Collision Avoidance in Finale, Part 1 : The Little Things

Q: What method(s) do you use to avoid collisions in “busy” scores in Finale, i.e: a tutti section with dynamics, hairpins, accents, chord symbols, etc… I have messed with the Avoid Collisions plugin but that doesn’t seem to do the trick for me.

A: For me, regardless of the notation program you are working in, there are a couple of basic “small things” that make a piece of music look “clean”. The first is a consistent amount of white space between any two objects that are close together on the page. The amount of minimum white space between any two objects is usually a matter of personal taste; a “house style” decision.

The second is that wherever possible, the vertical alignment of similar grouped objects such as dynamics, chord symbols or lyrics should remain consistent. Horizontal alignment should also be consistent. For instance, if you decide that techniques like “arco” and “pizz.” should be right aligned with noteheads horizontally or centered over notes, then you should locate these markings consistently in that position as much as is possible.

See also “Collision Avoidance of Articulations” from 1/22/12


As you input text using the Chord Tool, Lyric Tool or Expression Tool, you will see four triangles at the left edge of the page on the current system. These triangles represent the common “baseline”, or default distance from the staff for that text type, and they are adjustable.

When working with Expressions specifically, you can adjust the text Baselines either above or below the Staff.  This control is found in Expression Menu > Adjust:

Two different adjustments are possible because Expressions in Finale can be a variety of text types appearing above or below the staff – dynamics, expressions, techniques, tempo marks, rehearsal marks etc… In contrast, the Chord Tool doesn’t offer this above / below adjustment, because Chord Symbol text always goes over the staff, so an adjustment to the Chord Baseline affects only the distance above the staff.

Under normal circumstances, your baselines in a Score appear at the same locations in the Parts. If for some reason you need separate control of the baseline in your parts, from the Score, right click on the leftmost arrow of the Baseline, and choose “Unlink In All Parts”

From within an individual part, you can link the baselines back to the score in the same way:


Dynamics are a good type of text to discuss.  Not only should they be grouped along a common baseline wherever possible for the musician, there is an additional consideration of music notes with ledger lines below the staff, which in some cases may be lower than the baseline. We also need to avoid collisions with hairpins and other objects.

Finale has a collision avoidance feature for text called “Additional Entry Offset” which allows you to specify a minimum distance that text should always be from the notes (and associated articulations), even if they go above or below the staff.  If you take a few minutes to set this up properly, it can prevent Dynamics from colliding with notes, even those notes below the staff.

Baselines control the exact distance that grouped text appears from the staff; Additional Entry Offset controls the minimum distance from specific notes, and overrides the baseline setting for that one event. 

Using the Category Designer, we can set this up for each Dynamic mark globally. Note: If you have updated an old Finale file to the current version of Finale, you may need to first move your Dynamics into the Dynamics Category so that the following settings will apply. More information on how to do this is here.

Locate Document > Category Designer and open the dialog. Select “Dynamics”, which should be the first item in the list at the left side:

 In the lower right quadrant of the dialog, set the Vertical Alignment: to “Below Staff Baseline or Entry”. Now type “-2s” in the “Additional Entry Offset” field.

Finale has a cool, but little known feature that allows you to specify spaces, points, or inches in any numerical entry field simply by typing the first letter of the unit of measurement after the number.  (e.g. Type “i” for inches.) Finale does the conversion for you on the fly. In this case, typing “-2s” gives you minus two spaces. Try it!

When the music is in the staff, the dynamic sits at the Expression Staff Baseline:

When the music appears below the staff, the addition distance you specified in “Additional Entry Offset” insures that there is always some white space between the notehead and the dynamic marking:

“Additional Entry Offset” can also be applied to text *above* the staff for the same type of collision avoidance, for example, with Technique text. Use positive offset numbers above the staff. Small offsets can make a big, consistent difference.


Sometimes, you’ll want a particular bit of text to be located differently than all others. In the Expression Selection Dialog, select the Expression you want to change and click the Edit button, then the Positioning tab. You’ll see the name of the current Text Category (e.g. “Use Dynamics Category Positioning”):

If you uncheck the box, you will be able to change the positioning here in the same way you did in Category Designer, but it can now be adjusted independently of the Category.

More information on Finale’s Expression Designer can be found here.


It’s not uncommon to enter dynamics which look perfectly aligned with one another and then add a hairpin, which seems to sit in a different vertical plane:

Don’t worry, there is an easy fix, and typically, you can apply it to large sections of your score at once.

Locate Plugins > TG Tools > Align / Move Dynamics … This plugin ships with Finale 2011.

Select the bar or region where the dynamics text and hairpins aren’t lining up, then select the plugin from the menu. When the dialog opens, you’ll see there are some options. Try Align To Average Distance first – this seems to work really well for most cases:

You should find that the dynamics text and hairpins look cleanly aligned. The region remains selected:

One way to get your dynamics looking good very quickly is to apply the plugin to the entire score (or to all the woodwinds etc), then go back and adjust a few areas bar by bar.

(For instance, if you have a very low section in the tuba staff with lots of ledger lines, you can add an additional offset in the Move Vertically text field to drop everything by a small amount for a few bars or throughout the entire score.)

Note: the Align Move plugin overrides the Additional Entry Offset settings.

See also Collision Avoidance Part 2 and Part 3.

Stay tuned…

3 Replies to “Collision Avoidance in Finale, Part 1 : The Little Things”

  1. This is a great tutorial Robert, thank you!
    It is too bad that Finale doesn’t allow a way to modify default positions of hairpins, slurs, trills, etc… or does it?

    1. Thanks, Alexis!

      You are correct that there is no built in mechanism for a default smart shape placement of *Staff* Attached Smart Shapes like hairpins or trills. (And once entered, even Finale’s “Grid / Guide” feature, which allows specific types of objects to snap to a horizontal or vertical point doesn’t have an option for Smart Shapes.)

      This is the reason for the Align / Move Dynamics plugin, which not only aligns dynamics text and lines on the same vertical plane, but when using the “average” radio button, will generally insure that you don’t wind up with hairpin collisions. The full version of TG Tools can also align smart shapes and text *above* the staff, such as trills, which can be very useful.

      Note that Finale *does* offer both placement control *and* collision avoidance for *note* attached smart shapes such as slurs, glissandi, tab slides, and guitar bends. See Smart Shape > Smart Shape Placement and also Smart Shape > Smart Slur Options.


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