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Avid Sibelius First review

Our Rating :
Price when reviewed : £129
inc VAT

Not as flexible as the £595 full version but just as elegant. This is by far the best notation package available for amateur musicians.

When you’re composing or arranging music for other people to play, printed notation is usually the best means of communication. Sibelius is our favourite software for producing musical scores, but at £595 including VAT, it’s too expensive for most amateur musicians. Sibelius First, which is a brand new product based on Sibelius 6, remedies the situation.

It’s not the only cut-down version – Sibelius Student has been available for some time. However, the Student edition is designed for students to use at home in conjunction with the full version at school. Sibelius First is a more self-contained package, with additional features such as sophisticated part extraction for splitting a full score into its individual instruments for performers to read from.

One of the best things about Sibelius 6 is that it produces extremely attractive, functional scores with very little assistance. Another is that its default behaviour can be tweaked and customised to cater for specific requirements. Sibelius First generally lacks these customisation options, but its ability to produce attractive scores with minimal effort is just as strong as it is with the flagship version. As such, it’s not suitable for avant-garde composers who want to explore unconventional notation techniques. Meanwhile, its 16-stave limitation means it can’t cope with huge ensembles. However, it’s perfect for people who want to produce conventional scores for small and medium-sized ensembles.

There are lots of options for note entry, including the mouse, computer keyboard, on-screen piano keyboard or guitar fretboard and a MIDI controller. It’s also possible to scan scores and convert them into editable files, and even to record a monophonic instrument or voice with a microphone and convert it into notation. There’s a built-in synthesizer for playing scores back, and although it won’t flatter them, it serves as a useful reference.

Getting started can be daunting, but there’s an excellent tutorial video explaining the basics, and the New Score wizard sets everything up nicely. There are lots of smart touches, such as that notes that are out of an instrument’s range appear red, while notes that are tricky but not impossible for an experienced performer are maroon. Lyrics are handled elegantly, and there’s support for guitar TAB and chord diagrams, wind and brass fingering instructions, drum kit notation and an impressive list of other features on top of the basic dots on the page.

A feature called Magnetic Layout, which made its first appearance in Sibelius 6, is also included here. Sibelius already excelled at spacing notes automatically on the horizontal axis to ensure that each bar was clearly legible, giving lots of room for busy passages and condensing more sedate sections. With Magnetic Layout, the same thing happens on the vertical axis. Dynamic and expression markings and any other objects automatically move to avoid colliding with each other or notes that sit above or below the staff. It isn’t infallible, but if anything still looks untidy, it can be repositioned simply by dragging with the mouse.

There’s a lot in Sibelius 6 that is omitted here, and potential buyers should check the comparison table on the website to make sure everything they need is included. To our minds, Avid has got the balance just right. Professionals won’t be downgrading, but for amateur musicians, Sibelius First provides everything they need at the right price.


Price £129
Rating *****

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