Monday, December 12, 2005

Sibelius Vs. Finale Part II

Well, it took longer than I expected it to, but here’s the second part of my Sibelius series. The first part can be found here. If you haven’t yet read it, please take the time to do so first. This part covers the features we’d promised to cover as well as some miscellaneous odds and ends.

Dynamic Parts
One of the hyped new features in Sibelius 4 is dynamic parts and the feature is terrific. I've done a number of arrangements and I love not having to extract parts. It works exactly as expected; edits to the score are simply automatically done to the individual instrument parts, which can be viewed and printed by selecting them in the parts window. In my experience, the only tweaking the parts then needed is slight adjustment of a few layout issues. These were small and involved inserting a system break or two and adjusting the location of some text.

Flexi time works great. I was able to easily play in songs, and even more complicated melodies with many tied notes reproduced accurately. For me, this is a much more preferable method to scanning when I need to import a lead sheet, or quick chart and it gets the job done quickly, especially since in either case, the chord symbols and lyrics need to be entered manually.

When I tried Sibelius 3, I was able to successfully import Finale files in ETF format. In Sibelius 4 though, I found that certain Finale ETF files would not import and would consistently cause Sibelius to crash. So, I downloaded Recordare’s Dolet demo, which converts the Finale files to MusicXML files and tried that solution out.

I’ve imported several lead sheets and arrangements into Sibelius after converting them to MusicXML files. Sibelius imported them nicely, and the layout only needed minor tweaking to mirror the original Finale layout. Dolet doesn’t translate the title and composer so those do need to be re-entered. It does translate lyrics. I converted a song from a musical I’d worked on and the lyrics ported fine. Slurs transferred nicely, but grace notes needed their position adjusted. All in all, the conversions worked quite well. This means that I can easily redo any of my Finale files in Sibelius, should the need arise.

The video function is a neat concept. I fooled around with this briefly, and the inclusion of a video player and the ability to mark hit points in the score and compose to them seems quite useful. It also apparently works for mp3’s although this use is unsupported.

MIDI files
Sibelius handles MIDI files just fine. I had no problem opening and editing MIDI files.

In general, I like the way Sibelius handles document setup and layout. There are a few elements that I initially found confusing, but that may much to do with the fact that I was used to Finale’s approach. It is taking me a while to unlearn Finale.

This was the only significant area where I found myself preferring Finale to Sibelius. In general, it seems to me that Finale’s default placement for slurs often looks better than Sibelius’. In Sibelius, I found that the default position of some slurs (usually on pairs of notes a third apart) was too far away from the notes. This is true for both the Helsinki and Inkpen fonts. It’s only an aesthetic point, and Sibelius does let you move and adjust slurs, but I wish the default positioning were more to my taste. Also, I noted a bug that occurs when moving slurs using the arrow keys. (I noted this in part 1). I know that Sibelius is aware of this issue and I understand that it is being addressed in their forthcoming upgrade.

I like Sibelius’ filter feature a lot. It makes it so easy to select all of a given item and modify them at the same time in a way that I was not as easily able to do in Finale. I also like that edits are in real time, so I can see the results, and tweak them, if need be, without having to quit the properties box.

I get better results when scanning standard fonts as opposed to jazz/handwritten fonts, but it is often faster/easier to enter the notes again rather than scanning them. In particular, Photoscore seems to have difficulty with pickup measures. I tried scanning two simple lead sheets from the Dveykus songbook, and I could have entered the songs faster with Flexi-time or step entry. These were simple lead sheets notated in Finale’s default font; it doesn’t get much easier than this. Nevertheless a fair number of corrections were needed. Also, chord symbols and lyrics are not imported. I’d think that the technology could be improved. Finale’s scan feature doesn’t work any better, though, in my experience. Music OCR technology hasn’t fully arrived IMO.

The full PhotoScore Professional (not included with Sibelius) does have many additional features (i.e. importing PDF files), and presumably works much better, but I didn’t buy the program so I can’t provide any impressions.

Klezmer Key Signatures
Sibelius does not currently recognize “ethnic” key signatures, although work-arounds are apparently possible. Since I prefer to notate klezmer melodies in traditional keys with accidentals, this is not a problem for me, but if you prefer to notate klez using “ethnic” scales with sharps and flats in the key signature, this is something to keep in mind.

Repeat signs
Sibelius, unlike Finale, recognizes repeat signs and plays them back in the score. In Finale, I needed to go through a whole workaround to get repeats to play back. The only minor issue I have is that for some reason, when I create a repeat sign at the beginning of a score, Sibelius places it before the time signature. The position can be adjusted afterwards easily. I’m guessing that this is a bug too.

No music notation software can be perfect. Scores will always require some tweaking. The two big guns for software notation at this point are Finale and Sibelius, and the end product of both programs will satisfy the typical needs of most composers, arrangers, and bandleaders. However, upon comparing the two, Sibelius scores higher in my book. (Pun intended!) The user interface is much more intuitive and Sibelius’ printed output looks great! I’ve been able to do everything I’ve attempted in Sibelius and in most cases find it to be much easier to use when compared to Finale. In addition, my personal contact with various Sibelius representatives both through Sibelius’ help center chat page and via personal email have demonstrated that they take customer service quite seriously. So, I’ve switched to Sibelius.If you don't have a music notation program and you're trying to decide which to get, I'd reccomend Sibelius. Longtime Finale users may find the hassle of learning a new program more trouble than the potential gain, but even for these, it might be worth considering making the switch in order to avoid the “endless useless upgrade model” Finale has been on. Sibelius has a good crossgrade offer. Just skip one Finale upgrade and you'll be about even!

Amazon currently has it at a good price here:

If Finale wants me back, they’ll have to come get me. And, it’ll take more than their silly incentives; my “free” Finale 2004 T-shirt is still in its original shrink-wrap. I’m done paying for upgrades that don’t provide promised features, less than stellar customer service, and an outdated GUI.