Sibelius 7
To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade? A Notation Software Update

To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade? A Notation Software Update

There have been big changes in the notation software market in recent years, and a lot of people are confused about what is going on and what the future might hold. Sibelius is dead, and Finale has been sold off? No more updates? Where did I put my old electric eraser and Pelican pens? As a professional engraver, I use this software 12 hours a day and am deeply invested in the state of things.

In April, Avid released a new version of Sibelius, loosely called Sibelius 8 although they are shying away from version numbers now. This is the first major upgrade of Sibelius with no new engraving features.

Yes, that is correct. No new engraving features. But if you use a computer that has a touch screen, you can now use a digital pen to annotate and mark up a score, in the same way you’d use a pen/pencil to mark up a printed copy.

Sibelius 8 touch screen

Some of the common tablet/smartphone gestures will work on touch screens, you can navigate with the pen, and do rudimentary editing.

Despite this dearth of overall improvements, Avid has decided to maximize their income stream, so this new version starts a draconian licensing program where you pay a lot more for constant upgrades that may be of little use to those of us who focus on notation. Or you can purchase a perpetual license, but you must still pay a fee every year to continue receiving updates.

  • Just want to know if you should upgrade? Feel free to skip ahead.


Notation software has changed our industry in countless ways. It eliminated some methods of music typography (e.g. the Music Typewriter and the Korean “Stamping” method). It has lowered the cost of music preparation and eased the ability to make changes to existing materials, provided professional tools to novices, and lowered the total fees paid for commissions which also typically included additional remuneration for copying costs since composers took over some of the tasks of materials preparation. This last item has often resulted in composers doing more of the work while being paid less.

However, I think we have grown a bit complacent and forgotten how fragile the software industry is. Professional music notation with computers came to prominence in the late ‘80s when SCORE was released and publishers found that it was well suited to many different types of music, plus it had a good system to create scores and extract parts. It also had excellent guitar tablature notation, which made it ideal for companies such as Hal Leonard. SCORE’s strength was that it found a way to divide all of the myriad notational elements and organize them into categories of items, which allowed for easy manipulation. It’s a primitive program with musical intelligence, and it’s primarily graphic based. If you have a 900-page score and insert a few bars at the beginning, there is no automatic update; you have to manually adjust things throughout, including page numbers, bar numbers, and layout. It was not particularly composer friendly, so it was mainly adopted by professional engravers and copyists. Some publishers used it in house—a few still do.

Score (version 3)

Score (version 3)

Shortly after that, Finale came along. It was slow and cumbersome, but it had a Mac and Windows version (SCORE only runs under DOS) and seemed more user friendly because it had a graphic interface with menus and tools to perform common tasks.

Finale 2014

Finale 2014

For many years, those two programs formed the basis for converting the industry to computerized typography. However, in 1998, twin brothers Ben and Jonathan Finn released a Windows version of their unique program called Sibelius. It was designed with the idea that we should have a “word processor” for music notation, which would also serve as a professional tool. They studied what SCORE and Finale did, improved on it, and talked to many professionals to gain a deeper understanding of the needs of the industry. The paradigm they developed—a program that is easy enough that a novice can use it, yet structured in a way that a professional can come along later and improve the quality of the notation, the look, and the layout—is still its most compelling, powerful feature. Try doing the same operations in Finale or SCORE and the work hours double or triple.

Sibelius 7

Sibelius 7

Sales of Sibelius and Finale are strong, particularly in the education market, and generate enough revenue that the companies that own these products (Avid for Sibelius, and MakeMusic for Finale) can afford to continue development and add features, support existing users, and maintain the software. Yet there have been big changes in these two companies.

MakeMusic has been sold to Peaksware/LaunchEquity Partners, and they have moved from their longtime Minnesota location to Colorado. Many people who were intimately familiar with the software left the company because of the move.

Avid decided to close the primary London office where the Sibelius development team worked, and all of the long-time programmers who knew the code intimately were let go.

Sounds grim, doesn’t it? Add to that the fact that there have been two releases of Sibelius with only minor or non-existent feature changes (7.5 and “8”), and it surely makes you wonder about the future.

MakeMusic has finally ended its once-a-year Finale upgrade cycle (which was designed to generate revenue, not to benefit users). The latest version released is 2014, and while they have announced a free 2014.5 update, it only offers some bug fixes and minor improvements. It still suffers from an old-fashioned ’80s-era interface that is dependent on dozens of palettes, requires the continual clicking on tools to accomplish basic tasks, and lags far behind Sibelius in important features like collision avoidance.


There are new notation products on the market, but most of them focus on tablet computing (like StaffPad). There are free programs like MuseScore and a few others that might attract users with very limited budgets.

PreSonus’s NOTION considers itself music notation software, but I haven’t seen anything done in the program that I would consider at a professional level. These programs can be fun and have potential, but I can’t imagine they will be adequate for professional engraving/copying work.

One company that hopes to upset the marketplace is Steinberg, the German firm that manufactures Cubase and Nuendo. They took the bold step of hiring the Sibelius team in London, and set them to work creating a new notation program. There is a lot of potential here. They are led by a very knowledgeable musician, Daniel Spreadbury, who was the brilliant manager for Sibelius. And the team he’s working with has created a notation program before, so they know the pitfalls. Since they have to compete with two very entrenched programs with lots of momentum, they need to build something better. They have studied some of the subtle aspects of music engraving, talked to many professionals, and have tried to learn what most notation programs still get wrong. I could write a very long article about this last item; it’s an area of deep concern. For example, horizontal spacing is poorly understood and no program has ever done it as well as plate engravers did 100 years ago. Every music notation program handles lyrics incorrectly (in terms of spacing), and vertical spacing/justification is equally problematic. Steinberg is aware of these things, and you can read about the work they are doing on Daniel’s blog.

They have also created a new music font structure (SMuFL) and created a free font called Bravura, loosely based on the old Not-a-Set dry-transfer symbols, which were in turn based on Breitkopf and Hertel’s engraving tools. Dry-transfer symbols are mass produced on transparent plastic sheets so they can be applied to a music page by rubbing the back with a burnisher. It was a common technique for autography that was used before computer notation software became prevalent.

Engraving sample created with Not-a-Set

Engraving sample created with Not-a-Set

Engraving sample created with Bravura

Engraving sample created with Bravura


If you use Sibelius 7, I think that’s a good version to stick with for now. (That’s the version I use for most of my work.)

If you use Sibelius 7.5, that’s fine too. (This version added some small new features, but it also changed the file format, so it’s annoying to share files with people working in earlier versions.)

If you use Sibelius 6, that’s a little tougher call. It’s acceptable to work in, but there are some limitations and it’s now several versions back. I would recommend moving on from that version before long.

If you use any version prior to 6, I would recommend you upgrade to 7 or 7.5 before you get trapped in the version 8 licensing scheme. But act quickly, you’ll need to buy 7/7.5 from a retailer who has existing stock since Sibelius is no longer selling those versions.


Finale 2014d is pretty stable and it’s the version I tend to use for most projects. But opening old files in new versions of Finale can cause problems, or in some cases it won’t even work. Finale’s free NotePad is surprisingly the best choice for opening old Finale files and allows for simple editing.

If you use a version of Finale prior to ver. 2012, it’s time to upgrade.

Notation software is absolutely essential for virtually anyone who needs to write down a musical idea. I have about 70,000 music files on my computer, and I’d estimate 2/3 of them are in Sibelius format, the rest in Finale and SCORE format. I don’t foresee abandoning Sibelius or Finale any time in the future, and I am reasonably confident the programs will remain functional and useful, even if they don’t add any significant new features or fix the glaring problems that remain. Perhaps Steinberg’s entry into this market will shake things up and force some serious competition among all of the programs. Despite all of the grim news here, I remain optimistic and hopeful.

Bill Holab is the owner of Bill Holab Music, a company that publishes a select group of composers and provides high-end engraving/typography/design to the industry.

You might also enjoy

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

52 thoughts on “To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade? A Notation Software Update

  1. Mark

    As a university music professor and music editor, I’ve been needing an update like this on the notation software industry for a number of years, but never had the time to do the research. This article very helpfully fills that gap. I’m going to print this and save it for reference. Thanks for your work here!

  2. Stephen Ferre

    As a user of all three programs from very early on, I agree with much of what you said. I was disappointed by the news of the Sibelius release, which I won’t be adopting even as Sibelius 7.5 has started exhibiting a disturbing of habit of losing its temporary files while multiple files are open, meaning that the original files are lost as well. (Save often and backup daily!) Sibelius still has some notational problems, which I doubt they have fixed, since I’ve been reporting them for years, and they haven’t done anything about it. Two of the publishers I work for have skipped Sibelius 7.5. Finale 2014 is in a similar situation. It’s not as stable as 2012, and there are long-standing bugs, some of which I reported as early as v. 3.5. One of the above publishers stopped at Finale 2010, and the other just refuses to use it in house, although it is (or at least was) used by a few of their composers. (Score is still their program of choice.)
    Avid’s new licensing model will certainly discourage many (like myself) from upgrading. I made a point of buying ProTools before the annual license becomes mandatory. I use it only occasionally, and it would be silly for me to invest that much in a part-time program. I’m certain that others will think of Sibelius the same way. I preferred Finale’s scheme better. You buy a perpetual license and then have the option of buying their annual upgrade. You can opt out of the dogs (like Finale 2009) or save your money for the significant improvements, like 2012. With Sibelius, I will be waiting for the significant upgrades before I move on (unless my publishers insist), and I will be looking forward to Steinberg’s offering, which looks good thus far. At least, Daniel Spreadbury is saying all the right things.

    1. Bill H.


      Thanks for your comments here. I wanted to add that I’ve never experienced the problems you describe with Sibelius 7.5 losing temporary files. You might ask Avid about that, since none of the users I know who work in that version have experienced that problem either.


      1. Brian B

        Stephen Ferre, you said, I preferred Finale’s scheme better. You buy a perpetual license and then have the option of buying their annual upgrade.” And yet that’s almost EXACTLY what Avid is doing. $89 gets you the perpetual license upgrade. The change is now you pay the $89 every year. That’s what the whole software industry is moving to. If you’re not on board for the long haul they would prefer you not be a customer. They want long term customers who invest in the future of the company, not the guys who buy v.6 and wait a decade or more to upgrade. Those customers aren’t worth their time.

        I also agree with Bill, I’ve never lost temp files with Sibelius 7.5 or 7.5.1. I find it far more stable and reliable than 7.0.x. I concur with Bill as well that you really need to chat with Avid about it.

        1. Stephen Ferre

          It’s different in that Sibelius 8 offers me (a professional music engraver) no new features worth paying for. I would have to pay $89 for an upgrade I don’t need (or want) so that I can pay $89 next year and the year after for what will probably be a series of incremental upgrades or maintenance releases with no new features. I won’t be able to just hop in next year if there is an upgrade that I like.

          Basically, I’m happy to support Avid’s development if Avid is actually developing, not tinkering. It might be different if they were actually fixing long=standing bugs or problems.

          Until now, I’ve owned every version starting at 1.0. I think I’ve supported them pretty well. Do I think they actually want to cut their user base to just people who can afford to stump up an annual tithe? I would think they would rather dominate the market, especially now, when Steinberg has a promising product coming to market. That may cause them to change their minds.

          1. Brian B

            I’m afraid you missed the point. The entire software industry has moved or is moving in this licensing direction. Your decision not to upgrade isn’t going to cause Sibelius any issues, but what are you going to do, as a professional engraver, when a client sends you a Sibelius 8 or 8.5 or 9 file? Are you going to back to them and ask them to send you an older format? As an IT engineer, that’d be like me telling a client who sends me a Microsoft SQL Server 2014 db file that I can’t work on for them because I’m still on SQL 2005 or SQL 2012 and to please export the data in a format I can work on. That’s never going to happen around here, and trust me, the tools I use to run my daytime job are far more EXPENSIVE than Sibelius, but it’s how I make a living. I’d think twice before going to a publisher or engraver who wasn’t on the latest version.

            As for Steinberg, with all due respect. They have nothing. They have a blog with some lovely screen shots. I haven’t even seen a YouTube video demo’ing what they’re doing. There’s no release date. No pricing set. No mention of what they’ll be doing on compatibility (do you really want to import your Sibelius scores as MusicXML?). I know people love to hope and dream about Steinberg, but the fact of software is even if they hit the ground running in the next year or two (if then), chances are very good it’ll be buggy, have compatibility and stability problems with some systems, and who knows if any publisher will even support it out of the gate. Based on my experience in the IT world, Steinberg, even if released today, can’t and won’t be competitive with Finale or Sibelius for 5 years. That said, it’d be fantastic if they were. If they could actually win major accounts over like major universities and schools, but the overwhelming vast majority of install base of the Finale and Sibelius aren’t going to jump ship to a 1.0 product without any proof it can go head-to-head with the big boys. Yes, Yamaha has $, but Yamaha is also not afraid to cut and run if they don’t see profit eventually. I have faith in Daniel and his team, but they have undertaken a daunting task that they have to do without recycling a single line of code (that’d be illegal since Avid owns 100% of what he and his team wrote while working for Sibelius). Time will tell if they can really pull it off before Yamaha pulls the plug.

            1. Stephen Ferre

              I haven’t missed the point. My main clients are historically slow to move to new versions of programs. One is still in v. 6 , another only just moved to v. 7.0, even when I and one of their composers were pushing them to 7.5. As I said before one is also stuck in Finale 2010, and the other refuses to have Finale in house. Saying that, they still prefer Score 4 over anything else. The other has had an editorial personnel change, and now prefers Sibelius over Score, basically since no one in house knows how to use Score anymore. Publishers are cost conscious and don’t buy every new version.

              I’ve always been ahead of them, version-wise, but if they do want me to upgrade, I will, reluctantly. I also have to say that my colleagues (where I teach) are also reluctant to change – some use v. 5, others v. 6, very few use v. 7, almost none v. 7.5. Avid are trying to force them to catch up, and I have to say that the new version is unlikely to convince any of them to do so.

  3. David

    Nice article. One small point: Upgrading to Sibelius 7 or 7.5 from an older version will have no change in the licensing scheme. In fact, it’s probably cheaper just to go to “8”. Any owner of any Sibelius version will be “kicked off” in June of 2016 unless they upgrade to “8”. That means they will have to start from scratch to buy it. But… anyone who upgrades to the “perpetual” track will still own the product. So, if someone upgrades to 7.5 now, they will own it. The same person could upgrade to “8” and they would own that as well. At the end of the year, they still own it, they will have to pay $89 to get any additional upgrades but the product is theirs to keep. In the unlikely event that Sibelius actually adds something of value to the product in the next year, the 7.5 won’t get it while the “8” people will.

    1. Brian B

      Bingo! I don’t get why people don’t understand that. Why anyone would buy the upgrade to 7.x and not just pay $89 to go to 8 is beyond me. In fact, the upgrade to 7 from 6 is more expensive than the upgrade to 8 from 6. Very illogical for Bill to recommend that.

  4. Ralph Raymond Hays

    Don’t get the Finale 2014 upgrade. It is deplorable and will give you far more headaches than it provides improvement over previous versions.

    1. Ralph L. Bowers Jr.

      Quite the contrary Finale 2014d is an exceptional application as is Sibelius 6, 7.1.3, and 7.5.1.

      Now if you’d like to discuss a “Finbelius” notation application we’d all love that…….hoping the Steinberg project under Daniel’s leadership will produce this hoped for outcome by version 2, or 3.

  5. Gene

    Thank you for this article! I would be eager to hear anyone’s impressions of the new Staffpad system. The trailer promises a lot, and it seems so foolproof. . .

  6. Gear Fisher

    Fascinating read Bill. I can assure you and the community at large that we at MakeMusic are deeply committed to Finale. Our re-invigorated team is working hard on numerous quality and performance improvements, and I’m quite certain that will be evident in the coming months and years ahead.

  7. Ralph Middenway

    Thanks, Bill,

    Thorough, succinct, and to the extent of my lesser experience, I agree with everything you say.

    From this composer’s point of view, Sibelius 7 (7.1.3) is the one to beat for now, but I’m with you on the Steinberg project.

    As far as corporate backup goes,
    given that Steinberg is a subsidiary of Yamaha, which has an immense investment in music across the spectrum, and
    given that Daniel Spreadbury and his team have been given some years to develop their new software,
    I cannot imagine even a remote chance that their new programme will go the way of Sibelius or Finale, that is, to be strangled by the money-changers in some financial temple.

    We live in hope, and in Steinberg we trust.

  8. David Schneider

    Haven’t been keeping up to date with the state of notation software, so this was very interesting. Would be curious to know the author’s thoughts on LilyPond.

    1. Bill H.

      I haven’t used LilyPond, nor do I know anyone who uses it for professional work. It might be o.k., and the samples on their site don’t look too bad. Given the complexity of what this work entails, I’d have to spend a lot of time working with it to give you an informed opinion.

  9. Oops

    “Opening old files in new versions of Finale can cause problems, or in some cases it won’t even work.”

    BIG problem. HUGE.

  10. Ljova

    Thank, Bill! Is it really a fact, David, that users of Sibelius 7 will have their rightfully owned software disabled in 2016? That sounds illegal – I mean, we didn’t sign a lease, we bought a piece of software, shouldn’t it be usable even if it’s no longer officially supported?

    I just want to chime in about Notion — though it has serious gaps in layout and publishing features, it is nevertheless a fairly complete program for composing & sketching and even printing in the case of roughly 85% of small-ensemble music. Notion’s iPad app ($14.99) is amazing for the price, and you can export your work via MusicXML to Sibelius, Finale, etc.; you can export MIDI files, WAV files, PDF — these are very powerful features for a variety of uses, writing or editing and printing music on the go without the need of a computer. The desktop app is not as full-featured as Sibelius, but it has come a long way in a short time, just think back to Sibelius 3 or 4. I’m bullish on Notion and want to encourage their developers — I often use their app for sketching, but transfer to Sibelius via MusicXML to flesh out printing details. Their tech support is quick & helpful.

    All of this said, I wish someone made more of an investment in MusicXML standard (it’s owned by MakeMusic), so that all of these programs became even more interchangeable, just like ProTools, Nuendo, Digital Performer & Logic all import audio, video & MIDI files with the same fluency; just like the MP3 format is ubiquitous throughout the universe. Each notation program has its strengths & flaws, but at its core, we as a music notating community speak the same language.

    1. David

      Nothing gets disabled on perpetual track, ever. I should have been clearer, sorry. Anything that is 7.5 and before is yours to keep.

      My point was- it would be better to get “8” at this time rather than to try and get 7.5. One would be further along in the licensing scheme.

        1. David

          Yup. The whole “upgrade scheme” doesn’t seem to be the complaint that people have with Avid, in fact those that have earlier versions can get up to speed for a very cheap price. It’s the lack of development that’s the problem, coupled with Avid’s notorious customer service.

  11. Cynthia

    Very informative! Does any other Mac owner recall Nightingale? Numerous academics recommended it to me when I bought my first music processing software in the early 90s. I used Nightingale to create elegant Schenker graphs for my dissertation, which I’ve yet to be able to do in Finale.

    1. Bill H.

      Nightingale was developed by Don Byrd. Don wrote a spacing program for us to use in manual engraving (it basically did the math for us and printed out spacing guides for each system). He was one of the early pioneers in computerized music notation. I didn’t use Nightingale, though.

  12. Lonnie

    Nice review of where the market is now. I hoped to see some insight on compatibility issues with Windows 10 which is being pushed down to pc’s by Microsoft.

    1. Brian B

      Thus far I’ve heard of none. As a MS partner, as soon as I have RTM Win10 code I’ll get it installed on a freshly formatted system and we’ll see. I’m not expecting any. If your products runs on Windows 8.1 it’ll run in 10 without issues. Win7 programs should also run without significant issues. If you’re still running software designed for ancient XP code your mileage may vary, hence my #1 justification for everyone paying the $89 to get yearly maintenance and upgrades from Sibelius. It’s far less expensive than Adobe charges for non-perpetual licenses of PhotoShop.

  13. George

    I’d encourage you to take another look at MuseScore. The new version has many improvements in engraving and layout among other things. IMHO it now rivals F and S and of course it’s free and open source

  14. Pingback: Music Notation Software Update 2015 | The Bis Key Chronicles

  15. Nicholas

    I’m a long-time Finale user, and I have to say, it’s truly exciting to see Steinberg getting into the game!

    Probably no one remembers this, but way way back, Steinberg’s CuBase offered integrated notation including part extraction. For financial reasons at the time, I used the Steinberg alternative to Finale for a long time, with no complaints from my performers.

    Since becoming a Finale expert (reluctantly I might add!), I’ve been hoping for a competitor that might at least force Finale to step up their game.

    Another competitor in the field is highly welcome, and I can see where Steinberg may tackle this ominous software with some real smarts!

    Thanks for the infos!

  16. James Harkins

    There was a comment above asking for opinions on LilyPond, and Bill’s response rather sharply underestimates LilyPond’s capabilities. For instance, Urs Liska and a few others compiled a scholarly edition of Oskar Fried’s Lieder, engraved 100% in LilyPond, and it won the Best Edition 2014 award of the German Music Publishers’ Association. This is rather better than “might be OK.” (Admittedly, as other posts at lilypondblog explain, it wasn’t easy — but any notation software would struggle with post-Romantic piano music: 2-3 voices per staff, cross-staff beaming and slurring etc.)

    I’ve used LilyPond for my own scores for the last five years or so, and I can say confidently that the amount of manual tweaking that it takes to get a “good enough” result is a small fraction of what I used to have to do in Finale. Many composers will be put off by its text input, but what you get for it is automated layout that’s 95% of the way there (instead of 70%). Whether you take to LilyPond or not depends, I think, on cognitive style. If you feel like, “Don’t bore me with a lot of technical mumbo-jumbo — when do I get to put some notes on screen?” — LilyPond won’t be for you. If, instead, you feel, “I can’t stand making the same adjustment by hand 10,000 times — isn’t there some system that could just get it right?” — you might prefer LP. (Sometimes LP needs a little help to get it right, but LP itself is highly customizable, and the user community is very responsive.)

    Oh, and LP is free/libre software, fully open-source. No licensing drama.

  17. Emilio Le Roux

    I do use Notion for my professional needs. I can’t imagine writing music at the same speed in any other application, and I do know Sibelius and Finale pretty well.

    I have no doubt of Finale and Sibelius power for music edition. But Notion has a brilliant and ergonomic design so composers can focus on music. It delivers beautiful automatic engraving and spacing, comparable to such of Lilypond, and they are progressively growing in options to fine tune this engraving. It’s not necessary to imagine professional music written in Notion because it exists – maybe not many people has adopted the software because of being afraid of staying off the standard , and I am not any famous composer – but I have pieces for solo instruments, ensembles and orquestra made on it, I always managed to deliver beautiful scores and parts, and I don’t think I’m switching back to software that struggles with outdated ergonomics and code just because most professionals use it.

    1. Ljova

      Notion is fine, but it has some serious problems with layouts – you can’t force a number of measures onto a system, onto a page — and you can’t have custom headers, either. There are other problems, too numerous to go into here — but the great point about Notion is that it has a full-featured iPad client, which is a real blessing, and, frankly, when Finale/Sibelius have satisfied all of my needs, all I really need is an iPad client to make changes on the fly. (My laptop weighs 4.5 times of my iPad – that’s a significant load when on tour or on foot.). Notion is growing. Slowly, but growing. I’m bullish on its development.

      1. Emilio Le Roux

        I agree that Notion still has a gap. To me, the slurs are the biggest problem. I am also encouraging (bullying, perhaps) the developers so they cover a little more ground.
        Everytime I hit a barrier in Notion I try to migrate to Finale, Sibelius or Musescore. But then I find a way or trick to do what I want in Notion. Virtually the only problem I can’t overcome is the eventual misplaced slur that can’t be fixed.

        I recently found a way to notate feathered beams for accelerandos. For repetition boxes, custom brackets, graphics and contemporary techniques I use special fonts (Bravura was so welcome for this). It’s also possible to add custom spacing in some ways, and they just added better tuplets and the ability to edit the style of every element. I have posted several of these tips and tricks on the Notion forums.

        I know, why bother, if the other guys do these things natively? Still, the amount of time saved on every other task is awesome. I’m addicted to it.

  18. Bill H.

    I think I should clarify a bit about why I made my comments about sticking with Sibelius version 7 instead of upgrading to 8, as it’s come up in many of the comments here.

    I have no problem with supporting Avid’s development of the software and paying them to do so. But since they haven’t added meaningful engraving or notation features since version 7, I am suggesting to many users to just wait to upgrade until they really need to do so.

    What reasons would necessitate upgrading? 1. compatibility with a future operating system or hardware. (for example, IF Sib. 7 didn’t run well under Windows 10, but Sib. 8 did, that’s a good reason to upgrade). 2. Collaboration with other users where you want to work in the same file format.

    Other than that, there’s little reason to upgrade, and the burden is on Avid to innovate and provide compelling new features or improvements/fixes that make us want to upgrade.

  19. Torbjörn

    Thanks for a great post!
    I’m using Sibelius 6. What is the main reason to upgrade to a newer version? I haven’t noticed any missed features.
    Which version to upgrade to?


  20. Jon Jeffrey Grier

    Very informative. Thanks to all for the insights. I would be interested to know how others using notation software feel about Overture, which I have been using since 1996. It has its bugs & quirks, tech support can be slow, and I’ve been awaiting version 5 for about 3 years. But it sure is easy to use – fine adjustments to page layout and spacing of elements are a breeze and I am very pleased with the look of my scores, especially chamber ensembles. There is hope that version 5 will appear soon. Anyone else using Overture?

    1. David

      I started out using Overture 4 a few years ago but switched to Sibelius because my colleagues all use Sibelius. For me, switching to S helped me greatly mainly because the version of O I used was far too outdated and unstable.

  21. Dean Wette

    I was there back in 1987 when Finale 1.0 came out. I used it on a Mac SE and worked on engraving scores for faculty composers as a graduate assistant. That was brutally difficult. Slow, no screen real estate, immature software. I stopped doing it many (~15) years ago, although I did pick up some Paul Revere Music Publishing awards along the way for my work.

  22. Henry Howey

    So far no one has noted that Sibelius is 64-bit while Finale remains 32-bit. For me this is an ultimate difference. I hate Sibelius in its lame note input. BUT, my research involves HEARING tiny errors deep inside MS scores. Only a 64-bit application can provide that.

  23. Pip Moss

    I’ve been happily using Finale 2008 on a Mac that won’t run any later version. Obviously, I’ve got to upgrade my computer soon (this summer hopefully), which will necessitate upgrading Finale as well. My projects are almost exclusively choral music transcriptions. I want to stay with Finale because I’m used to it. Is F-2014 the way to go? Am I likely to have problems bringing 2008 files into it?

    1. Henry Howey

      As the owner of the Finale List I can say, stick with Finale. However, you must use 2014d as anything before that will not function properly. MakeMusic did not warn anyone before this happened.

      The biggest challenge will be to adjust to the post-2012 handling of the text notation hierarchy.

  24. don stewart

    Not much discussion of any future for SCORE, is there?
    I use scor4 daily, and often use Winscore. Leland’s conception is still the best, in my (and other people’s) opinion. Rather than re-invent the wheel, why not get the necessary adjustments (there are quite a number) in place?

    1. Stephen Ferre

      Don, those necessary adjustments would need the support of Leland Smith’s estate (which has been slow in coming), and then some time for new programmers to dissect his code, which is no mean feat, since it’s in Fortran and not a modern visual language. As much as I prefer the look of Score, it would need a complete overhaul to catch up with Sibelius and Finale in use-ability. That would take considerable time. A bug-free WinScore would be a start, but even that would probably take to much time for a new programmer to sort out.

  25. Jon Corelis

    A comment from a long time Musescore user: I’ve found Musescore, which is free, is excellent for producing printed scores. It also generates sound files which have been improved recently, though they still probably aren’t good enough to produce professional-level synth recordings.

  26. David

    Dear Bill,
    I just found your article today and I pretty much agree with most of the things you say. However I am still wondering why people never talk about Notation Composer, you know the one from, besides Finale/Sibelius/MuseScore. They have been in the market for so long and are still overseen in my opinion.

  27. Janet Jennings

    Hi. I am a composer working in New Zealand. Unlike most people, I am a reluctant computer user. My focus is writing music and Sibelius is merely a tool for me. I have just upgraded from Sibelius 5 to Sibelius 8. I am not happy with some aspects of Sibelius 8 and would welcome feedback about the issues I am experiencing:
    1. The stave is blurry. The staves appear clearer on Sibelius 5. I have downloaded a Sibelius 8 score using the inbuilt PDF writer and the printed version is clearer than the on-screen version but some lines are nevertheless thinner/thicker than others.
    2. I downloaded the sound files. The sounds are fine but fast rhythms are not played played back cleanly – the notes don’t speak quickly enough for even simple semiquaver rhythms to play back accurately.
    3. I have found some glitches such as problems when transferring motifs from one stave to another with a different clef – the new passage wants to appear in its original clef.
    Extra gadgetry and ‘features’are probably central to many people’s interests and needs but my focus is notating and presenting clean and clear representations of my music (mostly chamber, choral, orchestral and quite conservatively notated) for people to use. Am I using the wrong programme? Is there another and better way of notating my music and sharing it with others?

  28. Deke Roberts

    As someone from the other end of the market this is fascinating. I was a computer geek in the working week and a musician outside of it until retirement, now I’m a full time musician (Musicians never retire, they just sometimes stop playing) and I still have the original Sibelius7 (1990?) on a RISCpc upstairs. Sibelius didn’t honour their pledge to support early adopters though to doomsday (Unless doomsday has been and gone and I missed it) so when I finally submitted to the inevitable and built myself a regular PC I didn’t take advanage of their non-too-generous offer to buy the whole damn program again, partly because I was still miffed with them but also because I was running Linux, and to this day none of the major companies run on Linux. The community does seem to be well into producing a reliable alternative at last, but right now I’m running Notion on a 2nd hand Windows laptop.

    Quite simply, it gets my ideas down quickly and easily, gives me a rough idea what they’re going to sound like, and if anyone needs a chart to work from I can run off a perfectly acceptable copy on my home printer.

    Mind you, if Steinberg/Dorico can pull a cat out of the hat and come up with something that will read both Notion and last century Sibelius files, I will be seriously tempted by their crossgrade offer. $299 is less than I paid for the original Sibelius7 a quarter of a century ago.

  29. Grant

    Currently paying the price for my mistake of updating Sibelius a year ago. Despite having a $600 “perpetual” license, I am still required to shell out $90 for the recent v8.5 update because my “upgrade plan” expired a week before this was released. $90 for a .5 version update is absurd, especially for a basic staff size feature that should have been included in the platform since the first release. Prospective Sibelius buyers beware.


    Very interesting and informative overview of this market. I have a problem making permitted copy of Sibelius 7.5 from my iMac to MacBook Pro which gets totally stuck on ‘Verifying’
    What to do when it gets stuck thus?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Conversation and respectful debate is vital to the NewMusicBox community. However, please remember to keep comments constructive and on-topic. Avoid personal attacks and defamatory language. We reserve the right to remove any comment that the community reports as abusive or that the staff determines is inappropriate.