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Virtual orchestras are becoming better and better these days. An added bonus of this improvement in technology is that producers are starting to feel more at home in the unique orchestral genre and are ready to work with actual orchestras. That's where Sibelius by Avid ​comes in.

Virtual orchestras are becoming better and better these days. An added bonus of this improvement in technology is that producers are starting to feel more at home in the unique orchestral genre. Back in the 'primitive' nineties when samples were not nearly as realistic as they are now, the limited sound possibilities made it difficult to compose a piece that an orchestra could actually perform. Thankfully, those days are behind us! The current generation of producers are actually ready to work with actual orchestras, and that's where Sibelius comes in.

Orchestration - an art form
What makes a good music score? Writing sheet music is an art form in its own right. You need to build your score based on the actual instruments in an orchestra instead of virtual ones in a MIDI production. You're dealing with people who play instruments, not digital data. Notation software takes care of a large portion of this, but it's still important that the user has some knowledge of how sheet music is read. One of the biggest hurdles in writing sheet music is the number of symbols and staves.

For example, many instruments that play legato (such as strings and wind instruments) achieve this effect in a DAW by overlapping notes. The sample player (such as Kontakt or Halion) recognises the overlap and takes care of the rest. In a music score, however, legato notes that do not overlap are connected by means of a legato arc.

Another example is the concert harp, which is a diatonic instrument (this would be the same as only the white keys on a piano). If you want the individual strings of a harp to be a half-tone higher or lower, this needs to be indicated accurately in the score. With a MIDI version, however, it's simply a matter of playing the sample in the other tuning. As you can imagine, there are countless examples of how sheet music and MIDI differ.


Software to the rescue
Luckily, there is notation software available with all kinds of tools and utilities to help you. You still need to maintain a clear head during the process but in general, notation software is a godsend. The question is, which package should you invest in? Sibelius is not the only package on the market but it is by far the most popular one.

The software is compatible with both Windows and Mac operating systems and is operated by means of keyboard short cuts and mouse movements. Those who are fluent in Sibelius' keyboard short cuts will be able to work most efficiently with the program so you can assume those who praise Sibelius for being such a user-friendly program are the power-users who know their hot keys!

Sibelius is available in two versions: a Standard and an Ultimate version. The Ultimate version does everything while the Standard version is more limited, but it is still an excellent package for mainstream music or orchestras that don't require too many complex symbols or arrangements. Of course, the Standard version is more affordable than the Ultimate version.


Some main differences
Listing all the differences between the Standard and Ultimate versions would be virtually impossible, so we're going to highlight the most important possibilities. For most, the use of sharp, flat, double sharp and double flat symbols is more than sufficient to write a score. These symbols are all available in the Standard version but the Ultimate version includes quarter notes as well. These are less common in Western mainstream music, but those who use them will need to invest in the Ultimate version.

Four-sixteenth notes are usually written linked together in a group of four but it could technically also be two groups of two. You can experiment with various grouping in the Ultimate version but Sibelius makes the decision for you in the Standard version. It may seem trivial but sometimes a small detail like this could greatly improve the overall legibility of your score.

The number of available staves differs greatly for each version. There are sixteen in the Standard version and an unlimited number in the Ultimate version. Whether or not this is important really depends on the scale of your project. If you're writing for a standard orchestra, then sixteen staves should suffice as long as the individual instruments in any one section are more or less the same. If you're writing for a section of three trumpets, two of which play chords and a third who plays the melody, then it makes sense to use one staff for the melody and a separate staff for the chords. This makes your score easier to read, but it 'costs' you one of your sixteen available staves in the Standard version.

Sibelius features a selection of virtual instruments so you can hear what your score will sound like. The Standard version's library is 10 GB while the Ultimate version's library is more than three times that at 36 GB.

There are countless details in the Ultimate version that may not seem significant at first glance, but that can really make a difference in terms of legibility.

Which version is right for me?
The Ultimate version can do anything as it was developed for large-scale, professional projects and orchestras. If you want to be able to tweak some visual features in your music then the Ultimate version fits the bill. Basically, if you have big ideas and orchestration is your profession, then Sibelius Ultimate is the version for you.

If you're writing for smaller ensembles or you're relatively new to orchestration in general, then sixteen staves are more than enough, which means the Standard version is the right choice for you.

PhotoScore, AudioScore, NotateMe
Some Ultimate versions include extra software for scanning parts or dissecting audio fragments and converting them to Sibelius notes. Why? The answer is simple: building a score costs a lot of time and certain tools can speed up the process. Some of the Sibelius Ultimate versions include Ultimate versions of one or more of these software packages. You can tell which by looking at the abbreviations in the title: PSU (PhotoScore Ultimate), NMU (NotateMe Ultimate) and ASU (AudioScore Ultimate). The Standard Sibelius Ultimate versions include Lite versions of these packages. All three packages are also sold separately.

The licence model
Because Sibelius is owned by Avid, the licence model is similar to that of another popular Avid software package, Pro Tools. Sibelius offers a choice of licences, which we'll go into more detail about below.

For both the Standard and the Ultimate version of this software, there are permanent licences and subscriptions available. Users who choose a permanent licence, which Avid calls perpetual, will do so because they want to be able to install the program and use it whenever they want. Subscriptions are handy if you want to work with Sibelius for a limited period of time and don't plan on using it again once that time has elapsed. If that's the case for you, then a subscription is a much more affordable solution than a permanent licence.

Just like with Pro Tools, Sibelius comes with an update & support service. This service includes annual updates to ensure you're always working with the newest version and support from the Avid customer service team. If you're not sure about how to do something (which isn't unthinkable considering the unlimited possibilities) then someone from Avid is always available (online) to assist you. The convenience of the annual updates & support service comes at a price, however. If you have a permanent licence, then you'll have access to the update & support service for one year. After this period, you can keep the permanent licence with the most recent updates from that year. If you want continual updates and support then you'll need to renew the service within a certain period (one year, for instance). If you neglect or forget to renew before the deadline but you want updates and support later on, then you'll need to renew your licence for various products and different price tags apply. In that respect, subscription licences are easier because the updates & support service is included and renewed every year automatically.

Which version is right for you is a question only you can answer. If you're a professional producer who works regularly with DAW software then a permanent licence is probably the best option. If you want to be kept up to date (read: bug fixes and new functions periodically), then we can recommend annual renewal of your updates & support service. If you don't require extra service, then you won't need to renew and a permanent licence will suffice.


There are also other special licences that are specifically for educational purposes such as music schools and conservatories.

There are two kinds of trade ups. One is a crossgrade upgrade for those who own Sibelius, Sibelius | First version 5 - 8.x, Sibelius Student, G7 or Instrumental Teacher Edition. The other is a trade up for those who own notation software by another brand, which shows Avid are clearly giving the competition a run for its money! The eligible versions are Finale, Encore, Mosaic and Notion. You will however need to provide proof that you own a valid licence for one of these packages to be elgible for this trade up.

Sibelius Ultimate features renewals for a 1-year subscription. This seems redundant however, considering the information above. You will receive new updates and support with an entirely new subscription after all.

Like Pro Tools, Sibelius also features a special construct. You can choose to invest in a new subscription licence but that would essentially be the same as renewing your current subscription. The difference is that your existing Sibelius ID still works if you renew your licence. If you continually invest in new licences instead of renewing them, your Avid account will be cluttered with unused Sibelius IDs.


General tips
If you don't have much experience with orchestration, be sure not to underestimate the amount of time you'll need to get the hang of this software. Take your time and try to imagine how each individual musician will read your score. The way you use MIDI in your DAW has very little to do with how to create a music score.

We'd like to leave you with a couple tips that are sure to help elevate your orchestral skills to the next level. Firstly, invest in a good book on the subject such as "The Study of Orchestration" by Samuel Adler. Secondly, get a hold of a few orchestra scores and study them. Dover Publications offer a wide variety of informative books that include examples of complete orchestration. It's a good idea to study works from the 20th century because orchestras and orchestra techniques have become increasingly elaborate over time. A good starting point is French Impressionist Maurice Ravel, who is known as one of the best maestros of all time.

Writing sheet music is a job that requires accuracy and patience. Sibelius offers you the tools to make your musical decisions a reality, but at the end of the day, you 're the one who has to make those decisions in the first place. That being said, you'll know the true meaning of satisfaction when your score is finally finished!


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