Direct Sibelius file import headlines 2020.12 release


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On the Scoring Notes podcast, David MacDonald and Philip Rothman talk about what the latest update to the Sibelius importing feature means for scoring and arranging workflows, and we unveil Scoring Express, a new product suite of templates and more. Listen now:

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Importing into Sibelius 2020.12 and Scoring Express


Just in time for the end of 2020 (is it over yet?) Avid has released Sibelius 2020.12, the latest update to Sibelius. Aside from some good improvements in the way plug-ins and fonts are handled (more on those in a bit), the new feature in this release is the long-awaited ability to import Sibelius files directly into an existing Sibelius file or template, so let’s dive right in and explore it.

Import Sibelius files

The new importing workflow was introduced more than a year ago with the 2019.9 update. In that release, Sibelius rolled out a brand new way of getting MIDI files into a Sibelius score directly within the Sibelius interface.

This new workflow brought an easy drag-and-drop user experience to the process, but more “import”antly (haha), it debuted some useful new things like many-to-one and one-to-many mapping, the ability to use your own template when importing a file instead of having to use a default Sibelius file, and — most significantly to those of us doing this a lot — bringing over the time signature, key signature, tempo, and other global items from your source file. (A number of MIDI-specific items like cleaning up keyswitches were also part of this feature).

In our review at the time of the 2019.9 release, I said:

The next logical step is to extend the MIDI import workflow to MusicXML and Sibelius files.

One could well imagine receiving a piano reduction in Sibelius and using this importing feature to quickly bring it into a template to orchestrate (this was the original inspiration for the Impose Sketch Onto Template plug-in). Similarly, bringing in MusicXML files in this manner, such as from scanned material or from other notation software, is a no-brainer.

Suffice it to say, it took a while (there was a global pandemic in the midst of all of this, after all), but our wishes have been answered.

Earlier this year, the 2020.6 release gave us MusicXML import, and with this new 2020.12 release, we’re finally all the way there. While that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement with this feature (isn’t there always?), I think the ability to import Sibelius files directly into the program is a milestone for many users looking for faster and more accurate ways to produce quality scores.

Already, I’ve used the MusicXML importing feature in a large pops orchestra project and several other smaller jobs, and it’s worked beautifully — probably saving me hours in the process, since I had a good template with dynamic parts formatted all ready to go.

How it works

If you’re already familiar with the new import feature as it pertains to MIDI or MusicXML sources, bringing in a Sibelius file is basically the same process, with a few tweaks. For the benefit of newcomers and old-timers alike, here’s how it works.

Let’s say I have a piano-vocal chart as my source file that I’d like to bring into a big band template. You don’t actually need to open your source file in Sibelius, but I want to peek at it briefly to make a point, which is this: If you’re bringing in something into a template, the source file does not need to be formatted at all.

Look at my source piano-vocal score:

Aesthetically, it leaves a lot to be desired, right? But that’s OK — importing to the rescue.

The first thing to actually do is open the template or other Sibelius file into which you wish to import the Sibelius file. Then, head over to File > Import. This is the same window you use to import a MIDI file or MusicXML file — depending on the type of file you select, Sibelius automatically displays different options to control what gets imported, which is nice.

So, I’ll open my big band template — the one with nice settings — in Sibelius:

Next, I’ll drag and drop my source file, or, you can choose the file in your file browser by clicking the Browse… button. Once you select the file, you can optionally assign the instruments manually, or, if you’re feeling lucky, click Auto Assign to have Sibelius choose the instruments for you. You can make adjustments after if it doesn’t guess correctly.

Here, I’ve unchecked Import and overwrite House Style from file and Import and overwrite Document Setup from file, so that I get the most benefit out the settings in my template. (On the other hand, if you prefer the settings in your source document and desire for those to overwrite what’s in your destination template, you would check these boxes.)

One new improvement in 2020.12 is the Generate preview after every change option, specifically the option to disable it.

In earlier versions, Sibelius would re-generate the preview after every change you made to the instrument distribution. On smaller scores it was barely noticeable, but on larger scores it could really slow down the process. Now, if you uncheck this box, the preview will be blurred out so that you can quickly make your adjustments. You will need to re-check this box once before finishing your import.

OK, now for the moment of truth — click Import and see your source music appear in your template file, pretty much all ready to go. A quick Reset Design and Reset Position pops everything into their default places, and the music is ready to work with in your favorite template.

What’s more, because my template has the parts all set up just the way I like, it’s just a couple of clicks, a quick Reset Note Spacing — and a handy assist from one of my favorite plug-ins, Position Rehearsal Marks by my good friend Bob Zawalich — to work up a nice lead sheet.

This little demo only scratches the surface, but its potential is evident in a number of different scenarios.

Wishing for more

I’m certain this feature is already “here to stay” in my workflow (apologies to George and Ira).

What would make it better?

Better handing of files with irregular bars. If you attempt to import a file with a bar that, say, has 4 beats in what appears to be a 3/4 bar, Sibelius will reject the import (other than if there is a pickup bar at the beginning of a piece).

There’s good reason for this: the importing feature is also intended to import scores into not just blank templates, but files with existing music as well. If the source metrical structure doesn’t match that of the destination, Sibelius will rightfully warn you. But with empty templates this shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately, Sibelius can’t have its cake and eat it too, at least not yet.

A warning if you stray from the Import window. On a file with lots of instruments and options, you may well spend a lot of time in the File > Import area getting your instrument assignments just the way you like them. If, for some reason before you push the big Import button, you decide for some reason you want to take a peek at your score and click the Home tab, poof, your efforts have vanished and you need to start over. At the very least, I think a warning should pop up here.

Presets / save settings. On a similar subject, the ability to save import settings for later, or even to cycle through different presets to see which one gets the best results on any particular file, would be a significant enhancement. (While we’re dreaming, batch import using presets would be next-level.)

More integration with score setup. I understand the reasons to keep score setup and importing separate. But, because you can’t save your settings or pause your import as a work-in-progress, the current inability to add instruments to your destination score during the import process is a notable omission.

These are suggestions to make what is already a great feature ever greater, so please take them in that spirit. The fact that the initial vision of MIDI, MusicXML, and Sibelius file import has been followed through is already laudable. Let’s keep the hits coming.

Other improvements

Font handling

In Sibelius 2020.12, Sibelius is more consistent in how it identifies and interprets fonts that support symbols. For those in the know about such things, Sibelius now prefers Latin 1 as a fallback for symbols when the font not marked as supporting the “Symbol” code page on Windows and Mac, for more consistent cross-platform results.

This should make it easier to work with third-party music fonts, such as our Norfolk and Pori fonts. For Pori, we needed to make a few under-the-hood updates to support Sibelius 2020.12, which are also compatible with recent earlier Sibelius versions. If you open Sibelius 2020.12 and notice some weird symbols in the Edit Symbols > Layout Marks area, this is the telltale sign that you need the latest version of the Pori fonts, which we released separately yesterday.

If you see barlines where layout marks should be instead, update to the latest version of Pori

Registered users of Pori will have already received an email with information about the update, but if you didn’t see it and you’ve registered with us, be sure to log in to your Notation Central account or enter your registered email in the Retrieve Files area to grab the latest download links.

The fixes in Sibelius 2020.12 should improve support for other third-party fonts (or at least provide the ability for improved support for these fonts in the future). These fonts include Nor Eddine Bahha’s NorFonts, and Robert Piéchaud’s November 2, although we haven’t yet independently tested these fonts to see if they will benefit fully from the 2020.12 update.

Hopefully this paves the way for Sibelius to provide even more robust third-party font support down the road. One thing we’d like to see in the future is access to all the characters in a Unicode font when editing symbols.


I can’t live — or at least work in Sibelius — without plug-ins. No doubt you’ve read about a great many of them here on Scoring Notes.

They dramatically make many tasks so much easier. But, over time, a few nagging problems caused some minor but annoying hiccups. Thankfully, these have all been fixed up in Sibelius 2020.12:

  • A long-standing problem where keyboard shortcuts got scrambled after installing or deleting a plug-in is finally fixed, and keyboard shortcuts are solid again. (This problem was most evident if you entered a shortcut and found that it triggered something totally different. The fix was usually easy, but obscure — you had to go to File > Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts, click anywhere within the lists, and click OK, but in rare cases the scrambling was more severe). This should make it easier to more freely work with lots of plug-ins and also paves the way for some updates to third-party tools like Notation Express, which rely on certain plug-ins.
  • A related issue that is also fixed is that when you unload a plug-in, it is really unloaded and won’t reload when you start Sibelius. Various user interface issues in this area are fixed as well.
  • Moving plug-ins to various tabs in the Ribbon works as it should once again. To see how this is supposed to work, see my video from 2012, starting at 4:48 and watch for about a minute. (I cringe slightly at my 8-year-old production values, but the information is still good!)

New branding

Do not adjust your screen — Sibelius 2020.12 is the first release to make use of the new Avid branding and logos, which have been in use on their web site and elsewhere for a while already:


The Sibelius 2020.12 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. Be aware that this version, as with the other updates released in 2020, is only supported on macOS 10.12 and higher and on Windows 10.

If you’ve made the leap to macOS Big Sur (mac OS 11), only Sibelius 2020.6 and later (including this 2020.12 release) is officially supported.

For the latest information about compatibility for Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, and MuseScore, as well as links to the latest news and reviews about product releases, please see the Scoring Notes Product Guide.

Avid has also introduced a “What’s New in Sibelius” page highlighting the features in recent Sibelius updates.

One more thing

Here at NYC Music Services and at our Notation Central marketplace for music notation technology, we’re constantly working to help people improve the way they use scoring software. Whether it’s the Norfolk or Pori fonts, the Notation Express profiles for Sibelius, Dorico, and Musescore, the PDF batch utilities, or any one of the many products by our outstanding vendor partners, we’re always excited to hear how these tools make creating music notation more fun and productive.

The gears have been turning again recently around here, and we’re close to announcing something new. If you’ve read this far down, consider it a reward, since you’re the first to get this little teaser — we’ve sprinkled in a couple of hints in this review. Watch this space for more news soon!


  1. Matevz Novak

    I wish for more notation updates. Like breathing marks, how to handle if you have more staves in one piece and the titles are position in the middle of the page. Dorico and Musescore are with many things in front of Sibelius and I am using it for many years now. Also the positions of tempo marks, rehearsal marks, etc. It should be more automatic then it is now.

    I am really waiting for some major update in notation more then in XML and midi and so on. It takes a lot of time to make a good looking score and parts.

    1. TLynn

      I agree Matevz! I appreciate the flow of updates and the development pace but it would be nice if they addressed some of the long-standing issues that we have to work around constantly (I‘m looking at you everything cross-staff!).

  2. Benny Rietveld

    “Import”antly? “Our Update is here to stay”? Wow.

    Well done, I’ve “groan” so much since reading this review, so cheers for that.


    P.S. Great job as always!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Puns are the lowest form of humor, and we go low!

      1. Mark Arnest

        The great pianist and legendary punster Artur Schnabel had a variant of that truism: “The pun is the lowest form of humor – if you don’t think of it first!”

        1. Philip Rothman

          Words to live by!

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