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electronic MUSICIAN

MAKE MUSIC FINALE 2003 (MAC/WIN)

By Rob Shrock | January 1, 2003

Having experienced many years of unflagging popularity, Finale remains an industry standard in the realm of notation software. Not content simply to rest on its laurels, MakeMusic, Inc. (formerly Coda Music Technology) has continued to update Finale with new tools and refinements on an almost yearly basis.

EM reviewed Finale 2000 in the February 2000 issue, and since then, Finale 2001 and 2002 have introduced several new features. Finale 2003 continues the pattern with even more goodies. Any attempt to cover all the features of Finale 2003 would be overwhelming; however, a basic overview is in order.

SCORING BIG

Reshapable floating tool palettes provide access to various menus, submenus, and dialog boxes specific to each of Finale's dozens of tools (see Fig. 1). For instance, the Simple Entry tool lets you add notes with specific durations by clicking directly on a staff, the Mass Edit tool lets you edit sections of a score, and the Chord tool allows you to create, move, or delete chord symbols.

When you click on a tool, an information box under the title bar conveniently displays the name and function of the selected tool. That comes in handy if you're not good at quickly memorizing icons. As different tools are selected, the menus in the title bar change, offering related submenus and commands. You can view and edit your scores in Scroll view or Page view; measures and page numbers are displayed at the bottom of the screen, providing easy navigation.

A Finale score can have an unlimited number of staves. Each staff can have as many as four independent layers, and each layer can have two different voices. (Each layer and voice can have an unlimited number of notes.) Layers can be used to define independent lines sharing a staff with different stem directions, such as Flute I and Flute II. Piano music typically uses different layers and stem directions to indicate the proper separation of melodic and harmonic content within a single staff. Because specific colors can also be assigned to just about anything in Finale 2003, you can apply different colors to different layers for easier onscreen identification while working on a score (see Fig. 2). An unlimited Undo command lets you retrace your steps if you get into trouble.

The speed with which you can get notes into Finale has always been one of the program's strongest assets. Simple Note Entry mode lets you use the mouse to select note values and other symbols from palettes and insert them directly into the score. User-definable keystrokes called MetaTools speed up this technique by allowing you to use the computer's number keys to determine note values as you click in the score. (Although I find this technique a tedious way to work, one producer I know is a whiz with this method. He can bang out a whole piano/vocal/rhythm chart while sitting on a plane, and I'm not talking about Los Angeles to Sydney.)

Speedy Note Entry mode is my preferred method. It lets you use a MIDI instrument and the computer keyboard in tandem to input notes in step time, using the same MetaTools described above. A new MIDI Modifier feature even lets you assign a group of keys on your MIDI keyboard to set the durations when entering notes, navigate the score, tie notes, or perform various other functions.

An equally fast way to input notes is with the HyperScribe method. It allows real-time input with a metronome click or by tapping the tempo. With the tap-tempo approach, a designated note number (say, the lowest note on the keyboard) or a MIDI controller (such as the sustain pedal) is assigned to advance the beat by a user-defined note division. That lets you play a part more or less in time while tapping along with the beat. However, it also allows the added flexibility of speeding up or slowing down without losing the proper placement of notes within a measure, which is not possible when inputting notes in real time to a fixed click. The HyperScribe Tool also lets you rebar a rubato performance.

Finale can import music as a Standard MIDI File and generates the appropriate staves from the sequencer track list. Hard-copy scores can also be scanned and imported (as TIFF files) into Finale using the program's built-in SmartScore Lite software from Musitek. In addition to SmartScore files, Finale 2003 can open Musitek PianoScan files as well as older scores in Gvox (Passport) Encore format.

Finale's MicNotator feature lets you use a microphone for inputting notes. (MakeMusic offers an affordable mic that clips onto your shirt or a brass instrument.) MicNotator offers a possible alternative if you're not inclined toward using a MIDI keyboard for note entry. You can also use a MIDI guitar to enter notes directly into tablature; Finale recognizes which strings are being played and then assigns the notes appropriately.

Most Finale users quickly gravitate to a particular note-entry method, but it's also a good idea to become comfortable with the other techniques. Each method of note entry has its particular strengths; applying a combination of techniques is the best way to promote accuracy and speed in most notation situations.

Once the notes are in the score, Finale offers myriad parameters for adding expressions, articulations, chords, lyrics, and other graphic elements to the score. It also provides extensive parameters for part extraction and page layout, which have been covered in past reviews.

WHAT'S NEW

Finale's user interface continues to improve, and you can now choose from ten tool-palette “looks.” (The traditional look is still available if you're not fond of change.) I especially like the Cool Black look.

With the Selection tool chosen, clicking on a clef, key signature, or time signature now automatically opens that tool's dialog box. The Mass Mover tool has become the Mass Edit tool, and the locations of various tools and commands throughout Finale have been changed to provide more logical function groupings.

Smart Shapes have been refined in Finale 2003. Symbols such as crescendos, slurs, and glissandi sport additional handles so that you can position them more precisely. Slurs are particularly improved with five handles for shaping the contour of the slur, and slurs now automatically adjust to accommodate changes to the notes in the phrase and to avoid stems.

A new feature called SmartFind and Paint lets you apply articulations (as well as expressions and hairpins) from one phrase to other phrases with similar rhythms. For example, you could apply the slurs, staccato marks, and trills in the First Trumpet part to all instances of the same rhythmic phrasing even if the actual notes are different. In other words, you could quickly add the First Trumpet's markings to the Second and Third Trumpet parts as well as to the Trombones where appropriate (see Fig. 3).

One of Finale's most powerful features is its collection of plug-ins. They're small applets or macros that allow you to automate complex or laborious operations. The number (and power) of Finale's plug-ins continues to grow at an exciting pace, and third-party developers are starting to get into the act.

Plug-ins allow you to create piano reductions from a group of staves, find occurrences of parallel motion in harmonies, apply common canonic techniques, change note heads, and add cautionary accidentals, and they provide a multitude of other extremely useful functions. Of note are the collection of Composer's Assistant plug-ins: among the 12 offered are Chord Morphing, Melodic Morphing, Rhythm Generator, and Virtual Fundamental Generator(see Fig. 4).

Finale's support for notating fretted instruments has been greatly refined and includes an extensive collection of score-setup wizards for guitar, banjo, lute, mandolin, dulcimer, ukulele, sitar, and other instruments. The program also supports various alternate tunings and tablature layouts. Changing notated strings and frets is now a simple operation, and it's easy to create hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, and double-bends.

Probably the most significant new plug-in is Band-in-a-Box Auto Harmonizer (see Fig. 5). The harmonization engine from PG Music's Band-in-a-Box is now included in Finale 2003. It creates anywhere from two- to six-part harmonies from the existing melody and chord symbols (or the key signature if there are no chords). Each type of harmony provides a number of harmonization styles based on the parameters defined in the plug-in. You can create a swingin' big-band sound or a barbershop quartet in record time.

The Optical Character Recognition (OCR) features in Finale have steadily improved each year, but Finale 2003 really ups the ante by including SmartScore Lite. It provides a lot of power for music teachers and church musicians who need to rearrange existing sheet music or hymns. Music can be scanned and imported into an existing score and then “exploded” into individual parts (great for scanning a four-part hymn and turning it into a score for a string quartet). A score can also be scanned and imported, then reduced to a two-line piano part. Expect to do a little editing and cleanup, but the powerful combination of plug-ins and OCR technology is truly impressive.

A new Exercise Wizard makes it quick and easy to create rehearsal drills for students. A collection of customizable exercises is provided, and you can save the exercises as “lessons” for later use. The exercises are automatically transposed for each instrument, and each user can define one of three difficulty levels; Finale ensures that the exercise stays within that level. This is one feature that band directors will love.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

As much as I am a fan of Finale, there are still some areas in which I feel the program needs improvement, especially when I consider recent developments in competing notation programs. Almost all of my colleagues who use Finale professionally have echoed these criticisms.

First, Finale has trouble with articulations and other symbols when there are multiple layers on a staff, especially in staves that combine two instruments such as First and Second Violins or Third and Fourth French Horns. In those situations, articulations must be applied to both “lines” independently.

Finale does a fine job of placing articulation marks and Smart Shapes when there is only one line; but when there is a second layer, the program doesn't make the necessary adjustments to the positions. They all must therefore be repositioned by hand, which can be a laborious task in a large and detailed orchestral score.

My second complaint is that Finale still allows symbols to collide or overlap, a situation that is almost never acceptable in standard notation. Articulation marks and expressions can be given a default position in relation to the notes, and Finale does employ collision-avoidance algorithms to reduce overlaps of markings, clefs, accidentals, and other elements, but the program is only partially successful in eliminating the problem. Notes can cover measure numbers, expressions can run into each other, and so forth. The only fix is to scour the entire score and edit each occurrence by hand.

It would be a tremendous help if Finale automatically prevented all symbol collisions by adjusting the symbol placements; even if the results weren't perfect, it would still be better than overlaps. At the very least, Finale could highlight or point out symbol collisions without making the user scrutinize every inch of the score.

My last criticism is that parts and scores in Finale are not dynamically linked. If you extract a part and later find a note mistake (or one of the symbol collisions I just mentioned), fixing the problem in the part does not automatically fix the problem in the score. That works in reverse, too: once you've extracted parts, any further edits to the score are not reflected in the parts. Either you have to manually duplicate the corrections in the part, or you have to redo the whole part-extraction and page-layout process.

I mention these missing features because some of Finale's competitors have implemented them. Although I appreciate many of the esoteric capabilities in Finale, these three weaknesses cause me continued aggravation in my everyday work with the program.

HARD TO BEAT

The documentation for Finale 2003 is provided in an extremely detailed and well-written set of Adobe Acrobat files. (Registered users can also purchase a bound, printed version of the documentation.) A 10-page Quick Reference booklet is also provided; it includes a surprising amount of information on tool functions and key commands. In addition, a set of 20 QuickStart videos on the CD-ROM illustrates the basic features of the program.

The combination of tutorials, videos, and online documentation will help novices get up and running quickly. Finale's reputation for being difficult to learn is becoming largely a thing of the past, as MakeMusic has clearly made a concerted effort to accommodate new users.

Finale does so many things well that I still love and use the program in spite of my criticisms. There simply isn't any other notation software with the sheer power of Finale 2003. Moreover, educators and music directors will especially appreciate features such as the Exercise Wizards, the built-in OCR scanning capabilities, the auto-harmonization feature, and the band and choir templates. Professional copyists continue to benefit from the extensive editing, page-layout, and music-spacing capabilities, and there's something for everyone in the wide variety of powerful plug-ins.

As long as MakeMusic continues its tradition of listening to its user base, refining its user interface, and providing innovative features, Finale will remain a top-flight music-notation program.


Producer, composer, and keyboardist Rob Shrock has recorded, performed, or both with Burt Bacharach, Garth Brooks, Ray Charles, Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Faith Hill, Stevie Wonder, and many others.

Minimum System Requirements

Finale 2003

MAC: Power Mac; 64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended); OS 8.6

PC: Pentium; 64 MB RAM (128 MB recommended); Windows 98/ME/NT/XP/2000

PRODUCT SUMMARY

MakeMusic
Finale 2003
music-notation software
$600

FEATURES 4.5
EASE OF USE 4.0
DOCUMENTATION 5.0
VALUE 4.5
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Powerful feature set. Extensive set of plug-ins automates laborious and complex operations. Scanning and OCR technology is well implemented. Excellent documentation.

CONS: Articulations don't properly adjust their position when staff has multiple layers. Does not always prevent symbol collisions and overlaps. Scores and parts are not dynamically linked.

Manufacturer

MakeMusic, Inc.
tel. (800) 843-2066
e-mail finalesales@makemusic.com
Web www.finalemusic.com/finale

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