Finale version 26 review

MakeMusic’s Finale v26 update was released  today. Their social media teasers over the last few weeks have contained the perfect buzzword for a guy like me: “productivity”.

(If you are new to Finale and anxious to get started,  feel free to skip to the last paragraph of this review. Then, head over to MakeMusic to download the free 30 day trial and check it out for yourself.)

For the rest of us, I’ll cut to the chase: for me, by far the most compelling productivity feature in this upgrade is Finale’s reworked Articulation Tool, so let’s start there.

Articulations in Finale v26 now include collision avoidance between articulations, and user controlled ordering (stacking) of articulations.

The Articulation Designer dialog itself has been given a face lift to give users more fine-grained control over an articulation’s default behavior within a document:

Articulation Positioning Controls prior to Finale v26
Finale v26 Articulation Positioning Controls

Finale 26 now has more options for articulation positioning relative to slurs. Where Finale 25 and earlier had a single checkbox to place articulations Inside Slurs, Finale 26 has a “Slur Interaction” popup, which offers three choices: Always Inside, Ignore and Auto Inside / Outside.

There is a new On Stem vertical positioning option, which facilitates proper positioning of tremolo articulations.

The Smart Slur Options dialog box has also been updated to include a Slur Avoidance parameter to allow more fine-grained control of the space between slurs and articulations:

Articulations now automatically stack logically on entry. You can control the order of how articulations are stacked by by moving them up or down the list in the Articulation Selection dialog box list. The interface here is pure old-school Finale;  press the “Move Up” and “Move Down” buttons to rearrange them.

A star in the lower right hand corner of an individual articulation means that automatic stacking is turned on.

A nice touch is when an articulation in your score is added or removed from a stack, flipped, or moved manually outside of the stacking threshold, the positions of the remaining articulations are automatically adjusted. In other words, it is possible to have manually positioned articulations attached to the same note as those which are (still) automatically positioned and ordered. Very flexible.

Duplicating articulations introduces a minor caveat. When you duplicate an articulation in the Articulation Selection dialog box, the new articulation appears next to the original articulation (without a Metatool).

In Finale v26, whereby the “Stack Automatically” attribute remains checked in the duplicate you create, there is the potential to (very easily) create stacking inconsistencies like this by simply moving the duplicate’s order in the list and using it instead of the original:

This is actually a more complex problem to solve than it might appear on the surface. Finale can’t simply globally prevent the user’s ability to attach two identical articulations, or a duplicate articulation to the same note, because for certain types of articulations, such as double stopped harmonics, this capability is desirable.

Without “Stack Automatically” active for the articulation, if you subsequently enter either the same articulation twice (or its duplicate) on the same note, they simply overlap one another, as in older versions:

With the current behavior of “Stack Automatically” active, you can now see at a glance when an articulation has been duplicated in your score:

When using metatools, it is still possible, as with past versions of Finale, to attach articulations to either a note or  a rest. For instance, Finale will happily enter a staccato or tenuto on rests, if you decide to add them there:

This behavior is allowed in order to play nice with MakeMusic’s long-standing UI design where fermata, caesura and breath marks are defined as articulations, and frequently *do* need to be attached to “real” rests.

An “Allow attachment to Rests” option in the Articulation Designer dialog to prevent accidental entry and residual articulations on rests for the majority of articulations would be a welcome addition in a point update to go with the enhanced articulations features.

👀 In Finale 26, residual articulations on rests, as well as duplicated articulations on the same note are now much easier to spot because of the new collision avoidance feature.

In a new Finale 26 file, and also when you open an older score in Finale 26,  Finale sets the new “Stack Automatically” option for every articulation:

From that point, within your score, you can select an individual articulation and disable or enable whether it stacks automatically or not from the Articulation menu.

This design allows you to enable automatic stacking for articulations on individual notes or regions on a case by case basis in your score.

You can also enable or disable stacking for an individual articulation from the contextual menu:

To have Finale v26 set a region (or the entire) score to enable Automatic Stacking, use  the Change Articulation Assignment dialog box (Utilities > Change > Articulations).

MakeMusic’s Director of Production Mark Adler explains the feature this way: “You receive a score from a composer that is working in an older version of Finale. On opening the file in v26, you don’t want to blow away any work that was done to manually adjust articulations and slurs, so you opt to not update articulations. While working with the file, you may run into a region in which you would like to enable stacking, or maybe you’ve reevaluated the entire file and decide that it would be a benefit to enable stacking; this utility allows you to make those changes regionally or to an entire document.”

CAUTION: Once you make the stacking for a region of articulations “dynamic” (e.g. set to Use Definition), there is no user-friendly way to return this region to “never” (e.g. manual positioning). That is to say, the Change Articulations Dialog is a one way street.

You can either manually change them on the page, one articulation at a time throughout your score, or you can open the file in an earlier version of Finale and save in that version to “reset” them so you will be asked again when you open the document in Finale 26 if you want them to “Use Definition” or not. Obviously, if you have been working in the score awhile, either of these solutions represent lost time and work.

Another option for advanced users would be to make copies of the various articulations you want to restore to manual positioning, turn off Automatic Stacking in the Articulation Designer for these duplicates and move them to the end of the Articulation Selection list, then use the Change Articulation Assignments to change the Auto Stacking version of the articulation into a non-stacking version.

Hopefully this will be rectified soon in a point release.

TREMOLOS & HORIZONTAL CENTERING

Horizontal centering for articulations in Finale 26 generally worked great for me in my testing. Check out MakeMusic’s blog post showing the new stem-centered  alignment. In certain situations with multiple articulations including staccatos are stacked stem-side, you may want to use combined articulations from the Engraver Font Set, or create a duplicate staccato mark and uncheck its “Center over / under stem when on stem side” option in the Articulation Designer to get what looks visually correct. Plenty of flexibility here.

Tremolos now center properly on whole notes, which is awesome – one of my very favorite things about the Finale 26 update. 

LIBRARIES & TEMPLATES

All of Finale’s default documents, libraries, and templates have been updated to take full advantage of automatic articulation stacking and collision avoidance. This provides a great resource for new users, or longtime users who have not created their own house style templates.

If you are a power user working with your own existing templates, if your articulations are not already in logical stacking order, you may need to reorder your existing Articulation  libraries. With a little advance work, you can update your templates to stack according to common practice so this will feel automated for you in the future.

And advanced Finale users should take note that there is a great deal of flexibility here if you need to break the rules a little for a particular project.

UPDATING FILES & COMPATIBILITY WITH PREVIOUS VERSIONS

When opening a pre-Finale v26 score, you will be asked whether you want to update articulation positioning or not.

You can change the default behavior for this preference at any time in the Preferences dialog box:

Choosing YES will Enable v26 stacking for all of the imported articulations in the file. Choosing NO will set Stacking for all articulations globally to Never (see above).

My expectation would be that if I select NO to the above dialog, that the actual articulation positioning in the score file would remain completely  *untouched*, and that I would be able to open the same file in either Finale 26 or Finale 25 and see the same articulation locations. However, I did not get those results at all.

I opened a score in Finale 26, pressed NO to make sure I was not (supposedly) updating Articulation positioning. When I checked several of the individual Articulations in Articulation Designer, I could see that they had all been updated with the “Stack Automatically” attribute checked.

By selecting a number of of the Articulations one at a time and using the contextual Stack menu, I confirmed that their Automatic Stacking was set to Never, so they were (correctly) not stacking automatically, according to how the feature is designed.

But, as it turned out, the actual problem is not about automatic stacking at all; Finale *also* appears to change every articulation’s initial position relative the noteheads or stem on import to facilitate better placement of these articulations in Finale 26.

In other words, regardless of which option you choose, Finale appears to subtly change the positioning of every articulation in your existing file in order for it to play nice with Finale 26 auto-positioning / auto-stacking.

This didn’t seem cause any problems when I was in Finale 26…

However, when I saved and closed the score, and reopened it in Finale 25, the articulations had all moved quite drastically from their original locations:

It is possible to restore the Default positions by going to Utilities > Change > Articulations in Finale 25, but obviously, this shouldn’t be happening if the user specifies not to update the articulation positioning in the first place.

And simply globally writing over current articulation positions with new defaults for Articulations (if, indeed that is what is happening here) is something professional engravers are going to shudder at, since many times, in addition to very carefully setting up a number of specific placements in the Articulation Designer, on the page, small manual positioning edits are made after default placement to avoid collisions with accidentals, duration dots, ledger lines or for other circumstances.

There is a variation of this to be aware of when working in multiple versions of Finale and you *are* using the collision avoidance of Finale 26: When you update a score to take advantage of all of the Finale v26 articulation placement goodies, it looks fine in Finale 26, and you can subsequently still open the score file in Finale v25 and Finale v2014.x.

However, (as in the case where you choose NO to update on import), Finale does not appear to retain any existing articulation positions  in the file which would allow you to restore your original score’s articulation placements at all; it just overwrites  completely new default articulation positions optimized for Finale 26 into your file regardless of your choice.

All of this leads to undesirable and unusable results during any file sharing operation with Finale 25 or earlier.

Here is an example of my results showing this round-trip using the staccato accent character from Finale’s Engraver font set:

The same thing happens when you export a score back to Finale 2012 format.

MakeMusic’s Notation Products Manager Jonathan Tschiggfrie emailed me with this explanation: “I’ve confirmed that what we’re seeing when round-tripping a document is expected behavior due to the changes in how version 26 calculates articulation placement relative to the notes they are attached to. This came up several times during the development cycle, and each time we made the decision to continue moving forward with the new features, but it was not a choice that we took lightly.”

Basically, by this John means that there really is no going back. And forth. At least not in any practical way.

That is to say, there is no mechanism to simply turn OFF everything to do with auto placement of articulations completely on import or after the score has been opened in Finale 26; to not change *any* articulation definitions, and leave *every* case by case manual positioning adjustment intact when opening a pre- Finale 26 file.

Of course, if there were, users who are forced to work in more than one version of Finale on a given project would have the ability to work a little faster in a newer version of the Finale application with a shared .musx file format that currently opens in three different versions of Finale.

As stated above, when opening the file in an earlier version and also when exporting, you *can* restore the original default pre-v26 placements by selecting Utilities > Change > Articulations… > Position All. However, as noted above, any personal placement settings to the articulation definitions or any manual adjustments you may have made will be gone.

KEYBOARD SHORTCUTS

A welcome productivity enhancement is the addition of a key shortcut to Flip articulations between note side and stem side.  Use the “F” key to flip articulation positioning.  You can also use the Articulation or contextual menus.

Note that when a note’s stem is flipped, stacked articulations (and manual adjustments to their positioning) automatically move to the opposite side of the note.

There are also keyboard shortcuts in the contextual menu and main Articulation menu to choose “above note” and “below note”.

IMPROVED NOTEPERFORMER™ SUPPORT

If you haven’t ever tried the NotePerformer 3 sound set with Finale, you owe it to yourself to download the 30 day trial of this amazing playback companion product to Finale for Mac and PC.

The scrolling playback line is still not in sync during audio playback in Finale 26, but the orchestral playback in NotePerformer is amazing with Finale, and Finale 26 fixes the playback latency issue when entering notes, which is a great productivity improvement since Finale 25.

SPLASH SCREEN AND ICONS

I personally really like the look of the updated splash screen, launch window and “about Finale” dialog design; clean and uncluttered.

That said, not a big fan of the look of the application icon itself, at least on the Mac. But in the grander scheme, I’m so much more concerned about graphical output and program functionality than how pretty the icon looks in my Dock, that this is really a non-issue.

As long as we are talking about the Finale v26 launch icon: On Mac, when installing Finale v26 you will have the opportunity to leave your version of Finale 25 installed alongside Finale v26.

If so, and you have the previous version of Finale installed, it will be renamed “Finale25”. If you want both versions immediately available for launch, you can create a new launch shortcut for the renamed Finale25 application so you can have them both available for launch for your different projects.

MUSICXML IMPROVEMENTS

  • Version 7.2 changes the default file format for exporting a single MusicXML file from uncompressed (.musicxml) to compressed (.mxl) files. The MusicXML Preferences continue to allow a different setting for batch export of MusicXML files.
  • The MetTimes, AshMusic, LeeMusic, and RussMusic fonts are now supported during export.
  • Chord symbols now export more accurately, including symbols that use the Finale Numerics and Broadway Copyist Text Ext fonts.
  • The “Hide First Measure Number in Region” option is now supported during export.
  • Non-arpeggiate symbols and undertie elisions are now imported.
  • Lyrics now export more accurately from documents where the default music font is EngraverFontSet.
  • Finale v26 speeds up export and import for large batches of MusicXML files.

CHORD SYMBOL SUFFIXES

The new Finale templates all have a greatly extended library of chord suffixes. 177 of ’em to be exact. The idea here is that you won’t ever be slowed down by the fact that a chord suffix cannot be found.

This additional content for chord suffixes and the additional new Expressions are going to be great for beginning and intermediate Finale users. What is here will make for a smoother experience for your work in Finale moving forward.

Naturally, the very first thing I did was make a bet with myself about how quickly I could come up with a chord symbol Finale did not include. My second attempt was a 13susb9 chord:

I then tried a different way to express the same chord:

To quote from a recent article by Darcy James Argue on the FinaleBlog: “Chord suffixes are often the subject of debate. Different chord symbol conventions exist based on geography, genre, publisher, music school and other criteria.”

Which, by definition means it’s nearly impossible to provide a comprehensive list of chord suffixes that will address every user’s needs.

For long time Finale users, this is essentially a non-issue. If you have been using Finale for a number of years, you’ll likely already have built up your own libraries of chord suffixes and expressions, and so these bulked up libraries may not add anything new to the work you have already done putting your own libraries together.

THE NEED FOR SPEED

According to the release notes, Finale v26 is faster than its 64 bit predecessor, and in my limited testing so far, editing does seem a bit faster (unscientifically speaking). That said, I haven’t yet worked in any really large scores in Finale v26, mostly because of all of the problems with round trip between 26 and earlier versions outlined above, which, at least in the near term, will limit the types of jobs I am personally able to do in this version.

Philip Rothman over at Scoring Notes has posted a review with some benchmark speed tests for Finale 26 vs. Finale 25 which is very encouraging in terms of the increase in speed for various operations in Finale 26 over its predecessor. The review also provides some more detail about a number of things not covered in this review.  I encourage you to check out the Scoring Notes review here.

PRODUCTIVITY IS …

On a personal note, I don’t believe it is possible or practical for a boutique software company like MakeMusic to continuously write the required lines of new code to compete with every new “gee whiz” feature that the latest competing notation software introduces. But they shouldn’t have to.

Finale™ is *already* flexible and powerful – in a number of ways, still the most flexible of the current music notation software triumvirate. So when MakeMusic started teasing “productivity”, my first thoughts were along the lines of “Maybe Auto-Save now works invisibly in the background” and “Oh good – they must have fixed the (Mac) bug where Custom Page Setup Sizes like Concert 9×12 can no longer be saved with my score file” and “I hope they fixed that nasty bug where nested dialog boxes become inaccessible behind other dialog boxes” (both of those bugs were introduced in Finale 25).

Those particular things didn’t make the cut in Finale 26, so these are issues which will can hopefully be addressed later, or perhaps sooner in a point release. User excitement about new software features ideally should not be tempered by what does not appear as “Fixed” in the release notes, or by incomplete implementation in the initial offering. But this is a marathon, not a sprint, and Finale has been running longer than any of ’em. Hope springs eternal.

…THE BOTTOM LINE

In the meantime, there is a positive takeaway for both professional and novice users with this update, particularly in the area of articulations.

If you already work professionally in Finale, you’ll probably need this update as much as I do. Look at it this way; in terms of bugs, you’ll get some of the same familiar ones you had in v25, but you are no worse off.  (there is a list of issues which were addressed included in the Finale 26 release notes).

And, in spite of not being able to share files concurrently with Finale v25 and v2014 users, and the incomplete feature set for the articulation enhancements outlined above, if you do have the luxury of working exclusively in Finale 26 on your projects, you’ll be able to take advantage of better response times for certain editing operations, and the new articulation collision avoidance / stacking features are a pleasure to work with.

If you are just now looking into Finale for the first time, and you want to compose or arrange or orchestrate or create educational worksheets for students, don’t let my highly detailed technical review above scare you – the greatly expanded Chord and Expression libraries are a great addition, and the automatic stacking of Articulations in Finale 26 is pretty freaking awesome – download the demo: I’ll bet you will love it.

~robert


RELATED

Scoring Notes Review of Finale 26

Now Available: Finale Version 26 – Finale official press release

8 Replies to “Finale version 26 review”

  1. Thanks for this! Very thorough.

    While I imagine articulations showing up on the wrong side of the Rhythmic Notation staff style (a bug since 2009) hasn’t been fixed, it must be easier to correct now with the A key to switch them Above the staff now?

  2. Maestro Puff – are you using any Garritan Premium Libraries?
    I went for the parallel install (instead of overwriting 25) and had to reconnect them all, along with Finale Scripts and Plugins…
    I’m wondering what would happen to all that stuff if you just do an overwrite install?
    -signed, Curious in Yonkers.
    :)

    1. Wow. I was so focused on the round-trip incompatibility with articulations and earlier versions that I never even looked at the premium libraries or plugins. I can confirm this. My Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 is nowhere to be found, and neither are any of my JW Plugins or Finalescripts. Nasty behavior for the installer. Thanks for posting this here, Jon.

      1. It looks like they’ve made a decision to move away from the User>Library path toward the Hard Drive>Library path. I had to go dig out my Libraries, too – although the old folder for those is selectable via prefs.

        I option-copied all the stuff I could find from those folders – had to look in
        Music Files
        Plugins
        Finale Script
        Libraries
        Data
        Midi Device Annotation
        Most of the stuff was in the 25 version of those folders, at the HD level (not User).

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