Finale (Part 2)
The Best Music Program Ever?
Part 2: Kendall Wrightson continues his pilgrimage through Finale, Coda Software's music transcription program for Apple Macintoshes (and soon PC compatibles), lingering at the Playback, Hyperscribe and Transcription tools.
Kendall Wrightson continues his pilgrimage through Finale, Coda's
music transcription program for Macintoshes (and soon PC
compatibles), lingering at the Playback, Hyperscribe and Transcription tools.
Scores created with the first generation of Macintosh transcription programs - Concertware+, Deluxe Music Construction Set, Music Print and Professional Composer 1.0 - had to be 'proofed' by eye since no MIDI playback facility was available. Some had the ability to play scores using the Mac's four built-in synth voices, but a quartet of Stylophones isn't easy to listen to. Eventually, some of these programs were upgraded to include simple MIDI playback facilities.
Finale takes the concept of MIDI playback much further, converting score, staff and note expression marks into meaningful MIDI data. Finale even allows the user to design his own shapes and define a MIDI playback definition for them. As discovered last month, these 'executable shapes' are saved in a library file format so that they can be used in any Finale score. Most of the more common symbols are supplied. Thus, Finale scores can be proofed by ear. In conventional transcription, the proofing stage is by far the most time consuming. The ability to proof a score by actually hearing it should speed up the process tremendously.
Finale doesn't store its score as MIDI data bytes like a normal MIDI sequencer; on playback, Finale has to convert score symbols into MIDI data. As this takes time to compute, playback is not a simple process of clicking a Play button, as you can probably gather by looking at the Playback Tool dialogue box in Figure 1.
If the 'Play The Measure(s) Immediately' option is selected from the Playback Tool dialogue box, a score will not actually play immediately, since a further dialogue box appears with Start and Stop buttons begging to be pressed. If the score you wish to play back contains several staves (up to 128 are supported), Finale recommends that the 'Fill Buffer First' option is selected, otherwise playback will slow down or falter. In other words, Finale needs to convert the score into MIDI data ahead of playback.
In practice, we found that a grand staff was enough to slow down a Mac SE running from a SCSI hard disk. There are several ways of getting around this problem. One is to 'Fill Buffer First'. If this option is checked, there is a delay after clicking Start while Finale displays the legend 'Packing Measures' and a little box appears and fills up with small black squares. These graphics continue for a few moments as Finale converts the first few measures of notation into MIDI, then playback begins. Finale is then transmitting MIDI from the buffer whilst the main memory is being used to calculate the score several bars ahead.
To avoid any possibility of dodgy timing on playback, it's best to ask Finale to 'Create A Temp(orary) Disk File And Play It'. With this option selected, Finale will calculate the entire score and store it temporarily before playing it back.
A temporary disk file processes the score each time playback is required - this can take several minutes for complex scores. To eliminate this wait, and to provide a permanent, instantly playable version of a score, Coda provide the option to 'Create A Playback File'.
While replaying a Playback file, Finale has sufficient time to synchronise the screen to playback, and to enable synchronisation to MIDI Clock. (See accompanying 'Finale MIDI Spec' panel). However, we found that to obtain accurate sync to screen we had to slow down the tempo to almost zero! Running Finale on a Macintosh II or using an accelerator card provided rather more drastic ways of speeding things up.
Saved along with a Playback file is the MIDI configuration for the score. Finale has 64 'output routes'. This is necessary because each staff within a score can have independent MIDI playback channels for Voice 1, Voice 2, MIDI Expressions and Chords. Thus one output route is made up of four MIDI channels: one each for V1, V2, Expressions and Chords. This provides a quick way of testing parts on different synthesizers without having to 'explode' the score or copy parts onto other staves.
The MIDI definition for a stave can be set with the Instrument Attributes Tool, or from within the Playback Tool by clicking the Output button, and accessing the Output dialogue box. Clicking 'Patches' accesses a dialogue box where a patch/program change can be sent immediately by typing in the desired program number and clicking on 'Send'.
As playback of a score can start from any measure (by typing into the From and To boxes), it is possible to commence playback halfway through or just after a tempo change, pitch bend or program change expression. The score would then play incorrectly, ie. at the wrong tempo, with a pitch bend displacement, or using the wrong voice patch. 'Fetch Expression Settings' overcomes this by reading through the score before playback, setting tempo and sending out all MIDI Controller data up to the point selected as the start of playback. When playing from the beginning of the score this 'silent run through' is unnecessary, therefore 'New Expression Settings' should be selected instead.
If the 'Save Expressions Settings At Stop' box was selected before playback, the MIDI expressions as played will be saved with the Playback file, and so the option to 'Use Saved Expressions' will become available.
The 'Play Visible Instruments' option will play back only the instruments currently visible on the screen. Finale also has the ability to define an instrument template. A 'template' groups selected staves together providing a method of checking one staff against another without having to drag it up and down the screen - essential with large orchestral scores. Six different templates can be defined per piece.
Another item related to starting playback from anywhere in the score is 'Init Repeats'. When selected, this function will cause Finale to behave as if it had encountered the repeat symbols in the score for the first time.
The 'Use Captured Performance' and 'Use Captured MIDI Expressions' options will be described later, when examining the Transcription tool.
To save time and mouse wear and tear, the Playback tool has eight Meta tools providing pre-programmed combinations of Playback tool options.
In Part One we examined Finale's DTP (DeskTop Publishing) aspects, and concluded with a look at two methods of data entry that utilise the mouse and alphanumeric keys: the Simple and Speedy Note Entry tools. Finale is unique in being the only Macintosh music transcription program that allows both playback and data entry via MIDI.
MIDI data entry is achieved with the Hyperscribe and Transcription tools. Of the two methods, Hyperscribe was the star feature of Coda's early promotional efforts, Finale being hailed as the first program with the ability to instantly transcribe two-handed performances from a MIDI keyboard. The major difficulties associated with MIDI transcription are detailed elsewhere in a separate panel 'Transcription: The Challenge'.
Hyperscribe needs a staff or staves to transcribe onto, so before accessing the Hyperscribe dialogue box it is necessary to create a staff with the desired time signature and key signature. Finale is supplied with several common stave configurations, such as grand staff, choral, etc, which can be loaded in to save time. It's also possible to Hyperscribe into an existing score.
Clicking the Hyperscribe icon reveals the dialogue box shown in Figure 2. The first thing to decide is who's going to supply a click or metronome to play to. Finale can generate a tempo click itself (which it insists on calling Hyperclick). Clicking the Hyperclick box reveals yet another dialogue box where you can enter the desired tempo and choose between sending MIDI clock or sending a note to the MIDI channel of your choice, which will sound every quarter note. However, a better way is to supply your own click; this will allow you to speed up or slow down without causing problems. This can be done by tapping a quarter note on the keyboard (if you are transcribing one hand at a time) or by pressing the sustain pedal (leaving both hands free).
The choice is made by clicking the 'Listen To MIDI' box in the Tap information line, and then playing a note or pressing a pedal. The resultant MIDI data will then appear in the three boxes to the left of the 'Listen To MIDI' box. (The $ dollar sign is to remind the user that the data following it is in hexadecimal code).
The number entered in the 'Duration' box in the Tap information line determines the timebase upon which Hyperscribe will base its quantisation calculations. The 'Division' box therefore sets the level of quantise. The Duration must be entered in EDUs (Enigma Duration Units), where one quarter note equals 1024 EDUs (see 'Finale MIDI Spec' panel for details). For example, if 1024 (a quarter note) is entered here, the time signature will be of the X/4 type, ie. 3/4, 4/4 etc. If the value is 512 (an eighth note), the time signature will be of the X/8 type, ie. 3/8, 5/8/etc. So, to obtain a quantise level of 16ths, calculated from a 4/4 time signature, the values would be Duration: 1024; Division: 4.
The four buttons below the Tap line - X/4, X/8, (3)X/4, (3)X/8 - preset the values in the Tap Duration/Division fields to the time signature on the button at a quantise level of 8ths. The three State fields, marked I, II, III, provide a method of changing the time signature/quantise level as you play. The Duration/Division values are set in exactly the same way as for the Tap information line. Clicking 'Listen To MIDI' lets you set the MIDI control, note or switch that will cause the new State to be selected.
I felt this time signature/quantise selection method could be greatly simplified without losing any flexibility.
If a quantise level of 8th notes had been set in the Tap field and the following is played:
it will be transcribed as this:
because the quantise level is fixed. Using Float Quantisation overcomes this problem in two ways - the Timed and Non-Timed methods.
The Timed method works by measuring the time between beats and analysing how the notes fell within the beat, as opposed to a Non-Timed method which simply counts how many times the beat was divided by a note. For example, if two notes are played within a quarter note duration, the Non-Timed method will simply assume that 8th notes were played.
A Timed method will time the duration between the two notes and can therefore differentiate between straight 8ths and swing 8ths.
Clicking on the 'Float Quantisation' box brings up the dialogue box shown in Figure 3. Timed Non-Tuplet will float the quantisation but will not detect tuplets.
Timed Tuplet allows Hyperscribe to notate tuplets and float quantisation, but this requires very accurate playing; swing feel playing is a no-no, because swing notes will be notated as a tuplet group.
Non-Timed Tuplet allows Hyperscribe to understand tuplets only if every note in the tuplet group is played, eg. all three notes of a triplet. Therefore, the Non-Timed Tuplet option is ideal for swing feel playing.
The data entered in the Highest Tuplet box determines the minimum tuplet value. The Temperament value is the minimum value for float quantisation. For example, a Highest Tuplet of 4 gives a tuplet quantisation value of 8ths, and a Temperament of 256 gives a minimum quantisation value of 16ths.
Like the time signature/quantise selection method, Finale's float quantisation routine could be made so much simpler to understand without losing any flexibility.
If you have set up a grand staff (ie. a bass and treble clef) you can choose a split point above which notes will be transcribed into the treble clef, and below which notes will be transcribed into the bass clef. This is done by clicking the 'Passive' button (see Figure 2) and playing a note into the resultant dialogue box.
The 'No Voice Two' option allows chords, but will not transcribe two voices on one stave. 'Ties Over Barlines' is self explanatory, and also a strong contender for the title of the next U2 album!
To start Hyperscribing, you 'OK' out of the Hyperscribe dialogue box and move the cursor to the desired staff and measure. A box appears over the staff and you are ready to start. If Hyperscribe is supplying the clicks, playing the note or pressing the pedal set in the 'Tap' MIDI field in the Hyperscribe dialogue box (Figure 2) will start the click. Otherwise, you must repeatedly play a note or press the pedal at quarter note intervals. It can be quite amusing watching someone Hyperscribing.
Whilst Hyperscribing, it's possible to see Finale guessing at the notes in the box over the staff as you play them. Only one bar is visible at any time. Mac Plus owners are warned against this pleasure, and it is recommended that they turn Refresh Screen (from the Hyperscribe dialogue box) off to maximise the speed and density of the music entered.
A further two boxes appear at the lower part of the screen. These gradually fill up with little black squares as you play. The box on the left fills up at the rate of one square for each beat, and on the right one square for each note. These boxes represent buffer memories used by Finale to hold the MIDI data before it is processed for transcription, therefore the boxes empty again as data is processed. Should a box become full, the last data entered will be lost because Finale is still transcribing data in the buffer. It's rather like a musician's video game — can you finish playing before the box fills up?
It is necessary to play one 'dummy' bar at the end of your performance, because Hyperscribe never transcribes the last bar. Hyperscribe is stopped by clicking on the Hyperscribe icon, and before you can even think of smoking an apres Hyperscribe cigarette, the transcribed performance appears on the screen.
Hyperscribe playback does not include any MIDI velocities or controllers played in the original performance. Although able to follow tempo variations on input, Hyperscribe does not reproduce these either; in fact, a default tempo must be set up by selecting the 'Parameters' option from the Special menu.
Notation mistakes can be fixed using any of the note entry methods - the Speedy Note Entry tool being the fastest. Though it's not possible to Hyperscribe isolated bars, you can Hyperscribe from any bar to the end.
Grand staff (two-handed) transcriptions were faithfully transcribed as long as they contained no 16ths (semi-quavers), that is a quantise level of 8ths (quavers). However, it was always necessary to play very slowly to prevent the little box from filling up. In practice, a two-handed performance of average density will overflow after 12 to 14 bars.
When we did overflow the buffer Finale hung once or twice, though we later discovered that holding down the mouse pointer over the Hyperscribe icon for more than 30 seconds would eventually return you to the main screen.
Hyperscribe had no problem transcribing single note values up to 16ths using Timed Non-Tuplet float quantisation. However, 16th note chords were invariably quantised incorrectly, to the wrong side of the beat, or were transcribed as chords of 8ths duration. Having made our original recording into an external sequencer, we were able to play the same pieces into Mark Of The Unicorn's Performer sequencer to compare quantise abilities. Performer was much better in relation to attack times of notes, but its duration correction was more in line with Finale's.
We discovered that Hyperscribe's accuracy improved after turning the 'Refresh Screen' option off, and worsened as more staves were added. This suggests that Hyperscribe's accuracy is memory and task related. For simple pieces, Hyperscribe is certainly faster than the Simple or Speedy Note Entry tools, although a high standard of musicianship is called for in the original performance.
For musicians/songwriters used to working with MIDI sequencers, Hyperscribe requires the piece to be replayed perfectly, otherwise juggling of data between several sequencers is necessary. An increasing number of software MIDI sequencing programs offer sister notation programs that read sequencer or MIDI files. However, the ideal would be a sequencer with built-in notation capabilities. Finale's Transcription tool is an attempt to provide this ideal.
Coda describe the Transcription tool as "a mini MIDI sequencer environment". However, unlike a conventional MIDI sequencer, it is not necessary to play to a metronome click, because the click or 'time tags' can be recorded as an overdub. This makes free improvisation possible. Clicking the Transcription tool icon reveals the Transcription tool dialogue box (Figure 4) and adds two extra items to the menu - Transcription and Time Tags.
As with the Hyperscribe tool, the Transcription tool needs a target staff to transcribe into.
Having checked the various Capture boxes and selected appropriate MIDI filtering, recording can commence. To start recording, the Keyboard 'Record At End' radio button must be on and Start or Wait Till are clicked. In the latter case, recording actually starts as the first note is played.
The Transcription tool can record up to 4000 events. If this number is exceeded, Finale overwrites the first notes played! There is no indication that this limit is about to be met, which is rather like driving a car with no petrol gauge. Clicking anywhere in the Transcription tool dialogue box stops the recording.
The box containing a scroll bar along the bottom, and a piano keyboard up the left-hand side, is the edit window where performance is displayed in a 'piano roll' format, with notes being represented by thin lines. The longer the line, the longer the note's duration. The higher the vertical position of the line, the higher the pitch. This display is similar to that found on Music Works. Figure 4 shows a performance and time tags displayed in the edit window of the Transcription tool dialogue box.
The recording can be heard without recourse to the Playback tool by selecting 'Start', having first reset the counters and turned the Keyboard Play radio button on. The performance will replay exactly as recorded.
The symbols shown across the top of the edit window in Figure 4 are time tags, the 'M' representing measures. Time tags can be either tag, beat or measure markers, that is they can represent a point of interest, downbeats or the start of a measure. The type of tags to be recorded is selected from the Time Tag menu (Figure 5).
To record time tags, the Keyboard 'Play' and the Time Tag 'Record' radio buttons must be clicked on. If the Time Tag 'Set To' radio button is turned on, the value placed in the box represents a tempo from which Finale will generate time tags, and can be used in conjunction with the 'Click Output' option to produce a metronome to play to. I found this feature only worked when it wanted to.
Selecting 'First Tag Is' will let Finale know what duration the tags are to be, and 'Record Equal Durations' will let it know that they will all be the same. As with the Hyperscribe Tap input, the Transcription tool needs to know what MIDI data will be used to represent a click. 'Click Input' from the Time Tag menu brings up a listen to MIDI dialogue box ready for a key or pedal to be pressed. 'Align Tags To Notes' quantises your metronome playing to the nearest note. The search width determines the width of the search 'window' in 1000ths of a second.
If the performance has been recorded with a metronome click, or is an edited piece being replayed from a sequencer, 'Compand' can be used. This feature analyses the position of the first two time tags and generates the rest by guessing their position. 'Assign Measure Tags' automatically inserts measure tags based on the time signature of the target staff.
'Convert To Time Sigs' changes time signature in the target measure to equal the values in the edit window based on measure and beat tags. For example, if the target measure was 4/4, and measure tags were entered for 5/4 and beat tags were placed on beats 1, 4, 6, 9, selecting 'Convert To Time Sigs' would change the target staff to 3+2/4. Alternatively, tags can be generated from a Playback file by selecting the 'Create From Background' file option.
Although not mentioned in the manuals, I was not able to record time tags unless I first performed a Trashy Transcription. At this stage, Finale has no idea of where the beats fall or where bars start and end, so those encountering a Trashy Transcription usually make remarks along the lines of "What a ******* mess", or at best "What a trashy transcription". (The face of someone attempting to sight-read a Trashy Transcription is truly a wondrous thing to behold. Their look is one of utter confusion and astonishment, as they try to comprehend the disturbed logic that lead to its creation).
Having successfully recorded time tags, Finale will send out a note or MIDI sync to allow external synchronisers to record Finale's tempo changes, thereby enabling synchronisation to tape via SMPTE.
Unlike Hyperscribe, the Transcription tool will record all MIDI data (except aftertouch) if the 'Capture Performance', 'MIDI Expression' and 'Time Dilation' boxes are checked. MIDI data can be filtered out using the 'Input Filter' option from the Transcribe menu (Figure 6). However, only pitch and duration information is actually transcribed, even if a library file of MIDI definitions is present.
Such MIDI expressions can be replayed with the transcribed score if 'Capture MIDI Expression' is selected (checked) in the Transcription tool dialogue box (Figure 4), and 'Use Captured MIDI Expressions' is checked in the Playback dialogue box (Figure 1). However, if it is necessary to show MIDI expressions in the score, they have to be entered by hand with the Score, Staff and Note Expression tools.
Likewise, if 'Capture Time Dilation' is checked in the Playback dialogue box, any speed variations present in the original performance will occur during playback, but representative score expressions must be defined using the Time Dilation tool. This tool also defines values for the swing of pieces entered with the Simple and Speedy Note Entry tools.
Checking 'Capture Performance' in the Transcription tool dialogue box (Figure 4) gives the Playback tool the ability to replay the original non-quantised performance, or the transcribed performance but using original velocities.
It is possible to 'overdub' a previously saved Playback file by checking the 'Background File' box and then choosing the required file. The tempo used will be that saved with the file or, if there wasn't one, the default tempo (defined with the 'Parameters' option in the Special menu).
Both music and time tags can be edited in the music edit window (which is done by clicking and dragging). However, I found this a thankless task, despite the ability to zoom in and out (using 'Set View Resolution' from the Transcribe menu). Finale refused to let me select notes, and parts of the screen corrupted. It would help if a time grid could be generated from the time tags. Certainly for those used to Master Tracks Pro's note editing method, or even Performer's note list, the editing window is something of a dog's breakfast.
The only real way to correct mistakes is to play the suspect part over again, using the 'Punch In/Out' facility. (The Now, In and Out times are not related to MIDI Time Code, more's the pity.) The 'Set Punch Pre-Roll' option from the Transcribe menu determines how much of the piece will be heard before the punch-in point.
Having recorded time tags, a transcription can be attempted. The parameters used for the transcription are set in the Transcribe menu (Figure 6).
'Active Split' is a feature first seen on the Synergy synth about eight years ago. Active Split records the highest interval you can physically play on a keyboard, defining this as your span. From this it can 'know' when the left hand has had to cross over into the right, and vice versa.
Like Hyperscribe, the Transcription tool offers standard quantisation levels, and identical Float options. 'No Voice Two' operates as in Hyperscribe. 'Expand Minimums' will increase any small duration notes to the minimum quantisation level. 'Transcription Filter' filters specific MIDI channels and limits the high and low notes from the transcription. However, it would be much more useful to be able to filter out notes with very low velocities. Often, accidentally played notes are not heard because their velocities are so low. This often causes annoying note stealing problems, and sequences have to be carefully step-edited to remove them.
The 'Transcribe In Measures' option means that different transcription options can be set per bar, and is the best way to transcribe improvised music.
Clicking the 'Transcribe' button starts the processing, and can take several minutes for long pieces. I'm afraid to report that we had little joy with the Transcription tool (see the accompanying music transcription examples). The screen corruption mentioned earlier may point to either a dodgy program disk or a dodgy program. The UK distributors told me that they were aware of problems and that Coda were too.
Verdict? Well, not very good really. Apart from the odd transcription results and other problems mentioned in passing, the Transcription tool is ill-conceived and difficult to learn. The omission of tape transport controls is a major error. Everyone, including music publishers, knows how to use them. There isn't even a Stop button: to stop you click anywhere in the Transcription dialogue box - why?
In its current state, Finale is the musical equivalent of Aldus PageMaker, the desktop publishing software that revolutionised the publishing world. Previous Macintosh music printing programs have lacked the PostScript printing ability required for publishing quality output, and have therefore been of no use to professional music publishers.
Music publishing is a very expensive business, and if the technology is accepted, cost savings in the order of tens of thousands of pounds could be made. Publishers could transfer their entire sheet music catalogues onto CD-ROM or WORM ready for short print runs or fast one-offs. This process could be speeded up even further should it ever become possible to convert scanned music PICT files into the Finale format. Many departments within a University or College will be able to utilise Finale, which should help justify its purchase.
For anything approaching serious use, a Macintosh II with two megabytes of RAM, a hard disk, and a large screen is essential. This is because screen redraws take several seconds, and a redraw occurs whenever the cursor is clicked on the score. However, this high level of hardware is the norm for DTP bureaux, and Universities obtain large educational discounts.
For those who currently compose on paper, Finale has a lot to offer. However, the lengthy learning curve and the high costs and hardware requirements will severely limit this market. The music arranger will be faced with the same problems. He is unlikely to require PostScript quality output, and needs software optimised to producing arrangements and lead sheets as fast as possible. After all, you don't use PageMaker to write a business letter.
For the musician already utilising a Mac for musical purposes, Finale is a very expensive proposition. They will probably already own Performer, Master Tracks Pro or MIDI Paint sequencers, and sister notation programs Professional Composer 2, Master Score and High Score are either available or nearing completion. So why change to Finale? The advantages of Finale's 'executable shapes', though very useful to the DTP and education markets, are lost on the working musician and arranger because they are not recognised at MIDI In, but have to be placed in the score using other (slower) tools.
The MIDI recording and editing abilities of the Hyperscribe and Transcription tools are very limited in comparison to existing sequencing software. But then the Hyperscribe and Transcription tools are designed to be small parts of a large program.
Coda could do well with a MIDI sequencer/notator based on the Hyperscribe and Transcription tool ideas. The Transcription tool has two unique advantages over existing Mac sequencers: one is the vastly superior recording resolution, and the other is the ability to record timing information (time tags) separately. Being released from the tyrant metronome offers so much more musical freedom.
On the notation side, there still seem to be problems with the Transcription tool, and the presentation of both Hyperscribe and Transcription tools could be greatly simplified. Neither tool provides a fast method of comparing the original performance with the quantised version. A speedier method of auditioning quantisation guesses is a must.
Finale is uncompromising in its supply of features. Some are a delight to use, many are unique. However, the MIDI sequencing/notation facilities of the program lack many standard procedures, and could be greatly simplified.
Finale's main problem is its sheer size. On a promotional video supplied with Finale, Phil Ferrand candidly admits that Coda intend to develop more targeted versions (or updates?) of Finale once feedback begins to come in from users around the world. In its present form, Finale is five brilliant programs trying to escape from one good one. Let's hope they make it.
Thanks to James Simpson, Andy Eatkin and Tom Robinson for loaning the equipment and software used in this review.
MCMXCIX, (Contact Details).