FIG. 1: Finale''s work space is dominated by the score. Above the score are tools to enter and edit the various musical elements. You can customize how the tools appear in palettes and remove the icons of those tools you don''t use.
Music-notation software Finale has been around since 1988, an eternity in personal-computing years. Over time, this sophisticated and feature-packed program has become an invaluable tool for musicians who work with music notation. It's impossible to give a comprehensive assessment of such an extensive program, but I can offer a general idea of how Finale works, describe some of its distinctive features, and discuss some significant upgrades from previous versions (you can read reviews of Finale 2003 and 2004 online at www.emusician.com).
Where to Begin?
Finale is a huge program, but it isn't difficult to learn if you approach it one step at a time, learning what you need to know when you need it. A series of excellent tutorials takes you through the program piece by piece.
You get started with Finale by running the Setup wizard to establish the staves, transpositions, key and time signatures, and other basics. When you're ready to enter music, you can choose one of several note-entry tools for that purpose.
Another method is Step-Time Entry, which lets you play notes or chords on your MIDI keyboard while selecting the rhythmic values on your numeric keypad (pressing 7 for a whole note, 6 for a half note, 5 for a quarter note, and so on). You can choose from two fast and powerful tools for Step-Time Entry: Simple Entry and Speedy Entry. Their functionality overlaps, but they are different enough that you may prefer one over the other.
You can play music in real time using the HyperScribe tool, a technique that offers several quantization options so that Finale accurately transcribes your playing. Another alternative is MicNotator, which allows brass and woodwind players to transcribe monophonic performances using a microphone along with Simple Entry, Speedy Entry, or HyperScribe. You can also import a MIDI file, a scanned printed score, or one of several notation file formats.
All the Right Tools
Finale is organized into 30 tools, each with a particular function (see Fig. 1). In addition to the note-entry tools, the program has tools to enter or edit time signatures and key signatures, add articulations, insert dynamic markings and other expressions, format the score, and even microedit a passage to create nontraditional notation (see Fig. 2).
FIG. 2: Special tools allow you to -customize your notation. Some examples are -indeterminate notation (top staff), -feathered beaming (to indicate a slowing of tempo), tone clusters, and beaming across the bar line (bottom staff).
Space limitations for this review prevent me from discussing all of Finale's tools and their functions, but suffice it to say that you'll use some tools frequently and others (such as the one for creating ossia passages) less often. Finale gives you tools for creating chord symbols and fretboard charts, early-music notation, lyrics — the list encompasses just about any music-notation symbol or situation you can imagine (see Web Clip 1). The beauty of Finale's organization is that you can concentrate on the tools you need and ignore the others. You can even customize the tool palettes to show only the tools you'll use.
The Smart Shape tool is available for entering slurs, trills, dynamic hairpins, octave symbols, glissandos, and more. The Smart Shape tool's curves and lines are “smart” in the sense that they adapt their shape and size automatically, stretching and shrinking to accommodate changes in the music and automatically adjusting to span the next system of music if needed. Smart tools such as glissandos and dynamic hairpins are also automatically reflected in the score playback.
Another longtime feature of Finale is Metatools. Metatools are macros that let you assign customized keystrokes to enter a particular notational symbol. For example, when using the Articulation tool, the default Metatool for an accent is the A key, and the Metatool for staccato is the S key. If you click on a note while holding those keys, you instantly create the articulation. You can also lasso-select a group of notes while holding the appropriate key to enter many articulations at once. Entering symbols in this way is extremely fast and efficient.
One of my favorite features in Finale is Scroll view. Though you can view a score as it will appear on the page (Page view), Scroll view allows you to see it as a continuous staff flowing across the screen from left to right. I haven't seen this option in many other notation programs, but it's useful, especially during the early stages of composition.
Request an Upgrade
Since EM's last review of Finale, the program has gained several valuable features. It has long been available for the Windows and Macintosh platforms, and Finale 2007 offers versions that run natively on both Intel- and PowerPC-based Macs.
FIG. 3: Studio view combines traditional music notation with faders and panners reminiscent of a sequencer. The top staff is used with the TempoTap feature that lets you conduct tempo changes by tapping a MIDI or QWERTY key.
An important addition to Finale 2006 was the inclusion of Garritan Personal Orchestra, which greatly improved the playback quality of scores (see Web Clips 2 and 3). GPO sounds more realistic in Finale 2007 because Finale's Human Playback features have been expanded to better reflect tempo changes, dynamics, and articulations indicated in the score. Human Playback also supports a wide range of performance techniques, and many of them (such as bends, glissandos, and harmonics) are idiomatic to each instrument. Although the default settings work well, Finale has detailed options for customizing Human Playback if desired.
Another feature added in Finale 2006 was Studio view, offering a mixer and other functions that resemble a sequencer's controls. Also, a TempoTap feature lets you adjust the tempo for lifelike performances (see Fig. 3).
Finale 2007's most significant new feature is Linked Parts. Thanks to Linked Parts, you don't need to create separate files for each orchestra part; the parts are created automatically and integrated into the same file with the score. Make a change in the score, and that change is automatically reflected in the appropriate part. Make a correction in a part, and you automatically correct the score at the same time. If you want to make a change in a part that won't be reflected in the score, you can do that too. A color code helps you keep track of which items in the part are linked to the full score. Finale's implementation of Linked Parts makes creating, editing, and managing parts effortless and trouble-free.
Finale 2007 also introduces integrated onscreen video. Before this version, you could work with video clips only by syncing to an external editor. Now an integrated video window makes the process much more convenient. Finale supports a wide range of video formats and allows you to change the SMPTE frame rate. You can automatically synchronize a movie with your score, and you have the option of starting the video after the music has begun or vice versa. Finale's system of Bookmarks allows you to create cue points, and a MIDI tool called Fit To Time lets you select a region of the score and specify either its length or end time. Fit To Time then changes the tempo to arrive at those times, ensuring that the music matches the desired locations in the video.
Finale 2007's Latin Percussion plug-in allows you to instantly create Latin-flavored rhythmic passages. Simply select a region of your score, bring up the plug-in, and select from a list of Latin styles including several varieties of Afro-Cuban, bolero, cha-cha-cha, mambo, and salsa. A percussion section with authentic rhythms, performance practices, and notation conventions is instantly created in the selected region (see Web Clips 4 and 5).
Although the version of GPO that comes with Finale is extensive, you can purchase expansions of the library. You can buy the full Garritan Personal Orchestra for $189 and Garritan Jazz and Big Band for $239. In addition, Garritan's General MIDI Collection ($139) and Marching Band ($199) should be available by the time you read this.
Is Anything Wrong?
Although Finale 2007 doesn't give me much to complain about, I still have a wish list. First, the index of the PDF manual could be easier to navigate; when searching for information, I often wish for a better way than scrolling through several screens of the 2-column index. On the other hand, clicking on an item in the index jumps to the appropriate page. Also, a few customization features are unnecessarily complicated to use. The tools for creating custom key and time signatures and playback controls called Executable Shapes are very powerful, but the process of creating them could be somewhat smoother and more streamlined.
Additionally, it would be wonderful if Finale could implement automatic rehearsal letters. Currently, rehearsal letters are created manually, which means that if you change the music in a way that puts the rehearsal letters out of order, you have to edit them all by hand. A system that would automatically keep rehearsal letters in sequence even when you moved them would be a welcome addition.
About 95 percent of the time that I work on a score, I pay no attention to Finale. The program has become as natural a part of the compositional process as my piano and pencil. The only time I think about Finale is when I don't know how to notate something and I have to think a bit or dig into the documentation to do what is needed. In such a situation, I especially appreciate Finale's many options for controlling almost every aspect of a score's appearance.
Finale is a mature, sophisticated, flexible, and powerful music-notation program. If you already use Finale, I strongly suggest that you purchase the 2007 upgrade. And if you're in the market for a notation program, give Finale a serious look.
Peter Hamlin teaches electronic music, theory, and composition at Middlebury College in Vermont and plays in the live electronic-music improv band Data Stream.
GUIDE TO EM METERS
5 = Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology
4 = Clearly above average; very desirable
3 = Good; meets expectations
2 = Somewhat disappointing but usable
1 = Unacceptably flawed
Specifications tables for EM reviews can be found at
MAKEMUSIC Finale 2007
$600 (academic price, $350)
|EASE OF USE
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Extensive features. Valuable updates. Supports wide range of notation styles. Offers alternate techniques for using many functions. Good technical support.
CONS: Some rarely used customization features are difficult to use.