Today MakeMusic released version 26 of Finale, its flagship music notation software. Although the exact timing of today’s release was a bit of a mystery, the existence of the update and its contents have been extensively previewed for the past two months at the official Finale blog and through the product’s social media channels.
If you haven’t followed that news closely, not to worry — that’s why we’re here! Finale v26 brings a number of improvements: new articulation options, better templates and libraries, Mac performance enhancements, and several other items and bug fixes.
Finale v26 is the first paid upgrade since the release of Finale v25 in August 2016; the five updates released since then have been free to Finale v25 owners. Prices remain mostly unchanged, ranging from $99 for university and college students to the full retail price $600. The price for Finale users who wish to upgrade is $149. Crossgrade pricing is available, but in a change from before, you will need to contact MakeMusic to inquire about your options. If you purchased or upgraded to Finale v25 on September 10 or later, you are entitled to a free upgrade. There is no subscription option.
Let’s dive in and see what’s new.
While there are a number of improvements in Finale v26, the only one that can truly be called a new feature is the addition of several new options in the handling and positioning of articulations.
In our review of Finale v25 from two years ago, I said, “If anyone knows of a way to automatically stack articulations so that they don’t collide, I’m all ears!” Thankfully, MakeMusic was listening.
If Finale has been your sole music notation program of choice until now, you’ll be ecstatic over these improvements. If you use other software (like Sibelius or Dorico) as well, you’ll be relieved that the standard M.O. of those programs has finally made its way into Finale, eliminating one of its major pain points.
Again, none of this will come as a surprise to those that have followed the official Finale blog, or this one for that matter, where we wrote about the new articulation improvements as previewed by MakeMusic over its series of blog posts. But this is the first time we’ve tested it on our own, so let’s get to it.
Articulations automatically stack on top of one another by default, on entry.
The order of the stack is determined by the order of the articulations in the Articulation Selection dialog; articulations that stack are indicated by an asterisk (*), and those with a lower number are placed closest to the notehead. This means that, for the first time, the order in which articulations appear in this dialog has a meaningful function. It’s a good use of this ability which has already existed in this dialog; be aware, though, that if you’ve been accustomed to grouping articulations in a certain way, or didn’t much pay attention to the order before now, it will have consequences.
Notice the continued presence of the combined articulations such as the tenuto/staccato (slot 4), accent/staccato (slot 6), and and accent/tenuto (slot 7). They’re still around for legacy purposes, but with the new stacking behavior you should not have a need for these old chestnuts, since you’ll get better results with the new behavior (particularly when you have a staccato that should go inside the staff and an accent that should be placed outside the staff, on the same note).
The stacking behavior of an individual articulation can be overridden on a case-by-case basis by selecting it and choosing Stack > Never either from the Articulation menu or the contextual menu. I would do this, for instance, in this case if I wanted to move the upbow above the fermata:
Of course, if I always wanted the fermata to appear closer to the notehead than the upbow, I would move it up in the Articulation Selection dialog, as described earlier.
Articulations can now be flipped (shortcut F), useful in certain circumstances, or set above (A) or below (B) on a case-by-case-basis:
Articulation Designer options: Center on stem side, slur avoidance
The Articulation Designer sports a number of new Positioning options, which we’ll review.
Stack automatically is the marquee feature. If this is unchecked, no stack for you!
Center over/under stem when stem side is for staccatos, when the stems are flipped. If this is checked (which it is by default in new Finale v26 documents), staccatos will appear directly on the stem. This is fine on their own:
But looks strange when in combination with other notes:
So if you want the best of both worlds, you’ll have to create a duplicate staccato mark for these special cases and leave the Center over/under stem when stem side setting unchecked for one, and check it for the other.
Articulations that are set to horizontally center on a note remain centered when a note is resized.
Moving on, there is a new Slur interaction menu.
Previous versions of Finale had a single checkbox, Inside Slurs, to set an articulation to be placed inside a slur, This is replaced by the Slur interaction menu in Finale v26 in which choosing Auto Inside/Outside will repel a slur based on context…
…or if you drag a slur manually:
In the unlikely scenario you would want to override this on a case-by case basis, you can’t do so; you’ll have to create a new articulation set to Ignore.
Always Inside is the equivalent of the old Inside Slurs checkbox being checked (primarily for staccatos and tenutos), while Ignore is the equivalent of the old Inside Slurs checkbox being unchecked.
Finally, if you head over to the Smart Shape menu, in Smart Slur Options… you’ll notice a new setting for Slur Avoidance, which controls the distance between slurs and articulations (the default is 1/3 space).
There’s one new setting in the Vertical positioning drop-down menu, and it’s an important one: On stem. When this is selected, everything else on the left side of the dialog is greyed out, and the values on the right side change to On-stem distance from notehead and On-stem distance from stem end/flag/beam.
This is what makes it possible to finally have tremolos whose stem length is automatically adjusted to avoid collisions with flags and beams. When tremolos are added to a whole note, they are horizontally centered to the attached note.
Needless to say, all users will be pleased with this new feature.
Look at this passage from pre-Finale v26:
And how it looks by default in Finale v26:
Power users might still have a need for the advanced options available in Jari Williamsson’s Yada Yada Tremolo plug-in, but for most instances the plug-in is no longer necessary.
Older documents — and a word of caution
Documents created anew in Finale v26 have their articulation settings correctly set by default.
When you open an older document in Finale v26, you’ll be greeted with this dialog, which offers you the option to keep your articulations in their current position, or lose their manual placement and update them to the new settings.
Whether or not you do this will largely depend on how far along you are with editing the document. If you’ve already painstakingly moved your articulations into place, select No; otherwise, select Yes. If you check the Remember and don’t show this again but then change your mind, you can find this setting in Preferences > Open > Articulation Conversion.
One big caveat: When Finale v26 opens an older document and you have told it to not update the articulations, strictly speaking, it doesn’t obey your wishes. Behind the scenes, for stacking articulations, the Stack automatically setting in the articulation’s definition is checked anyway, but then all the current articulations in the document are set to Stack > Never so that their current position is retained. This means that any future articulations that you place will stack automatically — which could be problematic if you intend to continue working on this file with someone using v25. The only way to avoid this that I could see — in other words, to make new articulations placed in Finale v26 behave exactly like they did in v25 — was to go into each articulation’s definition and uncheck Stack automatically. This process should be made clearer to the user before a choice is made.
If, later, you wish to restore the Use definition property to articulations, you can make a selection and use the new Make stacking dynamic for stacked articulations setting in Utilities > Change > Change Articulations… , although it does not appear to be possible to do this in reverse, if you want to set articulations to never stack. That would seem to be a logical addition to this dialog.
I asked Mark Adler, MakeMusic’s director of production and senior editor, about articulation behavior when opening earlier files. He said, “We had many discussions regarding this behavior. In adding this functionality to Finale, it became necessary for Finale to use a different calculation for positioning articulations. So, while you can update an old file to v26 and choose not to update articulation positioning for those markings already in the document, Finale does update the file to use the new positioning calculation to accommodate your choice. Once you save the file, the new positioning data based on that new frame of reference is saved — this is why the new positioning data is not recognized when that file is subsequently opened in an older version. We felt that it was in our users’ best interest to continue to allow opening of v26 files in older versions even though articulation positioning data is lost when moving a file backward.”
Tremolos are handled differently. If you don’t set those to update when opening an older file in v26, a duplicate articulation that does retain the v25 settings is created, for each type of tremolo. If you find later that you wish to update those, the easiest way to do that would be to delete the imported tremolo articulation in the Articulation Selection dialog and replace it with the tremolo articulation that has all of the new On Stem settings.
Taken all together, the articulation improvements in Finale v26 are a big step in automating a lot of the tedious manual placement that long-time users have become accustomed to. Moreover, they are achieved in a logical way that retain compatibility with documents created in earlier versions — no easy feat for a program that is 30 years old. I’d like to see these types of improvements, where objects are more contextually aware, eventually propagated to expressions and other notational elements.
Updated libraries and templates
MakeMusic has said that they have “overhauled and expanded” expression and articulation libraries in Finale v26. Indeed, a default document using the Maestro engraved document style comes pre-loaded with about 150 expressions, double the number in a Finale v25 document. There are a few more articulations, too, and of course those have all been updated to take advantage of the new articulation positioning features.
This is even more noticeable in a document created with the handwritten style. Out of the box, there are lots more expressions and articulations, and they look much better than those created in Finale v25.
New or casual users will find this very useful. More advanced users likely already have libraries that they have customized to their liking, but they should review the articulation settings to ensure that they take advantage of the new features.
There are a few new Smart Shapes and pre-defined metatools for Smart Shapes in default Finale v26 documents, but no changes in they way these are created or applied.
Chord suffixes have gotten a good deal of attention in Finale v26 as well. A Finale v26 default handwritten style document comes loaded with 297 chord suffixes, up from 193 in a Finale v25 document, and in general they look a lot better. More “stacked tension” chords are available, and a number of positioning adjustments have been made.
Again, this will mostly be helpful for new and casual users, as well as those that don’t often muck around in the Chord Suffix Editor, but advanced users will probably have libraries they’ve created and prefer to work with already.
No changes have been made to the way the way chord symbols are defined and edited.
MakeMusic has said that, in Finale v26, they have “added 31 new templates to the collection included in previous versions, and have updated and refined many others. New templates include greatly expanded choral and small ensemble options, an engraved lead sheet, and two ukulele templates (with fretboards).”
Go to Measure
This small enhancement, identical to something that already exists in Sibelius, makes it possible to jump directly to a particular measure in Page View. This was already possible in Scroll View by typing the number in the status bar at the bottom of the screen, but it’s nice now to not have to switch back and forth to Scroll View simply to navigate to a particular bar.
The shortcut is Command-Shift-G on Mac or Ctrl+Shift+G on PC.
Whether this window uses actual or defined measure numbers is controlled in Preferences > View > Measure Numbers.
Mac performance enhancements
If you’re on a PC running Windows, you may as well skip this section, unless you’re interested about hearing the woes of those of us who have imbibed the Apple juice.
As Retina and other high resolution displays have become more common, some programs have struggled to keep up. Finale v25’s performance has suffered both when running in low resolution mode and especially when running in high resolution mode.
Finale v26 has taken steps to improve performance across the entire program, and the results are largely encouraging.
Here is MakeMusic’s stated list of Mac performance improvements in Finale v26:
- macOS 10.14. Finale has been updated to be fully compatible with macOS 10.14.
- Scrolling. Horizontal and vertical scrolling speed in Scroll View, Studio View, and Page View has been improved. Stability when using the trackpad to scroll has also been improved.
- Selecting. The lag time associated with selecting a measure on a high-resolution monitor has been reduced.
- Images. The background and paper images have been optimized for high-resolution monitors.
- Copying. The time it takes to paste measures, especially multiple times, has improved.
- Icons. Simple Entry and Smart Shape toolbar icons have been updated for Retina screens.
- Smart Shapes. Slow document performance has improved for documents with a significant number of Smart Shapes.
- Transposition. Speed when transposing a selected region of music has improved in high-resolution mode.
- Fonts. Bold fonts display correctly on high-resolution monitors.
- Speedy Entry. Note entry delay when using Speedy Entry on high-resolution Macs has been addressed.
- Simple Entry. Lag when using Simple Entry to adjust a note up or down on high-resolution Macs has been addressed.
- Editing. Speed when adding, nudging, modifying, and deleting items like lyrics, tuplets, and chords has been improved.
I can’t say I tested every last issue, and this is far from comprehensive, but I did run a number of tests on three files, using both Finale v25.5 and Finale v26 running in high resolution mode with identical preference settings.
Specs: Dell UP3216Q with 3840 x 2160 pixels, scaled to look like 3008 x 1692. Mac Pro (late 2013) with 32 GB RAM, solid state 1 TB storage, 3.7 GHz Quad-Core running OS X 10.12.6 Sierra.
All results in seconds (bolder is best/fastest). Changes of 30% or greater are highlighted (green is better; red is worse).
The first test was a file provided to me by MakeMusic: a 93-page concert band piece with 1129 bars and 21 staves.
The second test was an orchestral work, 223 bars in length, 63 pages with 30 staves, and many meter changes.
The third test was a huge opera score, 454 pages, 2357 bars with 24 instrumental staves and 16 vocal staves.
As you can see, the overall takeaway is that Finale v26 is a good bit faster than Finale v25.5, and markedly so in several notable areas.
Finale v26 delivers on the “Speed when adding, nudging, modifying, and deleting items like lyrics, tuplets, and chords has been improved” claim, by an astounding 80-90%. Likewise, the most basic task of selecting a bar of music is basically instantaneous now, whereas before a delay of a second or more on larger scores was common. The claims of improvements in the areas of pasting, scrolling, and transposing also seem to bear out in the range of 30%.
Interestingly, opening a score in Finale v26 was significantly slower for all three of my test files compared to Finale v25.5, taking more than twice as long in a couple of instances. Admittedly, these are large files, but the result was noticeable. You will more than make up the difference once you start working in the file, but it would be nice to have one’s cake and eat it too, here.
Repitching notes in Simple Entry is improved, but the results are still slow in larger scores.
Finally, the Patterson Beams plug-in (which ships with Finale) ran slower in both files where I tested it. I didn’t try other plug-ins so I can’t say whether this difference applies more generally to plug-ins or to this specific one.
Overall, the Mac performance improvements in Finale v26 are worthwhile and welcome. Hopefully there will be more to follow in future updates.
MusicXML and other improvements
A number of other improvements and bug fixes have made their way into Finale v26.
Highlights of the MusicXML improvements:
- If you export or import large batches of MusicXML files at once, you’ll find this process to be significantly faster. Other MusicXML improvements include:
- Improved exporting and importing of fortissimo, upbow, and downbow Maestro characters, X noteheads, page-attached text blocks with rectangle enclosures, and sffzpp and sfzzppp dynamics
- Chord symbols now export more accurately
- Gould arrow quartertone accidentals are exported accurately to MusicXML 3.1
- Finale adds a warning in an exported MusicXML file when Display in Concert Pitch is set and includes transposed music
- Default fonts for text blocks and lyrics are now imported as font document options
- Non-arpeggiate symbols are now imported
- Undertie elisions are now imported
- Single-note slides now export and import with positioning
- Font families for custom line text are now imported.
- During import, if more than one articulation maps to a MusicXML element, the one with auto note/stem side positioning is the one chosen
A more detailed list can be found at the version history on the MusicXML web site.
Some of the more notable bug fixes include:
- In most cases the possibility of encountering an EnigmaTemp error when saving work is eliminated
- Certain Garritan brass, percussion, and world instruments now respond to the Mixer controls
- The delay heard previously when entering notes using NotePerformer with Finale is eliminated
- Slurs now automatically update when a slur nested within another slur is deleted
- Finale no longer requires an Update Layout or Redraw Screen command to see changes when a Smart Shape is added or edited
Installation and previous versions
Installing Finale is the easiest process of any of three major commercial scoring programs. Indeed, MakeMusic is touting this as an improvement in Finale v26. If you’ve ever wrestled with Avid’s Application Manager or Steinberg’s eLicenser Control Center, you’ll appreciate the simplicity of MakeMusic’s approach. You complete a few lines with your contact information, serial number and upgrade code, and you’re ready to go. (Thankfully, MakeMusic no longer asks those silly survey questions that were part of the registration process for decades!)
If you have Finale v25 on your computer, the installer will offer to remove it. Out of an abundance of caution (as well as for testing purposes), I chose to keep Finale v25 installed. You can always uninstall it later, if you choose.
If you do decide to keep Finale v25, note that the installer will rename that application Finale25, while the new Finale v26 version will simply be called Finale. If you have Keyboard Maestro or another macro program that works with Finale, you’ll want to update any application links that may have been broken (other than re-adding Finale to my Keyboard Maestro group, I did not have to update any existing macros to work with Finale v26).
Note, though, that the library folders on your computer follow a different naming convention; here, the installer keeps the Finale v25 items in the existing folder named Finale, and a new folder is created called Finale v26. This is the case both for the library folders at the computer level and the user level.
These folders are where all of Finale’s document templates, FinaleScripts, font annotation, libraries, plug-ins and more are stored, so it’s important to be aware of how this works if you do any kind of customization. You’ll need to copy over any of your custom files and plug-ins from the Finale folder to the Finale v26 folder — again, both at the computer level and the user level, if you use both — the installer will not copy any of these files for you.
If you’re unsure where these various components are kept, you can see the file paths in Preferences > Folders. Finale v26 does not share these folders or preference files with previous versions of Finale, so if you have custom preferences in Finale v25 or earlier, you’ll have to re-create those in Finale v26.
One nice touch: MIDI setup is now automatically configured when Finale v26 is first launched and after preferences are cleared. Manual configuration can still be made in the MIDI/Audio > Device Setup > MIDI/Internal Speaker Setup… dialog.
Thanks to the future-proofing built into the .musx format, you can open a file created in Finale v26 in any Finale version back to Finale 2014 without needing to export it. Be aware, though, that any music that takes advantage of newer features will not be supported, Indeed, if you make use of the new articulation positioning features, you will not want to open that file in a previous version if you can help it:
If you do intend to round-trip the file between v26 and collaborators using an older version, heed the warning mentioned earlier about how Finale v26 updates articulations when opening an older file.
If you want to open the file in Finale 2012, there is an option to export directly to that format. For earlier Finale versions and other programs, you’ll need to export the file to the MusicXML format.
Pricing, availability, compatibility, final thoughts
- Retail: $600
- Academic/Theological: $350
- University/College Student: $99
- Upgrade from a previous version: $149
- Crossgrade from a competitor’s product: Contact MakeMusic for pricing options
- Trade-up from legacy products Allegro, PrintMusic, or SongWriter: $200
A 30-day free trial is available.
Mac system requirements are macOS 10.12 Sierra or later (macOS 10.14 Mojave is supported); PC requirements are Windows 7 (SP1)/8/8.1/10 (64-bit only). A minimum of 4 GB RAM is needed, with 1 GB hard drive space and 8 GB for the Garritan sounds.
Finale v26 includes all of the improvements made in recent updates, which you can read about elsewhere on this blog. A complete list of new features is available from the help documentation, which has been updated for Finale v26.
If you are using any version of Finale from the last five years (Finale 2014 or later), there won’t be any learning curve, and you’ll find that everything is in the same place, although if you skipped Finale v25, note that certain tools and obsolete plug-ins were removed in the 64-bit Finale v25 upgrade.
In 2016, about Finale v25, I wrote:
Our old frenemies like the Shape Designer and Chord Suffix Editor are still around, serving necessary purposes but looking seriously outdated. The myriad tools and nested dialog boxes must be streamlined to match the innovations in modern workflows, hardware and operating systems. Plug-ins, especially Jari Williamson’s JW Freeware Plug-ins, do many essential tasks that should be incorporated natively into the software.
All of the above still apply, with the notable exception of tremolos, which have been addressed natively.
For some more analysis and opinion about Finale v26, my colleague Robert Puff has published his review, which I encourage you to read in addition to this one.
It is remarkable that Finale, which turned 30 years old last month, continues to be a leading platform for the creation of music notation. It’s a testament to its power, flexibility, the foresight of the original programmers, and the dedication of its current team in improving the recent product.
It’s even more remarkable that files created in the earliest versions of Finale continue to open in Finale v26. I have such files dating back to 1991, and recently pulled up my very first assignment in graduate school, created 20 years ago, which opened in Finale v26 without a hitch:
This support for older files, though, is surely an impediment to a more rapid pace of innovation, the likes of which we’ve especially seen with Dorico over the past couple of years.
In the end, all three major commercial programs — Finale, Sibelius, and Dorico — are perfectly capable of achieving professional results. Taken as a whole, the iterative improvements in this upgrade make Finale v26 the best version of Finale yet. On the Mac side, certainly the performance improvements alone make this upgrade practically a necessity if you work with larger files on a regular basis.
If you like Finale, you’ll like Finale v26 more. If you don’t like Finale, Finale v26 probably won’t sway your opinion, but you’ll at least have reason to dislike it less. If you’re a new Finale user, or an existing one that doesn’t care much for customizing Finale on your own, the new features and updated templates and libraries will make it easier to create music quickly than any previous version. The 30-day trial is an excellent way for anyone to evaluate Finale v26 and see if it belongs in your toolbox.