Sibelius vs. Finale: How To Choose?

I am constantly asked for guidance in choosing which of the two preeminent music prep software packages to adopt. There are other programs available, of course, but I would be leery of adopting upstarts, no matter how sexy the features, when there are veterans available. The race does not always go to the swift, since few users with careers built on software will want to master more every few years; neither do they want to abandon a body of work done in one format because it didn’t go the distance. Plus, unless one is musical hermit, one must deal with colleagues, and thus it pays to use what others use. So, from these tests alone, it boils down to Finale or Sibelius. Would that it were as simple a matter to distill it further. Space does not remotely permit an in-depth comparison at the moment, so let’s confine ourselves to the big picture.

This weekend one of my alma maters (San Diego State) played Notre Dame, a contest which, historically, would have seemed such a mismatch as to be impossible to schedule. However, the state university which has struggled throughout its history to become a big fish in successively bigger ponds going up against one of the great white sharks of college football history is a perfect allegory for Sibelius’s struggle to encroach on Finale’s turf. While the Aztecs ultimately lost, it wasn’t a blowout. Sibelius and Finale are like that. The latter has the longer history and hence the larger user base, but the former has the position of upstart and the mantle of innovator. So how does one choose?

One clue is that the documentation for Finale dwarfs that of Sibelius. All that extra verbiage exists to explain something, and is evidence of how Finale has survived on its “jack-of-all-trades-and-master-of-some” depth of features. It has always tried to be all things to all people, offering mixed blessings of power and flexibility purchased by a steep learning curve. Beyond its fledgling years, I have never worried about finishing a gig because Finale couldn’t do something. Plus, as I was a copyist before the first mouse came along, the good news was that Finale let me put symbols, as by hand, wherever I wanted. The bad news was it made me put the symbols, as by hand, wherever I wanted.

When Sibelius made its American debut at a NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show some 10 years ago, and despite its unavailability for the Mac, I saw its potential and grilled its “people” for hours, Its approach was to do more of the thinking for the composer/copyist while limiting some of his options, while using a radically different code structure which sped up processing considerably. This gave it a reduced and simpler learning environment, making it attractive to newbies.

On the broadest levels, the struggle ever since has been each one pushing away from its comfortable extreme by incorporating features and approaches from the other in an attempt to grab market share, This has proven to be a net gain for all of us, as competition does wonders for the pace of development. If it weren’t for Sibelius, Finale wouldn’t have interactive score and part views within one file and, without Finale pointing the way, Sibelius wouldn’t have a scroll view giving more practical access to just the material desired.

If you insist on specifics, Sibelius’ strengths include a slightly more authentic and traditional look to its output, but you might have to remind yourself to notice. Its playback algorithms sound a bit more realistic. And its structure holds somewhat greater potential for my personal holy grail of a completely touch-typed score, a boon for both the visually-impaired as well as anyone who truly thirsts for speed and efficiency. However, the company’s history does not make me confident that it has the vision to pull it off anytime soon. Part of its power comes from placing graphic symbols by hanging them on notes (not just by absolute spacing within the bar,) which often requires the use of the old invisible “dummy note” routine.

Finale’s strengths are a much deeper set of features and, consequently, more ways to get things done. If you’re willing to do the requisite homework with FinaleScript, third-party macro programs (to automate tasks and manage details,) and Finale’s seemingly bottomless pit of skills, you can get it to do most of Sibelius’s tricks, and a lot more.

Ultimately, any solutions to the “Less Filling!/Tastes Great!” software debate really hinge on defining what kind of user you want to be. If you relate to your software as simply a toolbox to accomplish a finite set of gigs, you will probably want one that is smaller, less complicated, and requiring less time and learning to accomplish those so you can get on with life’s other pursuits. If so, Sibelius might be your cup of tea. On the other hand, if you look to your software as a source of personal and musical power, then you must decide whether you are the sort who would rather take the time and effort to become Superman rather than Batman (superheroes both, but hardly interchangeable.) If so, Finale may satisfy your craving for power.

Either way, you’re in for an adventure. Make your choice and dig in!


  • Amanuel
    September 24, 2008 @ 11:45 am

    love it!

    Sibelius fan here! you just hit the spot with this short and sweet note!

  • JKL
    September 26, 2008 @ 7:27 am

    Thanks for the insightful article. Ron.

    Although I’m a long time Finale user I’ve discovered that, as a copyist, it pays (literally) to be fluent in both Sibelius and Finale. I suspect that it’s easier for composers and orchestrators to get away with using only one program, but as soon as you’re in the copying gig you’re going to get both Sibelius and Finale files coming at you, and you have to know how to deal with both of them, fast!

    And I’ve found that the operating modes of the two programs are sufficiently different that I’m not getting too confused when I flip from program to program, which is a relief.

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. Thanks again, Ron.

  • Rachel
    October 4, 2008 @ 2:53 pm

    I’m a sophomore music student, and this really helps me alot. My university music department has both. But is small enough that we only have 3-4 computers in our music resource center. Plus, students are only able to tell me which is better based on the fact that “this is the one I had in high school, I haven’t used the other one”. I’m not a composition student, but a voice/instrumental student. But I still enjoy composing for school. It sounds like Sibelius is the way to go for me seeing as I’m not a hardcore composer. Thanks for the comparison!

  • October 13, 2008 @ 9:15 am

    I hope that one day Finale and Sibelius will merge into one superb notation software that includes the best features of the two solutions, like Adobe and Macromedia. Untill that day I think Sibelius is the best solution for composition directly on computer. But many features of Finale are really amazing!

  • Erik
    November 22, 2008 @ 9:08 am

    I was a user of Finale 2006. I stopped using it because the system bugs were undoing my hard work in the most unsavory of ways. I was curious to know if more recent software updates have addressed these issues, thus making it a more stable program?


  • November 22, 2008 @ 9:30 am

    Erik: With the unbelievably complex numbers of interactions between system and software, diagnosing and making pronouncements about your particular difficulties would be a bit presumptuous on my part. Have you discussed your particular symptoms with Finale’s “people?” In my own experience, ranging from the days when it would crash while doing the most ordinary things, it’s a remarkably stable program. I can’t remember the last time it crashed and lost me work, and then it was probably because I wasn’t scrupulous about backing up. I’ve heard individual stability complaints about every version of Finale that has come out, but have observed no real pattern to them in recent years. The transition to linked score/parts has been a fundamental one, and seems to have gone more smoothly than other similar shifts in other software packages. So the choice of which to use still seems to fall on features and consistency of user interface over “will it work for me?” considerations.

  • February 4, 2009 @ 10:47 am

    I was a professional pencil and paper composer for media for close to forty years. I didn’t get into Finale until I’d retired and began wrriting music for myself as a hobby.

    I didn’t find the learning curve so steep . In fact, I was able to finish an entire jazz CD on Finale within one year of use! I quickly learned to work in my normal mode by creating a six or eight line sketch at the top of the score where I did all my “heavy lifting”. Once I had the prep work done, the ability to explode and drag lines down to the actual score sped up my output enormously!

    I’m now working on my third CD and have done several other arranging projects for others as well.

    ( I will own up to not yet being as facile with the printing functions as I need to be -and my only real beef with Finale is the inability to create “simple” drum parts )

    None of this is to denigrate Sibelius in any way. I downloaded a trial version of the program ,and I found the experiece similar to learning to drive in Britian from the right hand seat on the left side of the road!

    Phil Kelly

  • February 27, 2009 @ 4:43 am

    Great comparison: you don’t succumb to criticizing either program based on subjective opinion, but rather to contrast them based on the strengths and weaknesses of both. I would like to add herethat I never have been frustrated by a program’s lack of simplicity, but I have frequently been frustrated by a program’s lack of ability. Therefore I prefer Finale.

  • Michael D
    March 17, 2009 @ 8:47 am

    I started exploring the comparisons between the programs because I am frustrated by all the playback and other glitches that keep popping up in Finale. The problems are not too bad when I am composing with the current version, and in fact fact the most recent one, 2009, is better than ever. But updating and tweaking older scores from earlier versions is a nightmare. BTW, this is on an Intel Mac running Leopard. Examples: Transposing instruments like clarinets that miss key changes, notes that refuse to sound — usually notes that were fine until I changed something on a different staff, sometimes even a different measure. You can’t separate parts and get consistent playback. When you try to put together the audio files, they are out of time. Ambience reverb is all over the map and best left turned off. These are but a few. So I looked at the trial demo of Sibelius 5 to see what it has to offer. Since it does not open Finale files or enable Garritan Sounds like the full version, I’m not sure. (BTW, does anybody know if Sibelius will play the Finale version of Garritan Orchestra? It appears that it will.) The bottom line is I am not sure if at the end of the day I would get any better results from Sibelius. I’d love some feedback.

  • March 30, 2009 @ 12:41 am

    Question for Ron – I use both Finale and SIbelius, though I prefer Sibelius when I do my own original compositions. I can’t claim to be a virtuoso power-user with either, but I’ve done some avant-garde-type notations and so far haven’t run into anything that either program can’t do. You said the following:

    “Finale’s strengths are a much deeper set of features and, consequently, more ways to get things done. If you’re willing to do the requisite homework with FinaleScript, third-party macro programs (to automate tasks and manage details,) and Finale’s seemingly bottomless pit of skills, you can get it to do most of Sibelius’s tricks, and a lot more.”

    I’ve heard many people say that Finale is more powerful than Sibelius. Can you give me specific examples? Because my experience has shown me so far that Sibelius gives you more control over page layout, lots of avant-garde notation features, its own scripting language, and lots of 3rd-party plugins. I’m definitely looking for powerful, and I thought I found it in Sibelius, but maybe I abandoned Finale too soon.

  • March 30, 2009 @ 12:49 am

    I also have a similar question to Michael D’s, for anyone on this forum who could answer it. Until a few weeks ago, I only used playback to hear things for myself and had no need to make them sound “pretty.” Now I’m working with a company where that’s an issue, and it will affect my decision of whether to go with Sibelius or Finale. What are your opinions on who has the better playback, especially for marching band sounds? It seems that Finale has the better “out of the box” playback, but that you can purchase all the same sounds for Sibelius. For me, this extra money isn’t an issue, because the company will most likely buy it for me. One neat trick I found (accidentally) in Sibelius is that for percussionists or woodwind doublers, simply typing in “chimes” or “piccolo” above the staff changes the sound to that particular patch. I don’t even know how to change instrument sounds in Finale within the same staff. I’m sort of a novice with the Playback features. What do you all recommend for playback? I don’t care about the learning curve – I’m sort of a computer geek anyway. I’m looking for power. *grunt*

  • Brian the Violist
    April 1, 2009 @ 12:24 am

    I have only used Finale, but was back in 2001, so has been many years…

    Friend suggested Sibelius…

    Sounds like Finale is for the notation nerds that want to geek out on their copyist gigs. AND has more bugs… Or just has more bugs when editing saved files from previous versions?? (That is what I am conjecturing thus far…)

    I googled “sibelius vs finale” and read much, and ended on this thread. I think Sibelius will be what I try 1st. ;)

  • genes
    May 18, 2009 @ 2:02 am

    sibelius is the best all you need is to copy, paste, cut, keyboard shortcuts etc. makes everything easy.

  • Bill Holland
    May 27, 2009 @ 3:48 am

    Great comparison. I’ve been using Finale since it’s VERY early days ( I think since about 1990). It is like a word processor for me and just as easy to use. The wonderful thing is that with the latest version(s)I’ve never come across any scoring problem that I couldn’t solve. Anything from a jazz trio to a full symphony orchestra arrangement (all of which I do)earns my bread and butter. I’ve tried Sibelius many times over the years and I am reasonably familiar with it but it lacks the in-depth bells and whistles AND the intuitive approach of Finale. It has taken CODA / MAKE MUSIC many years to earn their spot as number one but I know it is far better than Sibelius. I spend many hours every day on the program and I often comment about how good the product is and how many new things I discover!!! Finale is the ONLY choice for me!

  • June 13, 2009 @ 10:19 pm

    In Ron’s initial article, he references the advantages that music notation software provides for the visually impaired. His experience in this area comes from his interactions with me, a legally blind pianist/composer and long time friend. Ron was kind enough to help discover the first of my notation solutions, Jim Miller’s Personal Composer,” in 1984 or so. I subsequently migrated to Finale 98 at his suggestion and worked with it and its successors for some years.
    In 2003, I and a group of other blind musicians began testing an innovative adaptation of Sibelius 3 for the blind. I have remained a loyal Sibelius user ever since. In recent years, I’ve produced two books of piano arrangements of my original pieces as well as expanding a small ensemble touring book which Ron helped me to begin some years ago.
    Ron, I hope you will revisit this vital product comparison when Sibelius 6 is in greater circulation. I’m hoping that you will give us the benefit of your insights, particularly as they relate to Sibelius’s newest innovation, “Magnetic Layout,” a feature which apparently addresses the age old problem of collision avoidance.
    I’ve heard great things about it from other Sibelius users and feel that it might be the answer to a prayer.
    On another note, with respect to the gentleman who wondered which of the two notation programs creates better, I assume he means “more realistic” playback, I suggest that you not utilize your notation program for this critical application. While Notion uses wonderful soundsets, I wouldn’t choose a notation program strictly because of the playback it provides. I think you’re best to approach the art of “mockups” as its own separate discipline requiring its own specific effort.

    Kevin Kern

  • seayhorse
    June 21, 2009 @ 10:42 pm

    i see that there are many great questions here. I also see that the author of this very good article has yet to reply.

    I am a 2001 Finale user, and very frustrated with its chord library- most of my apps are jazz head etc. and i find 2001’s library too limited.

    I have colleagues who recommend Sibelius for the simple chart, yet i am quite adept in Finale. I find the PDF help files especially easy to navigate and utilize.

    However, at this point, I need to upgrade simply because my old finale program crashes quite often. I am not opposed to learning Sibelius 6.
    any advice on which to choose? the cost for an upgrade from finale (even 2001, thank heavens!) is comparable. please let me know any opinions. I am planning to write for rather large ensembles soon, BTW.

    hit me at:

    thanks all

  • June 24, 2009 @ 5:45 am

    Hi folks,

    I confess to being biased; I just left Sibelius after working for them for 12 and a half years, so my vote is naturally with Sibelius – and particularly Sibelius 6: the one thing that used to bore us to death at Sibelius is the constant opinion that Finale is generally more powerful. I think that was true maybe 6 years ago, but for some reason that opinion still pops up. Do an honest comparison of Finale 2010 v Sibelius 6, and put yourself in the mindset of someone who does not know either program. Sibelius is way more innovative as a piece of software and Finale plays catch up. Sibelius is incontestably easier to use becuase it isn’t tool based. Scanning, dynamic parts, auotmatic layout and updating generally, virtual sounds, the mixer and many many aspects of the notation workflow were things Sibelius invented in 1998. Even the first iteration of Sibelius (called, bizarrely, Sibelius 7) on an Acorn computer in 1995 had panoramic (scroll) view.
    Just my two cents, but I’ll probably be shot down for saying it, since I’m one of the big evangelists for Sibelius in the US.

  • June 26, 2009 @ 11:02 am

    Great to hear from you. As to Seayhorse, even though I haven’t yet upgraded to Sib 6, as a former jazz musician, I’m sure that the new jazz sybmols template and the magnetic layout feature will definitely make you happier. I think now is the best time possible for you to move from Finale to Sibelius. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to write to me at

  • Jiangxen
    June 29, 2009 @ 1:02 am

    I have both Finale 2009b and Sibelius 5 (having used prvious versions). Of the two I definitely prefer Sib., and that’s before even trying out the enhancements promised in Sibelius 6. I find Finale too unstable, and it is the only programme that I have on my new laptop (dual processor etc) that crashes regularly. That says something – and so far Finale to my knowledge is “still working on it”.
    I am a serious (albeit part-time) classical composer and arranger, and can’t afford to waste time sorting out the imperfections of a system, when I should be doing my writing. The ONLY reason why I bought Finale (earlier this year) was because of the Garritan Personal Orchestra. Now I would be in my Seventh Heaven if somebody could show me how (if it is possible, that is) I could get Sibelius 5 to play the Garritan for Finale sounds. It should be possible as both use VST technology. Can anybody help please?

  • July 1, 2009 @ 10:19 am

    I believe Sibelius uses sounds from GPO. Go to and read up on it. I think that’s the case, however.

  • composer13
    July 25, 2009 @ 9:57 am

    As a high school student doing much composing and arranging, I have been debating on whether to purchase Sibelius 6 or Finale 2010 recently. I haven’t had any prior experience with notation software but am frustrated with the amount of time required to write out things by hand, especially with limited space between staves when writing out for multiple instruments. I think that I would get plenty of use out of such a program and that I could work more productively. From what I have read online, Sibelius seems to be a lot easier to use. Is this so? What is the better program to purchase and are there any definite advantages in choosing one over the another? Also, how do the sounds on Sibelius compare to Finale, as I would need to use midi for recordings. Which scores look more professional? I would really appreciate some feedback and any more suggestions and benefits regarding each; Thanks!

  • August 28, 2009 @ 7:40 am

    In our annual Carnival in Antigua and Barbuda where I reside, churning out scores for a thirteen piece brass combo needs to be done flawlessly and quickly. (sometimes instantly) Ever since I switched from Finale to Sibelius I have NEVER missed a deadline and the scores were always clean and professional looking. My counterparts who still use Finale sometimes have to bring in a temporary score and then have to go back to bring a cleaned up one after. The musicians have remarked about how much easier it is to perform the scores I have churned out in Sibelius. With the advent of version 6.0 with its magnetic layout feature I am now able to produce professional looking scores even faster than I was able to before. I also teach high school music and don’t even want to get started on the demands that that entails when it comes to getting scores ready Sibelius has never let me down. Unfortunately Finale has on more than one occasion. I am also pursuing a degree in music education and once again when my classmate who use Finale are asking for extension my work is always ready. I have no affiliation with the company that makes Sibelius and I am no slouch when it come to using Finale. What I related are truthful real life real world experiences in using both programs. I don’t know how people measure “power” when it comes to software but it seems meaningless to have all that power and it slows you up. Time is money and Sibelius plainly allows users to make more efficient use of their time.

  • September 7, 2009 @ 6:50 pm

    I’m a Finale user myself, haven’t tried much Sibelius, although I have a friend who swears by it, but that’s another discussion altogether. My two ¢ are that if you have lots of time, try LilyPond. It’s scores look amazing without much tweaking; however, the learning curve is quite steep for those used to graphical score editors. I’ve heard of some third-party Lily graphical editors, but I haven’t tried them yet.

  • September 10, 2009 @ 4:52 am

    I see my longtime friend and colleague Robin Hodson has already chimed in on this thread, but I thought it might be worth me sticking my oar in, since this excellent post seems to get a lot of traffic even a year after Ron first posted it.

    My name is Daniel Spreadbury and I’m Sibelius’s Senior Product Manager. I maintain a blog about Sibelius at and wrote a post back in February 2009 about why — in my very biased opinion — people should choose Sibelius over Finale:

    As I say, I’m definitely biased, but the facts in that post were checked against Finale’s own documentation and expert Finale users.

    To answer some of the questions posed by commenters on this post:

    @Michael D: The current version of Sibelius doesn’t open Finale files natively, but you’ll get better results anyway if you open a MusicXML file created in Finale; all versions of Finale since Finale 2006 have included MusicXML export built-in, so it’s easy to export your score to try opening it in Sibelius. You can also use your existing Garritan sounds with the Sibelius demo if you want to.

    @Ryan Janus: There are a couple of things that Finale can do that are more time-consuming in Sibelius, but these days they are very few in number, and most things are faster in Sibelius. A couple of examples of where Finale is still ahead would be easily being able to change the sizes of staves on a page midway through a score, and slightly better text handling in Finale.

    @seayhorse: You should definitely check out the new chord symbols features in Sibelius 6. They’re very sophisticated, but also very easy to use.

    @Jiangxen: You can use your Finale-compatible version of GPO with Sibelius 5 or later; you can even use the Garritan Instruments for Finale 2009 or 2010 with Sibelius if you want to, simply by creating a playback configuration that contains the appropriate ARIA player.

  • Shon
    September 15, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

    Another answer to Michael D, and this could be outdated…but if you save your finale files as an “enigma” file, available in the drop down menu within the “save as” option, you should be able to open THAT file within Sibelius. I don’t have 6 though so I might be wrong.

    Anyone using notation software for lead sheets will DEFINITELY want Sibelius. I used Finale for about 8 years and have moved on to Sibelius. I own my page. Period. I put what where I want it. I’d also have to say I think Finale has borrowed a whole lot more from Sibelius than just interactive score and part views…I’ve watched Finale develop over the years. A lot of the changes I find in much earlier versions of Sibelius. Just stating the facts. I too ran into playback issues, cut and paste issues, chord nomenclature and more with Finale. All bye bye when I switched to Sibelius!

  • September 20, 2009 @ 2:14 am

    I have used Finale since the beginning, the days when the manual was absolutely indecipherable till David Pogue came along and rewrote it in English. But when extracting and tweaking parts for a new orchestra piece I just finished were keeping me up way too long at night, I decided to let last week’s deadline pass for the discount on the upgrade from 2009. Problem areas: pickup bars that suddenly develop a full bar of rests, systems that refuse to move to the previous page or next page despite unlocking system and reformatting, endless scrolling down into menus (I used to have Quickeys and admit that I have not upgraded it along with other software, so I’m sure that would have sped things up considerably). Percussion sounds vs. what it looks like on the page, undoing things and getting to a point where you cannot undo them (Digital Performer is fantastic about giving you complete access to every step of your process). I never have understood its transcription tool despite many hours of trying to get it to function correctly. And on and on. Anyway, now I’m at the juncture where I have to make a choice about whether to buy Sibelius; friends have been telling me for years that I’m going to love it, but I go from project to project without a whole lot of downtime to consider getting up to the same speed I have with Finale; this project, however, went about a week past the desired deadline, and I would love to know if people have experience with actual time comparisons to do things like full symphonic scores and generate all the parts. I’m about to start work on digitizing a one-act chamber opera, inputting everything from a 30-year old manuscript plus expanding from piano to 12 players, and would like to get a sense of whether I can expect to be proficient after more than a few days of concentrated study with Sibelius 6, which is about all I can afford. Otherwise it’s back to the grind with Finale, and I wouldn’t have said that a few years ago, but it has really become a headache.

    Thanks to anyone who has some comments on this subject.

  • David W. Kent
    September 20, 2009 @ 4:53 am

    I just purchased “finale 2010” and have been very excited about it. However, I must admit, I experienced a few problems such as; computer system performance problems( even though I had met the recommended system requirements), On-line tutorial issues (bad links, menus not listed in the index, clarity of procedural steps, missing page markers, tools lost when you tile windows, etc.) So, why am I so excited? It gave me a reason to replace my computer with a powerful mean processing machine. I have a reputation of buying the best, going for the power, and being fussed over when I have a problem. When I do have a problem I what it solved fast and I want to understand how it was solved! Finale’s support team does just that. I have been around long enough to see good software with the power to do more things than I will ever use. Sure, finale may have issues but what software doesn’t? I wasn’t looking for gaming software I was looking for professional business like software to make it look like I can produce professional compositions. The more powerful the software you try to master one has to expect minor issues on that path to greater knowledge. What is important is how the support team handles my issues/inquires. I figure that most inquires are simply the lack of my patience. The support team is very fast to solve my problems no matter the source and is willing to forward my suggestions to the development team on those rare occasions when I have a good suggestion. When that happens, you feel like you’re part of a team. You feel ownership and results driven. I look for details and if I can find a slip here or there I jump on it. Finale is going to make me much better than if I was without it and I figure finale is going to be a better product having a customer/user. So, I can safely say to new users, stick with the “powerhouse” learning finale 2010 is exciting and there are so many ways to get something done. Follow the crowd; they must have very good reasons to be brand loyal. Each day I feel more comfortable about my choice and see good times ahead. Now, jump into my over horse powered machine and lay a couple black marks down and call them notes! Isn’t this fun? Onward Gents!

  • September 22, 2009 @ 2:35 am

    Since I am apparently one of the few composers that has jumped onto Pro Tools as a sequencer (it’s been usable as a writing tool since Pro Tools 7.1 came out, and has only gotten better) I am probably the only one on this board that has switched to Sibelius because of the integration with Pro Tools. Not that the integration is perfect mind you; there are several workflow issues that make it very difficult to be efficient, even with the direct integration. Nevertheless, for pumping out quick scores when the budget for a copyist isn’t there, Sibelius / Pro Tools 8 works well.

    That said, I regretted composing a concert work in Sibelius and believe that, especially for more complex engraving, Finale is the stronger program.

  • […] As PCs rapidly evolved, their CPUs and everyday sound chips became theoretically more capable of producing and reproducing realistic sound samples than dedicated MIDI sound modules. So software very quickly assumed the role not only of sequencer but of virtual orchestra; and just like in every other field of software, one or two standards-bearers swiftly emerged: Sibelius (named for the composer) and Finale. And a very familiar logic was applied to them: If you were a composer and you didn’t produce scores using either or both standards, you were officially declared non-professional. […]

  • DMF
    September 25, 2009 @ 7:56 am

    I’ve recently written about 8 songs for a play, and as a gospel musician that usually plays cover tunes, I’ve spent most of my years playing by ear, and writing lead sheets by hand. This is the first time I’ve ever needed to creat real scores, and most of my music is r&b style; piano/keys, bass, guitar, drums, vocals (if it’s choir stuff, or choral style with background, add SAT). I’m not planning to write orchestral scores, and I’m not the best at writing out rhythms, so I’m thinking PrintMusic will do, especially since I’d like to play what I want and have it notated. Any suggestions?

  • Ollie Purkiss
    September 29, 2009 @ 12:09 pm

    I’ve no idea if people are still reading this thread, but I found it maybe some people are! I’m a budding composer and am wanting some software to play around with. There doesn’t seem to be easy answer to the Sibelius or Finale question (much like mac or pc, max or maya and all the other technology dilemmas). One thing that strikes me as a rank amateur though is that I can buy versions of Finale starting at £10 and going up in nice steps to £500, and more importantly if I want to upgrade my £50 version to the next version up then I get almost the whole £50 off the price. In the position I am in this makes my decision for me, as even if I wanted to go for Sibelius, I can’t justify the expense of going in at the top level straight away. I’ve no idea how much money there is in the amateur market, but Sibelius seem to be missing a trick by ignoring the casual user who might in the future become a more serious user.

  • Natalie Kehr
    October 3, 2009 @ 10:11 am

    I was attracted by the low cost of starting off with Finale but then I remembered that a friend had compatibility problems. He upgraded but the other members of his choir did not. They could no longer read any of the scores he wanted to produce for them. Can one save Sibelius files in a format which can be read by people with previous versions?

  • October 12, 2009 @ 5:51 pm

    I was a Finale user back in the early days but have not upgraded to new versions of the software in years. I used the free music writing software most recently for simple choral arrangements but found it insufficient. I have no experience with Sibelius.

    I am now really getting back into composition and scoring for both instrumental and choral music. That said, what I am most interested in is the quality of the output from the two products, as I am trying to create soundtracks that could be used for recording purposes and/or live performances.

    I am very impressed with the GPO which Finale includes on their website. These appear to be INCLUDED with the software. I am not as impressed with the output on the Sibelius website, yet there seems to be some hinting that some of these are Garritan sounds?

    Are these the exact same sounds in both products?

    Mr. Spreadbury indicates that you can use your Finale GPO in Sibelius with some type of plug in. What if you don’t already own Finale with these sounds? Then do you have to somehow try to purchase them separately?

    I am going to download a trial version of Sibelius and Finale so that I can attempt to compare them equally. That noted, if anyone has any more clarification and/or insights about the quality of the output, I would love to know what you think.


  • October 14, 2009 @ 1:57 am

    I was a music manuscript copyist in college till my main client went to Finale on his Mac in the late 80’s and began printing his own parts and scores. I bought Finale 3 when Finale began offering full versions to and teachers. I was told this was a long term plan to make Finale the market leader in spite of its steep learning curve (it is obvious the plan worked). Still, the application was buggy and very frustrating so I gave up on it and picked my pen set and vellum music paper when even I needed anything written out.

    A composer friend and I saw Sebelius 7 at NAMM and as soon as it can to the US he began using it. He enjoyed it more than the Finale he had used of mine.

    I gave Finale another try in 2007 when processors speeds jumped and came down in price. This version started to realize what I hoped for all those years ago but it taxed my computer too much and had all these artifact errors which inhibited its usefulness.

    Finale 2009c on my Macbook Pro has been fantastic. So many processes have been improved and the playback sounds are amazing. Still, “Human Playback” is no substitute for live performance and/or a sequencing program.

    Finale is so comprehensive that one of my problems has been searching for what Finale calls the marking you want to use in the tons of documentation. Fortunately, if I am stumped and it is still business hours in Minnesota, their Helpdesk staff WILL have the answer and politely help you.

    Though vastly improved Page Layout and production of the finished score are still too time consuming and often take me into the wee hours of the morning.

  • Nom
    November 23, 2009 @ 10:15 am

    G’day Folks,
    Nice discussion. Egocentricity, here. I’m in first year of learning classical guitar with moderate exposure to music (8 years trumpet through high school, and
    was told by guit player that one can play guitar into computer mic and , voila..see the score in notation on the screen for printing..WOW! Doesn’t seem to exist even with Finale or Sibelius, however. I called Finale oct ’09 and was told they could NOT do it with guitar…only single note instrument, trumpet, sax etc.
    Now, my trumpet playing was err, 40 years ago, and I Ain’t Gitt’n my “lip” back.
    He said the guitar sounds were too complicated with too many nuances (well, yeah, that’s part of why she’s so beautiful), and tech is
    not good enough yet.
    Here is what I want: Vertical notation of all chords, with symbol perhaps, oblique arpeggios, single scale run and notation. HELP.

    My muses:
    1 Play keyboard direct to mic OR midi=above desires?
    2 How about (SIBELIUS/FINALE.GOODGEEK ANYBODY WIT A BRAIN) like, voice command: “Fret 7,9,12,barre F#, D, COMMINUTED MINOR 5, 7TH or somesuch Real chord.
    3 “Position.. One, three, five etc C,Am, Em, with or sans “Barre”. The voice command tells program what you want “fret”, “position” then makes appropriate notation….Oh, what the hell. with R and L hand fingering too.
    Now, is that toooo much to ask from youse guys?? I ask ya. Yeah, with my 65IQ I came up wit dat stuff.

    Anybody out there hier IQ who can make this stuff? C’mon, now.

  • Dave
    January 16, 2010 @ 2:01 am

    As a long-time user of Finale (nine years) I can say with some authority that this program is the buggiest, most unreliable program I have ever owned. I literally hold my breath while doing tasks due to the fear of watching my time-consuming work go up in smoke when I hit a key. Chords disappear even though their selection handles are visible. And they don’t print. Measures on previous staves slam up against one another when I create multi-bar rests, creating a cluster of bars at the right side of a stave. I have to zoom way in the find each individual bar’s selection handle so I can manually move each bar back to where they are supposed to be. The Staff Tool will not put the chord cursor on the proper stave, even though I click & click & click & click on the stave’s first bar. Just writing out a simple lead sheet for guitar can turn into a hair-pulling, high blood pressure experience. I’d gladly pay twice as much for a user-friendly, reliable program whose files do not get corrupted after an hour or two of work. All of my friends in the business say the same thing. Time for a change for me.

  • January 19, 2010 @ 1:51 am

    After Years of struggle with finale I finally switched to Sibelius and definitely do not regret it! With Sibelius I can finally concentrate on the music.

  • Hagop Nalbandian
    January 20, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

    Dear Ron and other readers, if I may put my two cents: 20 decades or so ago I started using as my first notation program (then Passport’s and now Gvox’) Encore.

    It is surprisingly underrated program. It’s strongest point is the ease of use, the absolutely lowest lowest learning curve (in my experience with many, many a software), and overall intuitiveness. Although it’s editing capabilities have slightly wavered in terms of intuitiveness and efficiency, this software, if your intention is to get work done quickly for a gig, is absolutely unbeatable.

    Mr. Alexander at Gvox has made it a point to bring the software up to the times in terms of interoperability with soft-synths, other sequencers, standard Musicx XML cabable programs and etc., a handicap which had plagued Encore since the begenning, but for which there is now some hope.

    In any case, Finale is my program of choice, as has been mine in the past, for more demanding engraving projects for such projects as complex piano music, but the composition choice has been always Encore, which literally is “write as you play.”

    Encore is by no means an upstart in terms of seniority: It has been there right along Finale, having secured a (very, very) loyal following of a few thousand composers globally, who stuck with it despite its creator company’s demise in the late 1990s.

    In the end, I learned how to use Sibelius in addition to Finale and Encore, mainly – as you emphasize in your article – for collaboration purposes, but, admittedly, also for the ability to use the “leaders” Finale and Sibelius to audition scores in a more realistic “modeled” sample playback setting. Really, aside from some flimsiness in its treatment of symbols and note placement (et al, thus my reason for using Finale for engraving purposes), that is the only big handicap with Encore for the time being, which, however, now is dabbling in a new engine called the “Encore VST player” that lets you load any VST capable virtual instrument.

    The moral of the story is not to count out us loyal users of Encore yet—:)

  • Hagop Nalbandian
    January 20, 2010 @ 1:07 pm

    AHA, sorry about the typo – “2 decades ago,” —-> Got a little “Bibblical” there–;)

  • Michelle Greenwood
    February 17, 2010 @ 9:25 pm

    OKay, I am a newbie, tryingh to work out what to get for my home educated son.
    I had decided to go with Sibelius, but now ahving spent half an hour trying to work out which product and where from, I am close to changing my mind.

    The sibelius website only offers 3 sibelius products at their online store, I can’t find any clear tabulated comparison of the features between the sibelius student, teacher, school, university, and pro versions anywhere.
    Finale does have a clear comparison chart, – way to go! At least I know what I’d be getting, even if I’m a bit worried about ease of use and stability

    very peeved potential consumer
    PS I live in NZ and there only seems to be one aprroved retailer, and they are 400kms away, and their site is not very clear.

  • marco dominique weber
    March 4, 2010 @ 6:54 am

    hello all – i had been working in the early 1990s with SCORE and cakewalk for DOS, which i both loved for many reasons. SCORE has brilliant functions that are still unsurpassed (e.g. vj and lj as one command). yet i jumped to sibelius as of version 1 (win), while never getting comfortable with finale before. i felt right from the start that sibelius offered a more hands-on approach for composing, e.g. moving notes or selections directly up and down, adding enharmonic changes out of the box with one key, selecting passages and copying them with one click each etc. however, finale certainly has its merit, and the decision remains mostly subjective. yet, as we had learned at law school that for every complex decision you should find the “ratio decidendi” (in order to be able to decide), i find that considering how simply a software program lets me do simple things is probably a valuable clue, provided the set of tools is overall adequate, of course. – by the way, what we all dreamed of at the time was a sibelius front-end with a SCORE typeset back-end (and a cubase sequencer back-end, though protools now looks quite promising)… best wishes, marco

  • Daniel Lee
    March 4, 2010 @ 8:52 am

    I too have been using Finale since 1990 and a copyist and typesetter. I’m pretty torn right now as I installed 2010 and it won’t run. Finale’s solution was to take all my plug-ins out of my AU folder when I want to run Finale and then put them back in when I use my sequencer! I’ve had tech support issues before w/Finale; their apparent lack of interest in helping me has pushed me to the edge. Time to take a good look into Sibelius.

  • Serj
    April 1, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    I started using Finale Last Year, and I keep finding new features, I love the fact that it lets you listen to your music through VST instruments. Dont know much about sibelius, besides the fact it was used to create the Avatar sound track. Would not mind trying it out one day.

  • Peter
    April 5, 2010 @ 9:17 pm

    Finalius! or, or…umm Sibelinale! Anyways, I’m all for Sibelius just for the sheer fact that you can print out your music (with proper placement and alignment) quickly.

    Regardless of what camp you are in, I think we can all be excited for the fact that if these companies want to take the market they are only going to get better and better. And we get those benefits!

    Cheers to all

  • April 14, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

    I’m a high school student – and I’ve used Finale since Finale 2007. I’ve tried Sibelius multiple times – and I just can’t seem to get the hang of it. The interface seems too rigid, whereas Finale’s is more open. It took me about a day or so to learn Finale, and I got it. I still find new features even now – with Finale 2009c. And – I haven’t been getting any crashes, ever. Finale also sounds MUCH better than Sibelius – even the default soundfont for both – Finale is much better, and has the Human Playback feature. And, Finale comes with the GPO sounds FOR FREE. Sibelius’s “Sound Essentials” don’t compare!

  • May 20, 2010 @ 9:13 pm


  • Leonid
    May 30, 2010 @ 2:08 pm

    My question to Mr. Spreadbury:
    Hello, I’m glad to have on this thread a possibility of personal contact to you as a leading Sib team member. The thing is, a friend of mine wants to transfer his Sibelius soft to me officially, that means together with all the licensing rights that he is ready to give up. Please advise us how to make me the new legal user of his Sibelius version? To whom – and how practically – to apply for that?


  • June 12, 2010 @ 9:17 pm

    It’s a persistent myth — understandable, since it used to be true but isn’t true now — that Finale is more “powerful” than Sibelius. Even this article, which many other articles/people still recommend, is now clearly out of date in that sense.

    Neither Sibelius nor Finale is perfect. But, especially as of version 6, Sibelius is very clearly better and I always recommend it when people ask.

    I’m a working composer who’s been using notation software since 10th grade / since 1993. I was fluent in Finale. I switched to Sibelius a decade ago (now only use Finale to the extent that my students and colleagues need me to) and I’m consistently impressed with its flexibility, power, elegance, and extensibility into virtually any kind of extended notation.

  • bjamison
    July 15, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

    Leonid, I think you have to click on “unregister Sibelius” (in the help menu I think) while it is open on his computer and then follow the steps. I do not know for sure, I just remember seeing that there.

  • July 16, 2010 @ 11:53 pm

    Hi. I was using both Finale and Sibelius for almost two years. But now, I’ve uninstalled my Sibelius because my Hard disk is full and i had to choose only one software to spare. As a piano/voice student, i really think that Finale is much much better than Sibelius. ^_^

  • Goran
    August 31, 2010 @ 7:25 pm

    I have been using Finale for several years, and it keeps getting better. I have never been interested in Sibelius until now, and the sole reason is the ReWire support feature. I’m going to call Make Music (the Finale company) and see if they have plans to incorporate this feature. If not, I’ll switch, if so, I’ll stay.

  • CrankCase
    September 6, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

    If only it were possible to use VSTi plugins with Sebelius, and assign instruments to particular staves, that would be the icing on the cake. It’s a real pain having to learn how to fiddle around getting it to work with a DAW in order to use the samples of choice. I want to compose, not be a computer geek. Also unfortunate that the in-built Sibelius sounds are so lame. And also lame that once a score page is set up that it’s so difficult, if not impossible, to reconfigure.

    So I just hope the Sibelius (and maybe even the Finale) developers do something in this direction.

  • Joe2aT
    September 20, 2010 @ 11:28 am

    Which program reproduces the most life-like orchestral sound? I’ve compared the musical examples on each website and I find Finale with its Garritan is the most realistic. When I listen to violin lines on the Sibelius it sounds like just one violin playing instead of 32. Additionally, Finale has the “Human Playback” feature (trademarked) that further enhances the orchestral-hall-like sound quality. I have a new concerto written in the Romantic tradition that needs that lush sound of Rachmaninoff. As i can never hope to become expert enough in either program to fully command them, I will have to hire an expert who works commercially to do this project for me. If anyone feels capable enough please post your email here and I will reply. I am in the Glendale California area.

  • Joe2aT
    September 20, 2010 @ 12:00 pm

    I am confused. On the one hand nearly everyone here agrees that Finale offers the better playback sound quality with its Human Playback SmartMusic. Yet, on the other hand, I keep reading about professionals who consistently choose Sibelius. Why on earth would pros choose a system with the inferior sound quality?

  • September 20, 2010 @ 2:13 pm

    Joe: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. At a certain level, one type of composer (say, with a budget for a sequencing assistant,) orchestrator (with the chops to hear what he sees,) or copyist (who doesn’t produce audio for anyone except his own curiosity) may not need bells-and-whistles playback. The notation’s the thing. Or the opposite may be true, where the audio comes first. This may dictate choice of weapons. And just as there are strata of users who contribute to blogs, there are those who may not take or have the time to. This discussion string is by no means scientific or exhaustive, just anecdotal. However, as a point of investigative departure, it sure beats silence. Really, REALLY try to concentrate on what you want or need the software to do and then buy accordingly. Good hunting!

    Ron Hess
    The Chart Doctor

  • September 21, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

    Sibelius is brilliant – very intuitive to learn, and it can do anything I throw at it. I use it to write film scores and I love every minute of it. And printing picture perfect scores and parts is a piece of cake.

    @CrankCase: Sibelius can handle all VSTs. In fact, I use it with all the Eastwest libraries – from Symphonic Orchestra (platinum plus). There is a soundset for EWQLSO so indeed you don’t need to be a computer geek to write music. Just set up the score, load up your instruments, and you are good to go. You do need a pretty powerful computer though to run a full fledged orchestral score with keyswitched instruments and all the mike settings, but that is the topic for another discussion. ;)

    @Joe2at: if you are looking for life like wonderful orchestral sounds, you can’t go wrong with Eastwest, especially if you love the big lush Hollywood sound. With Sibelius you can compose a score without leaving the notation environment. Then when it comes to putting on the finishing touches, for best results it pays to export to a DAW and tweak midi notes, automate volume, EQ, maybe swap patches, etc.

  • Aaron Blecker
    September 30, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

    Personally, I use Finale PrintMusic, but have tried Sibelius, and I think that Finale is the way to go. Plus, if you’re not really serious about composition, you can purchase one of the many “lite” versions that they offer. Finale NotePad is $9.95; SongWriter $49.95; PrintMusic $119.95; Allegro $199, and Finale $600. You should pick whichever one best suits your needs. There is a comparison chart at of each software in a convernient table. Take a look at it. Sibelius is $599, and it has no lite versions except Sibelius First, but I think that Finale’s lite versions would be better. Do whatever fits your needs.

  • jonnybutter
    October 21, 2010 @ 4:28 am

    Don’t know if anyone is still here, but….

    I was a paper-and-pencil composer for many years. Tried Finale in the very early (Coda) days, and was baffled, and checked it out occasionally thereafter. Finally bought Finale 2009 a bit over a year ago, and have found it to be a rather frustrating experience. I think the bottom line re: choosing between Sib and Finale is that it depends on what you use them for.

    For orchestrators, copyists, etc., there is certainly a case to be made for Finale – it does produce very beautiful results, and you can tweak absolutely everything – and of course, Finale is MUCH improved as compared to earlier versions. But for people who want to use a notation program for direct composing, I think Sibelius is the better choice (I have only used the demo of Sib., but plan on crossgrading). It is far more intuitive for a composer. Someone mentioned Macromedia vs Adobe above, and I think there is an apt analogy there: Macromedia Flash vs Adobe After Effects. Or, to use a sequencer analogy, Finale is more like the old (pre Apple) Logic, and Sibelius is more like the late-and-lamented (Studio) Vision, or Digital Performer. In either case, the former is powerful, but makes you conform to the app’s way of thinking, rather than the other way around.

    The best thing is to have both, but for composing directly, it’s hardly a contest for me – it’s Sibelius.

  • Steve Innis
    January 6, 2011 @ 12:38 pm

    I too found Sibelius elegant and intuitive, but a key feature (for me) was missing: the ability to hyperscribe (or whatever Sibelius calls it) while tapping in a pulse. It’s so great to read a part into Finale, tapping the quarter notes (or any specified value) on, say, a pedal, and just slow down when the going gets rougher…or for that matter, race through a page or two of half notes. With Sibelius I had to choose a tempo for the entire hyperscribe session (for a complete individual take, that is).

    Was I missing something, or has that feature been added in the latest version? Or can someone tell me definitively it is not and probably never will be a Sibelius option? As a pianist, it’s a real dealbreaker for me. Thanks!

  • Manny
    February 14, 2011 @ 4:47 am

    I became quite proficient with the early versions of Sibelius, but most of the time, when I want to score something fast, I always end up with Finale. I do prefer the midi instrumentation and feel of Sibelius (it seems to transcribe midi files more accurately), but I work faster in Finale, so I guess it’s Finale for me.

  • Nick
    April 22, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

    There are a lot of responses on here. I’ve read most and would like people to respond with which program they prefer and one to three primary reasons why.


  • ollie
    May 14, 2011 @ 1:09 am

    is started off pretty young with finale notepad 2008 back when it was free. was awesome at the time. then i bought sibelius 5 and it is just so much cleaner, logical and easier to use than finale. finale is just so messy and i noticed very little differences between notepad and the full version. when i went back to try finale, i simply couldn’t use it. but sibelius has its little problems that stuff you up a lot. sibelius 5 had really goods sounds, with a separate sound player (kontakt), which was integrated in sibelius 6. the sounds are simply not as good in 6. one of these tiny problems is that in the drum kit sounds on both 5 and 6 the snare drum is whisper quiet. little problems liekt his can really stuff you up. sibelius should really take a good look at these things and release a perfect notation software.

    May 15, 2011 @ 3:48 pm


  • pleasenot
    July 19, 2011 @ 10:57 pm

    Pay no attention to the Finale fanboys(and girls).
    I am a composer/educator/performer in classical/avant-garde/jazz/rock fields.I have used (professionally and for fun) musicprinter plus in the early-mid 1990s then onto Finale and Encore in the late 90’s.I’ve also used notation features on Cakewalk,Logic and Cubase.

    Nothing I’ve used prepared me for comprehensive simplicity of Sibelius.Things that took me weeks before went to days or hours.Just for my own personal amusement I’ve tried to push it to the impossible but have always found a way to do something,usually quickly.

    I remember when Sibelius came along many pro musicians laughed me off when I mentioned it to them.Now many have taken it on themselves.

    My own personal opinion on those who swear by Finale are biased by the enormous amount of time they spent learning it.I believe that they imagine this time spent translates (somehow magically in their imagination) to a more “powerful” application.Maybe you too should waste untold hours to learn this application!

    Have fun.

  • Kelly Johnson
    September 30, 2011 @ 10:40 am

    I’m a physically isolated, though serious musician. In this new music notation culture, is it common, or practical, for the composer to enter the rudiments of the score in one of these programs, and then pass the file on, for hire, to a more experienced notator, or professional copyist, for finishing touches (and for elements I could not figure out)? And if this is the case, what program/version, might be best? From reading this whole thread (it took hours!), I’m leaning toward Sebelius. thanks, Kelly Johnson, New York State

  • nickpot
    October 9, 2011 @ 6:38 am

    In my honest opinion, I think both Finale and Sibelius are good products, but at the same time I think both are really overrated. MidiIllustrator Maestro 2 is way better than both with regards to notation options, accuracy, interface customization and lots of other features like the step by step practice mode [that works like Synthesia but way way better], two hand piano conversion, chord generator and a lot more things you won’t expect a music program does. I’ve tried both programs and I fell in love with MI. Plus add the fact that MI is super lightweight at only 8mb, atm there are only a few bugs I’ve discovered. I suggest you to try the product trial and you’ll know what I mean. It’s also MUCH CHEAPER. MI Maestro is a very good program for composing and learning. :]

  • Jel Jongen
    October 17, 2011 @ 7:08 am

    What you need to do is check out Sibelius 7 and you will find that it’s slow and unworkable.
    I’ve been a sibelius-user for some time now and i’m seriously considering to buy Finale

  • Mephi
    October 19, 2011 @ 3:17 am

    As a graduate student I was using Sibelius while my classmates were using Finale. Most of them struggle with so many bugs. Their work required more time. Here are some things I found in Sibelius

    – it is faster to play a score
    – It is easier to select several staffs and hear only the ones selected.
    – When scoring for harp, I just breeze writing the pedaling
    – sharing a file on the web with Scorch was a great choir experience.
    – I started to enjoy the power of Sibelius while creating plug-ins.
    – Enjoyed the Shenkerian analysis plug-in

    I have been using notation software since Music Printer Plus. I also used Encore, Finale and Sibelius. There is a feature that I still miss and no software has done it again. For Music Theory Classes I loved MP+ that played the music chord by cord so I could hear the progressions and retrogressions slowly and show my students. But what I have not seen again was the ability to play same chords, one by one BACKWARDS !!! That is a feature I miss. It was very handy for composition and for Music Theory.

    I have found also that the creation of music symbols for contemporary music has been faster and easier in Finale.

    I think I agree, for traditional music handling I would suggest Sibelius, but for contemporary I will go with Finale.

  • AnotherDave
    December 31, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

    I bought Finale PrintMusic for $110.00 this week and was excited to get a couple new song compositions in and listen to them and turn them into sheet music and MP3s. But Finale PrintMusic is really a terrible piece of software. The whole user interface simply does not employ good design principles. As the first Dave said on January 16th, 2010 at 2:01 am, it is an edge-of-the-seat blood-pressure-raising experience.

    It is everything I hate about software: no explanation of anything that you can do in the dialogs, no feedback when you change something, unpredictable and inscrutable. Why would I pay another $600 to the same company for supposedly something better? I don’t trust them.

    Examples: (1) It took an hour to figure out I couldn’t hide stave portions that contained only rests. That pushed a short song onto two pages. (2) The staves and fonts somehow all became different sizes on different pages (even on the same page!)and I have no idea how. (3) There is no way I can figure out to set an absolute size for the staves, and the dialog box that purports to do so completely sucks, nothing behaves as I think it will. (4) For some reason I’m getting “Can’t Undo” in the Edit menu for almost everything. No going back from mistakes. (5) It is extremely dangerous to click one of the tools in the tool bar and touch anything on the screen. Very unpredictable software.

    No way. If neither Sibelius nor anything else out there is any better, I truly will give up composing. Or at least writing down any of my compositions in a computer. I don’t need to go insane over this stuff. But I am going to seriously check out every YouTube video I can find on Sibelius before plunking down $599.
    I will say I am extremely pleased with the choral backup parts I wrote to my melody in FPM this week, and I like listening to the result with cello, flute, and, strangely, trombone filling in for the rather weak choral sounds.

    Thanks everyone.

  • AnotherDave
    February 9, 2012 @ 9:14 pm

    This is me again. I promise everyone here that I will never use Finale PrintMusic again no matter how desperate. I would not wish this unmitigated disaster on my worst enemy or most ardent rival. Truly, friends, spare yourselves the grief that will come upon you using this…this…this … ! Use a pencil and a notebook.

    So because I got excited coming up with some stuff, I entered a song, then didn’t save it before starting to enter another song. Finale PrintMusic is merciless against this kind of mistake. You have sinned. You will pay. In the second song, I just entered an 8-bar melody, then I hit the little MIDI play button to hear if it sounded correct. Big mistake. It got to the end and kept going through blank measures, so I hit the stop button–and then it started playing the last tone on and on forever. I hit everything to try to stop this, but it wouldn’t. Then I did File > Save to save my work and it saved it. Then I had to close Finale to stop the ongoing tone. Finale did not prompt me about the OTHER file I had forgotten to save. So both files were COMPLETELY LOST–the File > Save did not work after all. Good thing I recorded them on the webcam/iPhone! Because if I don’t get a melody down right away, it disappears forever, I forget them too quick.

    I am telling you, I have worked with (indeed, installed, configured, and troubleshooted) countless software programs of all types, most of which have many problems. This one is the worst, by a great measure.

  • Adrian Heath
    February 12, 2012 @ 10:11 am

    Can I take up the curious idea that Finale’s thicker manual means it can do more!

    I used Finale 2003 and sibelius 4 in parallel; I had to consult Finale’s manual, say, 3 times an hour; Sibelius’s only 3 times a week.
    So, I think Finale’s manual is thicker because the programme is less well designed. I found Sibelius at least 3 times faster to use, for the same result.

    And please let me know exaclty what Finale can do that Sibelius can’t. Have the real power users even tried to do the same in Sibelius? I doubt if Finale will leave them the time!!

  • djbowyer
    February 22, 2012 @ 9:06 am

    Have been using Sibelius and have tried Finale in the past. Can only speak to Sibelius. I love using it and it’s easy for me! I spent some time learning from a book by Tom Rudolf. I’ve also purchased the Sibelius Reference Manual, which stays by my side every time I use Sibelius. I use Sibelius as a concert band teacher and composer. I think it is the easiest most intuitive of the two, but honesty I haven’t looked at Finale for a few years. I use Sibelius for common notation including dynamics, articulation and expression. Key changes, meter and other necessary elements of notation are very simple in Sibelius. I have recommended Sibelius for my students, however I do not know all the details about the different versions of Finale and Sibelius in regards to people just starting out, looking for less expensive, scaled-down versions.

  • Scott
    March 19, 2012 @ 7:07 pm

    I am looking at Sibelius 7 and it says will not work on Windows XP. What’s up with that?

  • March 31, 2012 @ 4:11 am

    I once owned a friendly dinosaur in the guise of a Yamaha CX5. It was clumsy and didn’t have many features, but it was built like a tank. Built 1980. 64 kb.

    eg. to change tempo, one typed TEMPO = 123
    to change length of note from sustained to staccato, one typed LEN -255 [max length] and staccato could be anything shorter, eg LEN -150
    to use rits one typed in RIT =1 up to 255.
    You could determine the length of a fermata; any length from 1 to 255.
    To change the sound of an instrument on one staff, type VOICE = whatever. 1 to about 400.
    My grade 2 kids could load it and compose. So easy. Finale SUCKS, a nightmare, and the gurus don’t make it any easier by the convoluted rubbish written. I’d fail a grade three child if he or she wrote some of this rubbish.

    I am a disillusioned teacher.

  • jeff04
    April 19, 2012 @ 11:34 am

    Both these programs are expensive. Making the wrong choice could be
    painful. So I read a lot of threads comparing the two. The common
    theme seems to be Finale can be buggy and combersome but Sibelius is not
    as powerful. (I once heard a student claim the Finale Player ate
    her homework.)

    People seem to choose Finale because it is more established.
    But as a Software Engineer by day, older programs set off alarm
    bells with me. Like car design, older is not necessarily better.
    The bugs people speak of suggest to me the Finale software could be
    complicated and difficult to maintain or improve. Going forward,
    this could be a much more of an issue when adding new features. I also
    noticed that the idea that Sibelius is less powerful/professional
    seems to come more from non-users. Few Sibelius users actually
    express serious dissatisfaction.

    So I bought Sibelius 6. FWIW, here’s my experience after working
    with it for a year. I hope some find this useful in their
    decision making. Its a big program and there are still features I’ve
    yet to explore. My requirements may be much less than a full-time
    power user but so far its done everything I wanted and more.
    No major screw ups, inabilities, or lost work.

    My main requirement concern was to be able to score and play
    complex odd time signatures (progressive rock). So far, 5/4, 11/8,
    no problems. It has nice GUI features like Cut and Paste that are
    a real time-saver, keyboard shortcuts, and a good users manual.
    To be sure, some of its assumptions about how to do things or what I
    want are not always to my liking (like how the stems are grouped in
    11/8 or what drum notehead I need). But these things are corrected
    with a few extra clicks. I doubt any notation program will suit
    all users’ preferences.

    A big plus for me is the ability to playback what’s written.
    I believe Finale can do that too. I’m not a Mozart so being able
    to listen to complex harmonies, quickly make changes and repeat,
    has taken my compositions to a new level. If I want to hear it
    slowly, no need to change the score, just adjust the playback speed.

    From what I’ve read Finale’s package seems to include better
    orchestra instrument sounds for playback. Probably, but I
    personally didn’t make that my primary criteria for selecting
    notation software. Some of the instrument sounds included with
    Sibelius, like piano (lite), drums, nylon string guitar, sound
    pretty realistic to me. I’ve dabbled with the strings, they’re OK
    but aren’t going to fool you into thinking
    they’re real strings. The electric guitar sounds suck, probably the
    thing I like least. But that’s a very complex sound to render well.
    (Not sure Finale would do it any better.)
    I suspect if you need high quality, realistic sounds you will end
    up buying/installing 3rd party sound packages regardless of which
    notation program you buy. I haven’t tried that yet.

    Sib 6 comes with a basic sound mixer. Each instrument has a separate
    channel with volume, reverb, pan, and instrument specific controls.
    Its certainly not Pro Tools but quite reasonable for auditioning
    a score. You can even select an instrument sound that’s different
    than the one you’ve written for without changing the score. If I
    want to hear what the guitar part might sound like on a keyboard,
    just select a keyboard sound on the guitar channel.

    I’m running on a 3 year old laptop with an Intel Core-Duo 2.2GHz,
    Windows 7, 64bit, 4GB memory. No added sound card. For the
    most part there’s no problem playing back guitar, keyboard, bass,
    drums (that’s actually a lot of simultaneous notes). There are
    some occasional minor play back glitches in complicated high speed
    parts but I think a hardware upgrade would fix that. I’d guess a
    big orchestra piece would want fast hardware too.

    Since I haven’t worked with Finale, I can’t say feature-for-feature
    if its better or worse. But I can say that I’m satisfied with
    Sibelius 6. Its allowed me to hear and refine my music and put it
    down on paper without major problems.

  • Jim McLean
    July 21, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

    Both programs are great. The issue over which is most powerful has lost weight given the power and sophistication of modern PCs (including MACs). I tend to find Finale just that bit “clunkier” than Sibelius. It is like comparing Cakewalk’s Sonar to Apple’s Logic recording software. Logic held the position of the most powerful, widely used and comprehensive software in the market. However, Sonar is just that little bit more user-friendly. I find that with Sibelius…for some reason it lacks the perceived “gravitas” of Finale, but does the job just as well and slightly more intuitively.

    But again…an experienced Finale user who knows his way around the program would probably never wish to change, and why should he?

  • Roddy
    October 7, 2012 @ 3:27 am

    As a long time user of Finale I am about to update. My currrent version of Finale has developed major problems since updating to Win7 so I am looking hard at Sibelius. My problem is that some of my band members use Finale while others use Sibelius so which way do I go? In the interim I have been using a freeware program, MuseScore, which I am told is similar in use to Sibelius. It has worked well though it does have shortcommings. Before finaly deciding is there anyway that files can be shared between Finale and Sib.? Using xml files works to a point but there are always some errors.


  • November 18, 2012 @ 3:23 pm

    Thanks to all for sharing your points of view about Finale and Sibelius.

    I’ve made my choice for a composing application some time ago, and it’s Notion. Its interface is very user friendly, confortable and efficient, its scores are beautiful (although traditional) and its playback is simply unsurpassed. Not only it provides a very quick and realistic feedback of what you are writing -including articulation, multi layered dynamics and so on- but it is possible to actually use the sound as an end product with no much work than writing a nicely detailed score.

    The only problem is that it doesn’t cover all the score edition needs, specially when talking about contemporary notation. There’s little customization.

    still, Notion is so efficient as a composing tool that it’s worth using it for most part of the job, even if you have to re-edit the score in another program. And that’s why I read threads and more threads about the big guys, finale and sibelius, and also alternatives like the open source MuseScore, which also makes great scores. But I haven’t found the software that will fulfill this workflow.

    I think I’ll end up using Finale, if what I really want is to be able to use both old and new engraving techniques, and also because the standard it became. But I am not pleased having to choose between applications that are very expensive, yet very inefficient and outdated, just because there’s no better choice. I am only sure about one thing: the ultimate notation software isn’t born yet.

  • Joe
    November 22, 2012 @ 7:54 am

    I’m an arranger of music for guitar. I use the piano [which is my main instrument] to write the melody-chord arrangements and then use the guitar to edit the music. I am interested in purchasing a music notation program that allows me to input the notation using the Midi and input fingering on the score. When I review both the Sibelius First 7 and Finale programs, I conclude that both programs omit the feature that would allow for fingering in the score.Perhaps I missed reading this feature in the overview of both Seberlius First 7 and Finale.

  • Tyler
    December 29, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

    I have been a Sibelius user since 2003. I am a composer/lyricist and have spent a good amount of time working in the copy world. I have also read each encyclopedia user manual that comes with the new update of Sibelius. (It takes hours and isn’t fun)

    I bought Finale 2010 on the advice of others that it was faster and easier to use, hoping that I would be able to easily switch between the programs based on who I was working with. I have had so much trouble. Finale is simply Greek to me. I don’t know what it is but I can’t seem to get into it. Any advice? At this point I’m going to start with the programmed tutorials because none of it makes sense to me.

    Also, I was taught old school pencil and paper so the idea of Midi is foreign to me. I’d love to know if it is actually efficient for people. I can’t seem to get past the idea that I would spend just as much time fixing all of its mistakes as I would just inputting the notes through quick keys. Thoughts?

  • Nancy
    January 8, 2013 @ 2:15 am

    Hi, I was looking for online course on music programs through which I can improve my knowledge in music and music softwares. I found this online course :
    Help me by reviewing this music software course, so that I can make a decision to join it.

  • Tobester
    March 11, 2013 @ 8:56 am

    I keep a copy of both programs. I receive files in both formats and it helps me deal with them by having both. Having said that, I never voluntarily use Finale for anything I compose. There is nothing that Finale can’t do. It’s not an inferior program feature-wise. It’s just that the learning curve is borderline unreasonable. Unreasonable for someone who has to crank out finished works and who is use to doing it by hand (i.e. pencil and paper). Sibelius is set up to work like the way a pen and paper composer thinks. Finale is set up to work like a computer geek thinks, endless drop-down menus to get the simplest things done. Not intuitive at all. I can do all the things I need in either program but I can tell you it took me quite awhile to learn and use the manual repeatedly to get simple things done in Finale vs. Sibelius where it’s very intuitive. Having said all that…… I don’t find the facelift of Sibelius 7 intuitive at all. Finding where everything went is frustrating and is not easier than before. I know the features I want to access in Sibelius 7 because I use them constantly. Finding them in the new UI, however, is a giant pain in the ass. Similar to my gripes with Finale. All in all, using both programs, I still favor Sibelius by a longshot for ease of use. Not to mention professional engraving. Finale’s engraving looks dated, comically simplistic and cheesy. And yes, aesthetics do matter to the performers, the conductor and the patron.

  • J.lombana
    April 23, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

    Hi. It’s fantastic that this tread is going on for this long. Does anybody knows if Sibelius can be loaded in more than a single computer? And what about its performance in the apple Lion OS?

  • Paul Johns
    May 17, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    Both Sibelius and Finale allow installation and registration on two computers: Windows, Mac, or one of each.

  • July 25, 2013 @ 3:35 am

    What about other alternatives like FORTE? There is more than just sibelius and finale.

  • Julian
    August 28, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

    I’ve been using Finale since 2008 and I love it. The ONLY thing I don’t like is how visually unappealing the sheet music output is. They really need to get on improving that.

  • Chuck
    September 18, 2013 @ 3:35 pm

    My Finale crashed after a software update, and Finale has been ‘dancing’ for four years – refusing to solve the problem. They blame me for their update…go figure.

    Should I switch to Sibelius, or even Forte?

  • October 2, 2013 @ 1:13 am

    Printmusic 2011 can be compared functionally wise with Finale 2003.
    I used Finale 2003, which I got from my education at that time, but it became very unstable on Windows 7. I decided to go the cheaper way and buy Printmusic 2011, which turned out be be in fact an improvement over my old Finale 2003. It runs reliable, and has most of the features of Finale 2003. So most users should consider Printmusic 2011 first, before spending a lot of money on the ‘real thing’.

  • Jaco
    July 22, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

    I prefer Encore by Passport and have been using it for 30 years. I was forced (literally) to use Finale for a long drawn decade due to the insistence of the schools I was working with, but Encore did not miss much in terms of features, but would let me get things done in a fraction of the time it took to sutmble and gobble-di-gook through all the Nile Delta quagmire of Finale “features.”

    There is no such thing as “an upstart” yet in this industry. That’s an illusion. Encore, in fact, is among the most commonly used notation software in the market.

  • Chuck Easton
    October 20, 2014 @ 11:07 am

    I ‘ve been using Finale for over ten years, mostly lead sheets and scores for jazz sextet, as well as all my teaching material for guitar, piano, brass, reeds, bass, theory and improv. I haven’t used Sibelius-I assume it works fine. What surprised me in these comments is the number of people who complain about bugs-I rarely have any trouble along those lines-I get what I want almost all the time without any problems.

  • April 3, 2015 @ 7:55 am

    I recently added Finale 2014 with previous experience on Encore and MuseScore. My first impressions are that the oft-quoted steep learning curve is due to the poorly thought-out user manual and guides, rather than the program itself.

    When exploring an unfamiliar feature, links open up pages with other unfamiliar terms, and so on and so on. There’s a tendency to forget what one is looking for.

    What manuals need is a simple how-to-do-it approach i.e. if you want to do ‘this’ do ‘that’, no matter how often the material would be repeated. The removal of the large amount of unnecessary verbiage in the existing manuals would compensate.

    There could still be side-links to technical matters for those interested.

    Most composer/arrangers need to get on and use a program with minimal interruption to their day.

    If the playback of imported files works OK I might continue writing in MuseScore, with its easy interactive features and its stability, especially with copy/paste and transposition, and do the demos with Finale’s Garritan instruments.

  • steve gregoropoulos
    February 11, 2016 @ 4:15 pm

    I’m a composer and arranger who works with very large scores and ensembles. Since Finale 2014 my experience with Finale has been a nightmare. Basically it comes down to: 1) Finale now crashes all the time on scrolling playback and you lose anything you haven’t saved – this is a known bug, and 2) on a large score (say 90 minutes for 20 instruments) the “speedy entry” slows down to a snail’s pace, where you have to wait about ten seconds after entering each note, another ten to add an accidental, etc. I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone and computer with Finale and it comes down to bit depth. I’ve read similar complaints from other composers. Will Sebelius solve this. Can I type rapidly in measure 2000 in an orchestra file in Sibelius? Really it’s make or break for me!

  • Roman I. Drozd
    July 31, 2017 @ 12:27 am

    From many years I compose in Encore (for small forms), Finale or Sibelius. I tried even on Notion. Encore is much faster than Sibelius or Finale (playback system is horrible). I suppose, the future for score composers is in the software like StaffPad – I mean in software very intuitive, fast and unifying habits of score-paper composers and score-PC musicians. I tested StaffPad for Microsoft company, because MS Surface Pro 3 or 4 was created for graphic designers and composers too. Unfortunately StaffPad for now is only for Windows Platform, not for OSX or iOS (iPad Pro). Just I’m testing Steinberg Dorico for both platforms. Main creator of Dorico is Mr Daniel Spreadbury (creator of Sibelius). But, I underline, I see the future of music notation software in the StaffPad – you need 2 hours for composing. Main creator of this incredible soft is young and good composer – David Haern.

  • Jon
    December 9, 2017 @ 8:30 am

    I used Finale for a few years. One day, my computer did an update. After that, Finale wouldn’t load due to its “not being compatible with the update.” My computer is a Mac. When I tried to log in to Finale’s website, my account had disappeared. I contacted customer support and provided them with my product code, receipts, and images of the wrapping and manuals/product literature. Customer support decided to stop communicating with me and the situation was never resolved. Ultimately, I paid for a software that I now do not have, and customer support basically said, “f**k off!” I think the Finale software is a fine product, but I cannot rally behind a company that essentially steals my money and then turns its back on me. BEWARE!!!

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