Preparing MIDI files for best import results in Sibelius 7

Getting good, clean MIDI file conversions from your sequencer into Sibelius is an important technique to learn, and is easy once you know the steps.

The MIDI clean-up starts in your sequencer program:


  1. Quantizations are made permanent and notes are forced to be legato, so there are no spaces in between two note events (unless an obvious rest is intended)
  2. Normalize region parameters (this function will make sure all the transpositions that were applied are in the actual MIDI content and not just a playback parameter)
  3. Next, delete all muted events: SHIFT-M is the default key command, but that’s probably different depending on the user
  4. Make sure the first note event starts in bar 1. It can’t start in bar 0. This can also be buggy if the first event is after bar 1 beat one… so, to be safe, you can add a random dummy note event on bar 1, beat 1.
  5. Select all and export to a Type 1 MIDI file


  1. Quantize the music using Region > Quantize… or Region > Smart Quantize. Make connected notes legato, so there are no spaces in between two note events (unless an obvious rest is intended)
  2. Set a Default Patch for each instrument / track so you won’t have to reassign instruments in Sibelius after import. It also helps to have the tracks for your orchestral instruments named with “real” instrument names.
  3. Remove all unused controller data and other events***, and either uncheck Play for tracks that you don’t want exported, or delete them before export.
  4. Make sure the first note event starts in bar 1. It can’t start in bar 0. This can also be buggy if the first event is after bar 1 beat one… so, to be safe, you can add a random dummy note event on bar 1, beat 1.
  5. Select all and export to a Type 1 MIDI file, deselecting “Save track names as plain text”.

These same basic types of “clean-up” operations apply to most any sequencer.

*** The $100 Notation Switchblade program is a sophisticated alternative to the MIDI import feature of Sibelius – it converts MIDI files into an XML notation file, essentially bypassing the MIDI import feature in Sibelius. Of particular note, keyswitches can be automatically converted to techniques, articulations or other text (e.g. pizz, arco, marcato, trem. etc). If you use a lot of keyswitches in your work, this utility is worth a look. Read more about this specialist tool on SibeliusBlog. To import your MIDI file directly into Sibelius, read on…

In Sibelius 7, select the Import tab, and then Open MIDI file. The Open MIDI File dialog has two sections; “MIDI FIle” and “Notation”. Note that in both Sibelius 6 and 7, you can (also) select Open… from the File menu and navigate to your MIDI file.

The MIDI file panel of the dialog looks like this (the dialog is unchanged from Sibelius 6):

Here, you can choose your paper size and house style (Document Setup), track order and track display (Instruments), voices and metronome marks (Transcription), and whether or not to import Timecode and Hit Points.

Initially, I recommend that you uncheck “Hide Empty Staves” – this setting hides any staves where music is not playing in that particular system – sometimes referred to as a “French Score”. When you are first importing your midi file, chances are, you want to get an overview of where everything is playing AND resting. You can always hide staves at any later point.

With certain MIDI files I get all of the notes coming in as Voice 2. Checking “Use multiple voices” will generally solve this issue.

One option worth mentioning in this dialog is Show Metronome Marks. Some midi files have tons of tempo changes, for instance, a tap tempo situation or sync to picture. Some have only a few. If you have lots of tempo changes, you may want to uncheck the Show Metronome Marks option.

Once the midi file is open, check Hidden Objects in the View tab. Then select the important metronome marks you want visible. If there is a tilde ~ preceding the mark, you can remove the tilde to make the tempo mark visible.

Sibelius does its best to make the tempo changes as accurate as possible, so that sync integrity will be maintained. Unfortunately, this frequently leaves you with tempo markings that look like this:

Particularly if you are syncing to ReWire or in other scenarios where sync is crucial, you need this information to the right of the decimal. However, this type of verbose metronome mark is anything but clear to the musicians. Fortunately, Sibelius only considers the last tempo instruction in one line of text, so the solution is to type in a “normal” tempo marking  followed by a hidden one – all in the same line of text:

Only the display is rounded; the tempo for playback isn’t changed.

There is a very useful plugin for Sibelius by Neil Sands which automates this for you called Round Metronome Marks. It will treat all metronome marks it finds in metronome text or tempo text within the selected region. It ignores marks that are already preceded with a tilde. There’s an option to round the metronome marks to the nearest proper metronome value, or you can round to the nearest x decimal places.

If sync is important, for tempo variations such as ritard and accelerando, simply leave the marks hidden, then add new tempo text such as “rit.” – this method is superior to using a rit. or accel. line if you want to maintain precise sync.

The second screen in the Open MIDI File dialog looks like this:

  1. Think of the most active section of your piece, and visualize what those note values will be. This is generally a good setting for Minimum duration.
  2. Does your piece have any tuplets? If not, set this to None to avoid the accidental tuplet here and there. Sibelius can interpret groupings of 3, 6, 7, 9 and 10 independently. Only use what you need for best results.
  3. If you want Sibelius to send out your original program / bank messages when you play the score, leave this checked, otherwise, you can remove them here.
  4. Volume, Pan, Modulation, Sustain Pedal and similar data are Controller Messages. If you want to keep your expressive info from the sequence, leave “Keep controller messages” checked.
  5. “Keep other messages”, among other things, will convert your Markers / Bookmarks from Logic and Digital Performer into Tempo text. Sibelius will also make an attempt to convert other markings from the original sequence, such as dynamic text or lyrics. You might be able to save some work by leaving this option checked.
That’s it for now. Be sure to check back soon for more (hopefully) useful tips…

Thanks to my friend and colleague Patrick Kirst for the Logic info!






11 Replies to “Preparing MIDI files for best import results in Sibelius 7”

  1. Am I correct in understanding that Sibelius can import a MIDI track and then notate it?
    This would be terrific for me as I play primarily by ear and my notating takes too much time.

    1. Yes, Sibelius is one of several music notation programs which can import MIDI and display it as music notation. There is no magic bullet with any notation program currently, particularly for more complex music such as piano, but with a little practice you can get decent results in Sibelius, Finale, or Dorico to name the major dedicated notation programs. good luck!

  2. Hi Robert:

    it’s a bit late commenting 6 years after your blog was published, but I’m having a weird issue importing midi from Pro Tools where certain tracks imported as percussion tracks (with altered notes). Have you ever run across something like this?

    Thanks, Peter.

  3. Hello Robert.
    Thanks for your article.

    My Question is:
    When I open my MIDI File (from Cubase) Sibelius automatically creates a new sib Project. Even when I mark one bar in my current Project. Ho can I Import MIdi Data into my current Projec? Also it Always Imports to one clef – how can i Change that? (for piano parts)

    Thank you!!

  4. Darius,

    Not a knowledgeable Cubase guy, but…..
    There may be export settings in Cubase that are creating this situation. Your terminology indicates you are using a standard MIDI file. If that’s the case, and you have type 0 selected, that merges all parts onto one track (albeit separate MIDI channels if memory serves). Might try the type 1 MIDI file. Additionally, I think Cubase does MusicXML export – that could resolve the problem.

    As a workaround (if nothing is resolved) you could open said file in a new Sibelius project and copy/paste into working project on correct staff/instrument etc. Understood that won’t resolve the piano on one staff – hopefully one of the above possibilities will take care of that.



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