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Introducing Sibelius for Mobile

Sam Butler and Joe Plazak

July 29, 2021

Welcome to Sibelius for mobile—a new revolutionary way to create and edit music on the go. Built on the award-winning Sibelius desktop application, this free app for iPad packs in many of the same features and workflows of its big brother, plus brings along with it new innovative ways to interact with the touch interface and Apple Pencil.

Sibelius for mobile joins the family of Sibelius products and solutions across desktop, cloud, and web.

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We appreciate you may be just as excited as we are, so please go ahead and download the app and come back here when you're ready…

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This is a historic milestone for the Sibelius team and the product, and we can't be more excited about it! The remarkable thing about Sibelius for mobile is that it really is Sibelius running on an iPad. It's not a special render of the score, nor a unique one-time product that'll need to be re-written in years to come to incorporate changes we make in Sibelius on desktop. We've actually extended the Sibelius project to reach Windows, Mac, cloud, and now iPad. This means all your scores you create and edit will happily and natively go between desktop and iPad without any conversion process. It also means that any changes we make to the modern core notation engine will be shared across the desktop software, our cloud engine, and now the mobile app.

Those familiar with Sibelius on desktop will recognize the galleries to add musical objects to the score. Command Search is there (which we introduced in Sibelius 2021.2) and, of course, the iconic Sibelius Keypad came along with a new lick of paint. Getting around the score, selecting objects, and entering notes using the mouse and keyboard (if you have them connected) will make you feel right at home. The new touch gestures and Apple Pencil support open up a whole new world for music creation and editing.

Getting started

We wanted new and existing users to become familiar with the app quickly, so when you first run the app, you're greeted with a Getting Started guide that takes you through the main ways of interacting with your music. It covers everything you need to become familiar with the app, from navigating around to the important topic of note entry. It also covers how to log in with your existing Sibelius license to unlock additional features (on par with your desktop software) or buy a new subscription in-app.

Like on desktop, there are three tiers of Sibelius in the app too. Sibelius | First is free to everyone and includes the basic feature set, enabling you to write music for up to four staves. Sibelius is the middle tier, enabling you to create music for up to 16 staves, with a subset of features to mark up your score. Sibelius | Ultimate enables you to create music without any boundaries. To find out more about what's in each tier, see the comparison chart.

Once you're through the guide, you're taken straight into a score. We wanted the experience to be music-focused from the outset, so you can start moving around the beautiful score and experimenting with this new version of Sibelius.

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Simple design, powerful interface

Toolbar

Unlike the desktop version, Sibelius for mobile doesn't have a tabbed toolbar/Ribbon with hundreds of features. The interface is kept clean and uncluttered, although packed with all the features you'll need to create beautiful scores. The toolbar is thin and unobtrusive, allowing the score to be the main focus.

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To hear the score, press Play and your score will play back with a high-quality lite version of the Sibelius Sounds library, allowing your scores to have great realism.

Adding items to your score is easy. After making a selection in your score, tap the Create menu + and a dropdown full of musical objects will appear:

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You can think of the Create + menu as similar to the right-click menu or the old Create menu from Sibelius 6 or earlier on desktop. From here, you can add anything from clefs to repeat structures, from slurs to trills and musical symbols, to adding text to your score. You can also add instruments to your score from here too. To add objects to your score, make a selection where you want it to go, then choose it from the Create + menu.

The regular keyboard shortcuts apply here too, allowing you to quickly access the features you need:

Q - Clefs
K - Key signatures
T - Time signature
L - Lines
Z - Symbols
I - Instruments
, - Command Search

Those who know Sibelius desktop software will be familiar with the myriad of dialog boxes and pop-up windows. The new mobile version of Sibelius was designed to always keep your score prominently in view, so adding instruments and instrument changes now happens in the Create + menu rather than in a separate window.

Need to change the order of the instruments in your score? Use the Command Search feature to find it. Here, like in the desktop version, you can type in what you need and execute it straight away. To move an instrument up or down in the score, just select it, then type "move" into Command Search and you'll find all the features to help you move staves and other objects in your score:

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The More … menu is where you can set the page size, print, and find the "Getting Started" guide, as well as the indispensable "Sibelius Reference Guide," which will take you through the application in great detail. The More … menu also allows you to unlock features and manage your subscription.

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The Keypad

The iconic Sibelius Keypad, which is full of notes, accidentals, playing articulations, and more for you to add to your score, can be found by tapping the purple icon in the bottom corner:

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There are handy buttons to Delete and Undo to help you while you edit scores, and to hide the keypad too:

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There are 6 Keypad layouts containing groups of notes, playing articulations, and so on:

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Seasoned Sibelius users will feel right at home with the redesigned Keypad on the iPad.

I'm a Sibelius user on desktop, how do I get started?

From the outset, we wanted this app to be free and available to everyone! We also wanted it to be part of the Sibelius family, so if you have a current perpetual license or subscription to Sibelius or Sibelius | Ultimate, you can log into Sibelius on your iPad to unlock the features. These features in this app are included in and are all part of your active Software Updates + Support Plan (if you have a perpetual license) or subscription—without any additional cost.

To unlock the features, go to the More … menu and choose "Unlock more features." Log into your Avid account and it'll pull down your software entitlement. If you need to renew your subscription or support plan, visit your Avid Master Account.

If you have a Sibelius perpetual license but don't have an active support plan, you will be able to continue using the app but in the free Sibelius | First tier. Be aware though that files saved in Sibelius for mobile will be in the latest version and won't open in older versions of Sibelius for desktop. It's best to stay current so you keep access to the very latest versions we release across Windows, Mac, and iPadOS.

I'm new to Sibelius, where do I start?

For those who are completely new to Sibelius and may only have an iPad, you can unlock extra features by subscribing to Sibelius using the in-app options. Again, there are the same three tiers, and you can subscribe to either Sibelius or Sibelius | Ultimate. When subscribing in-app, you will only get access to Sibelius on that iPad—you won't get access to Sibelius on Windows or Mac. If you want the whole desktop + mobile experience, subscribe to Sibelius through your favorite reseller or from Avid.

Creating a new score

iPadOS comes with a great file browser, so we integrated the Files app to manage file creation and sharing. This allows you to use third-party cloud storage, AirDrop, and even open files you've shared using another app (Slack, Microsoft Teams, etc.).

To create a new score, return to the Document view using the back button in the top-left corner, and you'll find the standard iPadOS file browser. Navigate to the folder you'd like to create a score in and press the + icon to create a new score.

You'll be presented with some example scores to try out that show off many of the features of Sibelius, plus a list of useful Manuscript Papers to start writing music in.

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Tapping any of these will open the score and save a copy in the folder you created it from.

Note input

Note input was carefully designed for each way that you can interact with Sibelius for mobile, including touch, keyboard, mouse, and Apple Pencil. With our patent pending note input methods, you can enter any note (pitch & rhythm) using a single gesture. Within Sibelius for mobile, you can seamlessly use any note input entry method at any time.

Simply using touch

One major design challenge was to ensure there was a method of entering notes using touch without your finger covering up the music you're trying to input or edit. Fingers are generally too big for any fine-tuning and would get in the way of what you're trying to see. That's why Sibelius for mobile reserves all touch gestures for selecting and deselecting objects. Taking advantage of the keypad, it's possible to enter any note at any pitch or rest of any value into the score.

Simply select where you want to add a note into the score and then press and drag up or down on the note value you need in the Keypad to enter notes. Slide left or right to add a flat or sharp and then let go to place the note into the score.

Rests are added by either choosing the note length you need and tapping the Rest button, or by swiping left or right on the Rest button. This will cycle through the different note values, so let go to place the rest in the score.

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There are two new buttons on the Keypad that help repitch notes and add chords. We felt these were crucial to the fast-paced touch input methods, so they're right there in the 1st and 2nd Keypad layouts. Again, these are optimized for touch, so drag up or down on the Pitch Correction button to alter a note's pitch in the score, and drag left or right to flatten or sharpen the selected note. The chord button will add a 3rd to a note, or you can drag up or down to choose the note. By now, you've probably worked out that you can slide left or right to flatten or sharpen the new note.

Tip: Touch gestures on the score are reserved for selecting and deselecting and to zoom in or out. Even in note input mode, you can swipe around the score and zoom using touch gestures, and it won't affect your music. Simply tapping on the score will exit note input mode and deselect the music too.

Keyboard and mouse

There are hundreds of useful keyboard shortcuts in Sibelius, and with any connected keyboard, all these features are at your fingertips. To trigger note input, select where you want to start, tap N, then you can use the numbers along the top to choose the note duration, and then the letters A, B, C, D, E, F, G to enter the pitches. You can type Shift+1 through 9 to add notes above a note to create chords.

Mouse input is similar to how Sibelius works on desktop too. Using the mouse, you can simply click the notes into the score.

Apple Pencil

Writing music with the Apple Pencil is an incredible experience, and if you don't have one, we'd recommend you get one. It really is like writing on digital manuscript paper.

The Apple Pencil comes with tilt and pressure sensitivity sensors, and Sibelius for mobile takes advantage of both of these to deliver a completely reimagined pencil and paper workflow.

The most simple way to enter notes with a Pencil is to select the note value you need on the Keypad and tap in the score where you want to place the note. The note goes into the staff when you lift off, allowing you to get the correct pitch and even alter the duration, accidental, and playing articulation on the Keypad with your other hand.

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This way, you can tap in the notes and select the note durations with your other hand, making this a pretty speedy way to enter notes.

Tip: if you find the Keypad is under your wrist when you enter notes with the Apple Pencil, you can move it to the other corner by doing a long press on the Keypad icon.

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Using the force...

To take advantage of the pressure sensitivity of the Apple Pencil, we are introducing a new and unique way to enter notes. We wanted a way for someone to enter Note Input mode really quickly, with the fewest number of taps on the screen. With the Apple Pencil, tap and lean into the iPad with a little pressure, and you'll notice it pops into Note Input mode. You can then release the pressure but keep the Pencil on the screen to find the right location, then release the Pencil from the screen to place the note in the score. You can then tap on the score to enter more notes.

Once in Note Input mode, you can apply some pressure again to the Pencil and tilt it left and right to lengthen and shorten the note duration before lifting off to place that note in the score. Adding pressure and tilting up and down will allow you to add a half-step up and down, and it'll add the right accidental for you.

The note value you initially get is a crotchet/quarter note, so you can move through the pitches by adding pressure and tilting left or right. However, if you have a note already selected, such as a quaver, the note you get will match that. This allows you to add chords really easily to an existing note:

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Finding the required pressure can take a little while to get used to—it doesn't require too much pressure to activate. Remember, tapping anywhere on the screen with your finger will always exit Note Input mode and allow you to continue to edit your score.

Entering text

We wanted the experience of adding text to your score to be simple and very similar to how it's done on the desktop version of Sibelius too. To get started, select where you want to add your text, go to the Create + menu, and tap on the "Aa" gallery. Here, tap on the text style you'd like to add to your score. The curser will start flashing and will allow you to start typing.

If you know your Keyboard shortcuts, you can type these instead; for example, Cmd+E for Expression (dynamics), Cmd+Alt+T for Tempo, and so on. A full list of keyboard shortcuts is available in the "Sibelius Reference" guide.

Once you have the flashing curser, you can either type what you need (e.g., pizz), or you can pull up the Word Menu by two-finger tapping on the score or by clicking the Word Menu button that pops up at the bottom right of the screen or on the top-right side of the onscreen keyboard.

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You can then choose from one of the predefined words to add to your score. To return to editing the score, simply tap anywhere on the score.

Dark mode

With the opportunity to reimagine the Sibelius UI for the mobile app, we wanted to take advantage of dark mode in iPadOS. Every element of Sibelius has been fine-tuned for both light and dark modes, down to the shade of purple on the toolbar.

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To switch between light and dark modes, go to the iPad Settings app > Display & Brightness.

Accessibility

As with our desktop software products, Accessibility is treated as a first-class citizen, so we built support for VoiceOver right into the mobile app too. Sibelius will read the UI elements and the score, just like it does on the desktop version. We don't have the same level of options and preferences on mobile as we do on desktop just yet, so we'll be adding these in the future.

To help you log in, you can use the standard Option+Tab and Option+Enter keyboard shortcuts. You may also find it useful to turn off the audio ducking feature to better hear the playback in Sibelius. You can find this in the Settings app > Accessibility > VoiceOver > Audio.

We advise not to turn on "Full Access Keyboard" in the iPadOS Settings app. This will swallow the Tab key, which is critical to allow you to navigate scores.

Working on scores between desktop and iPad

Using files across different devices (Windows/Mac/iPad) is easy. It's common to use iCloud, Dropbox, or OneDrive, and Sibelius will allow you to save and open files from any of these cloud storage solutions.

Once you're ready to open a score from your desktop software onto the iPad, ensure the file is closed in Sibelius on your desktop before you continue. Then, simply save a copy of your file in your iCloud, Dropbox, or OneDrive folder (if it's not there already), wait a few seconds, and it will sync with the cloud.

The file syncing should only take a few seconds and allow you to save your work in your desktop software, take your iPad over to your piano, say, while it syncs the file in the cloud, and then continue working on your iPad—it's really fun, so give it a go!

Of course, you may not have the same music and text fonts installed on your iPad as you do on desktop, but that's OK since it's Sibelius and it knows how to handle font substitution.

What's next?

We've come a long way to produce Sibelius for mobile. It's been a thrilling journey, but we know now that we need to flesh out the features and bring parity to both desktop and iPad. This means you'll see features in the desktop version soon that are based on the mobile version (searchable galleries, log in to activate, touch support on the Keypad, etc.), and the mobile app will also inherit more of the features from desktop (Dynamic Parts, Panorama, and more).

Rest assured though, with the expanded development team, we're on the road to deliver frequent updates to Sibelius across all platforms, so watch this space.

There is no better time to get current with Sibelius. If you're a new user, you can purchase a new license from Avid. If you already have a Sibelius perpetual license but it's not up to date, you can either renew your Software Updates + Support Plan in your Avid Master account or buy a Crossgrade to upgrade from any previous old version to Sibelius Ultimate here.

We could not be more proud of the dedication and hard work from the team to release this outstanding evolution of Sibelius. Our sincerest gratitude goes out to all members of the team for their contributions, and to their families for allowing them the space and time to work at home.

Sam Butler and Joe Plazak
Sam Butler and Joe Plazak
As director of audio software at Avid, Sam works with all the departments in Avid to produce the future of the Pro Tools and Sibelius products and solutions, while Joe scores the Sibelius hat trick: working as a developer, designer, and product owner. 

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