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Software: Finale or Sibelius?

Hi, listers,

Many of you have asked for a compilation of responses to my Finale/Sibelius
question. The responses seem to have stalled, so here it comes:

*Comments from folks happy/happier with Sibelius:

CHANGE TO SIBELIUS!! Your life will be so much easier. I switched about 5 or
6 years ago, so I can't answer all of your questions, but the important
thing to know is that the basic concept of Sibelius is FAR more user
friendly than Finale. I used to refer to Finale as a "labyrinthean
nightmare". Especially extracting parts. Ugh.
"[Someone] asked whether you could play stuff in to Sibelius from a piano
keyboard. She noted that she had gone back to MS a couple of years ago,
because she could do it and watch TV at the same time, and Finale was
frustrating to her in that regard."

The answer to the question is yes, unequivocally! You can play into Sibelius
either in Real time - it has a clever device they call 'flextime' which
allows a little leeway and will actually move with you i.e. flexes to your
input. You can set it to accept more or less 'rubato' and/or 'swing' and it
will still notate as you would want. Inevitably there are still some
inputting problems with piano parts. No program on the market can notate
parts moving within a two handed instrumental part whilst chord notes are
held unless the movement is in one hand and the chords in the other.
However, even here, Sibelius does allow you to 'clean' up the piano part
much more easily than any other program I have ever used.

Sibelius also allows you to use 'semi-real time' input from a keyboard. This
means that you select the note value using the numeric keypad on your
computer (thus #4 = a quarter note; #3 = an eighth; #3=a half note etc) then
play the note name using the midi keyboard. When you need to change the note
value you do that on the numeric keypad and continue.

The other input method (which I use mostly and find really quick), is to use
a combination of the numeric keypad and the letters A thru G on the
computer's keyboard. Thus you select #4 on the numeric keypad (i.e. quarter
notes) and then using the letter keys on the computer keyboard enter the
melody changing the note values as you go along.

Check out some of my recent submissions to CPDL ('I was glad' Sir Hubert
Parry: 'O magnum mysterium' William Byrd: "So fahr ich hin zu Jesu Christ"
Schutz etc). These will give you an idea of the standard of finished product
that I am achieving at the moment. The Parry in particular, has a tricky
accompaniment from a notational point of view. And whilst it would have
probably been possible with Finale, I doubt that I could have done it as
quickly or with such a small amount of effort as I did with Sibelius.

Incipits are really easy on Sibelius. They are even mentioned twice in the
documentation. I have used them many times and found them both simple and
effective alongside old clefs and noteheads. Sibelius writes plainchant
easily and you can hide/show staves at any time. So, if you dedicate a staff
to plainchant, (because it appears at various times in the piece) you can
show that staff whilst hiding the others to give you a passage of dedicated
plainchant which is not interfered with by the rest of the choral staves.
(It's easier to do than to explain.)

All my old files were in either finale or encore on the Mac. Not only was
sibelius able to read them it was able to take files created on the Mac and
make them readable and available for editing on my new Windows PC by simply
adding a .sib suffix to the file name. The results enabled me to update the
old finale files and make them so much better using Sibelius.

There's a simplicity about the Sibelius operating system that is hard to
beat. There are no real drop-down menus like finale. Sibelius tends to use
shortcut keys which, whilst tricky early on, are such an amazing time-saver
as you become more used to the program.

I am convinced totally that Sibelius is way better than Finale. The new
version (v2) is even better still with its incredible 'Arrange' feature
which allows anyone to arrange a piece of piano music (say) for any
combination up to symphony orchestra.
Can't talk about Finale because I never had it. However, my sister who
directs the chorus at Loyola University has purchased it for their lab. I
have also purchased it. From the chord it has been a pleasure to work
with. I learned to use it quickly and it's pretty clean. There is a demo
you can download and I think you can try a conversion of a Finale file.
The photoscore scanning program is a blessing. I had many songs to
transpose for amateur singers. I scanned them in, translated, cleaned it
up and then exported it to Sibelius where I could transpose to my heart's
delight. There is also a users discussion board you could lurk in if you
wish to hear more comments.
Sibelius is much easier to use and just as (more?) powerful. I like Sibelius
for its ease of use; it is also intuitive. The one thing I don't like is its
rather convoluted copy protection scheme that requires emailing them
installation codes and receiving back a registration number. I maintain all
15 Macs for the Conservatory of Music and this has proven a pain in the
butt. If I only had one and didn't have to reinstall it it wouldn't be so
bad. In fairness they have been cooperative when I had a problem.
I have Sibelius, latest version.

Whether you like Sibelius or Finale better, I think, depends on your needs.
I don't need to print out BIG scores, though this can be done on either
program. I don't mind the automatic formatting that Sibelius provides you
with, and Sibelius is quick and simple. That's why I'm happy with Windows
Sibelius program (I have Windows ME, Windows 98 doesn't work well with
Sibelius 4 version).

I learned the basics of the program in one day, got the fine pointers down
in a week, time is $$$ to me, so I save a lot of time with Sibelius.
I have Sibelius and love it. If you go to their website, you can download a
free demo. The upgrades are usually free. I like it because everything is
so quick and easy, and the output is far superior to Finale. I have always
thought that Finale is an over-rated program. Before Sibelius I used
"Score," which still has the best looking output; however, it is not
available for Mac. You can convert Finale files, but I have not used that
function often. Again, Sibelius is an easy program to learn, and it does
many things automatically for you. For instance, when you extract parts,
there is not much editing that needs to be done to the output, the program
lines up everything pretty intelligently.
I am a Sibelius user who has only dabbled in Finale for any length of time.
Sibelius was usable in minutes (I'm tempted to say seconds, but that would
be an exaggeration). The learning curve is much smaller with Sibelius. It is
also designed for you to input using your computer keyboard vs. only a MIDI
instrument or the mouse.

Sibelius also has NO problem converting Finale files, as I have done it many
times. At this time I've not found anything not to like about Sibelius.
Sibelius is a better application. It works more intuitively than other
notation applications. Sibelius 2.0 is vastly better than anything
previously available; ease of use, stability, and productivity. It's what
we use to introduce notation to the students at our university. Of course I
wish it were even more intuitive, more ubiquitous, and more stable. The
folks at Sibelius are listening and working on this, which is why the
competition is healthy. You'll notice Finale has gotten MUCH better since
Sibelius became widely available in the USA.
I had minimal experience with Finale before I moved to Sibelius. I am
certainly in love with the new version 2 of Sibelius. It is very easy to
use - not only do I use it, but staff who are not yet convinced that
technology is a good thing use it, as do my students.

I did have a few a problems initially with Sibelius reading Finale files,
but with a little help from our Technology department, got it happening
without too many hassles.

The beauty of this new sibelius is that it has the ability to convert midi
files. If you transport a midi file from the Internet it will simply come
up with the actual chart. A few changes may need to be made, as the program
is very sensitive about instrument ranges, etc. You are also able to scan
in, for example, a hymn and by pressing a couple of keys, convert the file
to a full symphony orchestra arrangement. Or in reverse, transfer a concert
band to an SATB score.

I would certainly recommend it. I have not had any problems with it in the
five years I have been using Sibelius.

*Comments from folks happy with Finale:

I switched from Finale to Sibelius and BACK! While I liked working with
Sibelius, I found their documentation to be totally inadequate. There were
questions I had that were fairly common (i.e. working with stem directions
in a choral score), which weren't answered anywhere in their manual or help
file - I finally found answers in the online users forum. Having cut my
teeth on Finale's manuals, it was too frustrating and I've gone happily back
to Finale.
I am trying to become more technology proficient. This summer I took a one
day Finale/Sibelius clinic at Emporia State University. From that clinic, I
felt that Finale was closer to typical Macintosh programs, or at least it
felt more comfortable for me to use. Now this is from someone who bought
Finale about 8 years ago and never used it. Apparently the newer versions
of Finale (based on my experience this summer) are much more user friendly
than the older versions. I went to the clinic thinking I would purchase
Sibelius for my own use. Now I'm thinking I will upgrade my old, old Finale
Despite the choral problems associated with Finale, Finale is the cheapest
means by which I disseminate my music both to the public and my choir [most
important]. I get each choral member to download Finale Notepad [free from], and then send out my files to them to print, and more
important, play back. The valuable part of Notepad over Sibelius Scorch is
that if I change anything, the singers can alter it themselves [and I do
change things incessantly].

But in the end it's much the same - Sibelius is not really for people who
disseminate music by email, or teach music - Finale is fast becoming a
"musical language" all on its own.
I teach the use of both programs at college and as a real live starving
composer, I can share this with you:
Choral incipits can be done on Finale if you think of it as a graphic.
If you do not need to do challenging contemporary music (think Boulez,
Lutoslawski), then Sibelius is just fine for most things.
In my experience Sibelius converts Finale files just fine.
I use Finale in conjunction with Adobe Illustrator. Thus Finale is
treated as an object in space with illustrator, and I can do anything I
can imagine.
I probably will never switch from Finale, despite some frustrations that I
share with those you detailed. The reason I won't switch may seem odd,
however. Last summer, I went to the technology in music workshop sponsored
by the College Music Soc. at Illinois State in Normal. I loved it, and
learned a lot.

The various vendors had opportunities to demonstrate their products. The
Sibelius demonstration was an utter disaster from start to finish. Nothing
worked the way it was supposed. The Finale demo was fantastic (I had seen it
once before, some years ago), and everything went exactly as planned.

There was a lot riding on those two demos, and Coda Music really had their
act together; the Sibelius folks looked like country bumpkins. Yes, it is
the software we should evaluate, but it has to be serviced, maintained, and
marketed, and Finale got the job done. I don't think there was a music
educator in the room who gave serious consideration to Sibelius after that

*Recommendations for other music notation software programs:

I would really suggest, unless you are dealing with enormous scores (chorus
and band or orchestra) that you spend a little time exploring Lime from It is quickly downloadable, works
wonderfully well for ALL of my choral uses, and is only about $55, if you
choose to keep it. I gave up on Finale long ago, and still have Sibelius
installed on the dreaded windoze machine at work, but find that I only use
it when I am composing film scores to be recorded from a synthesizer. Lime
is a very compact program, not quite as elegant as Sibelius, but Sibelius
is ultimately so non-intuitive (though much better than Finale, in my
experience) that if I have a hiatus from using it for a couple of weeks, I
have to constantly relearn things. I just started some major choral
arranging recently (preparatory to new school year), after not doing
anything for a couple about 6 months, and Lime was right there at my finger

Sibelius is certainly full featured, and even fun, if you are working with
it all the time. But to save several hundred dollars, I really recommend

It is not yet carbonized, meaning that it won't work in the Classic mode on
a OSX machine. So I do have to restart my Mac (using the "Startup Disk
control panel/preference pane), but it does the job very well, and is quite
easy to learn and use.
There is a new book "Music Engraving Today" by Steven Powell, pub. Elkin
Music International ISBN 0-9658910-1-1 which clearly explains the strengths
and differences between the two programs. Sections usually end with wish
lists for either program.
Ironically, I have both but rarely use either because the old war horse
Score V4 for Dos[!] actually does all the things - excepting MIDI/playback -
that Finale and Sibelius can't or require a great deal of fiddling to
achieve. Incipits are difficult in both Finale and Sibelius. In Score they
are a breeze.
If you want a more powerful WYSIWYG program than Sibelius and Finale
Graphire's Music Press is reviewed very favorably by serious engraving
colleagues who use it.

*Miscellaneous Comments:

You might like to look at Steve Powell's new book, "Music Engraving at the
Computer." There's a comparison chapter at the end about Sibelius and Finale
(though the book is based mostly on Finale).
I used Encore until it went bankrupt, tried to switch to Finale...frustrated
me no end due to the time involved. Also I could not 'play' the music into
the keyboard like I did with Encore. Most publishers, including mine...use
Finale. I have bought all the upgrades but never used them as I went back
to manuscript for the past couple years! (I can watch TV and do
manuscript!) :)

I have heard that Sibelius is more user friendly...hopefully I could play
the music in again. The computer never was faster but the final result
looked cleaner.
I haven't used Sibelius, but, if it matters to you, I recently found out
that Sibelius does have an OS X native version, whereas they're still
working on an OS X native version of Finale.

Note: Sibelius is currently offering its new version (Sibelius 2 - which is
MAC OS X compatible) to folks changing from Finale or Encore for $179. No
cut-off date is cited for this deal, available through its web site


Kathy Bowers
St. Louis MO USA

Hi, everybody. Well, I'm very late on this, but since I see that another
person has posed the question "Finale or Sibelius" (see Stephanie Ketchum's
most recent 3/1 posting), I guess it's a good time to finally post that
compilation of the responses I myself received about a year and a half ago
on this very same topic. FYI, I never ended up convincing the church to lay
out the money to buy EITHER software package (even at the discounted
academic/theological pricing), and then I left that job (I was only an
interim music director) so it became a "moot point" for me, as they say.

Anyway: Stephanie, et al, here are all the answers the folks of this fine
list passed along to me back in October of 2004. Enjoy! And please forgive
me for the terrible delay . . .

I'll begin with my original posting -- and I've left off signatures to save
space and reading time for everyone -- if anyone wants signature information
(i.e., to whom each comment should be attributed), just let me know. Here
we go . . .

Hi, Listers. Just wanted to check in with you guys to see which musical
notation software package I should order for use in my church music director
job. Any strong preferences either way? If you feel like responding, just
pop me an e-mail. If I get a bunch of meaningful responses, I'll compile
and re-post. Thanks!

RESPONSES (Separated by ***):


There's a compilation on this subject on ChoralNet: > Technology > Tech Tips > Software > Finale or Sibelius?


In my opinion Finale is a MUST for all choral directors for one reason - it
allows the dissemination of music to all members of the choir - music which
can be played back, and depending how it was saved [i.e. what options are
selected under playback] - it can play the score back as it reads it note by


After using Finale a few years ago and studying the manual very thoroughly ,
I found out that after 2 years of not using Finale, everything was gone!!
Even now with the latest 2004 version, which is more user-friendly I don't
know how and where to start. The school where I work bought several copies
of Sibelius 2 and that was a relief!
I can do almost anything with it and the excellent manual helps together
with the online help if there is something that you can't see right-away.
Besides that we work with the (German) program Capella which is also very
easy to use and is not that expensive. There is an English version
available. Look at
So for me it's SIbelius (and Capella)


There's a contingent that believes that Sibeluis is easier to use and that
the program is more intuitive.

I've been a Finale User for over 10 years, and I've seen the program grow
immensly over that time. Although Sibelius has the edge over Finale with
scanning technology, Finale programs can be authored by an individual and
then sent to others and opened in the FREE Finale Notepad software. Finale
2005 (I'll be upgrading soon) also saves Finale files in an Mp3 format as
well as WAV files (i.e. make your own rehearsal CDs). And if you really
want to get tricky, you can create a Finale file and turn it into a
SmartMusic file, meaning that you can create a accompaniment that will
follow the solo singer or instrumentalist (if you have SmartMusic), and even
use that SmartMusic file in performance if you need to.

I've seen Sibeluis and Finale at the different conferences over the years,
and the products really are becoming rather similar. I personally wonder
how long the music industry can sustain two products,
when one of the two companies will buy out the other.

One other thought...if you buy Finale, you're purchasing an American made,
American developed product (right here in Minnesota)-something that may or
may not be important to you, but when given the choice
between equals, I personally try to buy American every time.

Good luck. Either way, you'll have a comprehensive music notation software
package that will meet your needs.

P.s. be sure to check out for prices...good folks that have
pretty good deals for the music educator.


Because I've spent years using both programs, I believe Sibelius is far more
friendly to use. In addition, the playback is far superior and time


I imagine that you will receive responses from quite a few directors on both
sides, and all will be quite adamant! I'm quite loyal to Sibelius, myself.
Its method of input is so supremely logical that I've been able to use it
quite effectively and very quickly, even without a piano keyboard attached
at times. Another great resource that Sibelius gives you is Photoscore,
which for church music is a fantastic addition. Many
of the tasks in church music will require you to make a quick transposition,
or simple edits. Photoscore can scan music into a Sibelius format (even
lyrics) with unbelieveable accuracy.

I'm quite loyal to it, and I think it will help you greatly!


Hi --
Just my two cents -- after having used both programs, I'll take Sibelius
every time. It is easier to use, does more, and is very professional looking
when printed out. If you have specific questions, I'd be happy to answer
them. I use Sibelius for all my church music stuff, from praise team writing
and arranging to choral to organ, handbells, whatever I need.


Just writing to say: don't do it! You'll hate Finale.

Besides, the best academic price for either of them is at Lentine's Music: where the Sibelius academic edition
is $269.

The Sibelius edition is marked "hybrid" because the CD comes with the
software for both platforms, and you are licensed to put the Mac and Windows
versions on different computers (such as work and home, laptop and desktop).
Conversion between the versions is absolutely seamless. You can also install
the same version on two different computers; there's no need to transfer the
saving function and password anymore in version 3.
If you just need to knock out an occasional uncomplicated score, the freebie
Finale Notepad is not bad.


I teach this stuff. After twenty years, I can safely say that the total
actual expense of going with any one technology over another is NOT related
to the original purchase price of that technology. History has borne out
that your time is the greatest expense - the time it takes you to do your
best work - the time you save by having the best hardware, software, and
technical support to keep doing your job.

Consider the additional time (in minutes) it takes you to learn/train to do
anything new related to your work, and then add to that the extra time the
cheaper software (in this case) will require for you to do the
same job. Add up all those minutes and ask yourself; how much are those
minutes difference worth in dollars to my church?

Every minute you spend NOT doing what they hired you to do is an expense to
your church - an expense that could be better spent elsewhere on your music

Multiply those extra minutes spent learning a harder program, and doing
poorer work more slowly, over a week, a month, a year, and you'll see; this
figure is much, much, much greater than the difference in purchase price
between two products.

This happens in every sector, but especially in church and education, and
especially with decisions about integrating the right technologies; the
original purchase price is actually the smallest expense incurred
in ANY decision like this.

In my music lab at the university, we have both Finale and Sibelius. There
is no comparison between the two in terms of their initial learning curves,
their usefulness to working musicians, or the technical support and
stability of their latest products. None. If Sibelius cost $1,000 and
Finale were free, it would still be cheaper for my students and faculty to
go with Sibelius. But there's good news for you; if you do any teaching
related to your work (any choir, any sunday school, etc.), you qualify as an
educator, and can purchase either application directly from SoundTree at a
reduced price. Just go to; Finale for educators is $235
and Sibelius for educators is $255. The $20 difference will be made up
within the first day you start using notation.

I learned this the hard way.


. . . we have used both Finale and Sibelius at our church for several
years--most recently Sibelius. I don't know how adept you are with either of
these programs, but the ease of use of Sibelius will more than pay for the
difference in its cost through the savings of "person hours" invested in
both learning and using the program. I think it would be false economy to
buy a program that is much more difficult to use simply because it is a bit
cheaper. Remember the old adage "you get what you pay for."


Jody Sinkway
mezzo-soprano, etc.

Moderator's note: I'm posting John's comments because they are pertinent general information. If subscribers wish to continue this discussion, please move it to ChoralTalk. Thanks. Carol

The compilation just posted by someone (Jody Sinkway?) is helpful,
but outdated. Listers should note that the responses are from 2004,
which is one version back from the current Sibelius and two versions
from the current Finale. The opinions I've been seeing on the
FinaleList and elsewhere are that Sibelius upgrades are
well-considered and real improvements, and at this point in time are
preferable to Finale. Finale's annual upgrades are strictly a
marketing ploy, and MakeMusic has been focusing on frills rather than
improvements to the basic notation functions, or fixing bugs that
have been causing complaints for years. Your mileage, of course, may


John & Susie Howell
Virginia Tech Department of Music
Blacksburg, Virginia, U.S.A 24061-0240
Vox (540) 231-8411 Fax (540) 231-5034

on May 30, 2003 10:00pm
Try the new ENCORE from GVOX, it works wonderful on Win XP and is the most userfriendly program of all times!
on January 12, 2004 10:00pm
I spent a long time evaluating different packages. Finale was far too user unfriendly - too many modes - I would only recommend it to people who are already using it.

Sibelius is excellent, but there are some things I didn't like, including the speed on my computer, and the big price. There are a few things that are not so intuitive. For example, unless you change the default settings, drag-selecting notes doesn't select anything: it moves the page!

I believe the best written and easiest software to use is Igor (, which is only available over the internet. It is fast to enter music, very intelligent (e.g. it knows the difference between a trill played on a flute and one played on a kettledrum), and the output looks great. However, my computer (a 1997 PowerMac 7300) is a bit too slow to run it. It's not so well known, because they don't have the advertising muscle of the bigger players.

In the end I went with GenieSoft Overture 3.5 (formerly Opcode Overture)(, which seems to be an evolution of Encore. Someone tells me they are by the same author. It's very user friendly, intuitive, fast, very well written, but not quite as powerful as the Sibelius. It does pretty much everything I want, however.

I certainly recommend checking out demos of both Igor and Overture before you fork out your money on Sibelius.

Flinder Hiew
Melbourne, Australia
on March 3, 2006 10:00pm
I have never used finale or sibelius. I downloaded Finale note pad for free but couldnt understand it. I have been using Encore for a couple of years and I like it. There are a couple of thing that I do not know how to use, but I don
on May 7, 2008 10:00pm
Hi y'all. I know this thread is old, but...

I've tried both products and used them both quite a bit. They each have strengths the other doesn't.

Bottom line first: I prefer Finale.

I prefer Finale because I can work a lot faster using Finale, from note entry to getting my score to look like I want it to, to making midi or synth recordings from the program.

Sibelius's strengths are that it's easier to learn and the music looks better when it's printed.

Finale's strengths are that, after a much harder learning process, it's faster to use and is more customizable.

Sibelius is certainly less complicated to learn. The "modes" in Finale can be confusing (but once you get comfortable with them, they're faster than Sibelius's interface). All the systems in Sibelius seem to be geared toward being easy to learn, and the default music looks great (better than Finale) without any tweaking.

My favorite example of the difference is making crescendos or hairpins. In Finale, you click on the tool and draw your hairpin where you want it, with the length and position you want. In Sibelius, you click a note, press H, a hairpin appears, and then you adjust it from there, dragging or using the space bar to make it longer, and then if you want it above the staff you have to move it without changing the vertical alignment, which is tricky. To put a measure-long hairpin above the staff, it takes about ten times longer in Sibelius than in Finale.

I also find that entering notes goes a lot faster in Finale. I can input a page of 4-part choral music in about 30 seconds in Finale (not using MIDI), and in Sibelius it takes a couple of minutes.

The major advantages of Sibelius are that it's easier to learn and that scores created with Sibelius look better by default than Finale's do. The learning process is important, and might make the difference for some people (apparently a lot of people).

The "engraving" skills of Sibelius are quite a lot better than Finale, too. You can enter your music and print it, and it'll look good. In finale, you have to spend soe time arranging things on the pages to get them to look right, and Finale doesn't handle page-to-page consistency very well. On the other hand, tweaking things like system breaks and staff spacing is a lot faster in Finale.

So that's my rundown... both are good, and I like Finale better because I can work faster with it. But Sibelius makes prettier scores.