Sibelius 2019: Intelligent MIDI Import

By in Music Creation

We’re really pleased to announce the September 2019 release of our latest version of Sibelius – our 6th release in 2019. The release is mainly centered around a brand new way of importing MIDI files, crucial for composing and orchestrating workflows. We’ve also made huge headway in improving the accessibility in Sibelius for blind and visually impaired users. On top of this, we’ve included a good bunch of smaller improvements to the overall quality and stability of Sibelius.

If you can’t wait to get the update, head to Avid Link, or your My Avid account to download and install v2019.9. If you’re on an earlier version of Sibelius Ultimate, upgrading is now up to half price.

So, let’s jump in:

 

Vastly Improved MIDI Import

The process of taking a MIDI file and opening it in Sibelius has, until now, been fraught with time-consuming decisions and processes. This is sometimes even done by different people too, or in fact an entirely different team based on the other side of the world, and up until now has been a huge task for each score.

The legacy method is still in the application, by going to File > Open and choosing a MIDI file. Once that score is open though, you’ll have to manually clean up the House Style or copy/paste into another score or use Tom Curran’s excellent Impose Sketch onto Template plugin, before you can actually start working on the music.

Now though, the process is much simpler, and the feature comes with a number of featurettes too that really make this new workflow incredibly nifty.

The workflow now goes like this:

• Open your template or Manuscript Paper

• File > Import and choose a MIDI file

• Click Auto-assign

• Click Import

Sibelius will have automatically assigned the incoming MIDI tracks to the instruments in your score, merged the playing techniques onto a single instrument and added Pizzicato techniques and other articulations – all into your template using the House Style for this score.

“It’s the best thing that has come to Sibelius in five years for me. It’s huge.”

—Simon Franglen, composer

To try this yourself, download these two files:

Orchestral _template.sib

Open this file first

Orchestral_demo.mid

then go to File > Import and choose this file

 

• Firstly open the Orchestral_template.sib file

• Go to File > Import and choose the MIDI file

• Click Auto-assign

• Click Import

You’ll see the music is imported into the correct staves, along with the tempo marking, time signature changes and other musical elements, making the following clean-up process a breeze.

We’ll now go through this in detail, as there’s so much more to the feature that meets the eye:

 

Importing into an existing score

The premise now is that you don’t ‘open a MIDI file’ but import it into an existing score. Either start off with a completely new score based on your favorite Manuscript paper, or open one of your own templates. It doesn’t matter how many bars are in the score, and it can simply include one bar with no other text. It’s important though to include all the instruments you’ll need in the score (although you can always add them later).

The new Import page is found by going to File and choosing the new Import section. To import a MIDI file, click Browse and choose the MIDI file you wish to import (you can now choose .mid, .midi and .smf files). Once the MIDI file has been loaded, the new pane looks like this:

Instruments table

This is where you assign the incoming track to the destination stave in the score. When opening a new MIDI file, you’ll see the MIDI track names on the left, with three columns to the right for assigning the Instrument and adding Articulations and Techniques. The Instruments list will be set to “Don’t import” by default, ready for you to assign the MIDI tracks to the instruments that are in the score. Using this method, it’s now possible to import only some of the MIDI tracks as you need them, useful for getting a revised set of String parts for a partially completed score, for example.

To assign a MIDI track to an instrument, click the arrows within the Instrument column and choose an instrument. As you go through this, you’ll notice both the MIDI track name and Instrument name go Bold, so you can see which ones you’ve done – really useful for larger scores.

The assignments can be made in several ways:

• 1-to-1 mapping: An incoming MIDI track is mapped directly to a single instrument in the score. This is the most basic type of import.

• 1-to-many mapping: You can map a single MIDI track across several instruments. This is really useful if you have a MIDI track that contains the whole strings section, say. You can map these to several instruments in the score (there’s no limit) and Sibelius will spread the notes across the staves evenly based on the range of the instrument. Under the hood, it utilizes an updated version of the Arrange feature to spread the notes across the staves. Another good use for this is to spread a single Guitar track across both notation and tab staves. There’s an option at the bottom of the Import page that will toggle between copying the music to all staves, or to explode them. It’s called “Explode music when arranging to multiple instruments”.

Here’s another example to try:

Solo guitar with tab template.sib

Open this file first

Solo guitar.mid

Then go to File > Import and choose this file

 

When importing the MIDI file, you can assign the incoming Acoustic Guitar MIDI track to both the notation and tab staves:

This then copies the guitar across both the notation and tab staves:

Many-to-1 mapping: this really helps saves time in the music preparation stage, and is where the new Intelligent MIDI Import feature comes into its own. When writing music in Pro Tools (or other DAWs), it’s common to have the playing articulations spread across several MIDI tracks, for example Vln arco, Vln trem, Vln Pizz etc.. Previously, when transferring the MIDI file from your DAW to Sibelius, you’d have to manually copy the music and merge the music together, which generally came with plenty of room for error. The following picture shows you what the old File > Open method could give you:

Sibelius now takes care of all this for you:

The MIDI tracks, how they appear in Pro Tools

The result in Sibelius

The Auto Assign button

Using artificial intelligence pattern matching, the Auto Assign button in Sibelius will read the incoming track names and decide which instruments to map them to. Of course, this feature scales to any number of tracks with several playing techniques and articulations, so you can throw huge MIDI files at it, and Sibelius will methodically go through each track to find the best match.

Matching is done in several ways:

• Where there’s one incoming MIDI track, and a single instrument in the score, clicking Auto Assign will always match these up.

• Exact name match: if the incoming MIDI track name contains the same name as an instrument in the score, it’ll get matched up. Useful if you have “Bob on Trumpet” in your DAW and “Bob on Trumpet” in your score too.

• Instrument names in the score: Sibelius will match MIDI tracks to instruments based on their full instrument name as well as their short names (as defined in Edit Instruments). For example, Vln will match the Violin staves in the score

• Common abbreviations and alternatives: A MIDI track with an abbreviated instrument name, that isn’t covered by the short name in the instrument definition, won’t be matched up, however we’ve included a number of the common ones, for example: Cello will match Violoncello, Double Bass will match Contrabass (and visa versa), and we’ve added support for Violins 1 or Violin 1 to match Violin I etc..

• In most cases, composers will use their own shorthand to abbreviate instruments. We’ve included a tagging system so those with a template in their DAW can tag the MIDI tracks and instruments in their template they use in Sibelius. Simply adding a #hashtag name to their tracks and instruments will be enough to allow Sibelius to match these up. For example:

This score simply has a French Horn and a Trumpet. In Pro Tools, the MIDI Tracks were named by the composer to remind them which sample had been loaded. This is common, so in this case there’s SF H (for Spitfire Horns) and SF Al Tr (for the Spitfire Albion Trumpet). Each track also has the playing articulation or technique in the name, as well as a hashtag.

Then, in the score, the same hastags have been added to the instrument names. Since they are proceeded by a tilde ~ character, the text is not shown in the score.

This example shows just two instruments, but you can easily see this scales up to any score at any size. All this combined can enable a full orchestral score to be imported into Sibelius with a single click:

Wildcards

When the template you’re using has no title, composer or copyright, Sibelius will use the information from the MIDI file to populate the fields in the Score Info (see File > Score Info). Wildcards are then placed in your score and display the correct information. This is an improvement over the old Open MIDI workflow where you could sometime get duplicates of text, and it wouldn’t be dynamically linked to the Score Info.

 

Score Preview

On the right, there’s a handy score preview. This shows changes in real-time as you make the instrument assignments.

MIDI Import Score Preview

Similar to the regular Print preview, you can navigate the pages and zoom in using the controls underneath the score preview.

 

‘Include’ and ‘Notation’ sections

Those familiar with the old Open MIDI file dialog will know what most of these do. On the whole, the options that existed before still do the same as they always did, for example, “Minimum duration”, “Allow these Tuplets” etc. There are new options though, which are particularly useful:

• “Respace after import” – when ticked, this option will respace the score when importing the new MIDI data. This is on by default and is useful for getting a nice clean score. However, if you’re importing MIDI data into a score that already has music in and you’ve made some manual spacing adjustments, you can untick this to preserve the spacing.

• “Filter Keyswitches” – this allows you to filter out the very high or very low keyswitches that have been used to switch sounds in your DAW.

 

Re-importing MIDI into the same score

It’s common to receive a second draft, or updated music from the composer. It’s often then a toss up between starting again with a completely fresh score, or replacing just those mew instruments. Now, it’s very easy to import just the music you need and incorporate it into your existing score.

Simply go to File > Import and choose your MIDI file. It’s common that your MIDI files are in the same location as your score or template, so clicking Browse always opens up in the same folder.

Now, you can only choose the instruments you’d like to import. It’ll overwrite the music on those staves in the score, but won’t overwrite the Time Signatures and so on.

Sibelius | First

Sibelius

Sibelius | Ultimate

The Intelligent MIDI Import feature is not available in the free Sibelius | First.

Most of the feature is available in Sibelius, although the Auto Assign button is not available.
This means the mapping of MIDI tracks to Instruments in the score will need to be done by hand.

Everything, including the Auto Assign artificial intelligence, is in Sibelius | Ultimate.

Accessibility

Avid and Berklee College of Music have teamed up to collaborate on a year-long project to enhance the accessibility of Sibelius for blind and visually impaired musicians. This is the first release of many that will bring improvements across the whole application, from navigating the
musical objects in the score, to getting around the menus – all without sighted assistance.

We have hired a developer who is solely dedicated to improving the accessibility features in Sibelius. We’re excited to see how far she can go!

Today’s release of Sibelius introduces the following improvements in this area:

Initial JAWS support – the last version of Sibelius that could be used with JAWS was Sibelius 5(!) so it’s great to be able to include JAWS support. Due to the way JAWS works, it’s likely scripts will need to be written to enhance the experience with Sibelius. More on this in due course.

Mac and Windows parity has been reached, so you can expect the same experience across the two operating systems with VoiceOver (Mac) and Narrator (Win) and the third party application NVDA (also on Windows). On macOS, it’s advised you go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts and turn on “Use keyboard navigation to move focus between controls”. This will allow you to tab through more items in Sibelius’s UI and other applications too.

When Joe Pearson and Joe Plazak designed the MIDI Import feature, they made sure accessibility was in the forefront of the UI. In fact, it was a primary design choice as the Joes designed the layout. The Instruments table is keyboard accessible, so you can tab from cell to cell, using Spacebar to open the list of available instruments, and again to choose the desired instrument(s), then Return to close the list. The Arrow keys will further move the focus forward and backwards through the list. (At the time of writing, best results are achieved with NVDA)

Sibelius will now read out more note attributes when a note is selected, such as rhythm dots, tremolos and buzz rolls and all articulations, bowing instructions etc.

You’ll now hear an indication of whether a note is out of the comfortable or professional range (which are also coloured red on the screen) – useful as a guide to help keep music in the playable range for the instrument.

Bar numbers are now read correctly where there’s a pickup/upbeat bar in the score.

We certainly aren’t done, and we’ll be reporting back on this project to keep you up to date. If you’re interested in taking part in the project, and would like to become a beta tester, please get in touch.

 

Overall stability and improvements in Sibelius

There’s more, you ask? Of course there is! Here’s a list of what we’ve been fixing up since our last release:

Sibelius is now, on the whole, more stable. We often run automated code hardening that finds defects in the C++ code. It automatically generates a report and we get to work improving the underlying codebase. In some cases, it’s barely noticeable, but Sibelius will be less likely to get memory corruptions that cause a crash, for example.

Both Spotlight and Quick Look plugins are back and working well on macOS. This allows you to search for Sibelius files using metadata inside the files, as well as preview them in Finder. Alt+Space works nicely too to bring up a full-screen preview of the score.

In addition to this, we’ve been beavering away fixing the bugs too:

• Sibelius no longer hangs on startup “Initializing playback system” when using “Super Audio CD Decoder”, which can also show up as “DSD Transcoder”. Sibelius now simply blacklists the ASIO driver so it’s no longer initialised. Form our research, it isn’t a playback device that would be useful in Sibelius anyway, so this is a safe change.

• Sibelius can now accept UNC paths in File > Preferences > Saving and Exporting

• It’s now possible to step through a video frame-by-frame once more using the [ and ] shortcuts (Mac only)

• The splash screen is now quicker to appear (compared to 2019.7) when running the application

• Slurs and ties now appear at their correct thickness when zooming out

Sibelius is now much less likely to crash. Many thanks to all those who sent in their crash reports (and for the comments too), so we’ve been able to identify and fix the following:

• Sibelius no longer crashes when using the Add or Remove Instruments, or Change Instruments dialogs on Windows.

• Exporting a MIDI file when the score is empty no longer causes a crash

• The Tie Extended Stable plug-in, is more stable and no longer crashes

• Sibelius no longer crashes when deleting staves while inputting notes

Some of you have been asking about support for the upcoming macOS Catalina. Of course, until Catalina is formerly released, it’s still in the beta phase, so we don’t recommend you upgrade unless you really know what you’re doing. Having said that, we expect this Sibelius 2019.9 release to run well on macOS Catalina when the new operating system is released in due course. Earlier versions of Sibelius will not be supported.

We’re really proud of the hard work that has gone into this release. We’d like to thank the many beta testers, composers and orchestrators (sighted and non-sighted!) who have leant us their ear while we strive towards making their daily lives better.

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As senior product manager at Avid, I work with all the departments in Avid from Design, Development, Sales, Marketing, Legal and Global Services to produce the future of the Sibelius family of products and solutions.