Interview by Jari Williamsson, January/February 2005Allen works in the Quality Assurence department at MakeMusic!, and before that on technical support for Finale. Here he talks about many different aspects on how to use Finale.
What's your background?
Let's see. I've been using Finale since 1994, version 3.2.1 initially entering music for my arranging and theory classes in college. I then began doing a little bit of music for the school and some of my fellow students.
How would you describe the evolution of Finale during this period of time?
I think the biggest change has been the user experience in the first five minutes. Think back to the old pre finale 98 days: when you launched Finale, you were presented with a single measure in scroll view with a treble clef. It was a sort of "OK, now what?" situation. I think things like the setup wizard and the launch window make the program a lot easier to get down to the business of creating music.
Lots of things have become easier, particularly things like simple entry, page layout (remember the old page layout dialog?), alternate notation/staff styles, key signature/time signature metatools, repeats, and very notably the selection tool.
Anyone who says "Finale is hard to use" hasn't used the program in a long time. Many things are now automatic and require little intervention from the user, yet you can still get at all these things and customize them to fit your needs.
Do you use Finale "outside work"? If so, for what?
I currently only have one engraving client at the moment, a Twin Cities composer that I've been working with for about 5 or 6 years. Projects have ranged from full orchestra and chorus down to a beginning book of piano duets.
What's your job at MakeMusic? How long have you been with the company?
I currently am a Quality Assurance Technician at MakeMusic!, working on both the notation and SmartMusic projects. Before that, I worked in Technical Support. I'll have been with the company 7 years in July.
What is the function of the Quality Assurance department? How does it relate to tech support and the development team?
Quality Assurance probably has one of the most varied jobs in the company. We do everything from test Finale and SmartMusic, to help out with design, work with Beta testers, and do research for upcoming Finale and SmartMusic releases. We are considered part of the development team, aiding the software engineers with bug reports and other information. We also create the templates, libraries, installers, and master CD's as well.
We also work with marketing to help ensure that their materials are factually correct, and help the sales reps when they have problems.
QA also acts as an information clearing house for Customer Support as well as the rest of the company. When Customer Support has an issue that they are having trouble resolving, they come to us for help.
If a user reports a bug in Finale, do you have any tips on how that should be done to be of most help to you locating and fixing the problem?
Be clear and precise, with as much detail as possible. It's a lot of extra work for both QA and Support when we get little information from the user. The quicker we can drill down on the problem, the quicker we can address it. It also helps to know what you are trying to accomplish. Sometimes that points to other details that help us solve the problem, or workarounds to help out the user in the short-term.
Based on your years at tech support, which are (in your opinion) the most common user mistakes users do in Finale? How can they be avoided?
I haven't been on the phone in a long time, so I may not be the most qualified to answer that question. I think it boils down to figuring out what the most effective way to do what you want to do, as there are often several paths to your destination.
Could you give an example (where different paths are available, but one that's more effective)?
One example that comes to mind is how I do dynamics, slurs and rit/accel marks in a score. The client I work with most does a fair amount of doubling and/or homophonic part writing. When I first started using working on his projects, I would enter all the notes, and then go back and enter markings in all the parts, and use guides to painstakingly line up my hairpins and rit.---- markings.
It quickly became apparent that I needed to find a way to speed things up.
Now, I will enter all the notes, and then in the first part enter all the expressions and Smart Shapes. Then I use Mass Edit, copying only expressions and smart shapes, down to each part in the stack that needs to have similar markings. Then there are only a very few minor vertical adjustments to make.
Probably an even more effective way to accomplish this is with SmartFind and Paint, but I'm so engrained in my work habits (I developed this method long before that feature existed) that I think in terms of my preferred method.
That's another thing that happens as you go on your journey with Finale—you begin to think in terms of your methods. My philosophy is to do as little actual entry or creation as possible. If it takes me more than about 3 or 4 steps to create something, I save it into my default file or a library. I tend to not enter my parts from top to bottom anymore. I isolate the parts that allow me to cut/paste/transpose the most with Mass Edit. Years before I worked for the company, I saw one of the sales guys at a trade show. He said "The beauty of Finale is that as soon as you have done something once, you never have to do it again."
With such a range of different types of output, would you say your working methods are different depending on the type/size of the project?
I'm not sure my process is very extraordinary, and it doesn't change much. For large scores, I build a template via the setup wizard and my customized default file. I enter my notes/expressions/articulations in scroll view using Simple Entry, then switch to page view and clean everything up.
If I'm doing a score for Chorus and Orchestra, I will put the piano reduction in the middle of the score (under the voices) and enter both the reduction and parts all together, then extract the reduction as a group. I typically perfect the score as much as possible before doing parts. I use FinaleScript and TG tools to process my parts.
For things like the piano book, I created two templates, one for each part in the duet and simply kept coming back to that template for each page.
What would you say are your main source for learning new things about Finale?
My primary source is other users. I acquired a great deal of knowledge in my tenure talking to customers on the phone, but also via the forums, the SHSU list and since most of the people I work with use Finale outside the office, they're a great source as well. I've worked with the program a long time, and I never cease to learn new techniques when I read my email or browse the forums.
In which areas do you think beginners "lose" the most time (compared to experienced users of Finale)?
I think most of the time lost is the creativity that you gain the more you use a piece of software, learning shortcuts, and getting your workflow to a point where you work the fastest. I think note entry is probably where time is lost, only because it takes a project or two to get the keystrokes under your fingers, kind of like when you learn to type. When I first learned to type, I could only type about 15 words per minute, now after typing for 15 years, I'm close to 50 wpm.
What would you say is the best approach to really master Finale?
I see 4 steps to really mastering Finale:
1. Work through the tutorials, even the ones you don't think you'll need. You never know when a technique can be reapplied in a way that we didn't think of and save you hours of work.
3. Browse finaletips.nu.
4. Occasionally take a piece of music from your collection and engrave it. Using the program in a real world situation is a great way to learn the ins and outs. Studying Finale Engraved scores is a good exercise as well.