If you have spent any time with MakeMusic’s Finale™ music notation application for Mac or PC, especially recently, you are no doubt well aware of what a powerful software tool it is.
Finale has an enormous wealth of features under the hood, but getting to some of these power tools quickly is not always straightforward or intuitive.
Finale has a few keyboard shortcuts hardwired to various tasks. For instance, number keys correspond to durations during note entry as they do with all scoring programs. However, as of Finale 26. Finale still does not offer user programmable keyboard shortcuts to access the majority of its menus and functionality.
So, historically, users of Finale have had to figure out their own solutions to speed up workflow. Finale itself offers some very powerful plugins, and two different scripting languages; FinaleScript and JW Lua designed to increase productivity.
But, how are you supposed to access all of these productivity tools quickly without something as basic as user customizable keyboard shortcuts?
Many Finale users like myself have integrated third party macro programs such as AutoIT on Windows or Keyboard Maestro on Mac into our workflows. These macro programs *can* respond to custom keyboard shortcuts which can then be programmed specifically for Finale to access tools or menu items, or to open dialog boxes (as a starting point).
In addition to simple menu or tool selection, these macro programs also allow users to sequence chains of commands together to automate processes which normally take multiple steps; saving a great deal of time. These macro programs respond to events such as keystrokes, midi data or OSC.
With the ability to accept control input from an external source like a keyboard, a logical companion to controlling Finale via third party macros are programmable keypads and control surfaces. A single keystroke can contain a keystroke with several modifiers, allowing for a large variety of triggers under one hand.
There have been a number of hardware computer interface solutions over the years. Introduced in the early 1990’s, XKEYS remains one of the more popular programmable USB hardware keypads. These keypads and keyboards come in configurations of just a few keys up to 128 keys.
The XKEY system uses a system of custom printed legends and key icons, which are printed paper squares that sit under each key. And, of course, you can print your own key icons for Finale, too. There is software for both Mac and PC to program the function of each key.
As video games became more competitive and deep, a number of manufactures began offering programmable multi-button mice, which coincidentally, can also be used effectively to speed up workflow in Finale or in a DAW.
These gaming mice have evolved with game development. Companies like Razer, Corsair and others now offer a wide selection of extremely responsive wired and wireless programmable multi-button mice which can potentially increase productivity in any software program.
While the iPhone had been around since2007, it wasn’t until the first generation iPad was released in April of 2010 that the possibility of touchscreen external control of DAWs and other types of music software like Finale began to be realized.
Apps like Custom Keypad allowed you to create custom keyboards to control software on your computer over the network from your iPad or iPhone.
App developers like Touch OSC and Liine / Lemur took this concept further, introducing apps which could not only send keyboard shortcuts like their hardware and software counterparts, but could also send MIDI data and OSC data over the network, for variable control of audio parameters like volume sliders and pan knobs.
While there were a few exceptions for controlling music notation software, the majority of good solutions were being cooked up by composers, orchestrators and commercial music copying houses for in-house use, so unless you worked with someone using their iPad to control Finale or their DAW, you might not even have been aware that these solutions existed.
Somewhere around 2013, I remember being on a recording session with colleague and composer and orchestrator Tim Davies. Tim showed me an ingenious productivity solution he had come up with for Finale which used the Touch OSC App on the iPad, which then triggered macros created in Keyboard Maestro or FinaleScript to perform various tasks very quickly in Finale. The main screen looks like this:
While there are no icons in the interface, note the color coding of the various task types. Another thing that is great about this setup is the number of functions available on a single iPad screen. You can really get an overview of related tasks.
And, you can see from the “Main Work”, “Hairpins” and “MIDI Keyboard”buttons across the top that this interface is capable of grouping together additional pages of logically related functions; totaling far more than even the largest XKEY configuration.
As a Mac user, I had been integrating tons of Quickeys and later Keyboard Maestro macros into my Finale workflow over the years, but Tim’s Touch OSC UI offered the most flexible control solution for Finale I had seen to that point.
Particularly as additional iOS apps began to be available, composers, orchestrators and music prep houses, including my own, began creating their own custom solutions designed to access Finale through third party macro programs. This example uses the Lemur iPad app:
To this point, however, none of these apps offered music (and specifically, Finale) related icons which would help users recognize various music notation or plugin functions a glance. Eventually, some iOS Apps such as MetaGrid offered more of a focus on music production, with recognizable icons for popular DAWs such as Cubase, Logic Pro X, Reaper, Digital Performer and Ableton Live.
But because music notation is so specialized, only a small percentage of these music production specific icons of MetaGrid are relevant to Finale. What really was needed was a controller interface with customizable icons specific to music notation (or anything else) that could send key commands to the user’s Macro program, or, even better, bypass these macro programs altogether.
Coming next: JetStream Finale Controller