After a week of slowly teasing the announcement in its marketing channels, today Avid released Sibelius for Mobile on iPad on the App Store. There is an announcement on the Avid blog and a new Sibelius for Mobile section of the Avid site, along with a introductory video and a series of seven Getting Started videos. Much of the desktop product — including a lot of powerful Sibelius features and the ability to add and edit unlimited instruments in the top tier of the product — has made its way into Sibelius on iPad, but the interface has been re-imagined for the iPad platform in many significant ways.
Perhaps of most interest to existing Sibelius users: Anyone with an active subscription or support plan on Mac or PC can access the iPad version at the same tier at which they are currently entitled, at no additional charge.
In what will surely go down in the history books as one of the most exciting and unanticipated weeks in the world of music notation software development, the Sibelius version of iPad was released approximately 24 hours after we saw Dorico arrive on the iPad. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were at a NAMM Show where we expect these kinds of back-to-back major releases, but this is just a random week in July!
To get grounded, start off with our video, where we take a comprehensive first look at Sibelius on iPad: everything from how to get started; opening files and templates; working with touch gestures and selections; entering music with the Keypad, Apple Pencil, and external devices; pitch correction and chord input tools; the revamped Create menu; word menus, Command Search; playback, print, and PDF export, and more.
This is the very first time we’ve seen Sibelius on iPad and we’re excited to see what it can do.
What it is and who can get it
You might remember that, quite a while ago, there was an iPad app called Avid Scorch that opened and played back Sibelius files. With today’s release of Sibelius on iPad, Avid Scorch has been removed (although if you already bought it, you can still re-install it if needed).
Today’s new app isn’t Scorch at all — it’s a completely new app called “Sibelius” that you can download from Apple’s App Store. To a large extent, it replicates the desktop version of Sibelius, but with many iPad-specific features.
While there’s a lot you can do on Sibelius for iPad, it’s not nearly as fully tricked out as the desktop version. This is version 1, and we expect more updates to the app over time. If you want to check it out for yourself, anyone can download the app and start working with its most basic features.
If you’re an existing Sibelius customer with an active support plan or subscription, you get the iPad version at the same tier at no extra charge. That means that if you have a subscription to Sibelius Ultimate on your Mac or PC, that same subscription allows you full access to Sibelius Ultimate on iPad.
Avid is clearly replicating a model like those we see in subscription apps from Adobe, Microsoft Office, Dropbox, and many other developers. The desktop version is the powerhouse application, but you can access your files and work with them in useful ways on your iPad, and round-trip them infinitely without losing any information.
There is a way to subscribe to Sibelius Ultimate on iPad without having the desktop app, and we’ll cover those details later. For now, let’s see what Sibelius on iPad looks like.
When you first open Sibelius on your iPad there are a few brief videos on navigating your score, making selections, note input, using the Apple Pencil, and keyboard and mouse support.
We’ll look at take each of these areas a little more, but first let’s see how we access documents.
This area looks like you’d expect on many other iPad apps that use the iOS file management system. You can use cloud storage like iCloud Drive or Dropbox, and open any Sibelius file you like.
Opening a Sibelius score on iPad works as you’d expect. There’s the standard pinch-and-zoom, and simply touching the score and dragging it moves it around. If you have a big score you might be doing a lot of dragging, so I’d like to see inertial scrolling make it into a future version, but it’s not in this initial release.
When you first download the app, you get the version called, appropriately, Sibelius First. It is completely free, and anyone can download it without needing to register with Avid. Like its desktop counterpart, Sibelius First can open and play any file. You’re limited to creating and editing up to four staves, but you can play and review any file with an unlimited number of staves.
If you’re already a Sibelius customer, the first thing you’ll want to do is unlock more features and sign in with your Avid account. The Sibelius app will automatically unlock the feature set to which you’re entitled. I’m using the Sibelius Ultimate version.
Speaking of unlocking, you’ll want to take note of that lock icon. Locking the score puts it in Review Mode, so you can drag your score around without worrying about changing anything. When the score is unlocked, you can still move the score around, but you’ll need to take more care that you don’t accidentally change any music.
Files and templates
Creating a score is more streamlined for now, compared to the options you have on the desktop app. You choose a pre-set Manuscript Paper — newly and nicely re-designed for this release by senior product designer Justin Tokke — and then you’re off. But you can modify your score later.
It’s worth perusing the example scores, and you can certainly open up any of your own scores to see how they look. If you use the default fonts that come with Sibelius, everything should look exactly the same on the iPad as it does on the desktop.
Even our Norfolk and Pori fonts are included, as are most of the text fonts that are bundled with the Scoring Express templates, like Steinberg’s Academico and Petaluma Script.
If you’re looking for how to switch from the regular page view into Panorama view, it’s not in this initial release. It’s something that I hope to see it in the future, because it’s a great way of working with a score without being tied to a page format. Same thing with parts — only the score is viewable right now. That’s a big one, because you can easily imagine the benefit of sending a Sibelius file with formatted parts to anyone with the free Sibelius app for them to play from.
Touch gestures and selections
You can make a selection in Sibelius in a few ways, some of which will be instantly familiar:
- Tap a single bar, double-tap for the entire staff for that system, and triple-tap for the entire staff.
- Long-press another staff to select it. This is basically like Command-clicking.
- Long-pressing a bar makes a system selection, which is helpful to quickly delete a bar. Tapping with two fingers also makes a system selection.
- You can make a lasso selection by tapping and holding, and then dragging.
- Just like in desktop Sibelius, most anything can be selected and made into a multi-selection. Just tap and hold anything you want to multi-select.
Standard Apple 3-finger gestures are supported:
- Swipe left for Undo;
- Swipe right for Redo;
- Pinch in for Copy;
- Pinch twice for Cut;
- Pinch out to Paste.
You can also do a 3-finger tap to bring up a context menu:
Let’s take a look at entering notes.
Using the Keypad
There’s a Keypad that bears a resemblance to the desktop version. You can minimize it or show it, and you can also orient it left or right on your screen.
If you’re just using your fingers, you need to first make a selection to tell Sibelius where you want the notes to go.
Tap and hold a note on the keypad to bring up the “ghost” note. By default, it will be the same pitch as the previous note on the staff.
On the Keypad, drag your finger up or down to raise or lower the pitch by step, and left or right to adjust it chromatically. I found this worked surprisingly well and was fun, if a little tedious, to use.
Joe Plazak, principal Sibelius for Mobile product designer & engineer, told Scoring Notes, “When entering notes without an external keyboard, our new patent-pending keypad gestures are really the fastest way to enter melodic ideas. These new keypad gestures can also be performed with an Apple Pencil or an external mouse. When working vertically across staves, the Apple Pencil note input experience really shines.”
Rests are entered by holding the rest on the Keypad and dragging your finger left or right to adjust the duration. This was also pretty easy to grasp.
Pitch correction and chord input tools
You’ll make some mistakes. Anticipating this, Sibelius on iPad gives us easy access to a Delete key and Undo directly in the Keypad. In place of the familiar plus or minus buttons, you’ll see two new ones: a Pitch Correction Tool and a Chord Input Tool to help after you input a note.
Dragging the Pitch Correction Tool up or down will adjust the note in those directions, while dragging it left or right will add accidentals.
The Chord Input Tool adds an interval of a third above if you simply tap it. But if you hold and drag it first, you can use it the same way you input a single note.
I do miss the repeat key here — the equivalent of R on the keyboard. Hopefully a future version will add the equivalent of pressing R to quickly repeat something you’ve just entered.
The rest of the Keypad layouts look and function similarly to the desktop app. You have more notes, beams and tremolos, articulations, jazz articulations including bar repeats, and accidentals, just like in desktop Sibelius.
Using the Apple Pencil is another matter when it comes to note input. As appealing as it is to use, I couldn’t quite get the hang of some of the more advanced features Sibelius introduces here.
You need to hard press with the Apple Pencil to activate note entry. Once that happens, you tilt the Pencil up or down to raise or lower the note chromatically, and tilt it left or right to adjust its duration. You should be able to pop into it, change the duration or accidental, and release out before placing the note where you need it. You can do multiple firm presses if you need to go from a 32nd note all the way to a whole note too.
It’s a nice idea to try to cram this all into the pencil, and I really tried to get comfortable with it. But I found it too hard to reliably get the results I wanted. I’ll be very happy to hear if other users find more success with it.
Where the Pencil is helpful is when you want to make precise selections, essentially using it as a sharper version of your finger. That’s very useful for selecting handles and other smaller items.
You can also get reasonably quick tapping notes into the score. If you like this method of working in Sibelius already, it will feel the most natural.
Instead of using the hard press for note input, I’d like to see it used for some other purpose — maybe triggering a kind of “Engrave mode”. In other words, simply dragging items without a hard press could be used to pop items into their default position — kind of like using Space and Shift-Space on the desktop — but if you hard press, you could fine-tune their positioning. That would be kind of cool — not to mention, a hard press would feel like a real music engraver’s tool and more naturally bridge the gap between the analog and digital worlds.
Create menu galleries
Moving on, you’ve noticed by now that there’s no Ribbon on Sibelius for iPad. Instead, we have the plus icon, which is actually called the Create menu.
It’s not identical to the old Create menu on Sibelius desktop, but there are many similarities. You have your common notations like clefs, key and time signatures, and barlines; line styles and symbols; text styles; and instruments.
Most of this works just as it does in Sibelius on the desktop. One difference is that a change made to a passage selection on a single bar only effects a change on the start of the passage for things like clef and signature changes, to make it easier to quickly tap and make a change.
This is a good time to mention the Word Menus. You’ll see the mf icon when you’re entering text. This is how you access the contextual menu for dynamics and other text. You can also type in your own text.
The Create menu is also where you both add an instrument change to an existing staff and add a new instrument to the score. Even in the Sibelius Ultimate tier of the iPad version, you don’t get every last instrument, but you get the most common ones.
Hopefully we’ll see the complete instrument list available on iPad in a future release.
For some of the larger categories here and elsewhere, you’ll want to make use of the search box. Otherwise, you’ll be doing a lot of scrolling.
You might be wondering, once you add an instrument to a staff, how do you change its position in the score without the old Add/Edit Instruments dialog?
This is where the Command Search comes in. Command Search was introduced in the Sibelius 2021.2 desktop update, and it plays in important role in the iPad version.
For instance, if you want to move that instrument we’ve just added up or down, you need to use the Move Instruments Up or Move Instruments Down command. If you’re a longtime Sibelius user, you might have a decent grasp of what these commands are called and what they do, but if not, it’s much more difficult to find your way.
Another example is dragging a staff to adjust its vertical position. In desktop Sibelius, you can simply click and drag it. In Sibelius for iPad, you can do that, too, but you need to select the command Switch Auto-Optimize on/off. This is done to make it easier to tap and move the score around without accidentally moving a staff. But there’s no indication of the score’s state one way or the other. It’s the same for Transposing Score, and several other routine Sibelius features.
It’s not so much a criticism as a recognition of a tradeoff in the iPad approach. Sibelius’s interface on iPad is almost a 180-degree reversal from the Ribbon on the desktop. Bear in mind that on the desktop, the Ribbon’s original intent was to make use of icons, tabs, toggles, highlights, via a relatively large screen real-estate footprint, in order to achieve the goal of exposing as many functions as possible to the user.
On the iPad, though, it’s worth thinking about how you’ll ultimately use Sibelius, if you’ll pardon the pun. Many of the desktop functions are still there if you need them, but at least for now, Sibelius on iPad is more of a companion to the desktop app instead of a total replacement, and the minimalist approach to the interface suits it well.
“We seized the opportunity to redesign Sibelius specifically for mobile devices,” Joe Plazak said. “Once buttons become part of a user interface, they become extremely difficult to remove. The Sibelius for Mobile interface is decisively minimal, as is fitting for a new product launch. Looking forward, users can expect to see not only new features being continually added to the application, but also consistent improvements to the interface. We’re looking forward to letting the application evolve naturally based on feedback from the community of Sibelius users.”
Using an external keyboard and mouse
That being said, if you want to get closer to the Sibelius desktop experience on the iPad, you can connect an external keyboard and mouse. This will feel much more familiar, but there is one caveat for numeric keypad users — Sibelius on the iPad does not support the numeric keypad. Instead, you’ll need to use the number row. Generally, Sibelius on iPad uses the same shortcuts designed for notebook or laptops.
Speaking of keyboards — there’s no support for Bluetooth MIDI keyboards, at least not in version 1 of Sibelius on iPad.
Playback, print, PDF export
Rounding out the experience on iPad are some basic functions. Playback is essentially a start and stop operation. Like on the desktop, you can solo a staff or several staves by making a passage selection.
You can make some basic changes to your document setup, page orientation, margins, and staff sizes, and you can print to your network printers.
Exporting to PDF is possible via the print preview by performing a “zoom out” gesture on the score. From there, you can share or save it just about anywhere. A simple PDF button would be very helpful here, but the functionality is there. Avid says that because they implemented the iPadOS print API instead of designing a custom implementation, they are whim of the iPadOS Print dialog here, so they can’t add a PDF button to this dialog.
Right now, there is no support for MIDI or MusicXML import or export, or audio export, in Sibelius on iPad. However, multitasking is supported in Sibelius on iPad, including Split View, making it convenient to have, say, a PDF open on one half of the screen, and Sibelius on the other.
Pricing and tiers
Sibelius on iPad is available for free to download from the App Store. Users get access to features that is roughly equivalent to the free Sibelius First desktop version.
From there, if you’re an existing Sibelius customer with an active support plan or subscription, you get the iPad version at the same tier at no extra charge. If you have a subscription to Sibelius (mid-tier) on your Mac or PC, that will carry over to Sibelius on iPad, and the same for Sibelius Ultimate — a Mac or PC subscription allows you full access to Sibelius Ultimate on iPad. This is great for existing customers and instantly makes their support plan or subscription more valuable.
If you’re not already an active Sibelius user, you can purchase an iPad-only subscription to unlock one of the higher tiers. Sibelius Ultimate on iPad-only is $12.99/month; Sibelius (mid-tier) is $5.99/mo.
If you want Sibelius and only have an iPad, and not a Mac or PC computer, this is the only way that you can access Sibelius. For everyone else that has a Mac or PC already, I can’t recommend purchasing a Sibelius iPad standalone subscription, at least not with this first version. The reason is that you’re much better off getting the desktop subscription for only a few dollars a month more — an annual $199.99 Sibelius Ultimate subscription for desktop works out to less than $4 more per month, and includes full access to the iPad app — not to mention, Avid often runs sales that lowers the price further. And if you’re an educational user, your Sibelius Ultimate desktop subscription now includes access to the iPad version at a total cost that’s less than you’d pay for the iPad version alone.
You can’t access the desktop version with only the iPad subscription, and if you had any ideas about running the iPad version of Sibelius on your M1 Apple Silicon Mac: no, that’s not allowed here. Developers have the option to disable this ability for their apps, however, as Steinberg chose to do with Dorico, Avid has disabled this option for Sibelius, likely for the same reasons — there is already a directly comparable macOS app that is designed specifically for a desktop computer.
More information, and conclusions for now
In connection with the release of Sibelius on iPad, Avid has launched a number of resources. In addition to their introductory video, you’ll find an announcement on the Avid blog and a new Sibelius for Mobile section of the Avid site, along with a series of seven Getting Started videos.
Sibelius’s sweet spot on iPad, and its likeliest potential, is for the great many users who rely on Sibelius on a Mac or PC, and want a way to open and work with their scores on iPad when they’re not at their desktop. If you’re one of those users, your Sibelius plan just became a lot more valuable at no extra cost to you. And if you have a lapsed subscription or are using an old version of Sibelius, and you have an iPad, this is the right time to get current, more than ever.
Again, I’d think of it in the model of apps that are fully featured on desktop, like Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, and Dropbox, but that have robust enough iPad counterparts where real work can still be done and where you can make use of some the technologies unique to the iPad.
That’s our first look at the first version of Sibelius on iPad, which, despite some omissions in version 1 like Panorama view and the ability to work with parts, is overall is a really cool and fun experience, and a significant milestone in the evolution of music notation software. It especially brings a lot of additional value to existing Sibelius users, and anyone can download the app for free and use its basic features.
From our end, please watch my full Sibelius on iPad video overview made especially for you, the Scoring Notes reader. And of course, tune in to this weekend’s special episode of the Scoring Notes podcast, where I’ll be talking with David MacDonald about both Sibelius and Dorico on iPad, as well as Leo Nicholson on the Dorico side. It should be quite an episode!
Seeing both Dorico and Sibelius released for iPad within the span of day has challenged some assumptions I had about the way music notation software should work, and that’s a good thing. (It’s also been a challenge to keep up with all of the news here at Scoring Notes!) The iPad version of Sibelius is still a work-in-progress, but I am taking the optimistic view that workflow improvements made for the iPad will make their way back to the desktop and improve the experience for all Sibelius users — even those without an iPad. One thing’s for sure: it will be fun to see what the future holds.