Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sibelius Vs. Finale Part I

So I’ve finally made some time to note my impressions of Sibelius 4 and here are my thoughts.

For background about why I decided to try Sibelius after using Finale for years, check out my previous posts here and here. I’ll be contrasting Sibelius 4 with Finale 2004, my most recent version.

Sibelius 4 was announced just after I cross-graded to Sibelius 3, so after quickly notating a few lead sheets for an upcoming gig, I decided to set the program aside and wait until version 4 arrived. In other words, I am approaching Sibelius 4 as a new user, rather than as one upgrading from Sibelius 3.

A brief digression, I have to note that Sibelius’ upgrade policy seems unfair to me. I see no reason for Sibelius’ policy of differentiating registration cutoff dates by country when honoring free upgrades. In particular, giving only a few days grace period in the States from when Sibelius 4 was announced seems unfair. I did a quick net search, and most of the big name companies (i.e. Adobe) have more liberal upgrade policies and grant free upgrades to users who have purchased a program 30 to 60 days prior to the announcement of a new version.

In my case, I registered Sibelius 3 before the short U.S. grace period, but within the U.K/Australia period. It felt quite frustrating to read that I wasn’t going to get the free upgrade, when I hadn’t yet paid the credit card bill for the program. I contacted Sibelius about this and was referred to someone in the company who was kind enough to send me the free upgrade, but I shouldn’t have had to do that. In my opinion, it is reasonable for a software buyer to expect a free upgrade if a new version of the product is announced within 30 days of purchase.

I should emphasize that Sibelius was quite courteous about this as well as a registration issue I’d contacted them about with version 3. The people I’ve spoken to there have been very helpful once they’re made aware of an issue and I’d like to acknowledge that.

Now that that’s out of the way, lets take a look at the program. Instead of trying to give a comprehensive overview/full review of the program, I’m simply going to describe how I used it and what my impressions are. Additional impressions will be coming soon in part II.

Here’s are some general observations first. Overall, Sibelius is an impressive program, and I especially prefer its GUI to Finale’s interface. That being said, the two programs approach things very differently; it will take some time for a Finale user to really “get” Sibelius’ approach. Personally, I find that Sibelius' approach suits my work style better, but longtime Finale users may find the learning curve to be steeper than those whose first music notation experience is Sibelius.

Also, no music notation software is perfect. Both Finale and Sibelius require the user to tweak various aspects of their scores for optimal results.

Now lets take a look at how I’ve been using the program.

Step Entering Lead Sheets
I started off by entering a klezmer clarinet piece that included lots of articulations and diverse note values onto a lead sheet template with the Inkpen font. I found it quite easy to enter the melody using the computer keypad. Sibelius’ interface feels much more intuitive to me compared to Finale's. I love the navigator, and I find that it takes less keystrokes/mouse clicks to enter data relative to Finale. I did find that the slurs were overlapping the accidentals though. I was able to adjust the individual slurs to avoid the accidentals, but a sharp-eyed reader might notice that they are not uniform. The differences are minor and won’t make a difference on the bandstand, but I thought I should mention it. I do wish that the program was able to recognize and correct the conflict on its own.

I also discovered an apparent bug where slurs on the first system don’t respond properly to the up arrow key and move down instead of up. In general, there seems to be a bug that causes the arrow keys to sometimes function inconsistently when adjusting slurs and lines.

I also entered a klezmer piece with a number of trills and an ossia. The trills on the G on top of the staff clashed with the notehead; all the others were fine. It’s easy enough to move them up, but, again, I wish this would happen by default.

When I locked five measures in a system, the last two notes were condensed onto the barline and wouldn’t shift using the standard moving command (alt+shift and the arrow keys). I was able to move them using the properties window and manually entering spacing positions (which show the adjustments in real-time), but I’d also like to be able to drag the individual notes right or left as can be done in Finale. Sibelius doesn’t allow you to move notes relative to each other by dragging.

Inserting Chord Symbols
To test this, I entered a jazz lead sheet with complex chord symbols. Entering jazz chords in Sibelius is a breeze compared to Finale. You can simply type in the chord suffix you want, unlike Finale which requires you to add it to the chord library first. It’s easy to create chords with “stackable” alterations using the drop-down word menus. I prefer Sibelius' method for selecting all chord symbols means that they can be globally adjusted in less steps than it takes in Finale.

New Helsinki Font
To sus out the new Helsinki font, I entered a short classical piano piece, which included dynamics, slurs, hairpins, and fingering. I like this font a lot. It’s clear, easy to read, and looks great. I think it’s a sharper looking font than Finale’s default fonts.

Inserting Graphics
I sometimes like to insert a little logo graphic on my sheet music. Sibelius scales graphics down proportionately when their size is adjusted. Finale’s default setting doesn’t keep the proportions constant when adjusting imported graphics, so after shrinking the graphic by selecting and dragging it, I often have to adjust the proportions. I prefer Sibelius’ approach.

My personal preference for most of my charts so far is the Inkpen font, but as I noted, the new Helsinki font looks sharp too. I think that Inkpen and Helsinki are sharper fonts than Finale’s Jazz and Maestro.

First and Second endings:
One annoying thing I’ve noticed in both Finale and Sibelius is that the default lines for first and second endings are not set high enough to accommodate the default settings for chord symbols. This is easy enough to change, but I’d think these should be the default settings in both programs for lead sheet templates.

I do find Sibelius’ system for entering first and second endings to be much more sensible than Finale’s, but I did find a bug where using the right arrow key to adjust the second ending pushes the end of the line to the left instead of the right. You can work around this by grabbing the ending with the mouse and adjusting it that way.

Kontakt Player
I like the sound of Kontakt Player, but wish it was easier to change instruments.

Copying to Word
Sibelius allows you to simply copy music to Microsoft Word. You simply select go to the edit menu > select> graphic, and adjust the size of your selection by clicking and dragging. You can then copy and paste as usual – CTRL C and CTRL V. I copied a lead sheet and it worked perfectly. This is a great feature that allows me to email a lead sheet to someone who doesn’t have Sibelius or the Scorch reader.

Sibelius Help Center Chat Page
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Sibelius is extremely responsive to user questions. I’ve posed several questions on Sibelius’ chat page, and all of them were answered promptly and correctly.

Importing Finale files
I tried to import some Finale files and found that Sibelius crashes upon import of some Finale ETF files. Sibelius recommends importing Finale Music XML files instead of ETF files, but since Finale left this option out of the Mac version, I'm going to have to explore other options like Recordare's Dolet.

Part II is coming soon:
I hope to report on my experience with Sibelius' "Dynamic Parts", Flexi-Time, Recordare's Dolet, the new video feature, MIDI files, go more in depth about Layout and more. I'll also round out my impressions of the program, sum up how it compares to Finale, and inform about my decision.