Using MusicXML: An Exchange Format Between Finale and Sibelius

by | Jan 21, 2018

In this article, we will have a closer look at the practicalities of using MusicXML, particularly the main issues that arise while using it as an exchange format between different notation software, and how to   solve them.

When exporting and re-importing a MusicXML file into the same notation software, most of the elements remain unchanged. However, that is not necessarily the case when exchanging between two different software, since each software has its own, proprietary way of coding these elements.

Understanding the potential issues that can occur when exporting and importing MusicXML helps to prevent potential mistakes when working with the format as an exchange format between different notation software.

Below, we have covered five areas where differences between notation software can become apparent during the MusicXML import process.

We tested the process of importing and exporting MusicXML in both Finale and Sibelius (Finale 2014 and Sibelius 8.2). The issues listed below are common to both these software.

I) MusicXML Import Issues

1) Different layout

Since each software creates layouts in a very different way, it is likely that the imported MusicXML will display the location of certain elements differently – for example, dynamics, symbols, tempo marks and rehearsal figures. This could also be the case for spacing between staves and systems.
In the example below, when we imported the file from Finale into Sibelius, the niente dynamic was displaced and now touches the staff line, whereas it didn’t in the original.

Finale Layout

From Finale

To Sibelius

2) Innacurate articulations

Finale’s Smart Shape lines and Sibelius’ Lines – which include slurs, portamento, glissando, crescendo and trills, among others – will not be transferred accurately if they were edited in the original software. These will need to be recreated in the destination software using the comparison tool.

In the image below, a slur that was edited in Sibelius (from a lower to an upper slur) was not accurately transcribed in Finale.

Sibelius articulation

From Sibelius

Finale articulation

To Finale

3) Hidden elements

The destination software may mistakenly display elements that were hidden in the original.

Below, we can see two different examples of this issue: in the full bar rest and the ledger lines. Both are hidden in Finale but are displayed in Sibelius.

From Finale

To Sibelius

4) Absent information

When importing a MusicXML file, it is very likely that some elements that exist in the original will not appear in the destination software.

Here is an example of a feathered beam accel./rit that was created in Sibelius, but is not visible once imported into Finale. That is because this element is not exportable into Sibelius via MusicXML.

From Sibelius

To Finale

5) Missing graphics

Imported graphics may also not appear in the destination software.
Below, we can see an imported graphic symbol in Finale that is missing from the score in Sibelius.

From Finale

To Sibelius

II) MusicXML Export Optimizations

Below are some tips on how to improve the MusicXML export in Finale and Sibelius. These tips can be helpful in order to avoid some of the issues mentioned above.

1) MusicXML Export from Finale

  • Upgrade to Finale v25 if possible. There are improvements in the latest v25 releases that we can’t put into the Dolet plug-in for older Finale versions.
  • If you can’t upgrade to Finale v25, then use the Dolet 7 for Finale plug-in for older 32-bit versions of Finale. When you install Dolet, be sure to export the MusicXML from the plug-ins menu instead of the File menu. There’s no Dolet plug-in for Finale v25 because all of Dolet’s features (and more) are now included in Finale v25.
  • Similarly to Sibelius, export scores while viewing a transposed score, rather than using Display in Concert Pitch.
  • The latest versions of Finale include options to speed up your export. You can now include subfolders when exporting a folder of Finale files by setting your MusicXML Preferences accordingly. You can export all the individual linked parts from a score by using File > Export > Linked Parts to MusicXML.
  • If you have graphics, Finale shape expressions, or Finale shape articulations in your file, be sure to export a compressed MusicXML file. This includes the graphics where the uncompressed MusicXML file does not.

by Michael Good, MusicXML Founder

2) MusicXML Export from Sibelius

  • Use the Dolet plug-in. Here’s a breakdown of which plug-in to use depending on which Sibelius version you own:Sibelius 2.1 – 5.0: To save your document as a MusicXML 1.0 file, use Dolet 1 for Sibelius plug-in.Sibelius 5.1 – 6: To save your document as a MusicXML 3.0 file, use Dolet 6 for Sibelius plug-in.Sibelius 7 – 8: Although you have a built-in MusicXML export system, many people find that the Dolet 6 for Sibelius plug-in provides better results than Sibelius’s built-in MusicXML export. It’s best to try both and see which works better in your particular situation. Click here to download the Dolet plug-in for Sibelius.
  • In order to avoid layout issues in the destination software, use the Magnetic Layout feature. In Sibelius 6 or 7, freeze the magnetic layout positions before exporting your score to ensure that object positions are accurately reported.To freeze the positions, select the whole score using Ctrl-A for Windows or Cmd-A for Mac. Then go to the Layout menu and click on Freeze Magnetic Layout Positions.
  • In order to transfer all the graphics, symbols and shapes properly, the MusicXML file should be compressed in the export process.
  • When it comes to contemporary music, composers tend to use extended techniques and thus challenge the notation software in order to achieve desired results. For example, the cross-staff slurs, arrows, glissandi and lines in Sibelius won’t be represented when exported into a different software. You’ll need to create a graphic alternative in the destination software.
  • The way all major software import and export MusicXML is currently not built to understand all the unique ways in which contemporary composers challenge the software. Therefore, a large amount of information will likely be lost when exporting this kind of piece via MusicXML.If you know in advance that you will export your score via MusicXML, we recommend that you keep it simple and use your notation software in a traditional way for optimal results.

by Matan Daskal, Newzik Product Manager