New Optimizations in Sibelius for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3

By in Music Creation

My name is Joe Pearson and I am the Product Designer for Sibelius. This is the first in a series of articles for Avid Blogs to help you better understand new features in Sibelius and also to give you a look at what is going on behind the scenes as we develop Sibelius, Avid Scorch, Sibelius | Cloud Publishing and Sibelius | First. Sibelius now includes a combination of new features, more choices to buy, as we have added the option to subscribe, tighter integration with other Avid products on the MediaCentral Platform, and new 101 and 110 courses as part of our ALP program giving students the chance to gain to certification as a Sibelius Certified User.

We’ll start this series by looking at the new optimization in Sibelius for the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

Early iteration of the newly refreshed keypad graphics.


The keypad is one of the areas of Sibelius that never received a high-res reworking back when Apple first released machines with Retina displays. That meant it was minuscule on a modern high density Windows display (Mac OS does better job of making the transition from standard to high density displays). Aside from the aesthetic appeal of HiDPI, we needed the keypad to be larger too in order to be usable with the pen, which meant we needed new graphics for each of the buttons. This gave us an opportunity for a little update from our UI designers, so the look has been refreshed with a flatter, cleaner UI. In terms of functionality, the way the keypad works has stayed exactly the same.

What's New in The New Sibelius

Add and edit notes quickly with just a tap of the pen.

Pen Buttons

The button names represent their “standard” function. For example, the right-click button behaves in the same way as the right-click button on the mouse. The eraser button (not the top button!) acts as tool for deleting objects in most applications. The names we use here are same names that you’ll find in Microsoft documentation. Microsoft has set out a few paradigms for how user interaction should work with the pen in apps like OneNote – we’ve tried to follow as many of these as possible in Sibelius so a Surface user should feel quite at home. For example, the right-click button doubles as a tool for selecting items in OneNote – it does too in Sibelius (more on this below).

The different buttons and their official names on the Surface Pro 3 pen

Why haven't you used the top button in Sibelius?

Microsoft have hard-coded the functionality of the top button into launching OneNote, and there isn’t a way we can override it. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, that means we’ve not been able to make use of it in Sibelius. We’re working with Microsoft to change that in a future release.

Entering Notes

Entering notes using the pen is a natural way to get notes onto the page. It’s fast too – I reckon only an experienced Sibelius user, with knowledge of the keyboard shortcuts, would be able to work more quickly. That doesn’t mean this is just a feature for your rookie Sibelius user though. Here’s a little workflow using only the pen:

  1. Create a score with some instruments.
  2. Enter note input mode by tapping on Note Input tab > Input Notes.
  3. Select the note value you want from the keypad.
  4. Begin entering notes by tapping the pen on the stave where you want to enter notes.
  5. Sibelius automatically rejects palm input, so you can rest your hand on the surface of the screen just like you would a piece of paper.
  6. When you’ve finished inputting notes, tap the erase button on the pen to exit note input mode.

Because the pen is active Sibelius is able to detect when it is in close proximity, and display a ghosted note (in grey), indicating the position of the pen relative to the notes on the stave.

Note input indicator

Note input indicator.

This should help a user to enter notes accurately. If you make a mistake, use the undo and redo buttons on the top left of the Sibelius window – using these instead of the keyboard means you don’t have to put the pen down, but of course the keyboard shortcuts work just as well. If you find that pen input just isn’t very accurate, read on and I’ll go into how to calibrate the pen to make things better.

Moving around the score without exiting note input mode.

It sounds simple, but doing this whilst in note input mode has, in previous versions of Sibelius, been a pain. Extraneous notes get entered if you attempt to drag the score without first exiting note input mode, and oftentimes the keyboard shortcuts don’t provide the finely grained control a user needs to focus the area of the score they’re working on. We’ve got two new ways of achieving this in Sibelius 8.0, neither requiring the user to exit note input mode:

  1. Use your finger to physically drag the score on the screen of the Surface. To me, this is the most natural – it’s akin to lifting your pencil from the score, moving the paper, and carrying on.
  2. For users who prefer it, you can right-click and hold and drag the score, using the pen.

Zooming In and Out

Sibelius now supports pinch/stretch to zoom, both on the screen of Windows touch-screen devices, and trackpads on Mac OS. This works regardless of what mode you’re in (note input or annotate). Again, the idea is that the user needn’t put the pen down whilst interacting with Sibelius.


Easy Access Placement

If you’re right-handed like me, I recommend first placing the keypad over on the top left of your screen, so you can easily reach it as you enter notes—the opposite for our left-handed users.

Surface on a Flat Surface

Try experimenting with putting the Surface flat on a table – like a sheet of paper. It’s easier on your hand and wrist when you’re using the pen.

Center Selection During Note Input

Lastly, you can have Sibelius automatically adjust the position of the score as you enter notes. Try going to File tab > Preferences > Score Position and tick the Center Selection checkbox under During Input and Editing. The portion of the score you’re working on stays right under your fingertips.

Center selection during note input and editing.

Calibrate Your Pen

If you find that entering notes is proving a little inaccurate, try using Microsoft’s pen calibration tools that are build into Windows. On Windows 8.1 (and probably 10 too when it comes out):

  1. Click Start
  2. Begin typing “Calibrate” and you’ll see one of the options you’re given is “Calibrate the screen for pen or touch input”. Click that.
  3. Click the Setup button, and follow the on-screen instructions to calibrate the pen.

At that point, you should find pen input much more accurate. I’ve had to go through the calibration process a couple of times and it’s now pretty good – worth trying it multiple times if you’re still not happy.

Find out more about Microsoft Surface Pro 3

In part 2 of this blog on Sibelius and Surface Pro 3, I will look at Editing and Annotating and will also discuss educational applications and details of the higher-res windows display.

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Sibelius product designer, drummer, percussionist, and musician. I'm looking forward to building on the excellent foundation of Sibelius.