Sibelius 3 Review

If you have been wishing to find powerful music notation software then your wish just came true! Sibelius 3 is a wish come true for notation beginners, professionals, teachers and anyone in between. Sibelius 3 is the perfect software for all your music notation needs including midi sequencing and .wav file output and playback. We’ll go over a few things at the beginning of this review and then towards the end we’ll try and organize all the features to show the power and ease of use of Sibelius 3.

Installing Sibelius 3 was quick and easy as was getting it all set up for my system. I’ll talk a lot about the User Guide that comes with Sibelius 3 in this review and I’ll start here. When you install Sibelius 3 you also have the option to install several other pieces of software at the same time. The User Guide gives you all the information you need in a step by step manner that you can follow along with. The information is clear, concise and correct. I had no problems at all in installing or following along in the User Guide.

In the process of reviewing Sibelius 3, each time I thought I had found everything that Sibelius 3 could do I ran across another feature and another and another and another and I’ll almost bet that I still haven’t used all the power available in Sibelius 3.

First lets have a look at the user interface. Its simplicity is wonderful. Don’t be fooled however by the simplicity. There are a multitude of powerful tools lying just under the surface that are easily accessible.

Click on image to above to see larger view in a new window.

When you start a new piece of music a couple of other small windows open that are very useful until you learn to move around easily in Sibelius. They are the:

Navigator Window

These windows are a dream when you are first learning to navigate in Sibelius 3. Simply clicking in the navigator window where you would like to go takes you there. This is useful when you are learning the software and you don’t read the instructions (who me!?!) to know that you can just hit the ESC button to deselect anything that is selected so you can move around in the interface. (of course, with that simple little omission on my part I jumped right into the manual to get the rest of the scoop before proceeding with the review.) Once you learn that, the Navigator window is still very valuable if you have a very large score and don’t want to drag lots of pages to get where you want. I might mention here too that scroll bars are turned off by default but you do have the option to turn them on if you like scrolling. You’ll notice throughout the Sibelius application that the developers have set up most everything so that you can customize how it looks, feels and works to your specifications. That is a very nice feature all on its own.

Keypad Window

The Keypad window has most all of the notation you need to create your masterpiece and is powered by either your mouse or the numeric keypad on your computer keyboard. Once you have mastered what keys on the computers numeric keypad does what you probably won’t need to have the Keypad window open. I have to say that it was a treat to enter notation that way and once I started getting the hang of it my productivity increased greatly! There are several ways to enter notation and this is just one of them. You can use your mouse, use your computer keyboard and enter alpha characters in step time, flexi time with a midi keyboard, step time with a midi keyboard, scanning and opening midi files or files from other notation software such as Finale and Score. I have tried all of the above and each works as advertised without any problems.

If you are entering notes with your mouse there is what is called shadow notes that show when you are hovering with your mouse. These shadow notes show you where you are at in relation to the staff so you can place correct notes without guessing.


Adding triplets and tuplets is super easy and I’ll talk about that a little further down the page.

Formatting and re-formatting your music is automatic and you have options in the Engraver options dialog and the Document Setup dialog for setting up particular layout options.

Adding lyrics to your compositions is easy and the lyrics you type automatically follow the notes you specify when you begin to add them.

Engraving Rules Dialog

Document Setup Dialog

You can import graphics into your composition also allowing you the ability to personally customize your composition.

You can print your scores out in many different ways including printing double sided, spreads and booklets.

Sibelius 3 comes loaded with plug-ins that make repetitious work a lot easier and if you are capable there is even an option to create your own plug-ins using the Manuscript language. A manual for that language is included with Sibelius 3 so if you are a programmer you have even more options. You can use the Analysis plug-in the analyze your score.


You can batch process to speed up productivity.


You can use the Proof Reading plug-in.


There are many, many plug-ins to increase your productivity!

In everything I’ve looked at in Sibelius 3 it appears the developers have strived to increase productivity in every aspect of creating music from the keyboard shortcuts to the user interface to everything else. Like the manual, the Sibelius 3 user interface is set up in a logical manner with easy, logical access to everything you need.

There is a very cool feature in Sibelius 3 that allows you to arrange orchestration after you’ve entered notation into a score. Lets just cover starting a score and then I’ll show you (with the help of the Scorch plug-in for your browser which you will need to download) what the arranged score looks and sounds like.

When you start a new score you have many, many options for manuscript paper so that your score is automatically setup and ready to go with all the instruments you need. Although, you don’t have to worry later on if you didn’t get everything in that you wanted or that you have too many instruments in your score. Those things are easy to take care of later if necessary. Also, when you start a score a wizard starts and asks for all the information needed for the piece to get it started so you don’t have to worry about that either. For our example I’ve chosen a public domain piece by Charles Gounod called Flower Song from Faust and I’m going to start it out as a voice and piano piece.


The next step in the process is to choose a House Style. How a score looks is defined by its house style. The parts of a House Style include engraving rules, text styles, symbol fonts and designs, notehead designs, staff definitions, line designs, object positions, note spacing, document setup and playback dictionary words. All of these can be edited independently in Sibelius 3. You can define your own style or you can use one of the predefined House Styles. I chose the Standard style for this piece.


The next step is to choose a time signature and tempo. You can also specify a pick-up bar here if you have one and set the metronome mark.


We move on to choosing a key signature for the piece which is shown visually instead of just by name which makes it really easy for the beginner and professional alike to choose a key signature.


It’s time to enter information specific to the piece we are working on such as the title, composer, lyricist and copyright information. You can also add more information and create a title page from here.


When you click the finish button your blank piece opens ready for entering notes and graphics if you want.


Below is a representation of the original composition after I’ve finished entering the notation and below that the same page after arranging it for orchestra.


Flower Song (Simple) Midi

Once the composition was completed I was able to change it from a voice/piano piece to an orchestral piece fairly quickly and it was easy too! I didn’t have to manually add all the notation for the other instruments. The Arrange feature of Sibelius 3 did all that for me with very little work. It’s simply a matter of selecting a section, copying it, and using the Arrange function to add the notation for the other instruments. If you’re not happy with the sound of the composition after arranging you can remove instruments, or completely back out using the undo option. I’m not a composer so when you listen to the arranged piece you might keep that in mind.

I had a need to add sextuplets to this piece and was worried about it but I shouldn’t have been. I should have known that Sibelius 3 would handle the task with ease. It was a simple task to hit the Ctrl+6 keys to add the brackets and then using the keypad to enter the notes. It took seconds to do and everything lined up exactly as it should. Wow!

flowersong sextups


Flower Song (Arranged) Midi

Once your composition is done you can save it but that’s not all. Sibelius 3 has several cool options that allow you to save the file as a .pdf if you have a pdf writer on your system. You can also save it as a web page to put on your web site or you can publish it to to share with others. Below is a link to the Flower Song in Scorch format. You’ll need the Scorch viewer to see it and it should automatically start downloading once you access the page. Follow the instructions for getting it installed and once installed you will see the music and be able to play it back in the viewer.

flowersongarranged scorch

You don’t have to orchestrate the whole score if you don’t want to. It’s all up to you in how you arrange it. Below is a link to midi files, a scorch file and a pdf file for the song Where Is My Mama? by Charles Coleman. (Not the current Charles Coleman famous composer but a much earlier one). These will all open in a new window.

Where Is My Mama?      Original Midi     Arranged Midi     Original Score as a PDF File

From the File menu you’ll find the option to Publish on This is a large online community where you can share your music with others and there are currently about 30,000 scores published there.

whereismama filesmcom

The Publish on option will open a browser with a questionnaire you need to fill out. Before you even consider this though, I would suggest reading all the rules regarding this. Once you fill all the information in the file is uploaded to and will be reviewed before actually being published there. You need to sign up for an account and then you have access to all the files you upload and their status in the review process.

Copyright Caveat

If you are not composing your own pieces and are using someone else’s material you might want to have a look at some copyright laws before you get started. You can see from the questionnaire below that there are some rules that need to be followed. requires that if you are using someone else’s music that it be pre-1860 and that the author died prior to 1930. In the US, according to the US Government Copyright Office, music first published in the United States prior to 1923 is public domain and therefore there are no restrictions on its reuse. (See which is not all inclusive but a start.) However, international copyright is a different story and you’ll need to check on the legalities of the music you are planning to work with if it is not your original work. In any case there are restrictions on what can be published to and you should read the rules when signing up for an account there.


Check out

Another option for getting music into Sibelius 3 is scanning it in. After you’ve scanned a piece in you will have the option to correct errors and they are marked in the scan results as shown in the screenshot below. I want to mention here that it will be rarely that you’ll scan a piece of music in and get a perfect scan. Most of the time you will have notation errors that you will need to correct. This is not unique to Photoscore and Sibelius. Scanning and recognition of sheet music is not an exact science as of yet and it has only been in more recent times that it has gotten to be as accurate as it is.


Once you’ve corrected the scan errors you can Send the recognized music directly to the Sibelius 3 application.

Now that we have an overview of some of the things that Sibelius 3 can do we’re going to do our own version of a step time input by covering as much of the available options in Sibelius 3 as we can in a more orderly fashion. We’ll start with the File menu and work our way through them all so you can see for yourself visually what the program can do.


The first unique option on the File menu is the Quick Start option. You can open that dialog from the File menu and you can actually have it open every time you open Sibelius 3 if you want.

The Append Score option allows you to add scores to the end of an existing score. For instance if you were creating a composition in different movements or perhaps you are creating a song book with different songs. There are some rules like both scores must have matching staves.

When you click Save As Audio Track you are presented with a save dialog that also tells you the size of the file you will be creating and the duration of the file. You can choose to follow the score during recording which is more resource intense.

You can save your scores as graphics also. You have quite a few options here for the type of graphic you are going to save. You can choose between:

  • Adobe FrameMaker (EPS)

  • Adobe Illustrator (EPS)

  • Adobe InDesign (EPS)

  • Adobe PageMaker (EPS)

  • CorelDraw (EPS)

  • Corel Word Perfect (TIFF)

  • JASC Paint Shop Pro (TIFF)

  • Macromedia Fireworks (TIFF)

  • Macromedia Freehand (EPS)

  • Macromedia Freehand (TIFF)

  • Microsoft Word (TIFF)

  • Microsoft Word (EPS)

  • Microsoft Publisher (TIFF)

  • Quark Xpress (EPS)

  • Serif PagePlus (TIFF)

  • Sun StarOffic (TIFF)

  • BMP Windows Bitmap

  • EMF Window enhanced metafile

  • EPS Encapsulated PostScript

  • TIFF bitmap

You can choose the filename, folder and whether or not to create a subfolder for the images. You can create graphics of all the pages in the score or just specific pages.

You can create your own default manuscript paper and then from the File menu choose Save as Manuscript paper. That will put your custom manuscript paper in the list of papers that you choose from when you start a new score.

You can extract parts from a score. You specify what staves to extract, what each part contains and where to save them to. You also have an options dialog to specify things like page layout, document options, whether you want instrument names on staves, the first page and subsequent pages. You can choose whether to transpose if necessary and whether to use staff names as file names and more.

Get information about your score from the File menu including file size, number of pages, number of stave and number of bars.

You can set your preferences from the File menu also. Preferences include General, Menus and Shortcuts and Word menus. For instance below is the dialog for Word Menus.


When working in a piece and you need to add some text, for instance, expression text, you can right click where you want to put the expression text and a pop up menu will appear.


From that menu you would choose Text>Expression and the following pop up window will open. It’s then simply a matter of choosing the correct expression and it is automatically added to your score. Once it is added you can move it around if you want by clicking on it to highlight it and dragging it where you want it.


This is one of the many things that the developers really put some thought into. We found throughout the program that most everything is set up in an easy to use and understand manner and all of this has an end result of increased productivity.

The Edit menu is next. Pretty much everything on this menu is self explanatory with the exception of a couple of things. Flip is for flipping stems. You select a note or notes that you want the stems to be flipped and use this option to flip them. Voice just changes the voice that you are editing in. You can hide or show parts of a score from the Hide or Show option. The Filter option is really cool for finding and/or selecting parts of a score. For instance, if we wanted to select all the hairpins or all the text in a score we would just go to the Filter option in the Edit menu. There is also an option to create your own filter which is a really powerful tool!


The View menu gives you lots of options for how you see things. Also, if you have a slower machine you can set some things here to speed up Sibelius 3 rendering. For instance, set smoothing to a lower amount and turn off textures by using just colors for the interface.


The Notes menu gives you lots of power for notation input.


You even have note input options. We are continually amazed at all the personal power that comes with Sibelius 3.


The Create menu gives you options for creating just about anything you need and as with most everything in Sibelius 3 there are shortcuts making it easier for you to get your score just the way you want it.


There are some cool options on the Play menu. You can choose to use Live Playback which plays back your music in a less digital manner and more in the style of a live performance. You can choose Transform Live Playback and a dialog will appear asking questions about how you want the play back to occur. Wow!


There are lots of options for the Performance of a score as shown in the dialog below.


You can edit words that effect play back. Double Wow!


You can set which devices are used for play back. I had a couple a recurring issue with play back at several different times while working through the software. The trouble all tracked down to Windows and not Sibelius 3. I’ll mention it here so that when you try out the demo if you run across the same problem you’ll know where to look for the culprit. For whatever reason, Windows decided to mute the Microsoft GS Wavetable SW Synth device. After much looking I found the setting in Start>Settings>Control Panel>Sounds and Audio Devices under the Audio Tab in the Midi Music Playback section. I had to click the Volume button and turn the sound back on. Also in the Windows Media Player the sound kept being set to Mute. It doesn’t happen often and I’m not sure what triggers it because it is random, but now that we all know, we’ll know where to correct the problem. I have a feeling it has to do with my Turtle Beach USB MIDI 1×1 device but can’t be sure. At any rate, that’s the heads up and now you can fix it if it happens to you.


The Layout menu gives you lots of options for how your score looks making it easy for you to get your score looking just the way you want.


The House Style menu allows you to set up how your printed score looks. We touched on this a little bit at the beginning of this review. You can create your own house style or you can use one of the many predefined styles which include:


  • Standard

  • Handwritten

  • Jazz

  • Jazz Handwritten

  • Keyboard

  • Keyboard Handwritten

  • Larger Notes

  • Lead Sheet

  • Lead Sheet Handwritten

  • Vocal

  • Vocal Handwritten

The basic visual for standard and handwritten are below.



Normally you would choose a style when you start a new score but you can, using the Import House Style option, change the style after you’ve started your score. Options….options….options. Sibelius 3 really puts the power in your hands.

We covered some of the Plug-ins menu above but I’ll show it again below.


The Window menu is where you can get to the Mixer and the Kontakt Player as well as turning on and off the Keypad window and the Navigator window.


The Mixer window is where you can set the volume and pan for the instruments in your score. You can set the device and sound for each instrument here also.


The Kontakt Player is a synthesizer that comes with Sibelius 3. The version included is the Silver version and there is a Gold version for extra cost. The Silver version includes 20 orchestral and band sounds of which you can play eight simultaneously. This is also used when saving your file as an audio track.


From the Help menu you can find everything you need including music history and theory at the Grove Music site. If you are new to music and music notation Grove has a history dating back pre 1900 and is one of the leading authorities for music theory and history. Grove was writing history as it happened!


The online help is second to none and the User Guide is absolutely terrific. To learn such a complex (yet simple) piece of software in a short time is amazing and is due to Sibelius’ dedication to detail throughout the manuals and the application.


Sibelius 3 is a very powerful, very complex piece of software but you wouldn’t know it by looking at and using it. The developers have created a tool that puts the power in your hands and the tool is called Sibelius. You are not a slave to the design or mechanics of this software. I can’t stress enough the actual power put in your hands when you use Sibelius 3 for your musical talents. You really need to download the demo and check it out for yourself. The application itself is powerful and when you add the user guide and support forums along with a place to share your music it seems limitless what you can do when you have Sibelius 3 behind you. You have so many ways to get your music into Sibelius either by scanning, computer keyboard, midi keyboard or opening other file types that getting started is quick and easy. Did I mention productivity. With the power of Sibelius 3 behind your productivity should skyrocket.

The developers attention to detail is surpassed by none in Sibelius 3.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced composer makes no difference with Sibelius 3. Its ease of use and detailed help and user guide will get you on the road to creating your very own compositions. Create lead sheets, easy play, complicated or uncomplicated scores and, one of my personal favorites, arrange your simple scores into complicated orchestral arrangements easily and quickly without knowing too much about orchestral compositions.

I can’t see how anyone could fail to learn the software quickly with a little concentration and dedication.

Sibelius, the company, has all your music notation interests covered; first in the creation of music, then in sequencing and also in giving a place to share your work. Their attention to detail shows their commitment to you, the end user.

In our world productivity is the key and with Sibelius 3 your productivity should definitely increase.

Download the Demo

User Guide

The User Guide takes you through a piece from beginning to end including arranging it after you’ve entered all the notation in one instrument. I was thinking WOW every time I moved through the guided tour following along in Sibelius. I know how we all hate to “read the manual” but this one is really worth reading. You’ll learn so much before you get started that things will come together much quicker and easier if you just take a little time to go through at least the first part of the manual. Sibelius really worked hard on this manual to have such a well put together piece of work. It is written in a clear and concise manner with everything flowing from one subject to the next in a logical manner that is easy to understand and follow along with. It has more of a teaching style than just a “this program does this” type of approach.

What’s In the Package

Sibelius 3
Kontakt Player Silver
Photoscore Lite

System Requirements

Sibelius 3 and PhotoScore Lite/Professional 3

Windows : Windows 98/Me/NT4/2000/XP, Intel or AMD Pentium-class processor or faster, 64Mb+ RAM (128Mb+ for Windows 2000/XP), 70Mb hard disk space. Scanning may need more RAM.

Mac : OS 9.1/9.2/10.1.5 or later, iMac/G3/G4/G5,128Mb+ RAM (OS 9) or 192Mb+ RAM (OS X), 70Mb hard disk space. Scanning requires TWAIN-compatible scanner and may need more RAM.

Sibelius 3 does not support Windows 95 or Mac OS 8.6/9.0. Mac OS 9.0 users can get a free upgrade to OS 9.1 from

Kontakt Player Silver & Save as Audio Track

To use either of these, you will need: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP (not NT4) and preferably a sound card (not sound chip on motherboard); Mac OS 9.1/9.2/10.2 or later (not 10.1.5), 250Mb free hard disk space (in addition to Sibelius 3). Additionally:

Absolute minimum (scores that use 1 or 2 different sounds):

Windows: Pentium III or faster, 128Mb+ RAM (or 196Mb+ for Windows 2000/XP)

Mac : G3 500MHz or faster, 128Mb+ RAM (OS 9) or 256Mb+ RAM (OS X)

Recommended (scores that use several different sounds):

Windows : 700MHz processor or faster, 256Mb+ RAM

Mac : G4/G5, 256Mb RAM

If you want to use reverb in scores with several different sounds, you will need a faster processor.

Kontakt Player Gold (separate purchase)

Requires 750Mb hard disk space (in addition to Sibelius 3), Windows 98/Me/2000/XP (not NT4), Mac OS 9.1/9.2/10.2 or later (not 10.1.5). If you want to use reverb, you will need a considerably faster processor than the slowest stated below.

Scores that use up to about 8 different sounds:

Windows : 700MHz processor or faster, 256Mb+ RAM, preferably sound card (not sound chip on motherboard).

Mac : G4/G5, 256Mb+ RAM.

Scores that use up to about 20 different sounds:

Windows: Pentium 4 or Athlon XP, 256Mb+ RAM. Preferably Windows 2000/XP; 512Mb RAM or 7200rpm hard disk; sound card (not sound chip on motherboard), ASIO driver support recommended; separate graphics card. (Computers that do not meet all of these requirements may still be able to play 20 different sounds.)

Mac: G4 (preferably 1GHz+) / G5, 512Mb+ RAM. Preferably 768Mb RAM or 7200rpm hard disk. (Computers that do not meet all of these requirements may still be able to play 20 different sounds.)

Scores that use more than 20 different sounds may need a fast processor and more RAM.

Sibelius 3 Network Version

Technical information

Sibelius’ network version operates on a client-server model. The Sibelius program itself is installed on the local hard drive of each of the client workstations, and a separate License Server program is installed on a single designated server or workstation. The License Server program is supplied on a separate CD-ROM from the Sibelius program itself and enables the designated number of Licensed client copies to run on the network simultaneously. The License Server also lets you send messages to users of the client copies, and close copies down from the server machine.


Sibelius requires a network using the TCP/IP protocol. (Your network may use other protocols in addition to TCP/IP, but TCP/IP must be present in order for the License Server to communicate with the client copies.)

The License Server program runs on Windows (98/Me/NT 4.0/2000/XP) or Mac OS 9 or 10.


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