Sibelius 7: my initial thoughts

I was very excited to see yesterday that a new version of Sibelius notation software had been released. It’s become a bi-annual tradition for me to write a blog post about the new features before trying out the demo of the software and writing again. These have tended to take the pattern of a negative original post, where I question which of the new features will make it worthwhile to upgrade an already superlative software package, followed by a post exclaiming how marvellously implemented the new features are, and how they have improved my workflow!

I always wonder how Sibelius can add substantial new features to software that can pretty much do it all already. Sure, we’d all like our little niggles to be taken into account, but certainly in my case, these are only little things. I do very much feel that the three landmark features that I had been crying out for since my early days of experimenting with Sibelius 3 were Dynamic Parts, Magnetic Layout and Versions, which were implemented in Sibelius 4 and 6 respectively. Sibelius 6 is a program that I enjoy using and constantly delivers incredible results whilst remaining easy to use, so I wondered, as I always seem to do, how 7 would offer a major improvement.

The headline feature is an all-new user interface, using a ribbon, as used in MS Office since 2007. I am a huge fan of the Office ribbon, and have found my workflow in Office 2007 to be far, far better than in 2003 and before. I am slightly concerned as to how it will transform Sibelius, as every new version has previously always maintained a consistency, yet new features haven’t felt ‘bolted on’ in the slightest. This trait of Sibelius is an incredibly admirable one, and I am slightly concerned that this wholesale change will confuse and dissuade casual users from upgrading. Certainly my mother refuses to use Office 2007 because of the ribbon, and I can say now that I am sure she won’t be upgrading to Sib 7 for the same reason. Having said that, I am sure that the UI has been designed brilliantly, as Sibelius always do a fantastic job and I look forward to having a play with it before reporting back. I know that I dislike change at first, but I’m sure that it will improve my workflow.

I am also looking forward to using the Inspector (I regularly use the Properties window and can’t wait to see how the Inspector improves on that user experience), the status bar and the new mixer, along with all the other changes. I just worry that such a big change to UI might dissuade potential upgraders. But we shall see.

There has also been a substantial improvement in playback samples. I admit that usually this doesn’t excite me: I sometimes make rehearsal CDs or backing tracks from Sib scores, but usually I am very happy with the quality of the standard Sibelius library. Playback enhancements in previous versions have caused me to think ‘Great! But it was fine before!’. This time, however, is slightly different. I frequently write organ parts and I have always found playback immensely frustrating. The playback engine adds in octaves seemingly at random and I always seem to change my organ stave to a piano sound in order to hear it clearly. This is all about to change! The new playback engine has a 20 stop organ to play back organ parts correctly. I cannot wait to try this out, I hope I’m not disappointed!

There are substantial text improvements which, to be honest, I don’t entirely understand from reading the description, but I am sure they will be great and solve problems I’ve had in the past. Plus, the OUP font now comes with the software, so I can make my scores look even more professional! I also think that the new graphics importing improvements are great, as is the PDF exporter. That will save me many hours of work.

There are many other new features, but those are the major ones for me. I am very excited about the release and can’t wait to try the demo. I do, however, have just the one caveat. As I said at the start, I wondered what the headline feature would be. The new UI is, I’m sure, a massive step forwards but it doesn’t make your scores look any better at the end of the process or add any new facilities to improve workflow dramatically (like Dynamic Parts or Magnetic Layout). The other improvements are great, but none of them individually give me the wow factor like the two aforementioned features did. But that is the challenge that the Sibelius makers face by making such fantastic products and I have no doubt that 7 will continue to deliver on that front.

I will review the demo in about a week’s time, and I can’t wait to get it installed…