Creating Aleatoric Temporal Boxed Notation in Finale

Q: I would like to use Finale to notate the contemporary avant-garde works I am composing. In a score with a number of instruments, How do I encapsulate a series within boxes or repeat bars for only one instrument, while the others keep playing and counting normally, without the repeat sign?

A: Finale is very flexible in this regard. Start by entering the notes for the series you would like boxed. They can be quarter notes, or duplets or tuplets of any value. The note values you choose will determine the initial series width within a bar of score, and the relative width within the part:

If you are using tuplets, it is common practice to hide their numbers. Select the tuplet tool. Click the first note of the tuplet, and then double-click the little selection box that appears in the center of the tuplet. When the dialog opens, change the appearance popup menu to “none”, and do this optionally for the shape setting as well, then ok the dialog:

If you have multiple boxed notations on different instruments down the score which use tuplets, use the Mass Edit tool to select all the affected staves in your selected region,  then go to Utilities > Change > Tuplets . . . where you can hide the tuplet numbers globally for the selected area in one pass.

As of this writing, there are several systems for notating boxed notation. To keep it simple, I will walk through one of the more common conventions . . .

First, let’s hide the rests that make up the remainder of the bar. Select the Speedy Entry tool, and click into the measure. Click the mouse or Arrow the cursor over each rest and type “O” or “H” to hide them (this works in Finale 2011 or later). You can also leave them visible, and after exiting Speedy Entry, use the Plugins > Note, Beam and Rest Editing > Notes and Rests (Hide) plugin to hide the rests.

Next, advance Speedy Entry to the next frame (measure), and enter “real” rests, then hide them in the same way. If you enter a rest that is for the duration of the bar, and the cursor jumps into the next empty bar, you can still type “O” or “H” and it will hide your last rest entry in the previous bar. Do this for the duration (number of bars) of the series. Or, enter real rests for the duration, then drag select the region to highlight it, and use the Notes and Rests (Hide) plugin to hide all of the rests at once. (If the series ends just before the last beat of a bar, leave a real, visible rest there for now, or put in the actual note that should appear there.) At this point, you’ll have something that looks similar to this:

If you need the series to play back, enter real notes in place of the hidden rests, select everything following what will become the visible boxed notation, then use the Plugins > Note, Beam and Rest Editing > Notes and Rests (Hide) plugin.

(As a sidebar, the plugin works like typing “O” in Speedy note rather than “H” which will also mute the hidden notes. If you want playback of hidden notes, the plugin is the fastest solution).

So far, so good. Now we need to create a box (container), as well as the contain’s extender line. The series box container is created in Finale’s Shape Designer. The extender line is created using FInale’s Smart Lines. These two tools in Finale are extremely flexible and powerful,  allowing to create virtually any shape or line you’ll ever need.

Finale Libraries provide a great way to manage objects like shapes and lines for specific tasks. With the series box and the line extender saved as individual library items, you’ll have access to one or both of these elements any time you need them. To get you started, I’ve created two Finale files that you can download here, and save out the elements into your own library. One contains a series box, and one contains three different variations of the box extender line.

Download the files to your desktop. Open them and follow the instructions in them to add the box shape and the box line extenders to your own Finale Library. (You’ll be able to modify them to your personal taste once you are familiar with the technique.)

The new smart shapes and shape expressions will be accessible at any time now from your Finale Library. Open them into your current score, remembering to assign a key shortcut to the Boxed Shape Expression so that each box you create within the score can have a unique dimension. After applying the Box and moving it into position, apply one of the smart shape box extender lines. If all goes according to plan, you should end up with a mix of aleatoric and standard notation staves in your score:

That’s it!


for Zoltan Paulinyi


9 Replies to “Creating Aleatoric Temporal Boxed Notation in Finale”

    1. Hi Matthew – when you apply a shape expression via a metatool, you are actually creating a new iteration of the shape under the hood. So, you can simply click on it, and you’ll see the move handles which will allow you to drag diagonally from one of the corners to increase or decrease the size. And, this won’t affect the other boxes you may have already applied, or subsequent box shapes you may enter.


  1. Dear Robert,
    I really appreciate the material you’ve provided; what a generous thing you’ve done. I’ve hit a snag that has had me stumped for hours. I’m unable to make glissando lines. It seems like the new custom smart lines have been substituted for the glissando lines. If I have “horizontal” checked in the dialog, the glissando lines appear, but if “horizontal” is not checked only the handles appear, with no actual wavy glissando lines in the score. I’ve tried various ways of editing the lines Smart Lines Selection dialog box, but haven’t found a solution. Many thanks for any ideas you might be able to share.
    John Rommereim

  2. Hi Robert, I am having issues with changing dimensions and Finale automatically resizing. I create a box, double click and every time I change the dimensions using the move handles, it changes it randomly. I’ve removed all auto spacing functions in Finale and I’m still having the problem. Any advice? Thanks

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