Finale (Part 1)
The best music program ever?
Part 1: In the States, Coda's Finale has been hailed as the "the most exciting use of the Apple Macintosh to date" and "the most powerful, most intelligent, most flexible music software available today". In this lengthy two-part review, Kendall Wrightson cuts through the hype to discover whether the claims are fact or fiction.
Ever since MIDI was first adopted as the communications standard for electronic musical instruments in 1982, the race has been on to make a device that can record MIDI data and transcribe it into musical notation.
Around February 1988 a rumour emerged from the States that there was a Macintosh program that transcribed directly from a MIDI keyboard and displayed the music immediately onscreen. It wasn't until the following June that Coda Music Software gave the first trade demonstrations of Finale at the NAMM show in Atlanta. Few people in the business had heard anything of Coda or of Finale's chief architect, Phil Ferrand. Yet from the size of Coda's stand at the show, and the high quality of their brochures, it was clear that serious money had been spent and that a major marketing exercise was under way.
MIDI transcription turns out to be just one of the things Finale is capable of. The vast scope of the program clearly indicates that Finale is the realisation of a long held dream, as well as a commercial exercise. Incredible to think then that Finale is Phil Ferrand's first commercial program.
The stunning detail of Figures 1-3, 'Quartet', 'A Simple Lead Sheet' and 'Finale and the Orchestral Score', brings to mind a line from Apple's latest TV commercial: "You did this on a computer?".
Isn't it a terrible advert? Apart from making fear (of one's competitors) the prime motive for purchasing a computer, I just don't believe that Mr. Smug was in anyway responsible for the graphics or layout of that report. I bet you he employed a PageMaker expert at £35 an hour like everyone else - that's what doing it 'in-house' really means. Then, of course, there's no mention of the LaserWriter needed to print it - a minimum £3,000 investment.
Apart from being unable to pronounce the word 'computer' correctly, Mr. Worried isn't interested in prices at all - he just wants to know "What kind of computer?".
This attitude clearly prevails at Apple, who have recently announced price increases of between 7-22%; but then they can't produce the machines fast enough at the moment, and everyone's desperate to get hold of extra RAM...
At least Apple in the States take more interest in the musical side of the Mac. Apple had a stand at the 1988 summer NAMM show where they invited music developers to show their wares, as well as taking orders for their own new, cheap and simple MIDI interface.
An Apple representative on the stand told me she was the music/MIDI contact for Apple USA. She has no direct equivalent at Apple UK and, at the time of writing, the Apple MIDI interface has still not surfaced here. The Mac is more expensive in the UK than in the States, and Apple UK seem to take little interest in the musical side of things - a sad background upon which to review an exciting development like Finale.
Still, Finale will be made available for PCs later this year (see the 'Requirements' box for details). The version reviewed here is the American Macintosh version 1.0.0
Finale is a BIG program, filling an entire double-sided floppy disk (800K). In fact, it is so big that making Finder copies of the program is not 100% reliable - it's best to use a bit-copying program like Copy II Mac or Mac Zap instead.
A large proportion of this bulk is taken up with dialogue boxes. There are literally hundreds of them in Finale and most are active. That is to say answering a question, or ticking an option in one dialogue box can bring up another, and so on. You can find yourself clicking your way out of five dialogue boxes before getting back to the main screen.
Finale's major functions can be divided into five areas:
- Page Layout
- Static Notation
- Intelligent Notation
- Notation Editing
- MIDI Recording/Playback
These functions are contained in the Tool Kit, a sort of musical Swiss army knife. Figure 4 shows the complete tool kit - 32 tools in all. Figure 5 lists the tools in each category.
The initial thing you notice on first running Finale is that the menu is the same as that of the Finder, ie. Apple, File, Edit, View, Special. The menu would stretch into your neighbour's house if all of Finale's functions were put here. Instead, the tool kit is positioned on the left-hand side of the screen rather like MacPaint or MacDraw (see Figure 6).
There are too many tools to view them all at once on a Macintosh Plus or SE screen, so it is necessary to scroll the tool bar to reveal the rest. Some tools have sub-tools, or 'meta tools' in Finale speak. Meta tools are programmable, that is they provide a macro facility, while others come pre-programmed to perform special functions.
Clicking on a tool icon is tantamount to running an individual program, as new functions become available through meta tools, along with active dialogue boxes, and occasional additions to the menu bar. Finale also contains *fields* in its dialogue boxes. When clicked, fields marked thus bring up a list of possible values for that field.
Finale offers two views of the music onscreen: 'Page View' and 'Igor's View'. Page view is used to see how an entire piece will look when it is printed; Igor's view has the score scrolling off to the right in one long line. (I presume 'Igor' refers to Igor Stravinsky?) When scrolling horizontally, Finale indicates what measure number will be displayed should the mouse be released, and the staff name (or number) when scrolling vertically. Igor's view is the default view and the easiest for transcribing. It can also be set to scroll with MIDI playback, though the humble Mac Plus has great difficulty keeping up.
Attempting to run Finale straight from the box will surely lead to tears before bedtime - the 'Learning Finale' box explains why.
Before using any of Finale's notation or transcription tools, a staff (or staves) has to be set up. This is achieved using the Static Notation tools.
An 'Untitled' screen contains one bar of music complete with treble clef and common time signature (see Figure 6). However, it is possible to change the defaults — time signature, tempo etc - using the Edit and Special menus. Better still, Finale provides pre-defined templates, such as a grand staff, choral, orchestral etc, which can then be 'Saved As...' the new title.
There isn't room here to examine all of Finale's Static Notation tools, but brief mention must be made of the Lyrics tool, which provides numerous ways of entering lyrics into a piece, including the ability to import text from other programs.
The On-Page Create function provides for direct insertion of text into the score, but more gratifying is Click Assignment. Having typed in the text for an entire piece, clicking on a note head inserts the next syllable of the text and automatically aligns it to the note head.
As Figures 1-3 demonstrate, Finale can handle lyrics, cross staff beaming, chord symbols, and musical symbols most people never meet in a lifetime of musical endeavour. It doesn't end there, however. Want a four-line Gregorian staff? No problem. Non-linear key signature? Of course. Nested tuplets? A mere bagatelle. Ossia measures? Simultaneous meters? Yes, yes, yes...
The three example scores were printed on a PostScript compatible Linotronic typesetting machine and are of publishing quality. Standard LaserWriter output isn't far behind in quality, and dot matrix printers like Apple's ImageWriter II and Imagewriter LQ give pretty good results unless page reduction/enlargement is used, then things begin to look odd.
The high quality of PostScript output is due to two main reasons. Firstly, Finale comes with its own PostScript music font called 'Petrucci' (although Finale can use other musical fonts such as Adobe's 'Sonata'). Secondly, any item anywhere on the screen can be moved fractionally using the Special Tools tool.
The screen units Finale uses are called EVPUs (Enigma Virtual Page Units), where 1 point equals 4 EVPUs. Music engravers are more familiar with 'spaces' than points, however. They use standard allotments for spacing out notes, a common one being four 'spaces' to the quarter note. 24 EVPUs are the equivalent of one 'space', and Finale provides several library file templates containing common allotments.
There are five main methods of feeding notes into Finale: Simple Note Entry and Speedy Note Entry use the Mac's alphanumeric keyboard and/or mouse; Speedy Note Entry With MIDI uses a suitable MIDI instrument to enter pitch values; the other two, the Hyperscribe and Transcription tools, will be examined in depth next month.
- Simple Note Entry employs the mouse to position the cursor on the staff and enter pitches. Durations are selected from a note palette which appears in the tool bar, temporarily replacing the usual tools (see Figure 7). Durations can also be selected from the numeric keys. This is very reminiscent of another Mac transcription package - Mark Of The Unicorn's Professional Composer.
- Speedy Note Entry is really a touch-typing mode. A box appears over the current bar, and cursor keys move the insertion point backwards and forwards in time, and up/down in pitch. As with Simple Note Entry the numeric keys determine note duration, but extra functions are available from the alphanumeric keyboard, including the ability to type in pitch values. Figure 8 shows the numeric keypad, cursor key, and the alphanumeric key overlays.
Speedy Note Entry offers some really handy shortcuts over other transcription programs. Changing a note to a rest of the same duration (or vice versa), selecting ties and beams, can all be accomplished from the keyboard. Simple tuplets can be entered with the Speedy Note Entry tool, but nested tuplets must be written with the Tuplet tool.
Another advantage of Speedy Note Entry is its ability to handle two voices (V1 and V2) on a single staff and then edit them separately. Figure 9 shows this task in progress. The V1 in the top left-hand corner of the box can be changed to V2 by pressing the apostrophe key.
- MIDI The Speedy Note Entry tool can also be used in conjunction with a MIDI input device. In this case, pitches can be selected from a MIDI instrument as well as from the computer keyboard. If the Option key is held down at any time in either view mode, the cursor turns into a magnifying glass. This can then be positioned and held over a note causing it to play over MIDI.
Having entered music into Finale using any combination of the above three methods, it can immediately be proofed for correct pitch and duration by playing it back over MIDI - more accurate and faster than checking the score by sight.
The Simple and Speedy Note Entry methods enter mostly pitch and duration information. Score, staff and note expressions have to be entered using the Intelligent Notation tools - ie. the Note Expression, Staff Expression, Score Expression, Repeat and Chord tools.
Finale truly reads music. When the program comes across a symbol in the score entered using these 'intelligent' tools, it accesses stored library data for that symbol which contains a specification for MIDI playback. In other words, expressions created can include a MIDI description in terms of note velocities, program changes, controller changes, etc. Furthermore, using Shape Designer, a function common to the Score, Staff and Note Expression tools, you can design your own symbols using MacDraw-like tools and then define your own MIDI playback description.
For expressions that have MIDI definitions, Shape Designer uses the Enigma Virtual Page Units (EVPUs) referred to earlier. However, within Shape Designer the units become a measure of duration too - one quarter note being the equivalent of 72 EVPUs. In other words, the placement of an expression on the score directly correlates to the moment at which the expression's associated MIDI data will be transmitted. Very powerful.
Finale's Shape Designer is flexible enough to allow new forms of written music to be designed. Many composers have attempted this in the past, Stockhausen being one example.
Finale comes with most of the classical and contemporary symbols supplied as library files, but further libraries will be made available shortly, including:
• MIDI Font & Symbol Library - a set of symbols that can be used to represent various types of MIDI data in Finale scores. (It is just as well that Coda have invented a 'standard' for MIDI symbols on scores, otherwise everyone would use a different symbol for a MIDI program change, etc!)
• Rameau Composers' and Educators' Font & Symbol Library.
• Jazz and Percussion Font & Symbol Library.
• Guitar Chord Font & Symbol Library.
The chord symbols used in Figure 2 were defined using another intelligent tool, the Chord tool. Having designed a chord symbol or text, playing a chord on a MIDI keyboard automatically defines the chord symbol. This chord suffix can then be saved into a library which Finale's 'chord analysis' can use to recognise chords depicted in the score. The root is determined either in relation to the key signature of the bar under analysis, or can be played in via MIDI.
Mass editing with Finale is achieved using three main tools - the Hocket, Note Mover, and Mass Mover.
The Hocket tool provides a method of simultaneously editing phrases or motifs that occur more than once in a piece. It provides a box that appears over the current bar in which you can 'Edit Enable' or 'Edit Disable' entries within the bar.
The Note Mover and Mass Mover tools cover all the usual cut, copy, paste, merge and insert functions, as well as the import/export of clip files - files of data from other Finale pieces. Having selected the bar(s) or notes(s) you wish to edit, you can then drag them to their new position.
Both Note and Mass Mover tools also contain very powerful meta tools that perform a large variety of tasks including transposition, the creation of spacing allotment library files, and calculating elapsed time from anywhere in the score.
Meta tools 1 and 2 (Implode Music and Explode Music, respectively) are particularly powerful features. For example, a grand staff containing chords can be exploded out into four staves, for a string quartet. Conversely, a piano arrangement of a piece written for a string quartet could be made using the Implode Music function.
That's all for now. Next month. Part Two examines how to play back scores created with the Intelligent Notation tools, and looks in detail at Finale's two direct MIDI transcription methods - the Hyperscribe and Transcription tools.
MCMXCIX, (Contact Details).
Part 1 (Viewing) | Part 2
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Review by Kendall Wrightson
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