Coda Music Finale
Software for the Apple Macintosh
Possibly the most sophisticated and powerful scorewriting program to date comes from American company Coda. Bob O'Donnell keeps the score.
Now that a wide range of sequencing software is available, many musicians' attention has shifted to scorewriting programs - one of the most capable is Coda's Finale.
IN CASE YOU haven't heard the rumours, I'll fill you in on Finale's basic capabilities. It's a scorewriting program that allows you to enter music by mouse, keyboard, or in real time on up to 128 staves, edit any portion of the music, create publication-quality printout on a Postscript-compatible laser printer (it works with Imagewriters) and intelligently play back your notated music on up to 32 MIDI channels (two sets of 16). It supports most music symbols (both visually and over MIDI), and has the tools to create any more you desire.
Finale also accepts real-time MIDI input in two different ways - via Hyperscribe and Transcribe Tools. Let's get one thing clear from the start, however; Finale is not a sequencer. The Transcribe function does have similarities to a sequencer, and you could make it function as a sequencer, but that's not the program's purpose.
FINALE COMES ON five disks and with three manuals, a videotape (sadly not a tutorial), a laminated reference chart and stickers to use on disks holding working copies of the programs and other data.
The disks include a Program disk; a System disk; a PowerPlus disk (which holds the PowerPlus utility program), and various templates, symbol libraries, tutorial samples and the program's custom Petrucci music font (screen and Postscript formats).
The documentation includes three well-written, well-organised, illustrated volumes - a 148-page User's Guide, a 92-page Power User's Guide, and a 301-page Reference Manual, each of which has its own table of contents and index.
In spite of the quantity and quality of the documentation, I found myself wanting even more. You need documentation when you start working with this program (if someone illegally copies the program, and even the HelpStack, I don't think they'll get very far - perhaps this is why it isn't copy-protected).
BOOTING FINALE, WHICH requires a Mac Plus, SE or II with at least 1 Meg of RAM (it prefers 1.5 Meg to speed up certain functions), prompts a screen containing one staff with a single empty bar of notation. The default viewing mode is Igor's View (after Stravinsky, who preferred to see the music as a continuous scroll). If you choose to view your music in Page View, you'll be able to see how it appears on a page (makes sense). On the left of the screen are 32 tools, similar in concept to those found in MacDraw and other drawing programs, from which most of Finale's functions are performed.
- New Instrument Tool permits you to add, delete, group and move instrument staves.
- Instrument Attributes Tool allows you to name, transpose, select the starting clef and set up other "attributes" for each instrument.
- Measure Attributes Tool will adjust the spacing of notes within a measure, set bar line types and other attributes for each measure.
- Measure Add Tool adds measures to the score.
- Key Signature Tool allows you to select standard and create modern Key Signatures to add at any point in the score.
- Time Signature Tool selects the Time Signature for any section of a score and affects grouping of beams.
- Simple Note Entry Tool permits drag and click entry of notes.
- Speedy Note Entry Tool offers two methods of note entry, one using the keyboard and one permitting step-time MIDI entry.
- Hyperscribe Tool translates real-time MIDI input into notation.
- Transcription Tool records complete MIDI performance with tempo changes and then translates into notation.
- Repeat Tool permits you to enter repeats and define their meaning for playback.
- Score Expression Tool adds expression marks to measures in a score.
- Staff Expression Tool adds expression marks to a single staff.
- Note Expression Tool adds expression marks to a single note (all Expression tools also permit you to create your own marks in Shape Expression Designer and determine their effect over MIDI).
- Chord Tool allows you to include chord symbols.
- Tuplet Tool creates nested or normal tuplets.
- Hocket Tool defines a motif which you can change once and have affected whenever it occurs throughout a score.
- Special Tools Tool adjusts individual placement of notes and beams.
- Note Mover Tool permits you to move, copy, paste and transpose groups of notes.
- Mass Mover Tool permits you to move, copy, paste, delete, add and insert measures and portions of measures, adjust the spacing of notes and lyrics and do numerous other functions (it's the most function-filled tool in the program).
- Playback Tool plays back the score.
- Time Dilation Tool adds "swing" to playback.
- Lyric Tool allows you to create and place lyrics.
- Reduce/Enlarge Tool changes the size of any section of the score.
- Bracket Tool adds brackets to staves.
- Clef Tool adds or adjusts clef changes in the score.
- Page Layout Tool permits you to view and adjust the layout of each page in a score.
- Header/Footer Tool adds titles and page numbers to the printed score.
- Text Block Tool permits the addition of any kind of text anywhere in the score.
- Measure Number Tool lets you number the score.
- Arbitrary Music Tool permits the creation of purely graphic, explanatory musical examples which are not played over MIDI.
- Page Add Tool adds and deletes pages from the score.
The program has four pull-down menus and conforms fairly well to the standard Mac interface, but these tools make getting around Finale easier than other Mac programs - once you remember what they all are.
One of Finale's strongest points is its intelligence. Not only does it ensure you have the correct number of beats per measure, properly assign and remember accidentals, automatically transpose any parts moved across staves (if required) and do automatic beaming as you enter notes based on the time signature, it can also figure out what chords you play and assign the appropriate symbols, "implode" a series of staffs onto a single staff of music, "explode" a single staff onto multiple staffs (useful for arranging and orchestrating piano parts), and perform a host of other functions. I found a few anomalies - like not automatically switching the stem directions of notes on staffs with multiple, independent voices. The documentation says "Finale won't try to outguess you", it does in other places, why not here? If you do want to change something like this, Finale lets you override its defaults and create defaults of your own.
THE HEART OF Finale lies in the dialogue boxes associated with each of the tools. To give an idea of what it's all about, I'll take you through the process of creating a Grand Staff. First, select the New Instrument Tool by clicking on it, and then double-click where you want the second staff (remember, a single default staff is always around). The second staff will have the same clef, key signature and time signature as the first, so the next step is to change its clef to a bass clef. To do that you select the Instrument Attributes Tool, which places a small handle just to the right of the time signature on both staffs, and then click on the one in the lower staff. This brings up the Instrument Attributes dialogue box.
Here, in addition to setting the clef, you name the instrument, give it a transposition (which Finale can automatically convert into concert pitch on playback), choose to create a special staff (up to 100 lines are supported), negate the key signatures (this affects the playback and how accidentals are handled), or break the bar lines or repeat bars that it shares with any related staffs. You can also individually choose not to draw score expressions, measure numbers, clefs, endings and text repeats, time signatures and the name. If you enabled the Float functions on the Special Menu - which permit you to "float" or use different key signatures, time signatures, music fonts and note shapes within the course of a piece - you can selectively disable them here, as well as choose the new font and note heads you want to use for this specific instrument.
Finally, select Set Output, which automatically brings up another dialogue box on top of the first (several other options in this dialogue box also do this). From here you can set independent instrument output routes, MIDI channels, and initial patch assignments for voice 1, voice 2, chords and expression markings. By the way, voice 1 and 2 don't refer to polyphony, but to separate lines of music which appear on a single staff. Once you've chosen the clef you want and made any other necessary adjustments, click on OK and the bass clef appears on the second staff.
The dialogue box explained above, one of 11 accessible from the Instrument Attributes tool, has a slightly higher than average number of options from which to choose. If you consider the fact that Finale has nearly 200 dialogue boxes, then you should get a rough idea of how much power - and potential for confusion - there is in this package.
Needless to say, it's daunting at first, but after a while it starts to make sense. When you first work with the program you can ignore many of these options and then begin to explore them once you feel comfortable with the basics. The dialogue box layout doesn't encourage this way of thinking, however, because the more esoteric functions are positioned next to functions that you will frequently need to use. Also, many of the dialogue boxes get boring to look at, particularly in contrast to the presentation of other aspects of the program.
I'd like to see an option that takes you all the way back to the score from certain dialogue boxes. Finale is set up in such a way that there are many nested dialogue boxes (I once found myself seven boxes deep, four is not at all uncommon) and though it's sometimes necessary to make changes in boxes you've already been through, it would be useful to be able to go all the way back in a single move.
Unfortunately, speed is a problem with Finale in general. In fact, my major complaint is that the screen redraws, which occur so often when you're working on a document, can make the program really slow. I realise that the program's speed is hardware dependent and to be fair, there are options which let you have Finale only redraw on command or redraw only the current edit, which help a bit. But even on a Mac II, I found myself waiting for the program to catch up and it got really frustrating. After a while you start to get used to the delays, but if you become a regular Finale user, accelerator boards may start to look tempting...
One of the more expeditious capabilities comes from the Meta Tool Macros, which are accessed by holding down a number from one to nine and double-clicking on the measure or notes in question. Certain tools have preset macros, but many allow you to define up to nine of your own different Meta Tool macros. Best of all, you can save different macros for each piece you work on so that you can customise your working environment. Along similar lines, you can rearrange the order of the tools on the tool palette and save up to four different arrangements - called Tool Sets - per piece. You could certainly live without these refinements, but it's touches like these that demonstrate the quality of Finale.
THE PROCESS OF entering notes is one of the biggest considerations with music notation programs. The ease and speed with which you can perform this task determines the effectiveness of the program. Coda seem to have spent a lot of time developing the five different methods of note entry available in Finale. The Simple Note Entry Tool uses the familiar click and drag method (point the mouse at the note type you want and then click at the position on the score you want it to appear). Speedy Note Entry ups the ante by offering two methods of quicker entry. Both of them use the numeric pad to select the note or rest length; one uses the Mac keyboard and the other a MIDI keyboard to select the pitch. Finally, you can use real-time MIDI input with the Hyperscribe and Transcription Tools. I tried all the various methods and found them useful in different situations, though the realtime methods are obviously the quickest for raw data entry.
Entering score marks is, unfortunately, not quite as straightforward as entering notes. I found out the hard way that, unless you enter things like slurs and crescendos in a certain way, you'll always work with a copy of the same basic shape. This means that, if you adjust the shape of one slur you've entered by selecting it from the library of available shapes, you'll adjust all the entries of that shape. Using Meta Tool macros solves this dilemma as well as speeding up the entry process immensely - though it's not mentioned in the documentation.
Another problem I ran into when entering score markings is one of placement. When placing Note Expressions (such as legato markings), the mark will have a "handle" to help position it. It's difficult, however, to make sure that you maintain a consistent spacing throughout a piece. Finale does let you view the score at percentages up to 800% and make changes at any level of enlargement or reduction, which is helpful, but I would have much preferred a consistent default placement which you could change if desired. This is one area where Finale gives you too much control (if such a complaint is possible). Oddly enough, Score and Staff Expressions such as slurs and dynamic markings - whose placement is generally more subject to personal preference - can be consistently placed with proper settings in the Expression Assignment dialogue box and by using Meta Tools.
Once everything has been entered and edited to your liking, you can use Finale's page layout capabilities to position the music in any format you desire and then print it out. Individual parts can be created from orchestral scores and with Finale's Power Plus utility you can even create separate files for each instrument in a score. The printout from a laser printer is impressive - I like the Petrucci font Coda provide, but if you'd rather use Adobe's Sonata or another music font, Finale does give you the option.
FROM THE PRESENTATION and documentation, to the flexibility and output of the program, Coda have set a new standard for music notation software. The ability to input MIDI data in real time is an impressive feat, as are all the musically intelligent functions built into the program. If you're a music copyist, arranger, or composer looking for a sophisticated musical typewriter and MIDI playback tool, you'll be hard pressed to find a program that offers better output (both visually and musically) than Finale. The program has room to grow, but for an initial release it is little short of remarkable.
I'll temper my enthusiasm by stating that Finale is far from perfect, however. It will perform notation gymnastics and it offers more depth than any program of its kind, but Finale's designers aren't going to win any awards for speed or elegance of user interface. Given the hardware it currently runs on (plans are in development to port it to the IBM and possibly other computers), the program is slow if you're working on orchestral-size scores. It's also not the easiest program to learn and use - but the effort is well worth it.
Finale works - and it works well. In several weeks of testing I only ran across one minor bug in the Clef Tool (due partially to user error) and one anomaly using the Meta Tools that left some staff lines in the scroll bar (which were easily deleted by moving to a different location and back again). Otherwise, the program worked without a hitch, and considering the amount of features included in it, that's no mean feat, believe me.
Price £995 including VAT
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Review by Bob O'Donnell