Q: Which program is faster / simpler for jazz lead sheets – Finale or Sibelius? Also, which program is better at complex chord extensions and chord placement?
A: In order to really determine which program is “faster”, I think it is necessary to look at four main areas of interaction: Document Setup, Note Entry, Page Layout and Editing.
DOCUMENT SETUP: Finale 2011 and Sibelius 7 are equal in the area of initial document setup. They both have a mechanism to set up a score for a particular instrumentation and with a particular look (e.g. fonts, page size and so forth). This is called the Setup Wizard in Finale 2011 and New Score in Sibelius 6 or 7. Each program has several pages to control how your document will look, what key and time signature will be used, whether there is a pickup in the music and so forth.
NOTE ENTRY: I would say Finale and Sibelius are pretty much equal for simple music like a single staff lead sheet. Both FInale 2011 and Sibelius 7 offer several ways to enter notes, including more than one way to step-enter notation. The various step time entry methods are very reliable and fast in both programs.
For more complex music, Sibelius has a slight edge as far as speed of entry. For instance, if you respell a note enharmonically outside of the key signature, Sibelius follows common practice and remembers whether an enharmonic is spelled as a sharp or flat earlier in the same bar, while Finale requires you to respell the note again if it occurs later in the same bar. When you are entering music in step-time, every additional step takes time.
For choral music and other types of music which is largely homophonic, Re-Pitching is a powerful tool in both Sibelius and Finale, potentially saving hours of time. You enter the notes, articulations, phrasing, dynamics, lyrics etc into the first part, then copy this part down to the second staff, click on the first note and play in the new pitches for the second staff very quickly. Sibelius has a slight advantage here as well. In Finale 2011 and earlier, if the first note you are re-pitching is tied, the tie is lost when you re-pitch, so you have to go back and reenter it. Sibelius keeps the tie intact.
Both Sibelius and Finale offer a way to record music in as you play to a click on a MIDI keyboard. Finale’s transcription feature is called “Hyperscribe” and a similar feature in Sibelius is called “Flexi-time”. Both programs allow you to set up input quantize to control the transcription accuracy. This feature in both programs works pretty well with single line lead sheets or individual lines on a larger score. Results for piano music isn’t very impressive on either program, but understand that piano music is inherently very complex, with all of the inner voices and so forth.
CHORD ENTRY: For years, Finale required that chord symbols be attached to a note (or a physical rest). You couldn’t enter chords above the staff in a blank bar. Current versions of Finale have removed that limitation, and chord symbols can be placed on any beat in the bar, even if there is no music in the bar. Finale allows you to create any chord suffix, e.g. no chord suffix is impossible to create, and there is a lot of flexibility in mixing alterations and this kind of thing (for instance, if you wanted to create a chord that combined a sharp and a plus in the same chord for the different alterations). Chords play back in FInale, if you want them to, although playback is limited to root position single chord at the placement of the chord.
If Sibelius has an advantage in this area, it is simply ease of use. Finale’s chord tool in the hands of a pro can produce beautiful chord charts – but right out of the box, the chords don’t look very good, even in Finale 2011. The chord symbols in Sibelius do not play back, but they look clean and consistent, and by adjusting the settings in Engraving Rules, you can make the chords follow your standard convention for display of the different chord types. And, while both Finale and Sibelius offer the ability to play a chord on your midi keyboard to type in the chord, this feature actually *works* in Sibelius without requiring a lot of fussing around before defining what midi voicing produces what chord.
PAGE LAYOUT: Here, too, Finale and Sibelius are very much on par with one another, although Finale has some big advantages in the area of Text Handling. Sibelius 7 added the ability to justify Staff and System text Left, Center or Right, but for a long time, Finale has had the ability to do much more with text – for instance, Finale can align text with the Time Signature, centered over a barline (for rehearsal marks, for instance) and a number of other location controls in addition to Left, Center or Right aligned to a beat.
Finale also has much more flexibility with symbols – for instance, you can easily create separate symbols for a short fall, medium fall and long fall in Finale and have them attach properly to notes (as an articulation). The falls don’t play back, but are more flexible and correct for a printed chart. Sibelius 7 has a single, very nicely integrated “short” jazz fall that plays back. You can create custom Symbols in Sibelius 7, but raw Symbols not assigned a specific purpose in Sibelius 6 or 7 don’t attach to notes, so they move around in the layout, which is not ideal.
EDITING: In general, I find Sibelius faster when editing. Finale does have a lot of similar capabilities, but many of these similarities come in the form of plugins in Finale, while they are native in the program in Sibelius. So for editing, I find Sibelius generally has the advantage.
Which program is the winner? For pro users, there really isn’t necessarily a clear winner at this point – both programs have unique strengths (and weaknesses). If you are already using either Finale or Sibelius at a professional level, you aren’t going experience huge productivity gains crossgrading in either direction. If you have never used either Sibelius or Finale before and are determined to purchase a pro level notation program this summer, Sibelius 7 might be the better choice. The Ribbon interface of Sibelius 7 is pretty intuitive. Then again, you might want to wait 3 months and see what Finale’s next offering is. These programs are very aggressively competitive with one another, which is great news for those of us who use these programs.