Sibelius 2020.6 brings better MusicXML import, color options


Avid has released Sibelius 2020.6, the latest update to Sibelius. Among the new features in this version is a more sophisticated method of importing MusicXML files directly into a pre-existing template, which builds upon similar MIDI importing improvements introduced in Sibelius 2019.9.

New options for changing the default colors in Sibelius arrive for the very first time, along with other updates in the area of accessibility. A number of other smaller but important technical improvements are included with Sibelius 2020.6.

Better MusicXML import

MusicXML, the open interchange format for sharing music notation data among different software platforms, has come a long way since Michael Good invented it two decades ago. It’s an essential component of the world of music notation technology, used in some fashion by nearly 250 applications. If you’ve ever needed to open a Finale file in Sibelius, read a Sibelius file in Dorico, open a Dorico file in Newzik, etc. — you’re using MusicXML.

However, because each software application is different — and most of them proprietary — each one has its own way of exporting and importing MusicXML data. Different users have different needs for MusicXML, too; in some cases you’re trying to preserve the layout and formatting, while in other cases you may just want to import the music with as little extra information as possible, in order to bring the music into your carefully-constructed template and house style.

In previous versions of Sibelius, these options were rather limited in all respects. Sibelius did give you a few options — and this older method of MusicXML is still present in Sibelius 2020.6, should you wish to use it, by going to File > Open and selecting a MusicXML file from the file browser:

You can apply a house style opening a MusicXML this way, but if you want to import your music into an existing template, you’ll want to use the new method introduced in Sibelius 2020.6.

How it works

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

Here, I have a Sibelius orchestral template:

Here, I’m importing a piano-vocal score that was created in Finale and exported to MusicXML. You can choose the file in your file browser by clicking the Browse… button or simply drag it right in.

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 — in this example Sibelius correctly put the Piano Reduction in the Piano but incorrectly assumed the Alto voice part was meant for the Alto Sax.

(There is a hashtag feature for power users to explore which can help automate the process with greater accuracy, but only if both the source and destination files consistently use the same hashtag.)

Because I’ve deselected most of the options, all of the page size, layout, and formatting of my template will be maintained, but the file will inherit all of the global markings, key and time signatures, special barlines, rehearsal marks, and other important structural data inherent in the MusicXML file.

This is a huge improvement over ordinary MusicXML import for workflows like this, where you’re taking a piano reduction and bringing it into a template for orchestration — something that was really only possible before via Tom Curran’s excellent Impose Sketch Onto Template plug-in.

Another use case would be to import a MusicXML file into a file with music in it already — not just a template. Let’s say this piece was already orchestrated and formatted, but I needed to bring in a synthesizer part that was created separately (this is a real-world scenario I’ve recently encountered). This new feature makes that easy.

Many-to-one, one-to-many

The same many-to-one and one-to-many mapping options available in MIDI import are present in MusicXML import as well, making it possible to consolidate several staves into one instrument, or assign the same music to multiple instruments.

If you’ve checked a one-to-many scenario and want Sibelius to distribute the music among the various instruments, choose the Explode music when arranging to multiple instruments option, as I’ve done here, if I wished to take the synthesizer part and distribute it to the five reed players:

On the wish list (still)

Most of the items on our wish list from Sibelius 2019.9 remain wishes, with the obvious exception of MusicXML import, which has been introduced in 2020.6.

Native Sibelius import

The next and most logical step would be to introduce this same workflow with native Sibelius files. After all, if the whole point is to improve workflow, it’s not ideal if you have to take a Sibelius file and export it to MusicXML — and potentially lose or degrade important items — just to take advantage of the improved importing scheme. For Sibelius-to-Sibelius transfers, the aforementioned Impose Sketch Onto Template plug-in is still a must.

Add instruments during the importing process

If your MusicXML file contains 12 instrument tracks, but your score file only has 10, there’s no function for the new import dialog to create the missing instrument staves. You’ll either have to abort the process, open your template, modify it, save it, and start again, or continue with the import process, add instruments later, and then run the import tool again, being careful to not overwrite your existing import.

Bringing the Add/Edit Instruments function into the importing feature, the way we are accustomed to seeing it during the setup of a new score, would be one way to address this shortcoming.

Automatically add staves corresponding to the source

Some people will want to have more control and keep the destination staves in their template “clean” even after importing the source data, or they may wish to make use of the powerful new features but also retain a copy of the source material.

An option to simply add extra staves to the template that correspond to the source, and bring the music into those staves would effectively allow the user to work with scratch staves and keep the option of having the source data and the orchestration in one file. Effectively this would be a combination of importing a MusicXML file using File > Import and File > Open.

This would be a helpful way to proof the “smart” import against the “dumb” import and make any adjustments to what Sibelius automatically decided to do during the “smart” import, without having to have another file open and copy and paste between two files. Then we could simply delete the “dumb” staves once we were finished proofing and happy with the results.

Presets / save settings

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 — more so for MIDI import than with MusicXML, granted.

Batch import

While we’re dreaming: Say you have a set of part files for an orchestral piece, but no master score, and you wanted to create a score from all of the individual part files. What if you could drag in all of your files at once? It’s not possible now, but it’s not difficult to imagine.

Other improvements


Since the beginning of time, Sibelius has determined which colors represent which voices and other elements like out-of-range notes, collisions, and staff and system selections, with no options for the user to customize those settings.

That changes in Sibelius 2020.6. Head over to Preferences > Accessibility where you’ll find a new Color Preset section:

In addition to the familiar defaults, you’ll find the following presets:

  • Vivid — an amped-up version of Sibelius defaults
  • Monochromatic — various shades of blue for all voices
  • Grayscale — what it says
  • Working Late — a toned-down version of Sibelius defaults:

Note that some of these colors won’t be evident unless they are selected, unless you have switched on View > Note Colors > Voice Colors.

If the presets don’t suit you, you can create and save your own. (CJ Garcia has a good article on the Finale blog with suggested settings for color blind users that could be applied to Sibelius.)

If you are accustomed to working with View > Note Colors either set to Notes Out of Range or None, the color settings will still take effect for selected items — which is a good thing. If you have ever had trouble distinguishing the dark blue of a selected note in Voice 1 from an unselected note, you can now create a preset to make this contrast more apparent.

Two ways in which this feature could be better:

  • Add an option to change the color of hidden items, and, while we’re at it, the attachment line. These are difficult to see especially at smaller percentages, and if you are working with the new Grayscale profile, makes them even more difficult to distinguish from other elements.

  • Update the Keypad to reflect the color preferences. As of now it still retains the default colors regardless of what you have set in Preferences.


Sibelius continues to forge on ahead with its accessibility initiative, in partnership with the Berklee College of Music. We talked at length with senior product manager Sam Butler about this at the 2020 NAMM Show in January.

In addition to the aforementioned color options, the Sibelius 2020.6 accessibility improvements are mostly in the area of screen reader support. One improvement that should benefit all users is that the Inspector now gets focus when it is opened, allowing you to tab around it immediately. Closing the Inspector will return the focus to the score. This makes it easier to use the Inspector without a mouse, although there’s still a lot of tabbing to do if your selection spans many areas.

Laissez vibrer (L.V.) ties and tied-into-notes

Laissez vibrer (L.V.) ties and tied-into-notes were introduced in Sibelius 2020.3 and 2020.1, respectively. The 2020.6 update corrects a few issues with these features:

  • L.V. ties on grace notes are now drawn properly, and L.V. ties now respond appropriately when notes are moved (chromatically or diatonically) within a chain of ties; in other words, L.V. ties now break a tie-chain.
  • Changing the pitch of an L.V. tie note no longer moves the following note with the same pitch, and L.V. ties have no playback effect on the following note of the same pitch.
  • It is now possible to add tie-into ties to a grace note.

Save As Previous Version updated for plug-ins

Even though the Sibelius file format has changed periodically, the plug-ins that rely on the technical aspects of the ManuScript language to convert files to the more recent formats have not been supported, leaving users unable to convert to a Sibelius file format later than Sibelius 7.

Thankfully, this has been updated in 2020.6. If you use the shipping plug-in Convert Folder to Earlier Sibelius Version, or Bob Zawalich’s amazing Save and Export and Save With Previous Version plug-ins or Export Folder of Scores in Multiple Formats, you’ll find these all support file formats from 7.5 to 2020.1.

The rest

On the official Avid blog, Sam Butler details the remaining fixes in Sibelius 2020.6.

One to call out, which was actually included in 2020.3 but undocumented: Making any change to File > Info in a part results in the connection to the File > Info from the full score being broken. This is by design, but if you had made a title change in a part only to realize much later you meant to update the score instead, that wildcard was permanently broken unless you had deleted and re-created the part. Now, if you delete that info in the part, it will have the effect of restoring the link to whatever is in that field for the full score. If you’ve ever been bitten by this one, this fix might please you most of all.


The Sibelius 2020.6 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 2020.1 and 2020.3 releases before it, is only supported on macOS 10.12 and higher and on Windows 10.

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 a sale going on for Sibelius subscriptions that is in effect until the end of June. The promo code SAVE25 is required.

Save 25% off any annual subscription for Sibelius or Sibelius Ultimate (paid up front rather than paid monthly). It applies to educational pricing as well; for students and teachers, this is an extra 25% off on top of the 50% discount.

Subscription crossgrades are 25% off for the first two years of the subscription. This allows anyone with any older version of Sibelius or Sibelius Ultimate to get a new subscription for only $59. This includes the latest version of Sibelius, all upgrades, access to and Sibelius Cloud Sharing. Anyone crossgrading can keep their old license. After the first two years of this discounted subscription, the rate increases to the regular $199/yr (or $99/yr for education).

The sale does not apply to perpetual licenses or perpetual renewals, as far as we are aware.


  1. Sean

    Another MIDI import feature still on the wish list for me: turning off the score preview. A 3 minute cue with full orchestra and multiple midi tracks for each instrument for different articulations is painfully slow to import because every change I make in the instruments box requires the score preview to update. Each update takes 10 seconds or more, which quickly adds up with lots of tracks to assign. It’s still much quicker to just open the midi file and copy everything in manually in these situations.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Hi Sean. I 100% agree and have already made this request directly to the developers.

      1. Sean

        Great, hope to see some improvements soon!

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