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Sibelius (scorewriter)

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Original author(s)
  • Ben Finn
  • Jonathan Finn
Initial releaseApril 1993; 31 years ago (1993-04)
Stable release2024.3 (6 March 2024; 3 months ago (2024-03-06)) [±]
Written inC++
Operating systemMicrosoft Windows, macOS, RISC OS
Available in9 languages
List of languages
  • Chinese (Simplified)
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Japanese
  • Portuguese
  • Russian*
  • Spanish
LicenseProprietary Freeware, Proprietary software
Websitewww.avid.com/sibelius Edit this at Wikidata
An example of sheet music created in Sibelius.

Sibelius is a scorewriter program developed and released by Sibelius Software Limited (now part of Avid Technology). Beyond creating, editing and printing music scores, it can also play the music back using sampled or synthesised sounds. It produces printed scores, and can also publish them via the Internet for others to access. Less advanced versions of Sibelius at lower prices have been released, as have various add-ons for the software.

Named after the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, the company was founded in April 1993 by twin brothers Ben and Jonathan Finn to market the eponymous music notation program they had created.[1] It went on to develop and distribute various other music software products, particularly for education. In addition to its head office in Cambridge and subsequently London, Sibelius Software opened offices in the US, Australia and Japan, with distributors and dealers in many other countries worldwide. The company won numerous awards, including the Queen's Award for Innovation in 2005.

In August 2006 the company was acquired by Avid, to become part of its Digidesign division, which also manufactures the digital audio workstation Pro Tools. In July 2012, Avid announced plans to divest its consumer businesses, closed the Sibelius London office, and removed the original development team,[2][3][4] despite a 11,590-strong 'Save Sibelius' petition spearheading a campaign led by Derek Williams that included extensive protests on Facebook and elsewhere.[5][6][7][8] Avid subsequently recruited new programmers to continue the development of Sibelius, and Steinberg hired most of the former Sibelius team to create a competing software, Dorico.



Sibelius was originally developed by British twins Jonathan and Ben Finn for the Acorn Archimedes computer under the name 'Sibelius 7', not as a version number, but reminiscent of Sibelius' Symphony No 7.[1] The Finns said they could not remember why they used Jean Sibelius' name, but it was probably because he was also ‘a Finn' (i.e. Finnish), as well as being one of their favourite composers. Development in assembly language on the RISC OS started in 1986 after they left school, and continued while they were at Oxford and Cambridge universities, respectively. Both were music students, and said they wrote the program because they did not like the laborious process of writing music by hand.[9]

The program was released to the public in April 1993 on 3.5-inch floppy disk. It required considerably less than 1 MB of memory (as its files only occupied a few KB per page of music), and the combination of assembly language and the Archimedes' ARM processor meant that it ran very quickly. No matter how long the score, changes were displayed almost instantly. A unique feature of the Sibelius GUI at that time was the ability it gave the user to drag the entire score around with the mouse, offering a bird's eye of the score, as distinct from having to use the QWERTY input keyboard arrow keys, or equivalent, to scroll the page.

The first ever user of Sibelius was the composer and engraver Richard Emsley, who provided advice on music engraving prior to the start of development, and beta tested the software before its release. The first concert performance from a Sibelius score was of an orchestral work by David Robert Coleman, copied by Emsley. The first score published using Sibelius was Antara by George Benjamin, also copied by Emsley, and published by Faber Music. Other early adopters included composer John Rutter, conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and publisher Music Sales.

As a killer application for the niche Acorn platform, Sibelius rapidly dominated the UK market.[10] It also sold in smaller numbers in a few other countries, restricted by the availability of Acorn computers. 'Lite' versions were subsequently released, and these were successful in UK schools, where Acorns were widely used.[11]


In September 1998, the first version for Windows was released as 'Sibelius', with the version number reset to 1.0.[12] A Mac version 1.2 was released a few months later, and the company thereafter used conventional version numbers for both platforms across subsequent upgrades. Scores created on one platform could be opened on the other, and were backward compatible. To produce these versions, the software was completely rewritten in C++, while retaining most of the original's functionality and user interface with numerous enhancements. The original Acorn names 'Sibelius 6' and 'Sibelius 7' were later re-used to denote versions 6 and 7 of Sibelius for Windows/Mac.

Releasing Sibelius for more widely available computers brought it to a worldwide market, particularly the US, where Sibelius Software had opened an office in late 1996. Following the break-up of Acorn Computers[13][14] shortly after Sibelius' Windows release, no further Acorn versions were developed. Sibelius Software later opened an office in Australia, also serving New Zealand, where Sibelius was widely used.

In August 2006, Sibelius Software Ltd was acquired by Avid Technology, an American manufacturer of software and hardware for audio and video production. Avid continued publishing Sibelius as a stand-alone notation product, as well as integrating it with some of its existing software products.

In July 2012, Avid announced plans to divest itself of its other consumer businesses, closed the Sibelius London office, and laid off the original development team,[3][15] amid an outpouring of user protest, then recruited a new team of programmers to continue Sibelius development in Montreal, Canada and Kyiv, Ukraine.


  • 1986: Founders Jonathan and Ben Finn start designing Sibelius 7 for Acorn computers.
  • 1993: Sibelius Software founded to sell Sibelius 7 and related computer hardware/software in the UK. Early customers include Europe's largest publisher Music Sales, choral composer John Rutter, and the Royal Academy of Music. Sibelius 6 (educational version) also launched.
  • 1994: Distribution in Europe, Australia and New Zealand commences. Sibelius 7 Student (educational version) launched.
  • 1995: German versions of Sibelius launched.
  • 1996: US office opened in California. Junior Sibelius (primary school program) launched.
  • 1998: Sibelius for Windows launched worldwide. Company ceases selling hardware to concentrate on core software business.[16]
  • 1999: Sibelius for Mac, PhotoScore and Scorch launched. Sibelius forms US subsidiary, creating the Sibelius Group, which now has 25 employees. Quester VCT invests.[17]
  • 2000: Sibelius Internet Edition launched, and adopted for Internet publishing by leading European publishers Music Sales and Boosey & Hawkes. SibeliusMusic.com and Sibelius Notes (initially called Teaching Tools) launched.[18]
  • 2001: World's largest sheet music publisher Hal Leonard also adopts Sibelius Internet Edition. Sibelius Group reaches 50 employees.
  • 2002: Sibelius is first major music program for Mac OS X. Company acquires music software company MIDIworks.[19]
  • 2003: Starclass, Instruments, G7 and G7music.net launched. Sibelius Group commences distributing Musition and Auralia. Sibelius in Japanese launched, distributed by Yamaha.
  • 2004: Compass, Kontakt Gold, Sibelius Student Edition, Sibelius in French and Spanish launched. Company acquires SequenceXtra. Sibelius software used in more than 50% of UK secondary schools.
  • 2005: Australian subsidiary formed after acquiring Australian distributor. Company reaches 75 employees. Wins Queen's Award for Enterprise.[20] Releases Rock & Pop Collection of sounds. Commences distributing O-Generator.
  • 2006: Groovy Music and Coloured Keyboard launched. Sibelius Software bought by Avid Technology.
  • 2007: Japanese office opened.
  • 2012: Avid closes Sibelius' London office and lays off original development team, sparking the 'Save Sibelius' campaign.[6]
  • 2014: First release of a Sibelius version (7.5) by the new development team.[21]
  • 2018: Sibelius First (free, entry-level product), Sibelius (formerly Sibelius First) and Sibelius Ultimate (formerly Sibelius) launched together with a new year-based versioning system.
  • 2021: Sibelius for iPad and iPhone is released.[22][23]


Core functionality[edit]

Sibelius' main function is to help create, edit and print musical scores. It supports virtually all music notations, enabling even the most complex of modern orchestral, choral, jazz, pop, folk, rock and chamber music scores to be engraved to publication quality. Further, it allows scores to be played back or turned into MIDI or audio files, e.g. to create a CD. A built-in sample player and a large range of sampled sounds are included.[24] It supports any MIDI device, and allows Virtual Studio Technology (VST) and Audio Units plug-ins to be used as playback instruments, giving users access to third-party sample libraries.[25] Score playback can also be synchronised to video, or to DAW software via the ReWire standard.

By default, Sibelius plays a brief passage from a Jean Sibelius symphony as it launches, a feature that can be disabled in the application's Preferences if desired. Each version has used a different excerpt; e.g. Sibelius 7 appropriately uses the main theme from Sibelius' 7th Symphony.

In Version 7.0, Avid Technology rebuilt Sibelius as a 64-bit application, replacing the menu navigation system of previous versions with a Ribbon interface in the process. This met with considerable user resistance,[26] however the Ribbon remains integral to the current GUI.


Add-ons for Sibelius that are currently or have previously been available include:

  • Sound libraries such as Note Performer,[27][28] Vienna Symphonic Library,[29][30] Spitfire Audio (samples of BBC Symphony Orchestra),[31] Kontakt,[32] Garritan,[33] and Mark of the Unicorn's (MOTU) Symphonic Instrument,[34][35] which can be added as Manual Sound Sets in the Playback Devices options from the Sibelius Play tab.[36]
  • Extra plug-in features.[37] These are usually free of charge, and often created by Sibelius users, the most prolific of whom has been Bob Zawalich.[38]
  • Myriad's PDF to MusicXML transcribing application PDFtoMusic.[39][40]
  • Neuratron's Music OCR program PhotoScore (scanning),[41][42] which can be used to scan and create a Sibelius score from printed music and PDF documents. A lite version is bundled with Sibelius.
  • Neuratron's AudioScore,[43] also bundled in a lite version, which claims to be able to turn singing or an acoustic instrument performance into a score,[44] though many users have complained that this does not work.[45][46] AudioScore currently holds a two-star rating on cnet.com.[47]
  • QWERTY Keyboards such as Logic Keyboard.[48]
  • Keyboard covers such as KB Covers.[49]
  • Mobile device VNC controllers such as iPad Sibelius Wizard[50][51] and Sibelius Control for iPad,[52][53] allowing the user to control Sibelius wirelessly via shortcuts set up within the Preferences.

Cloud publishing[edit]

Sibelius users can publish their scores directly from the software via the Internet using desktops, laptops or iPads. Anyone else using software called Sibelius Scorch[54] (free for web browsers, charged for on iPads) can then view these scores, play them back, transpose them, change instruments, or print them from the web browser version. ScoreExchange.com is a website where any Sibelius user can upload scores they have composed, arranged or transcribed with Sibelius, so that anyone can access the music. The site began in 2001 as SibeliusMusic.com, and by June 2011 had amassed nearly 100,000 scores. The iPad version of Scorch also includes a store containing over 250,000 scores from publishers Music Sales, Hal Leonard, and Sibelius Scorch is used in the websites of various music publishers and individual musicians. Publishers can licence the Sibelius Internet Edition for commercial online publishing.

In October 2017, Scorch was replaced by Sibelius Cloud Publishing, providing publishers with an API to automate the publishing and selling of digital sheet Music.[55] It uses the same technology as Scorch to allow Sibelius users to share music online directly from within the program, and addresses compatibility issues.[56]


There are various education-specific features for Sibelius' large market of schools and universities. The Sibelius Educational Suite[57] includes extensive built-in music teaching materials, and the ability to run and manage multiple copies of the software on a network at discounted educational pricing.

In 2012, Sibelius Student was replaced by a new version of Sibelius First.

Lite notation based on Sibelius is included in Avid's Pro Tools audio editing software.


A network licence is available for schools, colleges, universities and other multi-client situations.[58]


Awards for the software include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "An interview with Ben Finn, co-founder of Sibelius [Part 1 of 2] - Scoring Notes". 23 June 2015. Archived from the original on 5 September 2015. Retrieved 9 September 2015.
  2. ^ "Sibelius software's London offices to close". Rhinegold.co.uk. 4 July 2012. Archived from the original on 7 December 2017. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Avid Divests Consumer Businesses and Streamlines Operations". Business Wire. 2 July 2012. Archived from the original on 26 July 2012. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  4. ^ "Of Note: Finale and Sibelius tips and tutorials by musician, arranger and music notation expert Robert Puff". Rpmseattle.com. 16 July 2012. Archived from the original on 4 March 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  5. ^ Banks, Adam. (17 August 2012). "Avid hits bum note with Sibelius", MacUser. p.14. Publisher: Dennis Publishing (London, England)
  6. ^ a b Schofield, Jack. (7 August 2012). Users petition Avid to sell Sibelius music software arm. ZDNET
  7. ^ "Save Sibelius". Facebook. Archived from the original on 16 March 2021. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
  8. ^ "Sibelius is in crisis!". Archived from the original on 16 March 2021. Retrieved 29 July 2012.
  9. ^ 'Sibelius' Archived 12 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Music Printing History.
  10. ^ Bourgeois, Derek (1 November 2001). "Score yourself an orchestra". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 10 May 2014. Retrieved 10 May 2011. Many composers bought an Archimedes simply to have access to the program.
  11. ^ Arthur, Charles. (10 January 2012). 'How the BBC Micro started a computing revolution' Archived 16 March 2021 at the Wayback Machine. The Guardian. (United Kingdom)
  12. ^ "Sibelius Corporate Information". Sibelius Software. Archived from the original on 27 May 2007. Retrieved 21 May 2007.
  13. ^ (6 January 2011). ‘History of ARM: from Acorn to Apple’ Archived 16 March 2018 at the Wayback Machine. The Daily Telegraph. (United Kingdom).
  14. ^ Seymour, Elle. (28 February 2012). ‘The Day Olivetti Stitched up Acorn Computers’ Archived 23 March 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Huffington Post. (United Kingdom).
  15. ^ "Sibelius UK Office Closes : Avid Selling Consumer Businesses – OF NOTE". www.rpmseattle.com. 2 July 2012. Archived from the original on 16 March 2021. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
  16. ^ [https://musicprintinghistory.org/sibelius/ Sibelius (1993). History of music publishing. musicprintinghistory.org website.
  17. ^ Cohen, Peter. (10 March 2002). 'Sibelius 2 music software released for OS X'. Macworld.
  18. ^ 'Internet publishing with Sibelius'. secure.sibelius.com website.
  19. ^ Cohen, Peter. (10 March 2002). Sibelius 2 music software released for OS X. Macworld.
  20. ^ a b Rothman, Philip. (25 June 2015). An interview with Ben Finn, co-founder of Sibelius [Part 2 of 2]. Scoring Notes.
  21. ^ Rothman, Philip (23 January 2014). "Sibelius 7.5 announced: An evolutionary, not revolutionary upgrade" Archived 16 March 2021 at the Wayback Machine. Scoring Notes. (Netherlands).
  22. ^ Rothman, Philip (29 July 2021). "Sibelius arrives on iPad". Scoring Notes. Retrieved 24 February 2022.
  23. ^ Rothman, Philip (26 October 2021). "Sibelius comes to the iPhone". Scoring Notes. Retrieved 24 February 2022.
  24. ^ "'Professional sound library—only in Sibelius'". Archived from the original on 19 May 2018. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  25. ^ "VST play back in Sibelius 5". Sibelius Software. Archived from the original on 12 November 2013. Retrieved 9 June 2007.
  26. ^ 'Sib. 7.0: The blasted Ribbon!' Archived 13 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Sibelius Help Center. Avid (company).
  27. ^ NotePerformer Reviews. Slashdot website.
  28. ^ ‘Note Performer features’ Archived 11 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine.
  29. ^ Bourgeois, Derek. (31 October 2012).How to Use External VSTs with Sibelius 7. IMDb.
  30. ^ ‘Vienna Symphonic Library: Products’ Archived 14 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Vienna Symphonic Library.
  31. ^ Burt, Warren. (March 2020). Review – BBC Symphony Orchestra from Spitfire Audio. soundbytesmag.net website.
  32. ^ Hinchey, John. (8 December 2021). Using Kontakt and other third party virtual instruments in Sibelius Ultimate. Tutorials: scoringnotes.com website.
  33. ^ ‘Configuring Garritan libraries for use in Sibelius’ Archived 15 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Finale (software)#Alfred Music involvement.
  34. ^ MOTU Symphonic Instrument review. Future Music, 8 November 2007. musicradar.com website.
  35. ^ 'MOTU Symphonic Instrument Overview' Archived 15 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Mark of the Unicorn.
  36. ^ ‘631: How to play back through a different device’ Archived 24 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Help Center. Avid (company).
  37. ^ ‘Extra plug-ins for Sibelius’ Archived 14 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Avid (company)
  38. ^ ‘WRITTEN BY BOB ZAWALICH’ Archived 16 March 2021 at the Wayback Machine. Scoring Notes.
  39. ^ Hinchey, John. (12 January 2021). A review of optical music recognition software. scoringnotes.com website.
  40. ^ ‘PDF to Music’ Archived 14 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Myriad.
  41. ^ PhotoScore and NotateMe Ultimate Review . Matt Vanacoro. macprovideo.com website.
  42. ^ ‘PhotoScore and NotateMe’ Archived 6 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Neuratron.
  43. ^ ‘AudioScore’ Archived 19 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine.
  44. ^ ‘Create scores from a variety of sources’ Archived 13 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Avid (company).
  45. ^ ‘Neuratron Audioscore Ultimate 8 - Customer reviews’ Archived 16 March 2021 at the Wayback Machine. Amazon (company).
  46. ^ ‘Neuratron Audioscore Ultimate 7 - Customer reviews’ Archived 7 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine. Amazon (company).
  47. ^ "CNET AudioScore reviews". cnet.com. Archived from the original on 24 May 2014. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  48. ^ Avid Sibelius - Advance Line Keyboard Archived 14 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Logic Keyboards.
  49. ^ ‘Sibelius Keyboard Cover’ Archived 14 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. KB Covers.
  50. ^ Puff, Robert. (28 July 2012). iPad Sibelius Wizard : Control Surface for Sibelius. Of Note rpmseattle.com/ website.
  51. ^ Williams, Derek. ‘iPad Sibelius Wizard’ Archived 14 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine.
  52. ^ Spreadbury, Daniel (4 August 2011). Use your iPad as a Sibelius control surface. Scoring Notes.
  53. ^ Escher, Tobias. ‘Sibelius Control for iPad’ Archived 15 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine.
  54. ^ ‘Sibelius Scorch’ Archived 16 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Avid (company).
  55. ^ ‘Sibelius - Cloud Sharing and Publishing’ Archived 14 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Avid (company).
  56. ^ Avid Knowledge Base: Sibelius Scorch plug-in compatibility Archived 17 August 2019 at the Wayback Machine. Avid (company).
  57. ^ "'Sibelius Ultimate in the classroom'". Archived from the original on 14 May 2018. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  58. ^ 'Network License Server' Archived 14 May 2018 at the Wayback Machine. Avid (company).
  59. ^ a b 'Award-winning Sibelius' Archived 30 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Avid (company)

External links[edit]