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With Sibelius, Avid released powerful music notation software that's been lauded by many composers, arrangers, and publishers. Like Pro Tools, Sibelius now works with a new system comprising activation cards.

As computers are constantly evolving, virtual instruments are getting better and more elaborate each month. Nowadays, many music productions don't even require the use of real musicians anymore. However, working with musicians can be a really enjoyable and social experience. The only problem is that musicians are not capable of reading MIDI data or grid notation. They are people of flesh and blood, just like those living in the age of Wagner. In other words: working with real musicians means you'll have to hand in an actual music score. And the better the quality of that music score, the easier it is for musicians to read it.

Unfortunately, writing music is a tricky and time-consuming process - you have to know the characteristics of each individual instrument if you want to write notes for them. You'll have to take into account the moment when flute players inhale, for instance. Also, you should bear in mind that performers have to turn the page sometimes, and you don't want them to miss a note. Modern DAWs allow you to quickly and easily write your own music - you've probably taken for granted the pace at which they work these days. It's easy to forget that creating high-quality sheet music actually requires years of study.

Luckily, we have computers and Avid Sibelius, one of the most popular notation software packages around. For many composers, arrangers, publishers and schools, Sibelius has already proven its worth. After all, it offers much more than simply the input of notes. While the old masters could easily fill entire pages with notes without having to play them first - hearing the music in their heads, as it were - modern producers benefit from a preview of their work during production. To that end, Sibelius comes with a nice library full of virtual instruments.

The new licensing model

You might already know Avid for their Pro Tools software. For this DAW, Avid set up a new licensing model - from now on, you no longer invest in a box with a single version of the software. Instead, you receive activation cards that always give you access to the latest edition. Sibelius works with a similar model - you can get various activation cards for different editions and license types. An iLok is not required!

Features of Sibelius

Basically, you can choose from two types of packages. The first one is the full, professional version. The second one is the budget-friendly First edition, which is great for beginners, but also an excellent choice if you only want to use the basics of the software.

Sibelius First

Unless you're working on sizeable, serious orchestrations, Sibelius First is a great package. Its concept is similar to that of the full edition, but offers fewer options. On the other hand, its price is much more budget-friendly. The library has fewer virtual instruments (12 GB), a maximum of 16 staves is available, and there are fewer options in terms of fine-tuning.

But then again, you might not need a lot of additional functionality anyway. After all, your word processor is also packed with functions and different settings, but how many of them do you actually use? You'll see that Sibelius First is the perfect tool for writing music scores for, let's say, the local accordion band, which doesn't require more than six parts. For your pop music band, four to eight parts should be more than enough. Although the notation style is rather basic, Sibelius First still offers you plenty of options.

short overview of the features

  • easy to use, no user experience required, impressive results
  • innovative interface for a smooth writing process
  • scan music scores, transcribe audio, or play a MIDI instrument
  • copy your work to and from audio and notation software by other manufacturers with MusicXML
  • add chord symbols and guitar tabs by playing a MIDI keyboard/guitar
  • convert tabs to musical notation and vice versa
  • Magnetic Layout prevents incompatibility between symbols
  • Dynamic Parts are automatically updated when you alter the music score
  • lyrics, titles, texts, and graphics are easily added
  • get a preview of your work with the included sound library (12 GB)
  • use VST/AU virtual instruments and/or effects
  • 64-bit, addressing more than 4 GB of samples isn't a problem
  • Rewire support (for synchronising with Pro Tools, among others)
  • share your music as video, audio on social media
  • Avid Scorch support to check out your work on your iPad
  • ideal for: beginners, small ensembles
  • options: basic - average


Everything that's possible with Sibelius First is also possible with the full version, of course - and then some! Sibelius' full edition is great for anyone who wants to create elaborate music scores without any restrictions. You have as many staves as you like, all the articulations you can think of, and you get to adjust even the smallest visual details. Those details might seem a bit far-fetched, but they can really make a difference in your music score. One of the biggest advantages of the full edition is that these details will also make your sheet music more legible, for much smoother rehearsals. Of course a basic music score could suffice, but with all of these minute details, you can really turn your music score into a masterpiece. This edition is ideal for symphony orchestras, brass bands, fanfares and all other ensembles that work with a considerable amount of different parts.

short overview of the extra functions, compared to Sibelius First

  • exclusive 36GB sound library
  • elaborate functions for text and typography
  • export to various graphic formats like EPS and SVG
  • more extensive Magnetic Layout
  • Live Tempo: direct the tempo of your music yourself
  • manage and compare versions of your music
  • unlimited number of staves
  • quickly navigate with Timeline window
  • divide the conductor's music score into separate parts
  • functions to easily create exercises
  • Arrange function helps arranging and orchestration
  • including 140 plugins
  • special symbols for less common instruments
  • adjust the looks of the music score in a detailed manner
  • ideal for: experienced, large ensembles
  • options: professional

Both packages work with Windows 7/8 (64 bits) and Mac OS X 10.6.8.

Sibelius 8

With Sibelius 8, you get the following functions (among others):

  • Notes - add comments to your music score, practical when you're working together with others.
  • Support for Surface Pro - write on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 tablet with a Surface Pen. Basically, you get the same freedom you would have if you wrote music on a paper with a pen.
  • Zoom in and out on a trackpad or Surface Pro 3, by means of pinch gestures.
  • You'll work with an Avid Master Account, and get access to support, updates, downloads, and the Avid Marketplace. Sibelius can be used on multiple computers.
  • The Windows interface has been expanded upon, with support for hi-res displays.

AudioScore and PhotoScore

Each Sibelius edition comes with the AudioScore and PhotoScore packages. These are Lite versions, unless the license states you'll receive the complete (Ultimate) editions.

AudioScore allows you to collect note information from an audio file. This doesn't mean that you can automatically transcribe Wagner's entire oeuvre from a CD, but it is a great way of converting a few clear melody lines. One typical application is singing a melody or playing it on an instrument. Even without any theoretical knowledge of music, you'll be able to achieve great results. In the past, various artists have had world-wide hits without even being able to read or write a single note. The difference between the Lite and Ultimate editions is their respective capacity and options. While the Ultimate version detects a maximum of 16 lines, the Lite version detects a maximum of two. Also, the Ultimate version has a resolution for note value that's twice as high, and features more editing options. There are a few more differences, but basically, if you don't feel the need to break any orchestral conventions, the Lite version will do just fine. Like Sibelius, AudioScore's Ultimate version is specially intended for professionals, while Sibelius First and AudioScore Lite are more suited for less demanding applications

PhotoScore makes the same distinction between a Lite and an Ultimate edition. The software allows you to convert original music scores into Sibelius notation data. Simply scan your sheet music, and PhotoScore will do the most important part. It saves a lot of time, as you don't have to copy everything by hand. With the Ultimate version, anything is possible - it will even recognise hand-written notes. Although the Lite version features fewer options, it's generally a more than sufficient tool for most users.

In short, the number of added options for the Ultimate versions is significant. On the other hand, when you're working with Sibelius and Sibelius First, you have the guarantee that you'll at least be able to work with the included Lite versions . Their options can be sufficient, depending on your wishes.

Special licenses

  • In addition to the regular full editions and the First editions, there are also editions that come with PhotoScore Ultimate and AudioScore Ultimate.
  • Academic editions are also available - in order to purchase one, you'll have to verify your educational eligibility with Avid. You can find more information about this on our product pages.
  • The Sibelius Trade-up is a special upgrade for users of Sibelius First, Sibelius Student, Sibelius G7 and Sibelius Instrumental Teacher Edition.
  • With the Sibelius Legacy Upgrade, you can get your license for Sibelius 6 or lower fully up to date again.
  • If you're already using Sibelius 7, you can also get a budget-friendly upgrade.
  • The Sibelius Crossgrade is a very special product, as it's available for users of Final (MakeMusic), Encore (Passport), Mosaic (MOTU) and Notion (PreSonus).
  • Finally, we have several download editions available. Purchase one of these, and you'll receive the necessary information via e-mail.

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