So, the time has finally come? We need to talk about the two rulers of music notation, the ones that have stayed at the top for multiple decades now. Many have trie
d to steal their crown but failed in the attempt – from Dorico to MuseScore to Notion 6 -, and while some of them may have very good features, Sibelius and Finale continue to be the leading software.
Now, the age-old question arises once these two are compared: Sibelius OR Finale? It seems as though they were opposing corrivals; Windows OR Apple?
Cereal before OR after milk? Tea with OR without milk? In this post we want to talk about their pros and cons from an impartial and unbiased standpoint, so you can freely
decide what’s your best option depending on your priorities!
Let’s begin with Sibelius! Out of the two, it’s safe to say Sibelius is probably the preferred option amongst music notation newbies. Why is that?
The main answer is that it has a more user-friendly interface: it is very intuitive and visually pleasing. Want to separate systems? Just move them with a simple click-and-drag. Want to make a note higher or lower? Just do the same. You don’t need to learn where everything is or find a specific submenu to do these simple and very common tricks, and that’s what makes it so appealing to amateurs and enthusiasts whose priority isn’t to be professional engravers.
Sibelius also has a very interesting interface concept. Its initial and welcoming simplicity doesn’t scare people off, and that’s probably why Sibelius is so popular. This may seem stupid at first, but a user who isn’t oversaturated during their first steps will stay and take the time to learn more about the software.
Once you’ve got the hang of its initially intuitive interface, which will involve lots of tiresome back-and-forth mouse movements to select every new note length (believe us, we’ve all been there!), you can move on to the next stage: the Keypad (this was present all along but was maybe too complex to master at first).
The Keypad makes note inputting 10.000 times faster! You’ll be able to select any note length, accidental, articulation, slur or symbol with just a few key clicks. This automated and ready-to-use default shortcutting is the cherry on the top of the cake and will save you hours and hours of useless mouse movements.
After learning how the Keypad works, the next stage would be to get familiarized with Sibelius’ complete interface and menu organization, which you’ll find is very similar to Microsoft Word, both visually and structure-wise.
But this is when things might get bad for Sibelius. While its initial interface might be intuitive, its menu organization is anything but clear. Want to make some basic engraving adjustments? No problem, just waste an hour trying to remember the correct submenu for the very specific tool that they clearly don’t want you to find! You can always search for it in the “find” ribbon, but c’mon, is it that hard to put everything where it belongs?
Instead of having all of its tools close together and properly arranged by themes, class or actions, Sibelius distributes them unnecessarily between multiple different locations. If you’d like to hear a proper rant about this, we 100% recommend Tantacrul’s critique – beware though, it gets spicy!?
So what about Finale? It’s not surprising that, when comparing two corrivals, one of them might show solutions and remedies for the defects of the other, but this in turn also results in a lack of virtues the other one originally had.
Just as Sibelius is perfect for newbies, has an easy initial interface but is badly organized, Finale is perfect for more advanced musicians or professionals, has an initially complex interface to get used to, but is well organized.
Finale is the top choice if you’re really trying to do something more than just adding simple notes to a blank staff. It can go beyond Sibelius’ possibilities in certain aspects, that’s why it’s probably meant for something more than mere amateurs: it has a lot of tools that will let you create, modify, adjust, tweak and change absolutely anything you want. This is why it’s very efficient at making the most professional-looking and ready-for-publishing engravings out there.
Even if you’re not trying to make something far-fetched, it has everything you need, where you need it to be (Sibelius, pay attention!).
However, every virtue comes with a perk. How can such a professional software manage to be simple and easy to use at first? Well… It doesn’t. Finale’s interface can oversaturate a newcomer and scare him off, and even if the user stays, learning where every tool and every little option is will be an arduous task. But patience is completely worth it! Once you’ve mastered Finale, you’ll be the indisputable king or queen of music notation?
Finale’s engraving does also come with the same price. Although its engraving may be excellent, it’s very frustrating to try and make your score look good when you’re starting out. This is due to its complex engraving tools – it doesn’t have Sibelius’ intuitive click-and-drag interface, which will result in a true headache at first. Finale is like programming: learning the code is difficult, but once you’re good at it, everything becomes easier and better!
Maybe Sibelius is indeed the Apple of music notation and Finale is the Windows! After all, we weren’t that far off to consider them as opposing corrivals, huh?
It’s up to you to ponder on all this information, and depending on what you prioritize, choose the one that better suits your needs! And hey, the world doesn’t end here – there are plenty of other software, and some of them free! In that regard, you may find that Sibelius and Finale are both quite expensive in the end, and you might find everything you need in a more basic and free software like MuseScore, who knows?