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MAKEMUSIC Finale 2004 (MAC/WIN)

August 1, 2004
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When EM last looked at MakeMusic's Finale in 2003, the program had undergone a number of improvements in content and design. Its note-entry modes and selection tools were enhanced, Smart Shapes objects were improved with more grab handles for adjustments, Composer's Assistant plug-ins offered algorithmic-music creation, new contextual menus improved editing speed, Exercise Wizard was added for teachers, and Band-in-a-Box Auto-Harmonizing plug-in was added in order to generate harmonies.

Some features, like Finale's SmartFind and Paint (which lets you copy groups of articulation marks to other parts of the score), were clearly designed to speed up the workflow. Other more subtle changes might have gone unnoticed by those who weren't Finale aficionados; for example, the Mass Mover tool had morphed into the Mass Edit tool.

Unfortunately, the cross-platform Finale 2003 fell behind the competition in one notable area: it lacked support for OS X. Long after most music software had made the transition to the new operating system, Finale was still tied to the past, leaving throngs of Mac-based Finale devotees relying on OS 9 for their notational needs. After months of waiting, however, that problem has been resolved. Finale 2004 is fully OS X native and offers a number of features that take advantage of OS X's capabilities. (MakeMusic plans to have an OS 9 — compatible version of Finale 2004 available by the time you read this.)

EM has recently covered Finale in some detail (see the review of Finale 2003 in the January 2003 issue of EM), so this review will focus only on the new features in Finale 2004. Before I get into the details, though, let's start with a brief look at the program's main components.

60-SECOND SUMMARY

Finale lets you view your score in a WYSIWYG Page view (see Fig. 1) or in a continuous Scroll view. Page or measure numbers (depending on the view) appear at the bottom of the window, along with a small set of navigation arrows. Finale can have an unlimited number of staves, and each staff can have up to four independent layers, each with two voices (allowing for opposing stem directions) if needed. An extensive use of color coding helps keep the various layers and onscreen elements easily identifiable. A set of playback controls lets you listen to your scores.

Finale's panoply of tool palettes provides direct access to most of the program's main editing functions. For example, the Simple Entry, Speedy Entry, and HyperScribe buttons offer mouse-based, MIDI-based, and real-time modes for entering notation data. You can scan and import printed music, enter tablature directly from a MIDI guitar, and input (and transcribe) melodies with a microphone.

The Mass Edit tool lets you work with large and small sections of the score, while the Clef, Key Signature, Meter, Lyric, Articulation, Text, and other tools let you focus on specific functions. Each time you choose a tool from the main tool palette, a changeable menu in Finale's menu bar reflects the current editing mode and provides access to submenus and relevant dialog boxes for setting parameters. If you don't know which tool you need to edit an item, you can use the Selection tool to click on the item; the associated tool is then automatically selected. Entire palettes are devoted to articulations, beams, and other marks and layout elements. The program's unlimited Undo command makes it easy to back out of problems.

FACE THE MUSIC

Finale's user interface has not changed appreciably since last year's model, although there are a few subtle improvements. For example, Finale's redraw capabilities have now been improved, eliminating the residual onscreen artifacts that plagued earlier versions of the program. Manual redraws are mainly a thing of the past, and I encountered few if any problems during my tests. Finale also has improved its placement algorithms to help reduce collisions between noteheads and accidentals that appear on different layers. (Various overlaps still occasionally occur throughout dense scores regardless of layer, but adjusting onscreen elements is easy.)

Finale's ability to hide notes and rests is a powerful and useful feature, but it can lead to some confusion during playback and editing if you lose track of the hidden notes. Finale 2004 has therefore added a new command that lets you display hidden notes and rests in grayed-out or lightly colored form (depending on the assigned layer). You can then keep an eye on your hidden notes without having them print out.

EDITING EDIFICATION

One of Finale 2004's most significant areas of improvement involves the program's input and editing features. For example, many users will be happy to know that Finale now lets you copy notes from one layer to another without wiping out the original notes. The notes in the new layer are simply superimposed over the originals. (That can be a great help when writing unison lines in which the stems point in opposite directions.) Finale 2004 also allows you to create your own Simple Entry keyboard shortcuts, so you're no longer saddled with a predefined set of key combinations.

The Text Expression Designer is more flexible than before, letting you use different fonts within an expression. For example, you could have andante appear in Times Roman while the associated metronome marking could appear in a music font. Or an expression such as allegro con spirito could have the allegro part emphasized by putting it in bold or in a larger font size. Moreover, MakeMusic has added new automatic-placement options to Finale 2004 to speed up alignment and positioning of expressions (see Fig. 2).

Some onscreen elements are easier to work with and more straightforward in Finale 2004 than in earlier versions. For example, you can drag through a section in the score and change the clef of the highlighted region with the Clef tool. In a similar manner, you can drag through a group of articulations and edit them at once with the Articulation tool. In general, MakeMusic appears to be striving for a more consistent approach to selecting and editing notation with less reliance on the Mass Edit tool, making the program more streamlined and intuitive.

In fact, the Simple Entry tool has been considerably beefed up and will undoubtedly assume more importance for many users. Until the release of Finale 2004, Speedy Entry (with MIDI input) was the note-entry mode of choice for most serious users. That could change for many people as they discover the new powers of Simple Entry mode.

In Finale 2004, the Simple Entry tool can be used with a MIDI keyboard for faster note entry. You can use the mouse in one hand to click on note values (whole, half, quarter note, and so on) while entering pitches from a MIDI keyboard with the other hand. You can also enter pitches from the computer keyboard by simply typing letters. (Type “C” for a C, “F” for an F, and so forth.) You can type “R” for a rest, “T” for a tie, and “N” to add a natural.

Other key combinations let you add accents and articulations on the fly, all without leaving Simple Entry mode. And that's not all — building chords and intervals is a snap. Simply enter a note and type “5” to add a fifth above, “3” for a third above, and so on. Holding down the Shift key adds the intervals below the note. You can accomplish quite a bit in the new Simple Entry mode, as it allows you to change clefs, key signatures, time signatures, octaves, pitches, and articulations — all without switching to other modes. Depending on the task at hand, that could cut down a lot on the time it takes to complete a copy job.

PLUGGIN' IN

Finale 2004 boasts several new plug-ins that address a range of issues. Two new Patterson plug-ins let you easily beam over barlines and edit all of the beams in a document with control over a long list of parameters, including thickness, slope, and separation. A Cross Staff plug-in makes it easy to move notes, octaves, and even chords from one staff to another (especially useful in keyboard music) to make the notation clearer or to eliminate ledger lines. (The stem is typically stretched from the original staff to the new staff to maintain the proper relationship.)

The new Smart Page Turn plug-in (see Fig. 3) analyzes individual instrumental parts and automatically adjusts the layout by repositioning measures and staves to eliminate awkward page turns. It lets you specify how many seconds are needed by the player to accomplish a page turn, and it lets you insert warning text for places in which a fast page turn is unavoidable. With the parts that I tried it on, it always worked well, and even when I applied it to some busy violin parts, the plug-in managed to find logical places for a break.

The Smart Cue Notes plug-in is another handy tool that may help you get better performances from your scores. The plug-in scans through the music and looks for places (typically at the end of long multimeasure rests) where an entrance cue would be helpful to the player. You can specify which instruments get cues and the minimum number of resting measures (or seconds) that must elapse before a cue is generated. You can even specify how large the cue notes should be and how much detail (articulations, clefs, lyrics, chords) should appear in the cue. (The cue does not appear in a separate staff.) Finale then automatically generates the cues or suggests places for you to consider.

Overall, the Smart Cue Notes plug-in worked extremely well in its automatic mode, although some of the cues were not particularly helpful. I solved that problem by clicking the Interactive Mode checkbox. The plug-in then suggests cues one at a time and offers you the option of accepting or rejecting them as you go along. It works like a breeze and could save you a great deal of time, especially if you work a lot with student or amateur groups.

Finale's new FinaleScript plug-in adds to the program's many time-saving features by letting you create your own macros to handle repetitive tasks within a document or to batch-process several documents at once. You can create your macros from the included Script List or write your own using the FinaleScript commands. The documentation includes several examples to get you started.

One of my favorite new tools is the easy-to-use Drum Groove plug-in. You select all or part of a score and then select one of more than two dozen drum-groove styles, from blues to bossa nova. Finale automatically adds a new staff at the bottom of the score, with the rhythm part fully notated in standard drum notation or with slashes. If you prefer, you can specify an existing percussion staff for the new part to appear in. During playback, the drum part appears on MIDI channel 10.

I added the AfroCuban groove to a section of a woodwind-piano quartet, and the results were surprisingly good. It definitely changed the feel of the piece. You do, however, have to match the groove to the existing meter. You can't add a jazz waltz part to a military march, for example, and you can't select a region with changing meters. You can, however, extract your own drum grooves from MIDI files and add them to the list. If you aren't experienced in writing for drums, this plug-in could be of great help.

PLAY TIME

Music playback is another important area in which Finale has evolved. For starters, the program now includes its own built-in General MIDI Sound Font, ensuring a reasonably good and consistent playback of scores even if you don't have a sound card or MIDI sound module. The 128 instrument patches aren't as good as those of an orchestral sample library, but they do guarantee easy playback from any computer whether you're composing or just proofing your score.

Moreover, you can send your score to any other Finale 2004 owner and know that the recipient is hearing the same thing that you are during playback. Finale even lets you use the internal sounds to render your score as an audio file (AIFF for Mac; WAV for Windows), so you can burn a CD of your music and play it for people who don't have Finale.

A complementary and equally important development is Finale's new Human Playback feature, which interprets the onscreen music for a more real-life performance (see Fig. 4). Finale simulates a live human performance by letting you choose from a number of playback styles such as Jazz, Baroque, Romantic, Latin, and Funk.

In addition to its stylistic interpretations, the program automatically recognizes a wide range of expression markings, articulations, fermatas, hairpins, and other score elements, some of which had been awkward to implement in earlier versions. I got varying results on my Mac G4 when combining Human Playback with Finale's Sound Fonts. The program occasionally suffered from minor anomalies such as dropouts and stuck notes. It worked quite well, however, with less complex scores with fewer staves. Your results may vary depending on your computer system and the nature of your scores.

GRAND FINALE

Finale 2004 has far too many minor improvements to cover in a single review, but several other noteworthy enhancements deserve to be mentioned. For example, Finale has upgraded its text-handling capabilities with new text-insert options, a Hidden Text Style (which allows you to create text blocks that are viewable only onscreen and do not show up on a print out), a Search and Replace Text plug-in, and Smart Hyphen and Word Extensions for easier and faster entering of lyrics.

In addition, MakeMusic has improved Finale's scanning recognition (with SmartScore Lite 3.0), and the program is now more integrated with the company's SmartMusic program for creating rehearsal and practice accompaniments.

It appears that MakeMusic has taken a two-pronged approach in developing Finale 2004. On the one hand, it has added a number of powerful new layout, note-entry, editing, and playback features, while on the other hand it has continued its trend toward streamlining the program and making it more intuitive.

Learning to use Finale is still not as easy as falling off a log, but few if any notation programs match Finale's “can-do” approach to score layout and onscreen music editing. If you're looking for a professional-level notation program with wide-ranging capabilities, Finale 2004 is hard to beat.


Contributing editor David Rubin lives and works in the foothills outside of Los Angeles.

Minimum System Requirements

Finale 2004

MAC: G4/350; 128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended); Mac OS × 10.2; 200 MB hard-drive space for software and manual

PC: Pentium II/200; 128 MB RAM (256 MB recommended); Windows 98/2000/ME/XP; 200 MB hard-drive space for software and manual

PRODUCT SUMMARY

MakeMusic
Finale 2004 (Mac/Win)
notation software
$600

FEATURES 4.5
EASE OF USE 4.0
DOCUMENTATION 4.5
VALUE 4.0
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: More powerful Simple Entry tool improves efficiency. Onscreen adjustments easier to make. New plug-ins effectively add important features. Program allows user-definable keyboard shortcuts and macros. Text and lyric handling improved. Built-in General MIDI sound set. More flexible Text Expressions.

CONS: Onscreen elements occasionally overlap and need repositioning. Human Playback function sometimes inconsistent with some scores.

Manufacturer

MakeMusic, Inc.
tel.: (800) 843-2066 or (952) 937-9760
email: finalesales@makemusic.com
Web: www.finalemusic.com/finale

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