Category Archives: Finale

Finale 26: Thoughts from a Music Educator

I have been using Finale for a very long time. My first exposure to Finale was in college, where one of my professors had worked at Coda Music. We were expected to use Finale, and even played with the “new” Vivace hardware (at the time). If you have been in the music world for any period of time, you’ll know that Coda Music eventually became MakeMusic, and Vivace later became SmartMusic.

I have been teaching 23 years, so I imagine that puts me at over twenty-five years of Finale use. That means a quarter century of Finale use. I can’t believe it—but it’s true.

I don’t claim to be the expert on Finale that Robert Puff and Philip Rothman are; and I wouldn’t dream of pitting my skills against the publishing teams at Hal Leonard or Alfred, nor against the team at Make Music. That said, I’ve used Finale as a tool as a choral music educator, in the classroom, since my first position in the Dominican Republic since 1996. Generally, I have not used Finale as much as a publishing tool, but instead as an accompanist for my choirs. The greatest challenges with this case use were the old challenges of interacting with MIDI, controlling playback in rehearsal, programming tempo changes, and having that become accustomed to how an accompaniment should sound when a live pianist, in performance, does not hold a steady tempo and makes mistakes!

Admittedly, my own use of Finale has decreased over the last few years, partly because of platform, and partly because of features. Don’t get me wrong, I still use it, but I use it as a part of a process instead of as the whole process as I did earlier in my career. In terms of platform, MakeMusic is not pursuing iOS, and I use my iPad Pro for 98% of my computing needs. I also have a REALLY OLD MacBook, a 2008 Aluminum MacBook (renamed MacBook Pro a few months later) that is stuck on OS X El Capitan. As a side note, while Finale 26 does not list compatibility with my old operating system, it seems to run just fine on my ten year old MacBook. That’s pretty amazing as Apple’s own applications will no longer work on my MacBook.

I still use Finale to do most of my heavy lifting as I still work faster on Finale than any other program. I learned how to use Finale, which I fit into the category of ex nihilo music notation programs. Ex nihilo is a theological term that means, “out of nothing,” and that is how Finale works: you start with an empty measure, versus the notation programs that start with a full measure of rests.

If you use Finale, you know that it can literally do anything—things that are certainly far above my pay grade. The Finale team used to publish demonstrations of what the program could do (I wish they still did this!), including a skull notation last year (See https://www.finalemusic.com/blog/halloween-themed-music-notation-discovered/. Mark Adler is awesome.) I made a rosette for our custom ukulele using Finale’s abilities (See https://ukestuff.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/bonanza-tenor-ukulele-cherry/).

I am also a Finale Speedy Edit user. When I started on Finale, that was the standard approach, and I think that the Simple Note Entry Method has been stressed in Finale workshops for at least a decade. The Simple Note Entry Method allows you to enter everything as you go, including dynamics and diacritical markings. I still can’t force myself to enter notation that way.

Finale is so feature rich that it is easy to think that you can’t learn to use it—you can. But there is always more to learn. I remember sitting in a session by Tom Johnson in October 2011 (Wisconsin MEA), where Tom showed that you can select a range and transpose with numbers (6 & 7 for whole steps, 8 & 9 for octaves), and I thought of, “I have been using this program for how long and it can do THAT?!?”

As for recent versions of Finale, Finale 25 was a complete under the hood reworking of Finale 2014. I have been told that Finale 2014 was full of outdated code. Imagine that Finale was a car. Finale 25 basically put a whole new engine in the existing car, and allowed the car to run as it always had—except with the latest technology. It is amazing to me that Finale 25 was able to allow Finale users to continue to use the program without changing workflows.

Finale 26 is the next major update for Finale.

One of the things I love about Finale 26 is that when you open an old Finale file, the program asks you if you want it to apply new features, including spacing for articulations and even linking Garritan sounds to parts. Perhaps Finale previously linked audio parts for you, but I had never seen this functionality in the past. When it comes down to allowing Finale to make these changes, professional engravers may not want expressions to self-adjust. As a music educator, I think: “Will this make my Finale files look better?” “Yes.” “Then by all means, apply your Finale 26 magic.” I have opted to let Finale 26 update every older file as a default setting. After all, why not?

Both Philip Rothman and Robert Puff have indicated that new features in Finale 26, such as articulation stacking, do not downgrade to Finale 2014 or Finale 25. I don’t see this as much of a problem. As a music educator, I have no need to run three different versions of Finale on my computer (nor a copy of every available professional notation software). If you are music educator who is a Finale user, I’d simply let Finale 26 install and allow it to remove Finale 25 at the same time. Again, why not? Once running Finale 26, when would you ever need to downgrade any Finale file to an earlier version of Finale?

The only thing that concerns me about Finale 26 is that the export of MusicXML files defaults to a compressed format—and I do a lot of exporting of MusicXML files into programs that read uncompressed formats (.xml). I have had to regularly rename MusicXML files for a while (Finale saved files as .musicxml vs. .xml); now I’ll have to take special care to adjust Finale 26 MusicXML export settings so my other apps can read those files.

I’ll be honest—I’m not sure that I’m a powerful enough Finale user (even having worked with thousands of scores) to claim to see a speed difference with Finale 26 (Philip Rothman has documented this in his review), and as I have mentioned, my MacBook is so old that I doubt I would see the difference. (I’m waiting to see what Apple might introduce with a new MacBook this month). I’ll just take everyone’s word on the matter. I never thought the Finale was slow in the past, so if it’s faster, that’s just a bonus to everyone.

Yes, there are things that I wish were easier on Finale. I wish you could swap voices in a partial measure versus a full measure. I wish that ukulele chord diagrams were easier to work with. And while I understand there are third party scanning apps, as a music educator who makes rehearsal and accompaniment tracks, I wish scanning (and improved scanning) had never been taken from Finale. I also wish that Finale highlighted a measure when it contained too many beats for a time signature.

What I can tell you is that Finale still is the best solution for me when it comes to doing a lot of editing of a scanned MusicXML file, when dealing with lyrics, or when I am creating a score from scratch. There is a learning curve with Finale, just like any other full-featured notation application. The program isn’t “easy” to use, but it isn’t rocket science, either. And if you want a program that allows you to create any kind of score that you can imagine, Finale’s your solution.

No, I can’t compare Finale to the latest versions of Sibelius and Dorico. As I have previously mentioned, I struggle with apps that start with existing rests (e.g. Sibelius and MuseScore) as much of my workflow requires editing existing measures, and working with programs that require a full measure of beats at all times creates more challenges for me when I am when editing music. As for Dorico, it simply doesn’t offer the tools I need for my job, so I don’t want to go there yet. My workflow will continue to center around Finale and Notion.

If you are a music educator, and you already use Finale, should you buy Finale 26? I would say, “Yes.” The program works as it always has (with some added shortcuts), but the new version will automatically make anything you create look better than it ever has—even your existing files. I also think there value in purchasing the upgrade to insure the future of the program. These updates require thousands of hours of work, and also include technical support. This is obviously not free, and while we live in the world of the $0.99 ad-supported app on your phone, the last thing I want is to work on a score and have an ad pop up (Note: MakeMusic has NOT threatened to do this—I’m just making a point about sustainability). It is worth mentioning that MakeMusic has offered sale prices on past upgrades at various times, so if you can’t swing the upgrade financially at this time, be sure to jump on sale prices down the road.

If you are new to the notation world, should you buy Finale 26? That’s going to have to be up to you. As far as I know, every major publishing house interacts with Finale. Finale is one way to get custom accompaniments into SmartMusic—but is no longer the only method (and SmartMusic even has its own embedded notation program). What I’d say is that if you plan to do a lot of computer notation work, Finale is a very valuable tool. If finances are an issue, I’d start a savings jar and work towards purchasing the very affordable Educator version of the app (Educator pricing). And to those of you who use MuseScore, I think it is wonderful to have another app where you can bring your (MusicXML files) for publishing. I have been surprised how much I like having multiple solutions on my computer, and I think you would, too. If you haven’t tried Finale before, a 30 day trial is included when you download it.

In conclusion, Finale 26 is a solid update that will make your notation files look better. I’d recommend it. You can download it and purchase it at finalemusic.com.


Note: While I have been a Finale user and owner for more than twenty five years, I was provided with a copy of Finale 26 for review purposes.


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SmartMusic has an Online Notation Editor/Creator!

You know those movies/TV series where all sorts of events build up to a point of confrontation (That’s just about any movie, TV show, book, drama, etc.)?  That is what is happening right now in the space of music notation, practice tools, and student assessment.

About a week ago, I was given a “sneak peek” at the new online notation editor that exists inside of the new SmartMusic.  Yes, let me repeat that: inside.

The “new” SmartMusic is web-based, and works on most devices (iPads still need a proprietary application, as is often the case).  I have stepped away from red note/green note programs for a while (I’ll write an addendum at the bottom of this post if you are curious why), so while I continue to watch what is happening in the space (SmartMusic, MusicProdigy, PracticeFirst) I am not using any of those products with my students.  I still very much see the value of these products, and in a different teaching position, I would insist on (as least the consideration of) the use of those programs in band, choir, orchestra, and general music (recorder, mallats, and ukulele).  “New” SmartMusic allows for Chromebooks to be used, which opens a huge educational market in the United States—and is one of the best ways for a Chromebook school to put those devices to use (along with Noteflight, Flat.io, and Soundtrap).

I was stunned to learn that the SmartMusic team has added a full notation feature to SmartMusic.  Yes, stunned.  In the dark ages when Finale was created (MakeMusic’s other product), Finale was the product.  SmartMusic came along, and now the mission of MakeMusic is “to develop and market solutions that transform how music is composed, taught, learned, and performed.”  That is far beyond the original focus on music notation.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a Finale user.  I use other tools, too, but when the going gets tough, I use Finale.  That said, the notation field has simply exploded over the past years, from open source MuseScore to heavy-hitting Dorico…and at least five other significant applications, some on mobile devices.

At the same time, web applications are improving all the time.  I used to be strongly against Chromebooks (particularly when compared to iPads), but web applications have made Chromebooks significantly more useful for music educators.  I still believe that iPads are the better tool for our field—but a day is coming where the Chromebook could be just as good of a choice.

All this makes me wonder how long it will be before all traditional programs move to the cloud.  For example, you can log into iCloud.com and use Pages, Excel, and Keynote on just about any device.  The same is true with Microsoft products, and of course, Google apps continue to improve.

How long will it be before Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, Notion, and MuseScore all move to the web?  Probably sooner than we think.  Five years ago, this didn’t seem possible.

Meanwhile, on the web, Noteflight and Flat.io have been working to create quality products, also sharing an interest education.  I have used Flat.io with students—it is a bit more accessible than Noteflight, and Flat.io is a little friendlier as it uses school Google accounts (GAFE).  Noteflight is working on a number of other features, including connecting Hal Leonard catalog content to the service as well as developing other educational features.

Keep in mind that Hal Leonard owns Noteflight, and that SmartMusic’s parent company owns Alfred.

A bit about the notation editor in SmartMusic: it is impressive.  It functions on a level very close to Flat.io and Noteflight.  The notation editor hides one level deeper in the program than you would think (the editor currently resides inside the “add content” button, whereas I would want just a “notation button”  on the front page).  I messed around a little bit with the program, and was pleased to find out that it recognized “traditional” Finale numbers for note value.  That said, the difference between Finale and Sibelius has always been note entry.  Sibelius (and MuseScore) have always approached a measure as having a measure full of beats, and when you add a note, the program subtracts that from the preexisting rest.  Put in a quarter note in 4/4 and a whole rest turns into a quarter rest with three quarter rests.  Finale (and Notion) have always been ex nihlo programs, where nothing exists in the measure until you put it there.  The SmartMusic notation editor acts like Sibelius in this regard, which was surprising to me.  MakeMusic would also want you to know that the notation program is tapping into the Garritan sound bank.  Sounds have been a weakness for a number of the web based notation programs.

And if you want to see the post by Michael Goode about the new features of SmartMusic, you can read it here.

The “new” SmartMusic allows you to import your own content.  I tried uploading a choral score that had two vocal parts (SA), piano, bass, and drum set.  SmartMusic allows you to map the drum part so it plays correctly…this is amazing and practical.  It allows you to write a drum part as you want to—and then to be able to have it played back correctly.  All the notation programs should follow this lead with a similar interface.

With the “old” SmartMusic, the way to get music into the program was through Finale.  I thought that was the key to Finale’s long term survival—as you had to own the most recent version of Finale to creat SmartMusic files.  The “new” SmartMusic accepts MusicXML files (now an open standard—another business move by MakeMusic that I’ll never understand, but am happy that it happened) eliminating the need for the user to have Finale.

And now, the embedded notation software, combined with a scanning app such as NotateMe (with the PhotoScore IAP) or Sheet Music Scanner (iOS), means you don’t need any other software to create SmartMusic scores…everything you need is right on the web.

All this said, the industry is moving towards a giant point of confrontation.  Some “bullet” thoughts at this time:

  • If the notation feature of SmartMusic continues to improve to the point that it can do everything Finale can do, I expect a merger of both products within 5 years.
  • I expect to see Noteflight move into the practice/assessment arena (they already accept recordings) as SmartMusic is moving into the online notation arena.  John Mlynczak was recently named Director of Noteflight (overseeing the service), and he was responsible for many of the previous education initiatives from the company (such as Noteflight Learn).  Look for John to continue to be distruptive (in a good way) in this industry.
  • I don’t know where MusicFirst fits into all of this, as Hal Leonard is connected with (but not owned by) Music Sales Group, the owner of MusicFirst.
  • The next item for all these companies to address is the quagmire of sheet music into digital formats, distribution, and revenue sharing (Creating an Apple Music for sheet music)
  • Look for SmartMusic to move into composition assignments for students.  Why not?  The editor is there, so logically, the program could expand to allow teachers to assign composition through the SmartMusic as well.
  • Look for MuseScore to move into the web space.
  • Can Sibelius survive in a world with MuseScore, web-based notation, mobile-based notation, and Dorico?
  • I’m not sure what to expect from Flat.io, which has taken a very different approach, focusing on relationships with Google versus working with publishers.  They are very innovative and it is fun to have no idea what they will do next.

So, in summary—I was surprised to learn about the music editor in SmartMusic, and it works great.  If you have SmartMusic, check it out.


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Addendum:

I just wanted to mention why we have moved away from using red note/green note programs, particularly as I believe in them.  Cost is one issue for our school, but more importantly we are working on changing our school climate through PBIS, respecting self, others, property, and learning.  We use Dale Duncan’s S-Cubed sight reading method, and MusicProdigy offered access to Dale’s exercises for unlimited students for $100 per year.  We tried that out, but students would not do the assessments at home (20% would do home—at most).  We don’t have practice rooms, so I moved to having students record themselves in class (we are 1:1 iPad) while completing sight reading or singing assessments (as part of the larger group), and submitting those recordings via our LMS/CMS.  Those recordings are graded on a rubric.  This process it is like using SmartMusic, but there is nothing “smart” about the process.  I know some other teachers use Charms Office Assistant in a similar way.  When we moved to doing the recordings in class, the percentage of completed assessments increased to over 90%. Until PBIS kicks in (it can take five years), I am going to have to do the assessments in class instead of outside of class.


Preparing a score for accompaniment files…

It has been a while since I have talked about my process of taking an existing score and preparing it for an accompaniment file or a rehearsal file. I just prepared ten scores for our district’s high school choirs (three high schools) who hold an October joint concert.

Step 1: Obtain the music. It seems obvious, but for my process, you need music IN HAND, not a PDF.

Step 2: Scan each page (each song separately, of course) with NotateMe, using the in-app purchase of PhotoScore. Why NotateMe? It scans nearly as accurately (sometimes more so) than the desktop version, bringing in most lyrics and diacritical markings. Suggestions: scan with a white background, and then use a flash. The better the camera, the better the scan…so think about using a late model iPhone or Android device.

Step 3: Rename the file in NotateMe and export using MusicXML via e-mail to myself. To be honest, my one major gripe of NotateMe is that I just can’t use “Open In” to open the MusicXML file directly into Notion for iOS.

Step 4: Import the MusicXML file into Finale on my MacBook. I actually can edit notes/rhythms easier in Notion (Mac or iOS) than on Finale, but Notion tends to not be so good with lyrics. I like to have the lyrics when I create a choral score…it makes a number of things easier (following a score, going back to edit later, etc.). This is also good if you later plan to export a MusicXML file to a red note/green note program like SmartMusic, PracticeFirst, or MusicProdigy. If I have to arrange something, I use Finale as my primary tool as it has a explode/implode feature. As a tip…voice parts should all have their own line without multiple notes. So, if you have an SSAATTBB score….there should be eight vocal lines, not four. This will save you trouble later!

Step 5: Edit in Finale, or your notation App of choice. If you are a band/orchestra director, you will want to enter percussion parts at some point, as they just don’t scan right.

Step 6: Export at MusicXML file to Notion on Mac. I do most of my note/rhythm editing in Notion, which allows me to swap voices anywhere (not a whole measure) and also shows measures with too many notes. While in Notion, make sure sound assignments are correct. You can name the files correctly and later add a “switch instrument” command to make vocal parts sound like a piano versus a choir “Ah.”

Step 7: Save the file in my Notion folder in iCloud Drive. Notion for iOS uses this folder. So if i have something saved in this folder, it shows up on my list in the Notion for iOS app.

Step 8: Final edits on Notion for iOS (this is a great place, with an Apple Pencil, to add any missing diacritical markings. Make sure tempos are where they should be; create tempos and ritardandos as necessary for proper playback. Why Notion for iOS? The sounds are good, and exporting is incredibly easy. The full sound library is also less expensive on Notion for iOS than any other program (with the exception of MuseScore, of course).

Step 9: Adjust the mixer bar in Notion for iOS to make playback files. For example, bring soprano up above the median line, bring piano below, bring altos, tenors, and basses all the way down. Instant soprano rehearsal track.

Step 10: Export to iCloud Drive as AAC file.

Step 11: Open up iCloud Drive and rename each file (e.g. Song Title Soprano. Otherwise Notion saves them as Title 1, Title 2, Title 3…)

Step 12: Repeat steps 9-11 for each part, as well as a piano only part.

Step 13: Distribute parts as necessary. These can be copied to Google Drive, Dropbox, opened in forScore or unrealBook, and so on.

This sounds like a lot of work, but an average song can have all rehearsal tracks created in a much shorter time than sitting down to play parts. Additionally, you will always have the tracks in the future and that file can always be used again. It is smart to keep the files in multiple organized places, as accidents do happen.

One other note: should you learn that a software program will be discontinued, you should open all of your files (over time) and export them as MusicXML files so as to be able to use them again someday. You could actually do that at the end of your process as Step 14, just to be safe.


News from MakeMusic (Before Apple’s Events)

MakeMusic’s Michael Johnson (VP of professional notation) wrote a blog post the other day regarding Apple’s upcoming Mac update called High Sierra. In the past few Mac updates, MakeMusic had to play catch up to make their software compatible. With Finale 25, Finale looked and acted the same as the previous version of Finale, but was all new under the hood. That rewrite of Finale has allowed Finale to announce that Finale 25 will be compatible with High Sierra—and if any bugs pop up, they will address them as quickly as possible.  SmartMusic will also be compatible with High Sierra. 

At the same time, two other Finale products were not previously updated–and thus are being discontinued. These are PrintMusic and Finale NotePad.  You can still get these on Windows (no longer available for Mac), but even the Windows version will not be developed further. PrintMusic was a less complex version of Finale, and NotePad was even more basic (and free).  If you owned PrintMusic, you can currently upgrade to full Finale for $99. That’s a great deal. 

With many options for notation users, on nearly every platform, it makes sense for MakeMusic to focus on one notation product. There was a time where schools needed the free option of NotePad, but many years ago, MakeMusic chose to charge for NotePad. This forced many users (including schools) to find other options.  This is about the same time that MuseScore came around.  I personally talked to people at MakeMusic at the time to ask them not to do that–especially for schools. After all, most people will later buy what they have previously learned on. NotePad was an investment in future users. A few years later, MakeMusic later changed that decision, but the damage had been done.  As of today, if you need free notation, you choose MuseScore. So it is a fitting time for MakeMusic to say “Goodbye” to NotePad. 

The news about PrintMusic and NotePad is significant, but in no way is it bad.  This is a sign that MakeMusic is making wise decisions that reflect the current notation marketplace and these moves will allow Finale to remain as a class leading product for music notation. 


Updates, updates, updates…(sing to the tune of “Rawhide”

Just a note about a couple of recent updates…both Finale and Notion have been updated in the past 48 hours.  If you have Finale 25 or Notion 6…you will want to download those updates and check out what is new!