Music notation software has evolved considerable over the last 20 years, A goal for Finale and the other big players in this space continues to be automation; eliminating, as much as possible, the need for manual edits.
For instance, as of Finale 26, when you add more than one articulation to a note, they stack intelligently; and automatically adjust to avoid collisions with slurs. But collision avoidance of articulations is just the starting point for any good layout.
What if you could just enter notes and rests, articulations, phrasing and text, define a page size and margins, and the software would automate nearly all of the little details to make the music look great on the page? Magical, right?
Perfect Layout for Finale by Elbsound Studio aims to automate more than 100 processes for aligning, balancing and collision removal – and extends from articulations, and smart shapes to hairpins, lyrics and much more.
The Mac version of Perfect Layout was released today, bringing parity with the Windows version.
At a basic level, you can run the plugin “as is” and let its algorithms work automatically. Perfect Layout is available at a number of price points, which successively allow access to increased user customization. For instance, if your work never exceeds 400 bars and 36 lines, you can purchase the “Silver 400” edition. If you need access to an unlimited number of measures and staves, the “Silver” edition is available, which has the full suite of preset options, with user control of over 120 parameters.
At the top of the pricing matrix is the “Gold” edition, designed for publishing and music copying houses which unlocks user control to 220 separate parameters; useful if you need to control every aspect of your own House Style.
In addition to the regular versions, there are also discounted student / university / theological versions of the “Silver” and “Gold” feature tiers, and there is an upgrade path to the more full featured versions at any time.
Once you have purchased Perfect Layout you will download and register your software. As of this writing there is no manual download link on the download page, so make sure your browser doesn’t use any pop-up blockers.
Installation is straightforward. The installer allows you to choose a specific folder location for the component files used by Perfect Layout, including the JW Lua plugin itself (which you may already have installed). For instance, if you are already using the JW Lua plugin, as I do with JetStream Finale Controller, it will already be installed in a folder called “JW Lua”. Using the same JW Lua folder name for Perfect Layout will allow it to use that same folder, so you can avoid duplication in Finale’s plugin menu.
At the conclusion of the install, the installer conveniently opens the URL “Quickstart: How to Use Perfect Layout” page in your browser.
The Perfect Layout website also has a number of example and Installation videos to help you get up and running. For the most part, I didn’t find these to be particularly helpful. There is no audio with any of these; just the mouse pointer opening menus and dialogs opening and closing and so forth. I would been able to follow these much more easily if there was at least a text overlay describing what was happening. Additionally, some of the example videos are zoomed out to show full pages of orchestral scores, and at the recorded resolution of the video, expanding these to Full Screen, I found the details out of focus and hard to make out.
Fortunately, there is an excellent online manual to help you get up and running quickly (available both as HTML and PDF). I found the printed documentation to help new users get up and running to be very thorough and helpful.
Perfect Layout for Finale is designed to automate many of the processes that you might do by hand. To accomplish this, it is important to set your file and preferences workspace up in the way that works best with the plug-in to facilitate this.
The first time you run the plugin, a number of informational dialogs pop up:
Have you saved your work?
A Finale 26 articulation compatibility explanation.
Have you switched off automatic music spacing?
Have you applied music spacing?
Have you created / moved cue expressions into the appropriate category?
Have you checked your measure / system reflow settings?
Do you want articulations factored into music spacing?
Remove manual page breaks in parts?
Most of these dialogs have a “Show This Message Next Time?” checkbox, which means that once you know the requirements of the plugin, you can dismiss these reminders so you no longer need to see them when running the plug-in.
On the Mac, Perfect Layout uses the Mac’s Terminal utility as a progress bar:
You may get a message like this when first running Perfect Layout:
Selecting OK should add Terminal to the Accessibility group of Security and Privacy in System Preferences.
On the Windows side, Perfect Layout uses AutoIT to display progress.
According to Jan Angermüller, who created the Perfect Layout plugin, Apple Terminal and Windows AutoIT are also used for some more complicated functionality under the hood which JW Lua itself does not allow for.
Using the Default settings, I was able to run the plugin on several Finale score files with good results.
The plugin is really deep, allowing you to tweak all manner of settings. In spite of the sheer number of parameters, I found the user editable settings to be logically organized. I was able to make a few small changes to the settings from the Defaults right away as I dug into using the plugin a bit. The interface is deep, but not daunting.
I was also pleased to discover that I could save my preferred settings as a User File, and even save more than one User File, for different types of requirements.
There are a number of useful categories the plugin addresses, with each of these containing a number of settings specific to that group.
Reset & Hide
Groups & Repeats
Layers & Cues
Slurs & Ties
For instance, the Alignment tab has settings to automatically control the placement of measure numbers, hairpins, expressions, rehearsal and tempo marks, lyrics, and even accidentals.
If you are the kind of person who just wants better layouts with very little fuss, and are willing to spend some time getting familiar with the UI, some version of this plugin is definitely worth considering, depending on your requirements. And, if you work with a publishing house or commercial copying house where you need flexibility, consistency, and control over a great number of parameters, the Gold version, once set up for various House Styles can really help with efficiency and quality control.
For more information, and to purchase Perfect Layout for Mac or Windows, visit www.elbsound.studio