Avid has released the Sibelius 2021.2 update, its first of 2021. In the recent past we’ve reliably seen the first Sibelius update of the year come in January in coordination with the opening of the NAMM Show, but with the mass gathering in Anaheim curtailed due to the pandemic, February it is this year.
This Sibelius release continues the ongoing evolution/repurposing of the Find in Ribbon function into an increasingly comprehensive launch bar, now called Command Search. The Sibelius 2021.2 update also expands Sibelius’s scripting and plug-in capabilities, giving not just advanced developers, but also mere mortals an easier way to use them.
Sibelius’s Ribbon has had something of a turbulent journey over the years.
What it was
Ever since the Ribbon’s introduction in Sibelius 7, there has existed a Find in Ribbon search box in the upper-right corner of the screen, designed to help users find what they were looking for (especially those used to the Sibelius 6 menus).
At the time, the search box did what it said: it was purposely designed more as a Sibelius navigation tool and not necessarily to execute a command quickly. Selecting the found option then took you to that part of the Ribbon, where you would have to again click to run whatever command you wanted.
In Sibelius 2018.1, this box began to be re-imagined as a command launcher, whereby clicking or pressing Return on a search result would immediately execute that command.
The only catch was that there was lots missing here. You could execute items that lived in the Ribbon and some other things like plug-ins, but if you wished to access most of the rest of Sibelius’s functions this way, it was out of its reach.
What it is
In the 2021.2 update, though, your wish is Sibelius’s command — er, in the form of something that is increasingly evolving into a true launch bar. Now called Command Search, the box now has access to a huge number of items. Pretty much anything that you’d find in the Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts area — including all of the Keypad layouts and items in the File tab (Backstage) — you can find in Command Search.
You don’t need to navigate to Preferences, though, to peruse the sorts of items you can access. In Sibelius 2021.2 there’s a new Commands drop-down in the Home tab that contains everything you can access via Command Search. It’s a long list, but you get the idea…
Obviously you won’t be scrolling through this list every time you want to run a command (although you can click on an item to execute it); its purpose is to familiarize the user with the items that are available, so that you can discover what’s there.
You can filter this list by category to make it less overwhelming.
Practically speaking, though, you won’t find yourself in this list nearly as much as you will in the search bar itself, so let’s go there.
What it does
Although you can click directly in the Command Search bar, to make it useful at all — and that means not touching the mouse — you’ll want to invoke the comma (,) shortcut to move focus to it.
From there, start typing.
In the above sequence, if you’re quick, you’ll notice three items previously only accessible via the Keypad or a custom shortcut: Cue size on/off, Accent, and 8 tremolos; the elusive-but-helpful Move Down Chromatically command; and a Dashed slur.
Couple this with some other commands like Add Staff Below, a repeat barline, and throw in time and key signature changes, and you can get powerful and fast really quickly:
Speaking of Add Staff Below — a host of other commands previously only found in the Add/Edit Instruments dialog have arrived at the party: Add Staff Above, Increase Instrument Staff Size , Decrease Instrument Staff Size, Remove Staves, Move Instruments Up, and Move Instruments Down. Since these features are no longer tucked away in a dialog, they join the growing list of multi-edit commands — meaning they work on each selected staff. Try it!
Once you get in the habit of using Command Search, you might well embrace even more keyboard access, like in this sequence of applying Auto Breaks, which was done without taking my hands off the keyboard:
That’s really the tip of the iceberg. As evidenced by the nearly endless-list of items at your disposal through this function, you might start re-training yourself to make use of it a lot more.
How it could be improved
It wouldn’t be a Scoring Notes review without pointing out how this already-useful feature could be improved further.
Add Command Search Terms
Let’s take the first example where I applied a 3-stroke tremolo to the notes, among other items. In Sibelius parlance, this is known as 8 tremolos. I don’t know about you, but not once in my nearly two decades of using Sibelius have I thought of this as “8 tremolos”.
We already have the ability to create custom keyboard shortcuts for commands in Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts. How about letting us create custom Command Search Terms, too?
Ooh! I’ve got one!
Of course, it’s not my original idea.
Alas, in Sibelius, it’s 8 tremolos or bust:
(Well — it is actually possible — but you’ll need to read on to the next section, “Scripting and plug-ins”, to engineer this if you really want.)
There are loads of examples where adding Dorico-like terms could make Sibelius’s Command Search into something of an über-popover — think of barline shortcuts like
|| for Double Barline,
|: for Start Repeat Barline, or repeat regions like
%2 for 2 bar Repeat bar. Or, more broadly, what about applying a text and hairpin dynamic together by typing
p<f>p and having Sibelius do all the heavy lifting?
Such an über-popover in Sibelius could even best Dorico in some ways by not relying on a requisite popover shortcut. After all, in order to enter the 3-stroke tremolo using
/// in Dorico as I demonstrated, I need to first remember to type Shift+R, because a tremolo is a kind of “R”epeat and in the same category as … repeat endings? I’ve made that musical association exactly zero times. Being able to simply type the comma followed by
/// would be simpler and more Sibelius-like, besides.
To be fair, the Sibelius developers are not necessarily seeking to build an interoperability feature as a bridge for Dorico users, but for those of us finding ourselves toggling between programs on an increasingly frequent basis, an ability to create some workflow harmony would be very welcome. (Such a bridge would not be without precedent — the Pitch before duration note input preset introduced in Sibelius 7 was very much aimed at Finale users, complete with a remapping of the keypad to Finale’s defaults.)
Refresh the UI
The other impediment to making this feature really fly, at least on larger displays, is the Command Search bar’s size and position on the screen, which hasn’t changed since those Sibelius 7 days. With pixels getting smaller and displays getting larger, this disparity needs to be remedied.
With the above example on my 30-inch display, if I’m working on a bar in the lower left part of the screen, I don’t want to have to avert my gaze to see what pops up in Command Search a football field away.
Either a Dorico-like contextual popover, or, if that’s not practical, then a Spotlight-like popup at least 2x the size and floating in the center of the screen would be greatly appreciated.
Now, the existing UI for the search bar hasn’t backslid — it just hasn’t evolved in 10 years. Hopefully the improved function of Command Search will be followed soon by commensurate design enhancements such as this, now that its function is more or less separate from the Ribbon itself. After all, form follows function!
Be aware of similar terms
Finally — and let’s use “final” as an example — there may be some instances where you need to think carefully about what you’re applying. I have to say that generally, Sibelius predicted what I wanted accurately, but that may also be because I have an unhealthy knowledge of Sibelius’s commands already and knew what to look for.
If you’re looking for a “final barline”, which one of these would you pick?
Spoiler alert: 99 times out of 100, you’ll want the first one — the final barline applied to the whole system. (The second item is the free-floating final barline symbol, used on a single staff sometimes in aleatoric passages.) So, good for Sibelius for putting the more common one on top. This is not really a big issue, but if you have lots of plug-ins, keep in mind that you’ll get more items showing up in your search.
The Command Search feature could seriously speed up your workflow. There are lots of possibilities to make use of it and integrate it with other time-saving features like the usual keyboard shortcuts and tools like Notation Express on a Stream Deck.
It’s a touch ironic that we’re touting keyboard access in Sibelius, which, more than any notation software, made its early mark by showing how easy it was to click notes into a score using a mouse and drag them around at will. It’s surely intuitive to point-and-click with a mouse, but it’s tortoise-like in terms of speed, and a non-starter for accessibility.
So have a go at Command Search — as our fingers fly, we’ll also keep them crossed in the hopes of further refinement in a future Sibelius version.
Scripting and plug-ins
Bob Zawalich contributed to this section of the review.
What it was
Sibelius scripting and plug-in development has long been the province of a relatively small number of talented and devoted individuals willing to dive into the unique music-based programming language called ManuScript that Sibelius — and only Sibelius — recognizes.
There are hundreds of freely available plug-ins for Sibelius; we keep up with them on the Resources page on our NYC Music Services web site (click on “Sibelius Plug-ins and Feed”) and you can find and download them in Sibelius through the File tab, in Plug-ins > Install Plug-ins. There are many more private and commercial plug-ins, and they extend Sibelius in untold ways.
What it is
With Sibelius 2021.2, the aforementioned commands are now available to plug-in developers. Command Search and the Commands dropdown are fast, but they will let you run one command at a time. In order to allow a user to run a sequence of commands, ManuScript was given a new instruction,
Sibelius.Execute(), which allows a plug-in to run a command on the current selection. A plug-in can include a series of
Sibelius.Execute() calls, and thus run them all as a single action.
Wait, don’t go! A little code never hurt anyone. The long and short of it is that you can run any command via this method, either by using Sibelius’s internal name (called a “Command ID”), which is common to all localizations (language version) of Sibelius, or by using the command name you see in the menu, which will only work in that localization.
What it does
Remember how I wished for a way to enter “8 tremolos” as
/// mere moments ago? Let’s build a very simple plug-in as a way of demonstrating this new scripting ability and getting my wish.
The first order of business is to go to File > Plug-ins > Edit Plug-ins — or, hey, use Command Search and start typing
Edit Plug-ins— and click New… to bring up a dialog. I’ll call the actual plug-in “8tremolos” for computer-filing purposes, but for the display name I’ll chose “///” and assign it to a new plug-in category called “Tremolos”.
Upon clicking OK, there it is, but right now it’s just an empty plug-in:
To make it do something, I’ll next need to click Edit… to bring up this dialog:
Don’t be scared. Double-click on Run (or select it and click Edit). Now we’re here:
Sibelius.MessageBox method and instead let’s use our newly-discovered
Sibelius.Execute() method. Specifically, I’ll enter
8_tremolos is the official Command ID for this item and I want this to run in all languages. (I could alternatively write
Sibelius.Execute(Cmd("8 tremolos")); but that would only work in my localization.)
Let’s OK and Close out of all these dialog boxes.
Now, the moment of truth. Is my plug-in there?
Yes! But does it work?
Cake, had and eaten.
Now, going through all of this just to create a plug-in as an alias to a single command that exists already is not exactly ideal. Being able to define a custom Command Search Term with the same ease with which one can define a keyboard shortcut would be much better in the long term. But unless/until that’s possible, there is the above way.
More likely, though, the new scripting abilities will be useful for running a sequence of commands like a macro.
Let’s use our earlier example as a test case, shall we? It was rather contrived, but you might recall in short order I did the following actions via Command Search:
- Move Down Chromatically
- Cue size (on/off)
- 8 tremolos
- Dashed slur (above)
What if I needed to do this same sequence of events hundreds of times in a score? That’s what macros are for, after all. I would create a plug-in that looks like this:
Unfortunately, you can’t (yet) access the Dashed slur (above) via the
Sibelius.Execute method (although it is possible through more conventional — and complex scripting means). That’s because lines (and other items like clefs) aren’t really “commands” from a technical perspective, even though you can do some command-like things like access them from Command Search or assign a custom shortcut to them.
There are good technical reasons why this is the way it is for now, but, “to help this,” Avid’s director of product management for audio software Sam Butler told us, “we’ve created a stable foundation for scriptable plug-ins and Command Search, onto which we can grow these features and workflows in the future. This will include bringing in lines, text and symbols into new plug-ins, creating even more new capabilities than ever before.”
Still, it’s fun to see my new plug-in in action and get most of the way there:
From there, it’s trivial to add a custom keyboard shortcut to this new plug-in and even assign it to a free button on a Stream Deck, for instance, without any need for a third-party macro utility like Keyboard Maestro.
How it could be improved
Exposing all of the style commands (text, line, etc.) to the
Sibelius.Execute command, as just mentioned, will be one very handy improvement when it comes.
And even through creating plug-ins is easier than before, you’d be forgiven if your eyes glazed over the sequence of steps necessary to make it happen.
On cue, plug-in maestro Bob Zawalich is making it easier for us mere mortals to work with this new function, by, yes, developing a plug-in suite called Execute Commands, which lets you create a sequence of commands by searching for them, clicking and adding them to a list, and save them as a text file (i.e, a macro) or as your very own plug-in file. No code required!
This plug-in suite may even be ready by the time you read this review, but in the near future he will publish one or more blog posts here on Scoring Notes that will walk you through the process of using these new tools. Fun!
Conclusion and availability
First of all, if you’ve made it to the end, well done!
This is definitely one of the “nerdier” updates. But behind all of it is a need for speed. To come full circle, remember one of the knocks against the Ribbon was, despite its goal to make more Sibelius functions discoverable, it had the opposite effect of making things more difficult for many users, and slowing down workflow with lots of clicking and mousing around.
The Ribbon is still there, and if you like it, it works just as it did before. But if you’re looking for a way to up your game and automate tedious, repetitive steps, there’s a lot to like in this update — and hopefully more to come in the future.
The Sibelius 2021.2 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 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 2021.2 release) is officially supported.
Sibelius 2021.2 is not yet officially supported on Apple Silicon “M1” Macs, either natively or via the Rosetta 2 translation layer, although Sam Butler told us: “To follow up on our M1 support, so far so good! From our tests on the early units provided by Apple, and the newly released hardware, Sibelius is performing really well. We haven’t finished yet, and we’ll announce news once we’ve completed the tests. It’s encouraging Sibelius is faring so well using the Rosetta 2 emulation on Big Sur on the M1 Macs. This speaks volumes to how stable and future-proof the Sibelius code base is, so huge kudos to the Sibelius development team as their hard work from the last few years to modernize the Sibelius codebase is really paying off.”
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.