Finale version 27 review: SMuFL and MusicXML 4.0 support

Reviews

Today MakeMusic released version 27 of Finale, its flagship music notation software. Version 27.0 is the first major upgrade to Finale since the v26 release in October 2018, and the first update of any sort in nearly a year.

Headlining the new features in v27 are deep support for the two open standards championed by the W3C Music Notation Community Group: Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL), and MusicXML. Tighter SmartMusic integration, playback improvements, and user interface enhancements round out what’s new.

The cost of acquiring Finale v27 is the same as it’s been recently, ranging from $99 for university and college students, $350 for a new academic or theological license, to the full retail price of $600. The price for Finale users who wish to upgrade is $149. If you still have one of the ancient Allegro, PrintMusic, or Songwriter products, you can trade up to Finale for $200.

If you purchased or upgraded to Finale v26 within the last 30 days (May 16 or later), you are entitled to a free upgrade. MakeMusic will have automatically upgraded you, so you should be able to just log in to your MakeMusic account and download v27 without further charge.

For first-time Finale users coming from other music notation software, MakeMusic quietly removed the competitive crossgrade a couple of years ago, although there is a fully functional free 30-day trial available (Garritan sounds excluded) to any new or existing user. There is no subscription option.

If you follow Finale’s official blog or social media channels, none of the items in v27 will come a surprise to you — MakeMusic announced the upcoming v27 release more than a month ago and has been regularly sharing “sneak peeks” that go into more detail and provide more context around their updated mission to “enable you to envision, create, and share music your way.

Still, there’s nothing like actually unwrapping the package — or, in this case, double-clicking the digital installer package — and exploring the details, so let’s get going.

First look

Prelude: Installation, getting started, technical stuff

Sometimes in a Scoring Notes review we can’t wait to head straight to the shiny new features and we leave the technical details for later. In this case, though, we’ll start with the installation process.

Installation

Why, you may ask? One very good reason: If you have Finale v26 installed and you want to keep it (at least for the time being), don’t mindlessly click through the installer, or you’ll miss this important window:

Unlike what’s in screenshot above, the default setting is actually Yes, which means that if you’re not careful, the installer will erase Finale v26 from your computer. Be sure to select No if you want to keep v26 for now.

There’s no harm in v26 coexisting with v27, other than perhaps the inconvenience of ensuring that your Finale file opens in the version you intend. For us, that inconvenience is outweighed by the security of knowing that the older version of Finale is still there if we need to revert to it or keep working on existing projects in v26.

If you do decide to keep Finale v26, note that the installer will rename that application Finale26, while the new Finale v27 version will simply be called Finale. If you have Keyboard Maestro or another macro program or application that works with Finale (such as a programmable mouse), you’ll want to update any application links that may have been broken in the process.

Because the recent versions of Finale all look so similar to each other, if you want to make sure you’re not accidentally working in the wrong version, one trick we find handy is to change the default background so that each version of Finale uses a different document window background. You can do this in Preferences > Palettes and Backgrounds. You might choose red for Finale v27, for instance, and another color for earlier versions:

The other item to be aware of — especially if you use any plug-ins, custom templates, libraries, or FinaleScripts — is that, somewhat confusingly, the library folders on your computer follow a different naming convention than that of the application itself. If you had Finale v25, that support folder is simply named Finale; the support folder for v26 is called Finale 26; and upon installing v27, a new folder is created called Finale 27. This is the case both for the library folders at the computer level and the user level.

It’s important to be aware of how this works if you’ve customized Finale to your liking. You’ll need to copy over any of your custom files and plug-ins from the Finale 26 folder to the Finale 27 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. That approach is a blessing and a curse: You can start Finale v27 fresh if you wish, and leave your old support files behind; but if you want to bring over all of the handy productivity enhancers like Jari Williamsson’s JW plug-ins, or Robert Patterson’s plug-in collections, you’ll need to manually transfer those into the new support folder. “Music your way!”

If you’re unsure where Finale keeps all of these various components, you can see the file paths in Preferences > Folders. Finale v27 does not share these folders — or preference files — with previous versions of Finale, so if you have custom preferences in Finale v26 or earlier, you’ll have to re-create those in Finale v27.

It’s worth mentioning that any mucking around in library folders should be done without having any version of Finale open. And you have backed up your computer before doing any of this… right?

Getting started

Once all of that is sorted, you’ll find getting around Finale v27 very similar to v26.

Let’s start with what hasn’t changed: Nearly everything having to do with general workflow, entering music, formatting, page layout, etc.

With a handful of notable exceptions (nearly all SMuFL-related), all the menu items are in the same place as before; the tools, dialogs; sub-dialogs, and options remain the same. Especially if you open an existing document in Finale v27, you’ll find working in it essentially identical to working in previous versions.

This is naturally reassuring if you’re a longtime user and have got your Finale mojo on; there’s nothing new you need to learn (unless you want to make use of SMuFL fonts).

The downside? There’s nothing new you need to learn.

No changes to note entry, layout, spacing, collision avoidance, graphics, tools, or most other myriad other ways the program functions on a day-to-day basis. The articulation positioning improvements made in v26 were the last significant update of this nature.

Technical stuff

There are a few touch-ups to Finale’s visual appearance. Tool icons get a refresh:

Windows users will be especially pleased to know that high resolution displays are fully supported in Finale v27. One of the biggest issues Windows users faced in v26 when working in higher resolutions is that the clickable area of the palette controls continued to offset and move based on the zoom percentage, eventually making clicking on the controls unusable. This has all been fixed in v27.

There are a handful of other bug fixes in v27, but it’s a likely bet that unless your number one issue was the aforementioned Windows palette issue, your pet gripe has not been addressed.

Thankfully, if you use plug-ins or other third-party tools with Finale, other than copying those items into the proper support folders and perhaps some minor tidying up of application links, those tools should function in v27 just as they did in v26 (with the exception of anything related to music fonts — more on that shortly).

Finale v27.0 requires macOS 10.14 (Mojave) or later, and will run under Rosetta 2 in macOS 11 (Big Sur). Windows 10 (64-bit only) is supported.

The main event: SMuFL

The history

If your only notation software program of choice is Finale, and you’re a first-time visitor to Scoring Notes (welcome, friend!), you might be wondering what SMuFL is. SMuFL — Standard Music Font Layout — is a specification first initiated by Steinberg in 2013 for use in Dorico.

SMuFL aims to categorize and standardize every glyph used in music notation — now at well over 3,000 in a complete implementation — and assign it a fixed position in a single Unicode font. This means that, regardless of what music font is being used, the same codepoint in the font always returns the desired glyph.

It’s remarkable, perhaps only in retrospect, to think that no such standard existed in music notation fonts until SMuFL. Certain software programs like Finale and Sibelius started out using a font mapping developed in 1985 for Adobe’s Sonata font, but, owing to the limitations of fonts at the time, each font could only have 255 symbols corresponding generally to what could be typed by someone using a regular computer keyboard and perhaps one or two modifier keys. Occasionally a mnemonic made reasonable sense, like & or ? or B respectively for treble, bass, and C clef, which have vaguely similar shapes as their plain-text counterparts, but very quickly it seemed that any available key was grabbed as more glyphs were needed.

Clefs in the (classic) Maestro font and corresponding keystrokes

This meant that multiple fonts needed to be created just to accommodate the demand for all of the desired musical symbols. A standard Finale installation would include core music fonts like Maestro but also supplemental fonts for microtonal accidentals, ornaments, percussion, mallets, numerics, and so on. Sibelius has a different suite of fonts that is almost totally incompatible with Finale’s legacy fonts, other than a general compatibility between the core Opus and Maestro fonts, which use the de facto Adobe system.

When the Steinberg team set out to develop Dorico, it became clear that this system was unworkable for a newly-designed software application. Daniel Spreadbury first proposed the SMuFL standard and designed its reference font, Bravura, for use in Dorico, and eventually SMuFL was put under the auspices of a music notation community group that also maintains MusicXML, to be freely used in any software.

G clefs in the SMuFL spec, out of approximately 60 available clefs and stylistic alternates

Fast forward to 2021. Finale v27 is the first version of Finale to support SMuFL. Your patience with the history lesson will be rewarded, because while this is very exciting for many reasons, there are 26 versions of Finale — and many, many, many Finale files — that did not support SMuFL, and as we’re about to see, some caution is warranted.

What’s in SMuFL

So what’s in SMuFL? As mentioned earlier, pretty much everything.

A Finale v27 document using Finale Maestro, a SMuFL font

The only music font used in the (incredibly serious) music example above is Finale Maestro — the new default SMuFL font installed with Finale v27. Finale Maestro weighs in at 2,745 glyphs — not quite the 3,500+ that’s in Bravura, but still more than 13 times the classic Maestro font, which only had about 200 glyphs.

Items like the quadruple pianissimo (U+E529), doit (U+E5D4), rough fall (U+E5DE), arpeggio up (U+E634), bow behind bridge (U+E628), three-quarter flat (U+E285) — just to name a few — all of which would have been previously applied in Finale using any one of a number of different fonts or shapes, are all squarely within the SMuFL spec and appropriately categorized and named.

 

Finale v27 comes bundled with six SMuFL-compliant fonts. Finale Maestro is, by far, the most complete of these. The other SMuFL music fonts that come with Finale are:

  • Finale Ash (based on the legendary Ash Music font from Express Music)
  • Finale Broadway
  • Finale Engraver
  • Finale Jazz
  • Finale Legacy (a SMuFL-compliant version of Petrucci)

There are also corresponding text fonts for some of these fonts:

  • Finale Ash Text
  • Finale Broadway Text
  • Finale Maestro Text
  • Finale Jazz Text

These text fonts, as designed by Finale, are not very well standardized, if at all. For instance, Finale Maestro Text includes plain alphanumeric text in a Times style and bolts on the most common Finale Maestro glyphs by dropping them into the same slots where they appear in SMuFL, but with the same size and line-spacing as ordinary text fonts. This means that you could use one font for tempo marks, if you like:

However, the other Finale “Text” fonts appear to be set up in their own idiosyncratic ways without any particular connection to SMuFL. If you are familiar with Dorico and the relationship of Bravura to Bravura Text and Petaluma to Petaluma Text, which faithfully reproduce the range of SMuFL glyphs but for use in text-based applications, Finale’s text fonts don’t resemble these at all (with the possible exception of Finale Maestro Text, which serves a somewhat similar purpose and includes the alphanumeric characters).

One note about licensing: Like the default music and text fonts shipped with Dorico and MuseScore, all fonts shipped with Finale v27 are now available for use under the SIL Open Font License, which means that they may be freely distributed and used by anyone — including non-Finale users — and modified per the limitations stated in that license. With previous versions of Finale, you would have had to own a valid Finale license in order to legally use Finale’s fonts.

If you work with SMuFL in Finale v27 you’ll quickly encounter the new Symbol Selection dialog, which will be called from any tool or other dialog that requires you to select a symbol, whether it’s the “designer” dialogs like the Articulation Designer, Clef Designer, Expression Designer, or Smart Line Designer, the Accidental Settings, or various other places throughout the Document Options or elsewhere in the program.

The Symbol Selection dialog is organized first alphabetically by SMuFL category, and then within each category by Unicode codepoint.

The Symbol Selection dialog in Finale v27

If the thought of scrolling through thousands of symbols fills you with dread, don’t despair. You can use the Search field to find your desired term, which is, in turn, drawing on the symbol’s official description in the SMuFL spec. You might still get lots of options, but the winnowing will likely make your search manageable.

If you’re creating a new expression, text block, or other text element that uses a music font, you’ll want to know about the new Insert Symbol… menu option in the Text menu. Although inserting a symbol was possible in earlier Finale versions, it was buried in the Insert menu.

Now, due to SMuFL’s importance, it has its own place directly in the Text menu, along with its own shortcut.

A quick time-saver: Selecting a symbol in the Expression Designer and invoking the Insert Symbol… shortcut will take you directly to that glyph in the SMuFL Symbol Selection dialog.

What SMuFL can do

The power of SMuFL is essentially twofold.

The first part of the power is the ability to access thousands of glyphs all within a single font.

The second part is the ability to easily swap that font with any other font that is SMuFL-compliant.

That means you can experiment with a number of engraved looks, which could be Finale Maestro…

Or Bravura…

Or one of the growing number of SMuFL fonts by independent font designers, like Nor Eddine Bahha’s Tutti font

Or Music Type Foundry’s Scorlatti font

…all of which can be easily changed in Finale v27 in Document… Set Default Music Font…

Unfortunately, a key element of SMuFL is not yet implemented in Finale v27. SMuFL fonts are generally paired with a font-specific metadata file, in JSON format, in the distribution package for their fonts, which, according to the SMuFL spec, “allows the designer to provide information that cannot easily (or in some cases at all) be encoded within or retrieved from the font software itself, including recommendations for how to draw the elements of music notation not provided directly by the font itself (such as staff lines, barlines, hairpins, etc.) in a manner complementary to the design of the font, and important glyph-specific metrics, such as the precise coordinates at which a stem should connect to a notehead.”

For example, this is what happens when you take a Dorico file that, like this piece by Stephen Taylor, uses Bravura…

…change the music font and select Use font’s recommended engraving options

…and have an updated file with a very different style, like Nor Eddine Bahha’s The Copyist:

Notice how Dorico automatically changes not just the font elements, but other elements like the width of the barlines, stems, hairpins and ledger lines to complement the thicker handwritten style of the font.

Contrast this with loading The Copyist into Finale v27:

Only the font changes; other elements remain unaffected, resulting in a discordant look between the font and other musical elements. To take just one example, the thick flags, which are supplied by the font, are out of scale with the thin stems, which, because they are drawn by Finale, still use the program’s default settings and don’t quite connect properly to the noteheads.

You can, of course, change these in your Finale file, or even create a library (.lib) file to import, but such changes will not automatically be applied from the SMuFL font’s JSON metadata file.

Curiously, the new SMuFL fonts that come bundled with Finale, like Finale Ash, all have corresponding JSON metadata files, but currently there is no way to import this data directly into Finale v27. If you import those fonts into Dorico, however — and you can do so with ease — Dorico will respect those engraving settings!

Compare the recommended settings in Finale Maestro with those of Finale Ash, which are, in some instances, 25-90% thicker

Speaking of Dorico, users of that software might yawn (or unfairly, snicker) at all of this — after all, the ability to swap fonts in this manner has been baked into Dorico from the beginning. But Dorico users should cheer these developments, even if they never touch Finale. Bringing SMuFL support to the large universe of Finale users means more incentive for talented music font designers to create SMuFL-compliant fonts, because they can be confident that their creations will appeal to users of multiple software platforms.

The friction points in SMuFL implementation are inherent in Finale’s legacy of three decades. What to do about that, then? We thus encounter…

The great SMuFL divide

 

Finale v27 comes with just two SMuFL-compatible Document Styles: the engraved look of Finale Maestro, and the handwritten look of Finale Broadway.

The remainder of Finale v27’s Document Styles still use the older non-SMuFL version of the fonts.

There is no way to sugar-coat this: for all of the considerable and laudable effort getting SMuFL to work in Finale, and bundling six SMuFL-compliant fonts with Finale, providing only two Document Styles to the general user to begin from is a letdown. It would be mitigated if Finale seamlessly imported the font’s JSON metadata into the document (making Document Styles somewhat less relevant), but, as previously discussed, this is not yet possible.

Jason Wick, MakeMusic’s senior manager for Finale, told us that with the “document styles and default documents, we’re going to learn what people are doing with them. We’re going to learn how they’re using them, what kind of experience they’re having with them. So, although we have a roadmap, which is a guess of what we think is next, we want to make sure that we understand what’s important to people so that we can deliver the right things in a ‘dot-one,’ ‘dot-two’ [update] and so on. I think that’s an important element to keep in mind is listening to the way the product’s being used.”

That’s certainly a fair approach to take, but by having only two general SMuFL templates, and by making non-SMuFL templates still readily accessible, the casual user may not notice (or care) if they are using a SMuFL-compliant template, and thus not have a relevant experience to provide.

This is a problem, because once you create a new document or open an existing document in Finale v27, there is no way to easily tell if your file is SMuFL-compliant or not.

You can eventually figure it out by trying to swap in another music font, and getting this message:

Should you wish to use a non-SMuFL font in a SMuFL document (or vice versa), as with anything in Finale, there is always a way around a problem, but it’s not for the faint of heart. You can go into the Document Options > Fonts and individually change the various Notation elements, and then you’ll need to find the appropriate codepoints for each of those constituent items.

You might be wondering, then, how do you convert non-SMuFL documents — everything ever created in Finale until today — into SMuFL files?

The answer is: you can’t do so, at least not directly. Right now, there is no built-in conversion process. To be fair, it’s not a trivial lift. You might think, hey, just create a table and swap one codepoint for another. Remember though, that legacy files actually use many fonts, not just a single font like SMuFL. So in your source document you’d have to not only know the codepoint, but the font used, as well, and then figure a way to take that information and translate it into the corresponding SMuFL codepoint.

MakeMusic has said that “conversion of documents using legacy fonts to SMuFL fonts” will “be available in future updates”, so patience is what must be required for now. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with trouble even when innocuously copying music within Finale v27 between a SMuFL file and a non-SMuFL file, like this:

Music copied in Finale v27 from a SMuFL file (left) into a non-SMuFL file (right)

Until then, unless you want to live on the bleeding edge of font goodness, the safest course of action might well be to stick to using non-SMuFL fonts like you have done for the previous 26 versions. It’s mildly deflating after spilling all of this digital ink talking about SMuFL, but we feel confident that in time SMuFL will be the future of Finale, and hopefully of the wider music notation software universe, too. When you consider its benefits, especially as more applications come on board, it’s so much better than the old way of dealing with music fonts.

The other option is to use MusicXML to convert your documents between SMuFL and non-SMuFL format. While you may lose a lot of other notation-specific information in the process, fortunately Finale has the best built-in integration of MusicXML out of any software, and already supports the newest MusicXML 4.0 spec (more on that in a moment).

The good news, at least, is that if you open your Finale v26 (or earlier) files into Finale v27, everything will look just fine and you can continue working as you always did. You can even use the symbols from SMuFL fonts, but it will be much more laborious to do so — you won’t get any of the advanced benefits of the way the Symbol Selection dialog organizes the glyphs when using SMuFL fonts.

More problematic is attempting to open a Finale v27 .musx file that uses SMuFL in Finale v26. Although you don’t need to export the .musx file into an earlier format like you did prior to 2014, you’ll end up with a file that’s very difficult to use.

For starters, you’ll encounter this dialog prompting you for font annotation:

That’s because SMuFL fonts don’t use font annotation or stem connection settings in the way non-SMuFL Finale fonts do (that’s now in the JSON file). Auto-generating one won’t help much — this is the result:

A Finale v27 SMuFL .musx file opened in Finale v26

Again, exporting first to MusicXML might yield results that are more easily dealt with if you find yourself in this particular situation of needing to send a Finale v27 SMuFL file to Finale v26 (or earlier).

Which brings us to…

The rest: MusicXML, sharing, instrument updates

MusicXML 4.0

MusicXML is an open standard used by hundreds of music applications, but it is still very much tightly and most effectively integrated into Finale, owing to MakeMusic’s acquisition of Michael Good’s company Recordare in 2011. Michael, the inventor of MusicXML, is a MakeMusic vice president and also one of the three co-chairs of the group that manages MusicXML’s development, so it comes as no surprise that Finale is evermore aligned with MusicXML’s trajectory.

It’s also not surprising that MusicXML is the solution — or hopefully, rather, a temporary workaround — to the problem of converting SMuFL files natively within Finale. As MusicXML becomes more robust, it can carry a heavier lift than it previously did. That’s clearly evident in the MusicXML 4.0 specification, which was only just released two weeks ago, on June 1, 2021.

MusicXML 4.0 includes many major new features. It adds or greatly improves support for:

  • Concert scores with transposed parts
  • Relationships between score and parts, including a standard way to combine score and parts in a single compressed .mxl file
  • Score following, assessment, and other machine listening applications
  • Swing playback
  • Roman numerals and Nashville numbers
  • XML Catalogs
  • Complete documentation on the W3C site, including examples of every MusicXML element

In addition, there are many smaller changes for improving the semantics, appearance, and playback that can be represented directly in MusicXML files.

At the moment, Finale is the only major desktop music notation software applications (and possibly one of the only applications) to support MusicXML 4.0. In time, we expect the other applications to add support. But out of the gate, MusicXML will be most useful to users converting Finale documents to other versions of Finale documents, and not necessarily between Finale and other software.

MusicXML preferences in Finale v27, with MusicXML 4.0 support

If you’re interested in inspecting samples of MusicXML files and their corresponding PDF or PNG files, there are lots of examples available from this page on MakeMusic’s web site, all of which have been freshly updated to the MusicXML 4.0 format as exported from Finale v27. The files were then hand-edited as needed to illustrate features that are not automatically generated by the export software.

Sharing

We’ll be the first to admit that we are not the ideal target audience for SmartMusic, MakeMusic’s popular music learning software for educators and students with more than 25,000 titles in its interactive web-based library, with a practice application that provides real-time feedback and accompaniment. So initially we were a bit skeptical when SmartMusic sharing was announced as a feature in Finale v27. But for certain types of users and use cases, it could be a welcome addition.

There has long been a connection between Finale and SmartMusic, allowing you to export a Finale file to a Classic SmartMusic format or convert it to a SmartMusic file. Those options still exist in Finale v27, but new to the File menu is a Share… option which enables you to upload and share a Finale file directly to SmartMusic without leaving Finale.

If you don’t have a SmartMusic account, you can create one for free.

You’ll be prompted to fill out a brief form, including identifying your primary instrument. You should see what I can do on a hi hat!

Once all that’s set up, sharing a Finale file in SmartMusic is relatively startightforward. You are prompted to confirm that SmartMusic is mapping your instruments correctly — behind the scenes, it’s using MusicXML to convert your Finale file to the SmartMusic format and assign the Garritan-based instruments. These are a subset of what’s available in Finale, so you may have some decisions to make.

After optionally choosing whether or not you want your viewers to be able to download your music as a PDF, you’ll see your file in SmartMusic, where you can do any one of a number of things with your music using the sophisticated and well-designed SmartMusic tools:

Be aware of the system requirements for SmartMusic — most notably, on Windows and Mac, the only browser that’s officially supported is Chrome. Safari on iPad is supported, and seems to work well on Mac as well, although it’s not listed in the official support. Chromebook is supported too, but other tablets, phones or browsers are not currently supported:

SmartMusic is only officially compatible with the Chrome browser on desktop computers and Safari on iPad

For active SmartMusic users, the ability to directly share files from Finale is surely helpful. But even if you’ve never used SmartMusic, you should check it out to see if it might save you the tedium of needing to export your files, email them, create revisions, re-export, etc. Now, with a single link, your collaborators can not only have access to their parts, but also have a way of practicing them and interacting with them in a way they couldn’t do before, even if they don’t have Finale — or even a SmartMusic account.

That’s right — it’s thoughtful that MakeMusic doesn’t require collaborators to clear the hurdle of registering for a SmartMusic account (only the creator needs to have an account, which is free). Anyone can just click the link you give them and start reading, playing, and, optionally, downloading the music.

Remember, SmartMusic is using MusicXML to convert your Finale file, so this feature is not to be used to share engraved editions or to collaborate in an editorial fashion, because many of those finer adjustments and settings will not be retained. But if you’re working last-minute on your stage band arrangement and need to beam it to your bandmates while they’re on the train to the gig so that it’s on their iPad, and allow them to instantly read it and play it back, all without you leaving Finale — this is a nice feature to have.

Instrument updates

MakeMusic says that “Finale v27 launches with meticulous reworking of its instrument database that will help you make music your way, even more efficiently. The changes we’ve made are designed to be practically invisible—Finale gets the details about each instrument right the first time without any manual input. You may notice that you can create documents and add instruments to existing ones more easily and more reliably than ever.”

It’s hard to get too excited here, but in any event, we’re glad this has all been sorted out. The duplicates have been resolved, some instruments have been added, and in general, a more appropriate sound is chosen to represent instruments for which a sampled sound doesn’t directly correlate to what’s being notated.

Most notable are the layouts found in the Percussion Layout dialog (accessed through the ScoreManager if your Notation Style is set to Percussion). More than 150 new percussion layouts have been added, and now they actually make sense in terms of the line or space to which the instrument is assigned and also the sound that it makes upon playback. (However, now that there are so many layouts, a proper search feature à la what we see in the SMuFL Symbol Selection dialog would immensely help us actually find what we’re looking for.)

Users that have gone deep into percussion layout and playback will appreciate three additions to the Garritan instruments: a bell tree, slapstick, and flexatone are new to Finale v27. In addition, the Fusion Drum Kit is much better in terms of its overall sound and balance with other instruments.

Postlude: Final impression and the road ahead

If you’ve made it this far and want even more Scoring Notes coverage about Finale v27, you’re in luck! We’ll be talking about all of this and more on the Scoring Notes podcast episode to be released on June 19. And we’ve already spoken with Jason Wick on the podcast about Finale’s development.

There’s no question that adding SMuFL support to Finale has the potential to pay huge dividends. The fact that the relatively new open standard of SMuFL is finding its way into software that is stretching into its fourth decade should give users confidence that Finale remains a viable way to create just about any kind of music notation, much as it has for many years.

The Finale workflow has been unchanged for quite some time. Except for the new articulation features and SMuFL support, there haven’t been many other significantly obvious user-facing changes since 2014. On one hand, that’s understandable — you don’t want a program like Finale reinventing itself every year. On the other hand, there are many items on users’ wish lists that still remain unfulfilled.

Jason Wick, MakeMusic’s senior manager for Finale, acknowledged this when we recently spoke with him about Finale’s development. “I can understand how it can be frustrating for users, when the perception is that there’s nothing going on, that’s maybe affecting me directly, and I totally empathize with that,” Jason told us. “We are going to be skewed towards technical investment.”

Jason said, “Each one of those investments is a bet. You look ahead and say, in two to three years, what do we anticipate delivering? The software world [changes at] a rapid pace. So that bet that you made three years ago may or may not be relevant today, but that’s how we try to look at it… between major releases.”

Let’s take that investment in SMuFL and use an example to illustrate how we hope the Finale team parlays that bet into something even more useful. For instance, take microtonal, or quarter-tone accidentals. You might use them frequently, or you may never use them — until you’re suddenly sent a project with tons of them (speaking from experience).

Regardless, in Sibelius or Dorico, you can press the appropriate quarter-tone switch and be on your way, and the music will appropriately transpose (Dorico is next-level with its support for various tuning systems). In Finale, however, there is no fundamental understanding of quarter-tones in music notation.

Prior to Finale v27, the best you could do was swap out the accidental (for display purposes) to a quarter-tone glyph, which, amusingly, was located in the Maestro Percussion font:

At least in Finale v27, there is a modest improvement: those glyphs are nestled comfortably in the “Gould arrow quartertones” SMuFL category and appropriately labeled, so that you can actually access them from within Finale Maestro — the default music font used for the rest of your music.

But that’s where it ends, for now. Finale still really has no concept of microtones and no way to enter them or handle them in a literally meaningful manner. It’s just substituting the sharp glyph for something else because you told it to do so.

That’s where the “music your way” concept can be at loggerheads with how we are coming to expect software to work in the 2020s. Yes, you can have it your way, if you know what you are doing. But more and more, we hope that software will do a better job of showing us the way — or at least a way — to get us on our way to creating music. The potential is there, but right now the way in some aspects of Finale is still more of a gravel road instead of a smoothly paved highway.

Jason said that “the sky’s the limit” when it comes to what’s possible with SMuFL and what it could unlock with future Finale development. But he also said that “the only challenge … it all depends on what you encounter in the code for any particular case. That’s part of the work on our end is to try to make it as clean and modular as possible in some of these features so that we can continue to add on top to them. A lot of that still going to be case by case, and you have to be judicious about which things do you pull in and use your new code approach and, and others where it’s like, well, we’ll just have to work around that or live with that.”

At the very least, this gives us a good idea of what to expect as we look ahead to the future of Finale. We’d be delighted to see these bets pay off and probably pleasantly surprised if we see some developments of this nature.

In some respects, the powerful third-party plug-ins have let Finale off the hook. The concern there is that unless the plug-in developers keep up with application and operating system updates, the plug-ins eventually wither and essential functionality is lost. The 64-bit version of the vaunted TGTools suite never officially made it out of testing mode, and it’s an open question whether we will ever see future updates to Jari Williamsson’s incredible JW plug-ins, or to the JW Lua scripting environment.

For the moment, we’ll happily get on with using Finale v27 and all that it has to offer, knowing that we can open it up and continue right where we left off in 26.3.1, enjoy the improvements and new features that are already in v27, and look forward to the future of making “music our way” in this venerable music software.


For the latest information about compatibility for Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, and MuseScore, as well as links to the latest news and reviews about product releases, please see the Scoring Notes Product Guide.

More on the Scoring Notes podcast: Finale v27 and the SMuFL shuffle

On the Scoring Notes podcast, Jason Loffredo returns to Scoring Notes to do the “SMuFL shuffle” and tells us how to do the dance with Finale v27, step-by-step.

Scoring Notes
Scoring Notes
Finale v27 and the SMuFL shuffle
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More on the Scoring Notes podcast: Jason Wick on Finale development

On the Scoring Notes podcast, Jason Wick, MakeMusic’s senior manager for Finale, talks with Philip Rothman and David MacDonald about the product’s development and the new features that are in version 27 of the software.

Scoring Notes
Scoring Notes
Jason Wick on Finale development
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Comments

  1. Bill

    “For the moment, we’ll happily get on with using Finale v27 and all that it has to offer, knowing that we can open it up and continue right where we left off in 26.3.1”

    Right where we left off in Finale v25.0

  2. Chris Hoh

    Thanks. This review is very helpful. It confirms what I thought (upgrading now would be more trouble than it’s worth to me) but also provides more detail and insight than I found elsewhere. Greatly appreciated!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks! We will cover it further on tomorrow’s podcast episode, too.

  3. Robert Ostermeyer

    Many Thanks. Very informative. Greetings from Germany.

  4. Andy Firth

    Finale 27 is rubbish on a Mac running Big Sur. Don’t upgrade whatever you do of you’ll be dead in the water like me!

    1. Jeff Whitmill

      Absolutely! It’s just been one disaster after another. Tremolos don’t work, Update Layout doesn’t work, etc., etc. I’ve been using Finale since the first day it came out in 19888; this is, to my mind, the worst release ever.

  5. Robert Ostermeyer

    One more note on November 2 character set and Finale 27.
    There are unsolved problems with the display of measures. Changing the character set from a Finale 26 file with November 2 is not possible (in German?) To another SMuFL font, nor to another non-SMuFL font. November 2 is a very strange hybrid. Well, as written here, there is no converter yet. However, when changing to a different non-SMuFL font, Finale 27 sees November 2 as SMuFL font and gives an error message.
    Since almost all files in my music publisher were noted as November, I cannot work with Finale 27 like this. I uninstalled it.

  6. Philip Rothman

    MakeMusic has recently announced improvements to come in v27.1:

    https://www.finalemusic.com/blog/future-of-smufl-in-finale/

    No date has been announced, yet, but we will stay on top of it.

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