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Sibelius Edition 1.21 - Reviewed March 2nd, 2001 (also see Feb. '02 update, below)
A powerful, intuitive program that produces professional-looking results. I was using Cakewalk up to this point, which is a good program for manipulating midi files, but not all that great for score-writing. Sibelius is a musician's dream - it includes all the things you'd want for score-writing, plus its playback function recognizes almost everything you include in the score, from first and second repeats to crescendos, articulation, you name it. While it is a logically laid-out program, the manual is indispensable for the first little while. I'd highly recommend letting them walk you through the "Quick Tour" offered in the manual. And if you get stuck, refer to the manual first (the help function included with the software is not as easy to find things in). There are lots of handy little keyboard shortcuts that you can easily miss if you don't do your research first. The score itself looks great, and you can customize it to just about anything you want - also, what you see on the screen is exactly what prints out on paper (something you don't get with some other programs). If you are not familiar with music software, or aren't too confident with computers in general, give yourself lots of time to familiarize yourself with all its various functions. While it's fairly intuitive to those of us who've hacked our way through dozens of music or visual arts programs, it's also a complicated, in-depth piece of software, and may intimidate the raw beginner. Be patient - it's worth it! - T.H.
If you're interested in buying Sibelius, talk to your local music store, or visit www.sibelius.com. Be prepared for a hefty price tag - like most high-level arts programs (e.g. Corel Draw, Adobe Photoshop), it's something you may have to save up for. If you are using Sibelius for a non-profit or educational purpose, you may qualify for an educational discount, so be sure to ask your supplier! There is also a free demo available on the Sibelius web site that gives you a taste of what it can do.
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Update on Sibelius (Feb. 28, 2002)
After having used Sibelius for almost a year now, I thought I'd add a few more notes on it...
I mentioned this in the original review, but I'm going to stress it again - the manual really comes in handy. I still keep it out on my desk for quick reference. The help that comes with the program is okay, but the hard copy manual is far more useful. It will save you a lot of time if you learn the basic functions by looking them up, rather than trying to discover them on your own (I say this because many software users treat their new software a bit like Ikea furniture - manual? I don't need no stinkin' manual! However in this case, trust me, you're better off using it.)
Another thing I'd like to reiterate, is that one of the smartest things you can do early on is to learn all the keyboard shortcuts. You can really over-use the mouse with this program if you're not careful, which can lead to major repetitive strain. They even suggest this in the manual, and they're absolutely right - learning as many keyboard shortcuts as possible makes the program easier to use, helps things go faster, and is much nicer on your poor wrists. They include a list of shortcuts with the manual, and for myself, I printed up a shortened version of the ones I use most often, and I'm keeping it tacked up above my desk until I've got them all memorized (almost there, but not quite!).
Another thing - be very sure to check that you have the minimum requirements listed for whatever version you get - in fact, you may be better off if you have a slightly better system than the one they list in the minimum requirements. It's a fairly intensive program, and while the files themselves aren't that big at all (very nice that way, you can pack lots of them onto a normal floppy!), using the program does seem to take a lot of memory, and I've noticed that my version crashes more often than I'd like (it's probably due to the fact that my computer is a kind of Frankenstein mutant that's been the victim of countless minor upgrades, all from different sources, and I probably don't have as fast a chip or as much memory as I really should).
Also, regarding the earlier comparisons I made to Cakewalk - one thing that I miss, and that I still use Cakewalk for, is being able to just randomly mess with the instruments, e.g. if you want to hear what any given line would sound like on violin, or flute, or whatever. If you want to try shuffling tracks around and hearing them in different voices, my suggestion is to take your Sibelius arrangement, save it as a midi file, and then play with it in a program more designed with midi manipulation in mind. Sibelius rocks for score writing, but I find that Cakewalk is still better for just sheer messing around with the midi sounds. That said, I'm finding Sibelius is great for arranging for my trio and other groups, since when you set a part to be for a certain instrument, it will automatically tell you if you go outside that instrument's range (the notes outside the range turn red) - indispensable when you're trying to keep track of the ranges of several different instruments that you might not play yourself. - T.H.