Finale’s Clef Designer


Finale supports as many as 18 different clefs within a single score, and as we’ll see, allows you to modify existing clefs and even create your own.

This is the continuation of a previous post: Octave Displaced Staves in Concert Scores with Transposed Parts in Finale. As you will see, Finale’s Clef Designer feature is very flexible and powerful.


Finale displays music notation intelligently relative to each clef’s definition. If you change a clef, Finale will correctly re-notate  the music and also keep track of the playback pitches. Any new clefs you create appear in the standard palette of eighteen clefs (replacing existing clefs).

Finale 2014 and earlier offer “octave clefs” which allow instruments like Piccolo or Contrabass to play back at the correct octave in concert pitch scores. (These look like treble or bass clefs with a small 8 above or below them.) However, modern common practice for concert pitch scores is to use standard bass and treble clefs for octave-displaced instruments.

The good news is, it’s easy to swap out the old-style octave clefs for the regular bass and treble clefs in Finale while retaining the correct octave-offset playback for specific instruments. Let’s take a look.

Located in Document Options… > Clefs, you will see a “Clef Designer…” button near the bottom right corner of the pane. Clicking this button opens Finale’s Clef Designer.

At the top of the dialog, you will see the 18 currently defined clefs. Clicking on any one of the clef shapes will show its current settings in the pane below:


Contrabass is an instrument which sounds one octave lower than written. The old-style octave clef in the screen shot above is designed to play back correctly in concert pitch scores; it’s quite simple to swap out the octave clef for the regular bass clef.

Select clef (7) so that your Finale dialog looks like the screen shot above. You’ll see the numerical data update in the various dialog settings. Before we change anything, let’s take a closer look.


Use Default Clef Font Checkbox – normally, the font for all the clefs in one score will be in the same font family, which is most often your Default Music Font (e.g. Maestro, Broadway Copyist or whatever). For now, leave the Default Clef Font option checked, so that this clef will match the rest of your music.

Should you need to change the font for an individual clef, click the Set Font… button and choose a new font from the list.

Character – the (font) Character radio button should be highlighted by default. You can either type the specific font character for a particular clef into the entry field, or use the select button to choose the appropriate clef character from Symbol Selection list. For the 8vb bass clef, you should see a small letter “t” in the entry field.

The character for the regular bass clef is the “?” (question mark, in Maestro or Broadway Copyist font). Type a question mark character into the character entry field, then click into any other field in the dialog, and the visible clef (7) will update to the regular bass clef. (You can also select it from the dialog by clicking the Select… button).

The clef now looks differently, but notes still look and play back as if they were using the bass clef sounding 8vb. Note that none of the other settings have changed. All you’ve done is change the “look” of the clef which sounds 8vb to a regular bass clef.

Piccolo, Celesta and Xylophone all sound 8va higher than written, and you can use the same technique. Select clef (E) which is the treble clef with the small 8 above it, then change the capital V in the Character field to an Ampersand (“&”) which Finale’s regular treble clef.


Middle C Position (from Top Staff Line). In spite of the confusing nomenclature, this is actually as much related to playback (e.g. octave displacement or transposition) as anything else, as it is essentially defining an “offset” for middle C. The value in this text box specifies the middle-C line for this clef. In Finale, this value is showing the number of lines and spaces away from the top staff line middle C is located.

For instance, for the regular bass clef, middle C is one space + one ledger line above the top staff line. Here, Middle C Position has a value of 2 (one line + one space above the top line of the staff). If you look at Clef (7) which is the bass clef with the small 8 below it (sounding 8vb), you will see that the value for the Middle C position (e.g. the middle C “offset” from the top staff line) is 9 rather than 2. This allows us to write middle C up an octave from where it sounds, e.g. it *sounds* one octave below where written.

Note that when you move the position of middle C, the key signature elements (e.g. the vertical placement of the sharps or flats) will also move. Again, the primary purpose of this clef substitution (at least initially) is proper display of octave-displaced instruments in *Concert Pitch* scores, so this isn’t typically issue for this use case.


Clef Position (from Top Staff Line). This value, measured in lines and spaces from the top line of the staff, determines where the clef sits on the staff. This setting is purely visual, but is central to the musical meaning (e.g. the note names of the lines and spaces interpreted by the musicians).

The two dots of the bass clef frame the 2nd from the top staff line, representing “F below middle C”. Here, the value in “Clef Position from Top Staff Line” is -2, which is one space + one line (e.g. minus two steps) below the top staff line (which corresponds to F in the bass clef).

This works in a similar way for Treble clef; the “curl” of the clef is centered on the G line of the staff, which is 3 spaces + 3 lines down from the top staff line, so the Clef Position for the treble clef is -6.


Musical Baseline Offset. Clef *changes* within a piece are frequently displayed at a slightly smaller size than the initial clef. The value in this text box allows you to set a new vertical position when it occurs as a clef change (and at a reduced size). The value you here is in whatever measurement units you are currently using in Finale (e.g. inches, spaces etc).

You’ll note that all of the default clefs have this value set to zero, so you shouldn’t have to change this under normal circumstances.


Shape: Select / Edit. This option allows you to use *any shape* as a clef, rather than a font character. You may have noticed the two TAB clefs in the dialog. These are actually not font characters, but shapes, created in the Shape Designer.

You can click Select… to choose one of the existing shapes in your score. Note that you aren’t limited to the TAB clefs here. Finale allows you to create and use virtually *any* graphic for a clef, should you decide to get creative for a worksheet or something:


Too far? OK, Let’s get back to regular octave displaced clefs for a moment…


For information on creating a modern 2 octave clef for Glockenspiel that supports key signatures, please see this post: Finale Concert Scores @ Written Pitch : Using Nonstandard Key Signatures.

Glockenspiel is an instrument which sounds *two* octaves higher than where it is written. The convention in modern concert pitch scores is to show Glockenspiel or Orchestra Bells at written pitch.

However, as you may have noticed, there is no pre-defined 15ma treble clef that we could swap out in Finale’s Clef Designer. But it’s easy to create this two octave offset ourselves.

If you are still in the Clef Designer dialog, select a clef you aren’t likely to use for anything else – For instance, the Baritone C-Clef might be a good choice. (That’s the first C clef on the second row).

First, edit the clef so that it appears as a regular treble clef – using the Default Clef Font, type an Ampersand, then change the Clef Position (from Top Staff Line) to a value of -6 steps. Finally, to define the staff so that the music will display 15mb (two octaves down) from where it sounds, type a value of -24 into the Middle C Position (from Top Staff Line).


Sidebar: The diatonic numeric intervals (with alterations) values specified in the Staff Transposition dialog for these octave displaced instruments will be different than the Middle C Position (from Top Staff Line) values entered in the Clef Designer Dialog. For instance, the Glockenspiel *transposition interval* in the Staff Transpositions Dialog is -14, not -24 as shown above.

My colleague Peter Thomsen explains it like this: “In the screen shot the value -24 does not mean 24 chromatic steps below, but rather 24 diatonic steps below: The standard Treble Clef has the Middle C at 10 diatonic steps below the Top Staff-line (= value -10). The “Glockenspiel clef” has the Middle C two octaves lower. Subtract 14 (= 2 * 7) from -10, and you get the value -24″.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Finale’s Library feature here. Creating a set of octave displaced clefs is somewhat time consuming, so it’s nice to be able to Save the Library of Clefs you’ve defined for instant recall in a later score:


Seeing as you were kind enough to read through this involved multi-part tutorial, I’ve already done this for you. Download the linked Finale file, and export the Clefs to your own library for later use.


That’s it! Hopefully, you’ve found this tutorial useful. Be sure to check out the other related articles linked here for more information.



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