On June 15, 2021, MakeMusic released Finale 27, the first major release since version 26 was released in October 2018. The major features being touted are:
- Interactive music sharing functionality using the SmartMusic platform.
- Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL) support, including new SMuFL-compatible versions of Finale’s default music fonts.
- An Improved instrument list, including new instruments as well as better automatic configuration of sounds for playback.
- MusicXML 4.0 support, including the ability to export/import linked parts.
Here are my first impressions of Finale 27 and these new features.
Interactive music sharing
Finale 27 gives you the ability to share your work with others using the SmartMusic platform, which offers some benefits beyond simply printing or sharing PDFs of your music.
Up in the file menu there is now an item called Share. Selecting this will prompt you for a SmartMusic username and password (you can create an account for free).
Once you have signed in, you are given an option to either simply upload to your own account, or to add email addresses. Recipients get an email with a link to create a SmartMusic account and to open up the shared content. I tested this out with my work email, and when I went into my SmartMusic account my test file did indeed show up as expected.
Here is how the file looked in Finale:
And here it is in SmartMusic:
SmartMusic will play the file back, as well as give the user the ability to record themselves. It will also give visual feedback about the accuracy of the performance, with an adjustable level of strictness about pitch and timing.
These are not new tools to SmartMusic; what is new is the absolute ease with which you can add and change content with students or fellow performers. For example, astute observers may note that in the second screenshot above I added a few exclamation points at the end of the lyrics. Once I did that and saved the file in Finale, I selected Share again, and was shown exactly who I was sharing with, and given the option of updating the music directly:
I confess that I have looked at SmartMusic several times in the past as a choir director, and have always given up on it for various reasons… But the ease with which I could share music with my choristers in a format that can help them learn pieces may just make a believer out of me!
Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL) Support
Of all of Finale 27’s new features, this is the one I have been the most excited about… And maybe also the most worried about.
Standards are good. Can you imagine what the music industry if the MIDI standard had not been developed? I’m not sure if SMuFL is quite up there with MIDI… But it’s pretty great. If you’re not already familiar with SMuFL, you can read more about it here, but the short version is that it is a standardized layout of almost 2,600 separate musical glyphs, each with a unique name. Compare that with the old Maestro font, which has just over 200 unique symbols. The standard layout is important, as well. Even within Finale’s traditional fonts there has not been a 1:1 mapping of all the symbols. For example, the combined accent-tenuto mark was in glyphs 137 and 138 in Maestro, but 240 and 251 in the Engraver Font Set:
Finale 27 ships with SMuFL compatible versions of Maestro, Engraver, Petrucci, Jazz, Broadway, and Ash (a popular “handwritten” font that used to be sold by ExpressMusic but has been unavailable for a number of years), which are distinguishable from their legacy counterparts by prepending ‘Finale’: ‘Maestro’ becomes ‘Finale Maestro’, and ‘Jazz’ becomes ‘Finale Jazz’, etc. Note that the SMuFL version of Petrucci, however, is called ‘Finale Legacy’.
SMuFL compatibility in Finale 27 is a welcome addition not only because it standardizes the layout and adds numerous new glyphs to use in your music, but because it makes it easier than ever to experiment with using different fonts. For example, it’s super-easy to switch to the freely available Bravura font from Steinberg, or MuseScore’s Leland.
To help navigate this brave new world of fonts, the symbol selection dialog from places like the Articulation Tool or Notehead Selection now has a sidebar where you can quickly navigate by glyph category. The name of each symbol is also displayed (highlighted in green below):
Note also that you can search for appropriate symbols by name. Here I am looking for a particular symbol used by Carlos Salzedo, and I have narrowed down my choices by typing ‘Salzedo’ into the search field:
Another advantage of SMuFL support is that part of the spec requires that each glyph is described in a JSON file, which includes things like where stems are supposed to be attached for noteheads. In previous versions, if you use a different notehead that isn’t specifically addressed in the Stem Connections setting under Document Options, you could wind up with the stem intersecting the glyph in the wrong place, such as with these noteheads from the Engraver Font Set:
Here are the Finale Maestro equivalents in Finale 27:
There is one other positive that I’d like to point out about the new Finale fonts, which is mentioned in the installation notes but not in any of the current advertising: All of the new fonts shipped with Finale are released under the SIL Open Font License (OFL). The OFL basically says that you can freely use, modify, and even distribute the font any way you want, provided that any derivative fonts are also released under the OFL. Why is this cool? Because it opens the gateway to some really great new products, such as Dan Kreider’s Bravura-derived MusGlyphs font, distributed by our friends at Scoring Notes. Feel like following Dan’s lead and creating a Jazz font version of MusGlyphs? Go for it, with MakeMusic’s blessing!
The “Could Be Better”
There is an aspect of SMuFL, though, which Finale 27 currently doesn’t deal with, which is all the other metadata that SMuFL can encode.
That same JSON file that tells the program where to draw the stem in relation to the noteheads also contains information about what weight line to draw for staff lines and stems, or what text font to use that would complement the overall style. Finale 27 doesn’t currently change those parameters the way a fully SMuFL-compatible program like Steinberg’s Dorico does. I am hopeful that this is one of the things MakeMusic is referring to when it says that future versions will have “improved support for third-party SMuFL fonts”.
It is also important to note that SMuFL and non-SMuFL music fonts are not currently interchangeable. For example, trying to switch from Finale Maestro to just plain old Maestro, or vice versa, yields the following error message:
Files that were created on older versions of Finale will open up using the non-SMuFL font, and if you want to update you will have to use MusicXML as an intermediary step. This is also true of any templates or document styles you have created. For that matter, MusicXML may be a necessary step if you need to go from Finale 27 using a SMuFL font to a previous version of Finale.
MakeMusic does state that the ability to directly convert legacy fonts to SMuFL fonts will be added in future updates.
One aspect of this tectonic shift in font layout is that any third-party plug-ins or scripts call up specific glyphs in the old fonts, but these won’t map to the new ones.
This includes many of the JW Lua scripts that were developed for the JetStream Finale Controller by CJ Garcia, Nick Mazuk, and myself. For example, this is what I got when I ran some of the dynamics scripts in 27 using the new Finale Maestro font:
We’ll get that sorted out, but it will take time.
Unfortunately this also affects some of the aspects of Jari WIlliamsson’s incredibly powerful JW Change plug-in. Here is what happened when I tried to change some notes to X noteheads:
Those of us who follow these things are aware that Jari has been somewhat absent of late… I really hope that he will find the time and energy to revamp JW Change and any other affected plug-ins, but I don’t know how realistic those hopes are.
Jari, if you read this, we love you!
This should only affect Windows users, but I noticed in taking these screenshots that the new SMuFL version of Maestro renders with ugly jagged edges, especially compared with the old version.
And here’s Finale Maestro (you may need to view the full size version):
It bothered me enough that I looked up ways of dealing with poorly rendered text in Windows, and came across two freeware programs that replace Windows’ ClearType font rendering engine with the same Free-Type engine used by MacOS and Linux: GDIPP and MacType. I installed the latter, and now the new font looks great now.
Improved Instrument List
I’m not sure exactly what instruments have been updated, so this is a little difficult for me to evaluate… But I will say that Finale 27 has failed to address the one problematic instrument I know of, the bass oboe.
I teach a class in Finale, and the midterm project is to enter the first 20 bars or so of “Mars: The Bringer of War” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets.
Every year I have to explain that Finale doesn’t understand that the bass oboe is a wind instrument, and it will have to be moved into the wind family manually. So one of the first things I did after opening up Finale 27 was to see if that was fixed. It was not.
I’ll dig more into these improvements, and I’m sure they’re going to be welcomed by anyone who has had specific problems with those instruments… But for now, my bass oboe pet peeve stands!
If anyone from MakeMusic reads this: I would also like to see some definitions for older instruments like the trumpet in E in Schubert’s “Unfinished” symphony. Or even better, give us the ability to create our own instrument presets to call up in later projects. Thanks :)
MusicXML 4.0 was also released this month. Though it is an open standard, it is still owned by MakeMusic, so it is perhaps not surprising that Finale 27 is the first piece of software to support some of its new features.
That also makes it somewhat difficult to test, but I did export a large orchestral piece with linked parts and then import it back into Finale, and was quite pleased with the results. Some things were lost, including the positioning of the measure numbers (underneath the staff rather than over it), but much of it was kept intact with impressive fidelity, including all the casting off tweaks I had painstakingly done.
Finale’s MusicXML support will grow more powerful as other developers move to implement the new features as well.
Despite my personal misgivings over reworking a significant amount of code in JW Lua to accommodate the new SMuFL fonts, SMuFL support marks a significant step into the future of music notation for Finale. MusicXML 4.0 is another important piece of that future, and I am excited to see other products adapt it as well.
Prior to playing with it, I was pretty lukewarm on the ‘music sharing’ features, but now that I’ve seen how it works I have to say I am considerably more enthusiastic about those tools. I see tremendous potential there, especially for music educators.
Ultimately, I feel a bit like Finale 27 is a work in progress. I look forward to even deeper support for SMuFL, including support for changing supporting fonts and line weights, and I look forward for the ability to convert back (and hopefully forth!) from the SMuFL fonts for more robust backwards compatibility.
I also look forward to a bass oboe that knows it’s a woodwind :)
Jacob Winkler is the Artistic Director of the Seattle Girls Choir, and an instructor in Finale, Sibelius, and Dorico for the Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program. In The Before Times, he was frequently engaged as a choral singer for film and game soundtracks, including the Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and World of Warcraft series. LinkedIn