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Top scorer

Hugh John looks at the latest version of world-leading music software

The release of Kontakt Player Gold has been eagerly awaited by Sibelius users since version 3 of the foremost score-editing software was launched at the Royal Academy of Music last autumn.

Basically, an enhanced version of Kontakt Player Silver - the sound library that originally shipped with Sibelius 3 - Gold is a collection of high-quality sound files to increase the creative possibilities for composers, teachers and students.

Keyboard sounds are especially well represented: among the 64 samples are a grand piano, Hammond-style organ and electric piano. There are also well recorded string samples and even a passable tenor saxophone. Kontakt Player Gold also features 63 pitched and 110 unpitched percussion sounds encompassing the full orchestral range. Bass clarinet, male and female voice, glockenspiel, string col legno; they're all here. Excellent news, obviously, for anyone wanting to hear their compositions played back with a high degree of fidelity, but not wishing to buy additional sound hardware.

At the autumn launch, joint founders and developers Ben and Jonathan Finn (now visiting professor of notation technology at the Royal Academy) demonstrated many of the improvements, including more than 170 new features and add-ons, many written specifically for education.

Creating a score has never been easier. Open the home page and you're no more than five clicks away from a new score. Select the appropriate ensemble from a list of 80, then choose the manuscript page size, add extra instruments, house style, time signature, tempo, personal information such as composer's name, and there it is - the first, albeit empty, page of your composition ready and waiting.

Many teachers have lamented the passing of Junior Sibelius, but there's no doubt that this version is more accessible to younger users. Virtually any item in the score, including notes, text, lines and symbols can now be assigned a colour - a great advantage to teachers when they need to emphasise aspects such as tempo changes, repeats or expression markings.

Shadow notes is also sure to be a big hit. This creates a faint DoppelgAnger beneath the mouse cursor so that users can see the exact position of the intended note. Additionally, when writing above or below leger lines the shadow notes are accompanied by a short section of the line. Another boon to productivity is that users can now enter notes anywhere in the bar simply by pointing and clicking. In previous versions a note's position was established by the value of the preceding rests.

No, it's not a sequencer, but by clicking "Kontakt" on one of the drop-down menus you will invoke the presence of a large blue keyboard, which for previous Sibelius users is a novel, if slightly startling, experience.

There's so much more - a "save as audio track" feature, the ability to disable certain functions with a mouse click, support for every kind of repeat imaginable, the ability to set metronome speed by repeated mouse click, auto-page breaks set by the intelligent software ... and more scales than a mermaids' convention! The one new feature that could be unpopular with instrumental students is the scales and arpeggios plug-in. This enables teachers to devise and print out exercises that would make Nicolas Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Arpeggios look like a rudimentary primer. Major, minor, dominant, diminished, modal, jazz and Japanese pentatonic scales that can progress through a circle of fifths, played in thirds in contrary motion. There should be significant improvement in the digital dexterity department.

Sibelius software can now justifiably claim to provide students with a comprehensive range of well-structed programs. The best educational music software in the world? Probably.

* Education prices for single user copies before VAT: Sibelius 3 pound;339, with Kontakt Player Gold pound;488.

Education prices and software demonstrations:

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