(Overture from Romeo and Juliet the musical by Conrad Askland – Sibelius screen shot)
Here it is late 2015 and there is still the grand debate of whether to use Sibelius or Finale as your main music notation software. You can read hundreds of technical break downs that compare the two. Here, I will give you a real-world breakdown of my experience with both programs.
My background: I started working (or “trying” to work) with notation programs back around 1992. I think back then it was “Personal Composer”. It was very difficult to use and I did write a music book which took me many, many hours. That same book today would take me about 15 hours to write.
There are still many notation software options, but the two that are at the forefront are Finale and Sibelius. Back in 2007 I had a group commission me to write a full length musical. I started working in Finale and after 10 days I had almost nothing to show. Not because I couldn’t compose at a steady rate, but because the software was not at all intuitive to me. I took advantage of the Sibelius trade-in offer, sent them my Finale discs, and got a good deal to switch over to Sibelius. Within 30 minutes of installing Sibelius I was composing quickly and intuitively.
But I am not telling you that you should pick Sibelius. Here is my experience over the last 10 years with software and I hope it helps your decision-making. Please feel free to leave comments here on this post of your own experiences.
If you need to start scoring right away with no previous experience, get Sibelius. It’s very intuitive to composers and keyboardists. There is not much of a learning curve and everything is laid out nicely and intuitive. “Intuitive” means when you need to do something, you’ll usually see right away how to do it.
Future support? Well, that’s another debatable issue. I’ve scored three full length musicals on Sibelius. I’ve scored recording sessions for Cirque Du Soleil and members of the Hong Kong Philharmonic on Sibelius. It works great.
Everyone I know who does professional music engraving, they all use Finale. Every single one. They would not even consider using Sibelius for engraving. Not for a second. I’m sure there are some music engravers that use Sibelius, but I haven’t met one yet in person.
Finale is the only program that gives engravers the level of detail and precision they need for manuscripts that are to be published.
Does Finale have a steep learning curve? Yes! It takes quite a while to master Finale. I use many software programs in my internet and audio producing work. ProTools, Ableton Live, WordPress, Numbers, FileMaker Pro, etc. – I have rarely had a software program with such a steep learning curve as Finale. That’s just my experience.
That being said, the product support for Finale is strong and will probably be strong in the long term future. Music engravers use it. The reason it has a steep learning curve is that it does a lot. So, if you are going to do music notation long term for many years, then I would recommend you just buckle down and learn Finale. In the long term you’ll be way ahead of the game.
- Start using it right away. Fast intuitive.
- Long term support not guaranteed
- It’s the industry standard for music engravers (in my experience)
- Great history of product support that will probably continue long term
- Steep learning curve – You will likely have to put in quite a bit of time to get a handle on it’s features.
In closing: Many years ago Sibelius and Finale were very different animals. Over the years they have each adapted some of the strong points of each other’s software that has improved their own. Finale is more user friendly than it was years ago, and Sibelius has more robust features.
Price difference? I don’t really think that should be an issue. If you are going to invest the many hours to master a notation software at a professional level then the price is kind of a small consideration. And if you just need to do a lead sheet, you don’t need the robust features that these software platforms contain.
If you are deep into using either of Sibelius or Finale, let me know your insights and thoughts.