Sibelius 7.5’s new features are primarily in the areas of navigation, performance, playback, sharing, and social media.
There is no precedent for a “point five” version of Sibelius, although the concept is not new in the world of music software. Indeed, just recently, Steinberg released the latest version of its DAW, Cubase 7.5, and back in 2010 Native Instruments released a 4.5 version of Kontakt, its software sampler. Both were paid upgrades, and today’s announcement of Sibelius 7.5 follows this example.
For over a decade, the Sibelius upgrade release cycle was reliably predictable. Major new versions were released every two years, usually in the late spring or early summer. Bug fixes and modest feature enhancements would follow for approximately a year afterwards, and the cycle would repeat. Each Sibelius release had significant and sometimes groundbreaking new features.
The release of Sibelius 7.5 breaks that regular pattern, due, no doubt, to the well-documented restructuring that began at Avid in the summer of 2012. It has been 15 months since the last Sibelius update, 7.1.3, and more than two and a half years since Avid released 7.0. With the dust now having been settled, especially with the move of longtime Sibelius team member Sam Butler into the role of senior product manager, progress on the product is happening in a public way once again. In a blog post published today, Sam said that “Our goal with Sibelius 7.5 was to design innovative new features that build on the solid foundation of Sibelius to help you write and arrange music easier and faster than ever before.”
Bobby Lombardi, Avid’s director of product management, told me that while the company felt it was doing everything possible to communicate to the public that its developers were working on a new release, Avid was very aware of the growing concern amongst its customers about whether Sibelius development was continuing at all. Ramping up with a new team, coupled with Avid’s priorities of updating its languishing Scorch web plug-in and iOS app, meant that realistically developing a fully-featured Sibelius 8 would take even more time. So Avid decided to release an intermediate version – 7.5 – that would assure users that development was proceeding, and still have enough new features to be considered a worthy upgrade.
Of course, the old Finsbury Park team worked on Sibelius for over a year after the release of 7.0. One can reasonably assume that that team wasn’t solely working on bug fixes the whole time. How much of Sibelius 7.5 represents their vision and work is anyone’s guess, but it’s likely that the origin of some, if not most of Sibelius 7.5’s new features can be traced back quite a while.
A review of what’s new in Sibelius 7.5 follows.
Sibelius 7.5’s new features
Timeline: A new navigation tool
Sibelius 7.5’s most visible new feature is the Timeline panel, located at View > Panels > Timeline. It is designed by default to dock across the bottom of the document window, but can be optionally resized, undocked or moved to a separate display. It allows the user to easily navigate to any place in the score by simply clicking on one of the landmarks, which can be optionally hidden or shown depending on the user’s preferences and the nature of the particular score.
Presets can be named and saved in Preferences > Timeline:
Landmarks to choose from comprise rehearsal marks, comments, tempo and metronome markings, time and key signatures, repeats, titles, hit points, and other types of system text, including a new “Musical structure” text style.
Timeline looks for landmarks in your score, and assigns a color-coded lane to each of these objects. If no landmarks of a particular type are present (say you have no hit points or comments in your score), then those lanes are automatically hidden. You can optionally display a ruler in the Timeline, which will display bar numbers and timecode that correspond to your settings in Play > Video > Timecode, and match up with what displays in the Transport panel.
Bars are represented in a grid, and the background color of each bar is colored light or dark depending of whether there is music in it or not. A highlighted area represents the viewable portion of the score, and the Timeline is sophisticated enough to highlight noncontiguous sections if that’s what’s in your display. If a staff passage is selected in your score, that passage turns blue in the Timeline; likewise, if a system passage is selected in the score, it shows as purple in the Timeline. If a landmark is truncated due to space limitations in the Timeline, hovering over it will show it fully; hovering over a bar in the grid will show a small pop-up displaying the instrument name and bar number.
The Timeline is an outstanding new feature, and yet it could be even better. It is purely navigational – perhaps by design, to prevent users from making unwanted changes in their scores. But the Timeline so resembles a sequencer-style track editor that instinctively I found myself clicking within it and trying to copy or move items, or trying to re-order the tracks in the left-hand column by simply dragging them. It is so tempting to try to option (Alt)+drag a rehearsal mark in the Timeline to create a new one, but it can’t be done. Although the Timeline represents a selection you make within your score, the reverse cannot be done; you can’t actually make a selection from the Timeline.
During playback, the Timeline will update along with your score, representing the viewable highlighted portion. But unlike a DAW, there is no corresponding playback line in the Timeline, and there is no “catch” option – meaning that if, during playback, the score extends beyond the Timeline’s viewable area, you must manually move or re-size the Timeline.
Still, the Timeline is a welcome improvement. Built-in support for navigating to a particular bar or page has always been included in previous versions of Sibelius, but you usually had to know in advance where you wanted to go and type in the appropriate number. Certain plug-ins have augmented this somewhat, and the Navigator panel was groundbreaking for its time (it’s still available in Sibelius 7.5, with a new option to disable automatic scrolling). But the Timeline makes it especially convenient to quickly jump to points in a document based upon visual landmarks. If you work on large scores with many such items, you may well indeed find this a time-saving feature.
Note that the shortcut for the Timeline is Ctrl+Alt+N or Opt-Command-N. This replaces the old shortcut for the Navigator, which no longer has a default keyboard shortcut.