Sibelius and Alternative Music Notation Systems

Along with Finale, Sibelius is one of the most widely used commercial, closed-source applications for music notation. It has a plug-in architecture that could allow for basic transnotation of music into chromatic-staff notation systems. When we inquired into the possibilities (in June of 2009), the following is what we found.

Note: the information below now appears to be out-of-date and no longer accurate.  We were contacted by a Sibelius plug-in developer (in February 2011) who has created plug-ins for alternative notation systems in Sibelius, including those that use a chromatic staff.  Starting with Sibelius 6 it is apparently possible, at least with certain alternative notation systems.

Unfortunately Sibelius is not very well suited for use with chromatic-staff notations since its approach to the staff is currently “hard wired” to the traditional diatonic pattern of pitches, plus accidentals. There is no way for a user or plug-in to re-map the pitches on the staff to a chromatic pattern instead. (Compare with Finale which allows customization of the position of pitches on the staff for use with percussion notation.)

However, there might still be a way to achieve basic transnotation of music into chromatic-staff notation systems in Sibelius. This would involve creating a plug-in that would copy music from a traditional staff onto a custom alternative staff. The plug-in would do this by importing a “house style,” in which an instrument type had been created for the desired number of staff lines on the custom staff. The plug-in would then move the notes on the custom staff so they appear at the correct staff-position (as if the staff was a chromatic staff). Their pitches and playback would now be incorrect.

To preserve playback, the original traditional staff could remain alongside the custom “chromatic” staff, in the same score. It would then be possible for the plug-in to visually hide the original staff (using “Focus on Staves”) and aurally mute the custom staff (in the Mixer). You would then have a custom “chromatic” staff that looks correct that you would see, and a traditional staff that sounds correct that you would hear.

This would be a fairly complex process, and there may be various “gotchas” involved in copying the music to a custom staff and making sure it is correct. If successful, this would provide a basic transnotation feature, but one would still have to do any composing or editing in traditional notation beforehand.

(We thank those at Avid/Sibelius who provided their helpful insight and information on this topic.)