social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

In this post, we cover Sibelius 2020.1, the first update to Sibelius in 2020, coinciding with the opening of the NAMM show. If you’re at NAMM 2020, you can find Sibelius at the Avid booth, 15500, in ACC North Level 1.

Today Avid released Sibelius 2020.1, the latest update to Sibelius. Headlining the release is a new automatic staff spacing feature, known as Auto-Optimize, based on Sibelius’s existing Optimize Staff Spacing function. 2020.1 adds proper dashed and dotted ties for the first time, and also adds a new “tied-into” option for second endings and other situations.

In Sibelius 2020.1, the default house styles and manuscript papers have been refreshed for the first time in a while, and wildcards that automatically produce items like the title and composer name are more discoverable thanks to a new contextual word menu. Rounding out the release are new accessibility features building on those in recent versions, and a handful of bug fixes and other improvements.

Ever since Avid pivoted away from major upgrades and to regular rolling updates two years ago, it has become the norm to have one or two significant features in each Sibelius update instead of a bevy of blockbusters. Today’s update falls squarely into that pattern, and then some. Automatic staff spacing is potentially an excellent addition to Sibelius and is intended to get you better results more quickly, so let’s begin there.

Automatic staff spacing

Auto-Optimize is Sibelius’s name for the new feature that automatically creates the appropriate amount of space between each staff in the score, expanding the space between staves where it’s needed while reducing the space between other staves — or doing the reverse if that’s what’s needed.

We’ve taken it for granted forever that Sibelius does this on a horizontal level, widening the space between notes to accommodate different durations, accidentals, and the like. And Optimize Staff Spacing (now renamed Optimize Staff Spacing in Selection), found alongside Auto-Optimize in the Layout > Staff Spacing area of the Ribbon, has been around since Sibelius 6. But while Optimize Staff Spacing required you to re-apply the command any time you changed your score, Auto-Optimize works much like automatic note spacing, continually responding to changes in your music or your layout without you needing to invoke it or manually adjust a staff.

If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’re either a Dorico user or have read about a similar concept here or elsewhere. It’s tempting to call Auto-Optimize a copycat feature, and perhaps the appearance of it in Dorico was a catalyst for some Sibelius development. Regardless, as a natural evolution of Sibelius’s existing capabilities it fits in quite nicely.

To start, most anything you’d expect to affect staff spacing will do so. Changing the pitch of a note is the most obvious item (as well as changing the representation of the same pitch on the staff if a clef change is made). Adding, deleting, or moving slurs, ties, articulations, symbols, staff lines, and staff text such as dynamics, expressions, techniques, and lyrics will also cause the staff spacing to change, if necessary. Same with adding or deleting rehearsal marks, system lines, and system text such as tempo text.

Let’s play around with the ending of Aaron Copland’s Third Symphony (apologies to the Dean of American Composers). On the left is Auto-Optimize turned on. On the right is Auto-Optimize turned off (pre-2020.1 behavior):

On the left: Auto-Optimize in Sibelius 2020.1. On the right: pre-2020.1 behavior.

Notice how, in the example on the left with Auto-Optimize turned on, Sibelius 2020.1 is dynamically adjusting staff spacing in response to musical changes. In the example on the right, staff spacing remains static and while Sibelius is trying valiantly to push objects out of the way to avoid collisions, it ultimately fails in the end.

Staff spacing automatically updates if the system layout has changed. Importantly, if you’re working in Panorama mode, you won’t see any adjustments made to staff spacing, but behind the scenes it’s still working, for when you switch back to viewing your paginated score.

In terms of workflow, this means you may wish to consider your order of operations to maximize the efficiency gained by using automatic staff spacing. Most likely you’ll want to get all of your music in including as many of the text, lines, and other objects as possible, do a round of “casting off” of the system layout, add any other markings such as rehearsal marks and other objects missed in the first go-around, make positioning adjustments as needed and finally make any manual staff spacing adjustments. It won’t always be practical to work in this order, but in general you should find that you spend a lot less time adjusting staff spacing in Sibelius 2020.1 than you did in previous versions.

In order to see which staves have been manually adjusted and which ones will be affected by automatic staff spacing, Sibelius borrows from the visual paradigm of its page and system break icons, where dashed icons indicate automatic placement and solid ones indicate manual overrides (if you didn’t know this, now you do):

In the same manner, a dashed staff ruler (found in View > Rulers > Staff Rulers) will signify staff spacing that is susceptible to Auto-Optimize, while a solid ruler means that manual spacing has been applied:

Any such manual overrides will hold until either Optimize Staff Spacing is invoked for that staff, or Reset Space Above or Below is invoked. (Reset Space Above or Below will also take precedence over Auto-Optimize, reverting selected staves to their default positions, until some other action is performed that triggers Auto-Optimize again.)

You can disable Auto-Optimize at any time by switching it off. Unlike disabling Magnetic Layout, this doesn’t mean that your staff spacing will reset to their un-optimized positions. Rather, Sibelius retains any changes made by Auto-Optimize and simply reverts to the pre-2020.1 manner of working.

Scores created in earlier Sibelius versions and opened in 2020.1 will have Auto-Optimize switched off by default, to prevent unintentional changes to your score at a late stage in the process. Scores created anew in 2020.1 will have it switched on.

There is one exception I’ve found: Octave lines don’t play too nicely with optimization, automatic or otherwise. The Sibelius developers are aware of this issue and plan to address it in a subsequent update.

As we enter the third decade of the 2000s, automatic staff spacing is practically a must-have feature in music notation software, much as we’ve been accustomed to automatic note spacing for a very long time. Its implementation in Sibelius 2020.1 is very welcome and will surely save you time. There is no reason not to enable it in the initial stages of your music input, as at the very least it will help push annoying collisions out of the way much as automatic note spacing and Magnetic Layout already do, and will get you to a reasonable-looking layout more quickly. And depending upon the level of editing you require in your output, you may be able to leave Auto-Optimize on permanently, without any further staff adjustments required.

New ties

Sibelius 2020.1 brings some long-requested improvements in the area of tied notes: dashed and dotted ties, and ties into notes.

Dashes and dotted ties

Dashed and dotted ties are most commonly used in choral music when there is a difference in syllabification between verses…

or in critical editions to reflect where the manuscript did not indicate the presence of a tie:

Until now these you would have had to fake these in Sibelius with dashed or dotted slurs, which don’t have the same engraving or playback properties of ties. But now there is a new option via the Inspector to change any solid tie to a dashed or dotted tie (or back again:

If Dashed is selected, the dash length and dash gap length are adjustable:

Similarly, if Dotted is selected, the dot radius and dot gap length are adjustable:

You can manipulate this to get some wacky results if you so choose:

(In case you’re wondering, you can make somewhat similar adjustments to the hairpins in the above example through Notations > Lines > Edit Lines.)

Should you wish to change the default settings for dashed and dotted ties, they’re found in Appearance > Engraving Rules > Ties 1 > Tie Pen Styles. But the default settings are quite sensible and should be suitable for most users.

Tied-into notes

Long a thorn in the side of preparers of commercial music with repeat endings, the tied-into note is finally a reality in Sibelius 2020.1.

This is applied via the Enter key on the fourth Keypad layout:

What’s more, changing the starting note of the tie will affect not only the most immediately tied note but the tied-into note, too:

Selecting a tied-into note and opening the Inspector will reveal similar options that already exist for regular ties, including the aforementioned new dashed and dotted options.

All of the tie improvements are available to ManuScript plug-in developers.

House style changes

New house styles

If you’ve long been accustomed to the stock house styles shipped with Sibelius, they’re still there, but in 2020.1 three more are added:

  • “Podium”, with Palatino text font and Helsinki music font
  • “Moderna”, with Quicksand text font (now bundled with Sibelius) and Opus music font
  • “Handwritten”, using both the Inkpen2 Script text font and Reprise text font, and Reprise music font

Avid says that “Each of these new House Styles have been designed from the ground up and include several recommendations and best practices seen in the publishing and performance industries. There are too many to go through, but one noticeable change is the thickness of the staff and stem lines. These are very slightly thicker, allowing the music to ‘pop’ off the page that significantly increases readability.”

It’s true, if you compare the “Standard Opus (Times)” style, the previous default…

Standard Opus (Times), an older Sibelius house style

…with “Podium”, the results are better (read up on our primer on spaces, the measuring unit of music notation, for some comparisons of earlier styles):

The “Podium” style introduced in Sibelius 2020.1

However, I’m still partial to the Norfolk fonts and style, based upon Steinberg’s Bravura font, which we offer over at NYC Music Services. Call me biased!

Ability to import Document Setup separately from Engraving Rules

Quite frankly, the more significant improvement in this area for power users is the decoupling of Document Setup from Engraving Rules when importing a house style. Previously, these two items had been linked, making it impossible to import the critical aspects of a house style without bringing unwanted document settings along for the ride.

Now, these two items can be chosen independently*, which is a major improvement for anyone wishing to beautify their score without disrupting its layout, staff and page size. Engravers may find this improvement the most significant feature in all of Sibelius 2020.1. (It’s exposed in ManuScript as well for plug-in developers.)

Engraving Rules and Document Setup can now be chosen independently when importing a house style in Sibelius 2020.1

Large film score time signatures

Some 6+ years after we documented a way to create “film score” time signatures in Sibelius, a new option is finally included out of the box in Sibelius 2020.1. (If you’re still referencing our article, you don’t need to uncheck magnetic layout any more, as Sibelius has been updated to ignore time signatures when respacing staves.)


Wildcards are text tokens that are automatically substituted with text from elsewhere. They’re useful for situations where you want the same information to be shown in lots of different places, allowing you to change that information once and have it updated automatically everywhere.

This is nothing new, but until now you’ve had to either commit these to instant recall, create a macro, or refer to the Reference to apply them in your score.

In Sibelius 2020.1, there’s a new contextual menu from which you can go wild:

Be aware, though: your existing documents most likely won’t call these automatically; you’ll have to either import one of the new Sibelius house styles or modify each of the text styles that make use of these wildcards to choose the new Wildcards word menu, in Text > Styles > Edit Text Styles > Edit… > Font > Other > Word Menu:


Sibelius is the only one of the major desktop notation programs to invest in upgrades for sight-impaired users. That work continues in 2020.1, and for the first time there is an Accessibility section in Preferences, from which the user can control the level of verbosity to suit their needs.

Avid says that some of the accessibility improvements are designed for a broad range of users, and they’ve also changed the default settings in Preferences > Textures, replacing the old bitmaps with simple colors to reduce eye strain (the old textures are still there if you prefer them).

Perhaps of more interest are new shortcuts for system object navigation:

  • Select next system object: Cmd+Shift+= (Mac) / Ctrl+Shift+= (Windows)
  • Select previous system object: Cmd+Shift+- (Mac) / Ctrl+Shift+- (Windows)

Avid’s senior product manager Sam Butler will be participating at several panels on accessibility at the 2020 NAMM Show:

  • Saturday, January 18, 2020, 5:00 pm: Avid Booth 15500
  • Sunday, January 19, 2020, 3:30 pm: Avid Booth 15500
  • Sunday, January 19, 2020, 12:00 pm: Hall A7, Hilton Anaheim, 4th floor as part of the Tec-Tracks presentations

Other improvements, new file version, OS  compatibility, availability

The Sibelius 2020.1 release includes some bug fixes and improvements, which are described in more detail in today’s post by Sam Butler on the official Avid site. (Ukelele players, rejoice!)

An important item for those users collaborating with others. Sibelius 2020.1 is the first version since Sibelius 8.6 to require an update to the file format. This means that if you need to send your 2020.1 file to someone using an earlier version, you’ll need to go to File > Export > Previous Version and export your File Type to match the version your collaborator is using; otherwise they will be unable to open your file.

Also, if you’re coming here having skipped our report on the 2019.12 update, be aware that Sibelius 2020.1 will not run on Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite and Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan. It is fully supported, however, on macOS 10.12 and higher, including macOS 10.15 Catalina.

Also, just a couple of days ago, Microsoft ended support for Windows 7. Although Sibelius 2020.1 may run on Windows 7, Avid will not be supporting any of its products running on Windows 7, so anyone still running Windows 7 is advised to update to Windows 10.

The Sibelius 2020.1 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. However, please continue reading for a change that took effect on January 1, 2020 that may affect you.

Changes to perpetual license “reinstatements”

Beginning with the new year, Avid withdrew the “reinstatement” option to reactivate expired software updates and support plans for perpetual licenses, which were last adjusted on July 1, 2019. This change was made across all of Avid’s products including Pro Tools and Media Composer, not just Sibelius. (In this section we are referring only to the top-level Sibelius product, called “Sibelius Ultimate”, and all prices reflect US offers.)

Avid said that they attempted to contact everyone before the end of the year about this change, by e-mailing everyone who hasn’t yet upgraded, creating a special web page for upgrading, and pushing the upgrade offer via social media up to the end of the year too. Resellers e-mailed their user bases as well, “but of course this communication is only as good as the e-mail lists and GDPR restrictions,” according to Avid.

Perpetual license

For perpetual license-holders with an active support and upgrade plan, nothing has changed. A 1-year renewal is still $99, and a 3-year renewal is $199. The latter is clearly the best deal if you already have a perpetual license and anticipate using Sibelius for a good long while; it’s basically 3 years of upgrades for the price of 2. Avid says, “There are no plans to discontinue perpetual licensing… If you are on an active plan, you can continue to purchase your annual renewal. Renewals are not being discontinued.”

For license-holders of Sibelius 1 through 7.5, or for those with a Sibelius Ultimate perpetual license and an expired support and upgrade plan and wish to get current (Avid calls these “reinstatements”), there are changes. The deals that were on offer to upgrade to a new perpetual license with 1 year of support and upgrades for $149, or 3 years of support and upgrades for $249, have been withdrawn (although you might still find one at a reseller as stocks deplete). Avid is now encouraging those customers to “crossgrade” to a subscription plan for $79/year for two years, after which the annual price rises to the ordinary $199/year subscription price — with no perpetual license.

Avid has told us that crossgrading to a subscription from a perpetual license doesn’t mean you lose your perpetual license, but if you were to ever stop paying your subscription, you’d revert to your perpetual license at the version it was frozen at when your support plan expired.

We wish Avid would at least allow such customers to get reinstated for no more than $199, as they did in 2016. This is the same price as the competitive crossgrade offered to license-holders of Finale or Notion (or Encore or Mosaic, for that matter). This means that today you can still quite legitimately purchase a Notion crossgrade using your existing Sibelius license for $79, take that Notion proof-of-purchase back to Avid, and qualify for the Sibelius competitive crossgrade price of $199 for a total cost of $278 (albeit one-time only, as you can’t keep going back to the competitive crossgrade well).

But why? Avid needs to allow these customers a straightforward way to get current and still retain their existing license. It would even be understandable if it was limited to license-holders going back only so far, say to Sibelius 7 (from 2012) or higher. It is certainly reasonable to expect users who haven’t paid for upgrades in a decade to pay full price again. But as it stands now, even a user whose Sibelius Ultimate license expired 31 days ago (one more day than the the 30-day grace period) has no easy option to get reinstated.

Sibelius perpetual license-holders with lapsed plans often ask me what the best upgrade option for them is. Even though I encourage everyone to get current with the latest updates one way or another, there are some users who don’t always need the latest and greatest, yet would still like the security of being able to launch the software and know they won’t be locked out. For those users, I wish I could recommend a reinstatement option like I was able to just a few weeks ago.


There are no changes to the prices or terms for other Sibelius Ultimate subscription plans; those remain as follows:

  • Month-to-month is $27.99/mo (no student/teacher discount)
  • Yearly, but billed monthly is $19.99/mo ($9.99/mo for students and teachers)
  • Yearly, but billed annually is $199.00/yr ($99.00/yr for students and teachers)


Our disaffection with Avid’s reinstatement policy is the only sore point here. Sibelius 2020.1 is an excellent update that touches several important areas of the program, and will appeal to pros and hobbyists alike. It’s one of the more feature-packed updates in recent memory and on par with the 2018.1 update released at NAMM, which augured a generally robust year for Sibelius updates. Hopefully today’s update will be a similar sign for 2020.


  1. Derek Williams

    When I try to install Sibelius 2020.1, it fails with the error message in the attached screenshot, “Install Sibelius.pkg can’t be opened because Apple cannot check it for mailicious software. This software needs to be updated. Contact the developer for more information.” Anyone else getting this?

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Derek. I just heard from Avid: “The release team is on the case and working with Apple to figure out why the build was not yet notarized. This currently only affects Catalina users.”

      1. Derek Williams

        Aha, thanks Philip! I got a reply also from Avid Tech Support in a remarkably short time, but that was just with a link to redownload, and the suggestion to use Ctrl+Click>Open. That delivered the same outcome, so it’s good to know you’re deeper into the engine room than I am!

        No doubt 2020.1 will work in my Edinburgh studio (in London atm with Catalina on MacBookPro, and 2019.12 is still operational).

        1. Philip Rothman

          Sure thing, Derek. Avid says that all should be well now with notarization and things should go smoothly.

          1. Derek Williams

            Had to download the installer .dmg again via the Avid Link, which finally worked (previously always had “download failed” and had to download from my account). So, 2020.1 is now installed and operational!

  2. Bob Zawalich

    All the features added here are welcome. Ties-into is obviously intended as a workaround for ties into second endings, which has long been a sore spot in Sibelius. In my ideal world, these would appear automatically, but once you apply the property at the appropriate location, it works spectacularly well, even adjusting automatically when tied notes change pitch, which is pretty impressive.

    Dotted and dashed ties are also welcomed.

    I too am saddened by the change to subscription model on reinstatement from a perpetual license (though at least you do have a permanent version you can still use if you stop your subscription). This will be particularly painful for Mac users who stayed on Sib 6 or 7 and upgraded to Catalina and find that their 32-bit software no longer runs.

    Otherwise, though, I am impressed, and Auto Optimize is a big deal. I am personally pleased that a lot of the new features will be available to use in plugins.

    A lot of the changes made a small in scale, but will have significant impact on how you can work in Sibelius. I think this is one of the more significant updates to Sibelius in a long time.

    1. stuart

      Ties-into – as Bob said – great! though appearing by default would be good.
      I have my own house style painstakingly built up over the centuries. When I import this house style the tie-into disappears (though it still shows as being in use on the keypad).
      I don’t really want to create a new house style from scratch.
      Suggestions welcome
      best to all

      1. stuart

        Got it – selected optical ties in ties 1 in engraving rules

  3. Oliver Ostermann

    The large time signatures Film Score only works in the English version. Not in german and someone told me not in italian……
    hope for an update

  4. Andrea Mastroeni

    Hello! I’ ve installer 2020.1 versioni on my pc (win 10) bit keypad doesn’t appear more…flag is checked…I try to disinstall and re-install but nothing changed. I start to use elgato stream deck with ipad also in the same day. Someone have the same problem?
    Mr. Andrea Mastroeni

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