MAKEMUSIC Finale 2008 (Mac/Win)

Notation Software
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Web Clips: Hear audio examples of Garritan Personal Orchestra playback

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Finale 2008 sports a new look and many new features.

MakeMusic's Finale has been a leading music-notation program since it was introduced in 1988. Each upgrade has offered significant new features and improvements, and Finale 2008 is no exception.

Big Changes

In older versions of the program, there were many tools to work with, each tool had a fairly specific function, and a user often switched between tools in the course of entering a score. For example, you entered notes with the Simple Note Entry tool, and you added articulations with the Articulation tool. There were tools for adding key and time signatures and for adding measures, and there was the Mass Edit tool when you wanted to perform a range of editing functions (copying and pasting) and select utilities (such as transposing, respacing, and rebeaming).

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FIG. 1: A partial measure in the top staff has been selected, then copied into the two bottom staves. Notice how the five selected notes fold around, creating an interesting cross-rhythm against the four beats of the time signature. Previous versions of Finale didn''t allow multiple copies of partial selections like this.

Over time, Finale has consolidated its features in a way that reduced the need to switch between tools, and the latest version takes another major step in this direction by eliminating the Mass Edit tool. Its functions have now been incorporated into a much-enhanced Selection tool and an expanded Edit menu.

In addition, a new Utilities menu has been added to the menu bar, which includes tools for transposition, rebarring, rebeaming, compressing several staves into one, expanding one multivoice staff into several staves, and other spacing and layout functions. Additionally, the Selection tool has a contextual menu (right-click in Windows or Control-click on a Mac) that gives you access to commands that used to require switching between the Key Signature, Time Signature, Clef, Measure, Staff, Repeats, and Mass Edit tools.

Other improvements include a smoother and more natural way of selecting full or partial measures and a new Paste Multiple command that lets you make multiple copies. (You can also specify copies vertically in staves below as well as horizontally.) And, unlike with earlier versions of Finale, you can now make multiple copies of partial measures to create interesting cross-rhythmic patterns (see Fig. 1). These changes will help you find the feature you want quickly so you can work more efficiently.

Another important addition is that you can now add an audio track to your Finale score. One of many ways to use this feature would be to have a recording of a real singer mixed into your song playback, rather than the soft synth singing “oohs” and “ahs.” (Fig. 2 shows a score with an audio track added, and Web Clip 1 lets you hear what an audio track integrated with score playback sounds like.)

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FIG. 2: Finale 2008 allows you to add an audio clip to your score. The TempoTap feature (in the top staff) makes it easy to synchronize your score to the audio track, even if the tempo changes.

Finale's playback has improved significantly over the years with the addition of Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) and SmartMusic SoftSynth (see Web Clips 2 through 5). Saxophone, choir, drum set, guitar, marching percussion, and world instruments have been added to the GPO collection in this update. You will want to use Finale's Human Playback feature, which responds to dynamics, expression, and tempo changes in the score as well as performance techniques idiomatic to each instrument (such as pizzicato, harmonics, and note bends). Web Clips 6a and 6b illustrate the difference Human Playback makes when a score is realized.

To get the best results from sample playback, you will need at least a gigabyte of memory. Finale 2008 put a strain on my four-year-old computer until I increased my RAM to 1 GB. And I also find it helpful to work on pieces in smaller chunks, because you can effortlessly assemble the sections into a larger whole using the new ScoreMerger command.

Papers, Please

One of Finale's biggest shortcomings has been documentation. The program had a PDF manual, which was complete and thorough but rather inconvenient to navigate, as well as a contextual help system that was not as detailed as the manual, so you often had to search through the PDF document anyway.

Finale 2008 offers a big improvement in documentation. The manual is now offered as an interactive HTML document displayed in your browser. The contextual help is tied to this information, so you get the same level of detail when you press F1 within the program. The index is much easier to navigate, the table of contents is well organized, and a powerful search function is also included.

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FIG. 3: A much-improved HTML help system provides easy navigation through Table of Contents, Index, and Search options. The Visual Index lets you click on any item to get more information about it.

An option called Browse Sequences points you to a number of topics that you can read about in more detail. For example, select the topic “Creating Parts,” and you will find eight articles detailing the entire process of creating parts in Finale. And if you don't know the word for something but know what it looks like, there is an inventive idea called a Visual Index, which shows a sample score page. Click on an item to find out more about it (see Fig. 3).

On my computer, the help documentation takes a moment to load the first time I call it up. After it's launched, it's fast and responsive.

There are lots of other improvements that you will appreciate as you use Finale 2008. Document Styles allow you to create templates for scores that specify fonts, libraries, graphics, page size and layout, measure numbering, and other items of that sort, making it very easy to create distinctive-looking score styles for different types of projects.

In addition, the support for importing and exporting MusicXML files has been improved. (MusicXML is a music-notation file format that lets you move scores between different applications or publish them on the Internet.)

Grand Finale

Finale is an excellent music-notation program. The additions and improvements demonstrate that MakeMusic is not resting on its laurels but is paying close attention to what users actually want and need from the program.

As Finale has grown more powerful, it has also become more streamlined and elegant and easier to use. For current users, I strongly recommend an upgrade to Finale 2008. And anyone new to music-notation software will want to give this program serious consideration.

Peter Hamlin teaches composition, theory, and electronic music at Middlebury College in Vermont and also plays in the live electronic improv band Data Stream.


Finale 2008

music-notation program
$600 (MSRP)
academic/theological price, $350



PROS: Numerous improvements and expanded features. User interface is more streamlined, better organized, easier to use, and more efficient.

CONS: Expanded features, especially the instrumental library, require additional RAM and computer resources.


MakeMusic, Inc.

Web Clips: Hear audio examples of Garritan Personal Orchestra playback