On The Mark: The State of Digital Music Engraving

As Finale and Sibelius have matured and the programmers have responded to requests from their users, a degree of convergence has occurred. Still, there are fundamental differences:

Finale is the deeper program. It has the capacity to handle virtually any notational task, it includes a built-in drawing program to allow users to create any symbol or shape imaginable, it has excellent graphics handling for both importing and exporting graphics, and almost all of its parameters can be “tweaked” by the user. As one might expect, however, this means that almost any task can be attempted in a variety of ways, and the ability to tweak every aspect of the program can force the user to do some serious searching for specific information (for example, in Finale 2003, in which program and document options have been otherwise admirably reorganized, if the user decides to make all of the lines in the score thicker, there are eight different places to go: six different document options [Barline, Grace notes, Lines and curves, Repeats, Stems, Tuplets], plus the smart shape tool options dialog and the lyric tool options dialog, both of which are only available by selecting the tools first). Finale uses a tool-based approach, so the user needs to select the correct tool for each task—there are twenty-nine tools and three of those have subsidiary tool palettes.

Sibelius is the more intuitive program. There are no tools (although there is a pretty, but generally useless toolbar across the top of the screen) and tasks are executed by selecting commands from various well-designed menus. However, it does not have a drawing module and the method for adding symbols that aren’t included in the program is limited and confusing. It also does not handle graphic import and export particularly well (although v. 2 is an improvement over v. 1, which had no graphic import capability at all). Many items can be tweaked by the user through the “House Style” menu, but the options are not quite as broad as those in Finale (to change the thickness of lines, for example, one goes to three dialogs in the “Engraving Rules” pane, plus a separate “Lines” dialog—however it is not possible to globally change the thickness of grace note slashes).

Of course, one thing to consider when choosing any software package is “what’s more important, the ease of learning or the ease of use?” In other words, after the user has become comfortable with the software, which package will do the job more efficiently?

Both packages show the same face to the user upon start-up: one selects “new” from the file menu and, unless opening an existing template, one is presented with a set-up routine that asks for the instrumentation, time signature, and other basics. The respective screens will then look like this:



Sibelius presents a clean appearance. Notes can be input three ways:
  • from existing MIDI files.
  • by playing them in from a MIDI keyboard.
  • by “step entering” them—selecting a note duration from the keypad and clicking in the notes with the cursor.




Finale presents a wider range of options. Notes can be input in a variety of ways:
  • from existing MIDI files.
  • by playing them from a MIDI keyboard in real time (to either a metronome beat or to a beat created by the user by tapping on a key or the foot pedal).
  • with a hybrid method (Speedy Entry via the MIDI keyboard) in which the duration is selected at the computer keyboard but the notes are input from the MIDI keyboard.
  • via two different forms of step entry: Speedy Entry with the MIDI entry deselected or Simple Entry where each note is clicked into the score (Simple Entry is selected above—note that the “Simple” menu item will disappear if a different tool is selected; also note that the message bar provides information for each tool selected).


The notes can be played back at any time in both programs (provided there is a synthesizer hooked up—many sound cards include a built-in synthesizer and Apple‘s operating system includes the Roland Sound Canvas sound set built-in as “Quicktime Musical Instruments“).

Additional material—lyrics, dynamics, articulations, slurs, chord symbols, tablature—can be typed in. The process is quite similar, although Finale typically has more than one way to do things, while Sibelius usually has just one, intuitive way to perform each task. An example is lyric entry: in Finale one can either type directly into the score, or type in a small text box and “click-assign” the syllables to each note. That text box can be a big timesaver for polyphonic music, since the text does not need to be retyped from scratch for each staff. In Sibelius the only option is to type the lyrics directly into the score—intuitive, but slower when the lines don’t have identical text (both programs allow the user to copy/paste lines of text from one staff to another).

From On The Mark: The State of Digital Music Engraving
By Steven Powell
© 2002 NewMusicBox

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