Interview by Jari Williamsson, January 2005Tyler is a Finale power user. He has previously worked at the Finale technical support and QA departments. He now works as a music teacher where he also teaches Finale. Here he shares lots of his tips on how to use Finale efficiently.
What's your background?
I went to school in Texas, first playing trumpet with the school band and then eventually switching focus to euphonium. I studied music composition, performance and psychology for two years at Texas Tech University. I then took some time off to work as an assistant band teacher for a couple of years at my old high school, and finally got tired of the heat and moved up to Alaska where I continued studying music at the University of Alaska Anchorage. After three years in Alaska I took a job working in technical support for MakeMusic. I worked in that department for 2 years and then moved into SmartMusic QA for my third year. I am now back in Alaska where I teach elementary band/orchestra/piano/guitar and help out in the computer music labs at the university.
When did you start to use Finale?
I started with Finale 2.0 in '91 or '92.
Compared to back then, how would you personally describe the evolution of Finale?
When I first started with Finale 2.0, it took me several months to really get comfortable with it so that I didn't have to frequently look things up.
Working in tech support for Finale 2001 - 2003 and talking to people who were just getting started for the first time with Finale, it really stood out to me how much more quickly people were learning the program. Finale is really a different program than it was when I started. When I go back and try to work on one of those early versions, I find that I'm incredibly lost. In sharing phone call stories with other tech support employees, mentioning that the call dealt with Finale 98 or earlier is sure to get a sympathetic response. Finale is a whole lot easier and faster to use than it use to be.
From you point of view, what are the main reasons for this progress in user friendliness? Feedback from users? Better approaches to user interface development? Competition from other software? Or something else?
While it may seem that competition has been a catalyst, I really think the biggest reason is that the people at MakeMusic have simply had time over the years to make Finale closer to what they’ve always thought it should be. While each version of Finale is an improvement over the previous version, the designers have never felt that the program was anywhere close to complete. They have thousands of ideas for how they would like the program to work some day. And gradually they're moving towards it. Nearly everyone involved with the development of Finale is a musician, so they have a lot of ideas for how to make the program an even better tool for musicians. They are very proud of Finale and want their feelings about Finale to be shared by other musicians around the world.
How do you use Finale today?
I primarily use Finale to create SmartMusic accompaniments for my students. I also take the odd arranging job now and then. I teach Finale/SmartMusic seminars at the university from time to time as well.
How do you create these SmartMusic accompaniments? Do you tend to use plug-ins such as Band-in-a-Box?
I usually keep it much simpler than that. I enter in the lines that each instrument has to play into a score, extract parts and then generate a separate assessment smp file for each instrument. I then send the smp's to the students via e-mail, and they practice, trying to get as close to a perfect score as possible. The actual background accompaniment isn't nearly as valuable as just having a computer listening to them play at home, forcing them to play the correct rhythms and pitches. It makes their practice sessions a lot more productive, and it lets me move faster during class time.
Which additional tools do you use when you work in Finale?
I use plug-ins from the TG Tools and Forza collection from time to time. Since most of my work isn't aimed at creating professional looking scores, the plug-ins I use most are those aimed at creating faster access to program elements. The Keyboard Remapper and the Quick Navigator are the ones I use most frequently.
I know you've educated lots of users in Finale. For a beginner, what would you think is the best approach to really master Finale?
Work in technical support for Finale. :-) Being forced to work with areas of Finale I otherwise would not have, I honestly learned more in 1 month than I had in 10 years.
Seriously though, when people first start using Finale, they like to rely on the general knowledge they've accumulated from using other Windows and Macintosh programs. And Finale has become standard enough for this approach to generally work. But music notation is different enough in nature from something like a word processor so that the absolute best techniques for getting things done are not going to always be the same between the two. Reading through the tutorial book - including the chapters that don't directly apply to one's own work - teaches us how Finale thinks. Finale is in many ways remarkably consistent, especially when it comes to the things that really make it fast. Going through the tutorial book gets people accustomed to looking for the metatool solutions and other powerful methods. It will take a couple of days to get through the tutorial, but that time will quickly be regained, perhaps in just one or two days.
When a person picks up the program for the first time, I recommend going through the EntryExercise.mus file found in the Tutorials folder. When I teach Finale seminars, I use this and the response is very positive. Typically people come out with their entry rate greatly increased. It also trains people to use the extremely handy Escape key.
I also happen to know that you're a great fan of Simple Entry. To users who think that this tool still is "just random mouse-clicking", what's your response?
When we redesigned Simple Entry to use the computer and MIDI keyboards, I personally spent a lot of time looking at all of the note entry methods in other programs, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses. Finale's Simple Entry is a combination of many of the best elements from these other programs and Finale's existing features. This entry system is the most advanced and in most cases fastest step-time entry system available. But the thing that makes it the most fun is that it's very Finale-ish. At first you can use it with very little knowledge or thought. But as you start to explore the ability for all objects, be they notes, articulations, tuplets etc., to be either "sticky" or affect the last entered note, you start to think of ways to do things with even fewer keystrokes. This concept is what really separates Finale's Simple Entry from other entry systems which may seem similar. It's simple and yet there's a lot of depth. Revelations that come in discovering new, better ways to do things with Finale have always been a great part of the fun of using Finale.
How do you work around Simple Entry's current inability to insert notes (into existing measures with music) using the keyboard?
I actually don't come across situations very often where I need to insert notes. I more often need to insert measures. When I do need to insert notes, I just use the mouse (enlarging the music if necessary). Any time I lose correcting mistakes via insertion is more than made up by the fact that I no longer have to back-up to correct pitch or rhythm mistakes. I make those types of errors much more frequently, and Simple Entry is much better than Speedy for correcting them.
Based on your experience at Finale tech support, which do you think were the most common "user mistakes"?
There were several that I saw commonly, although recent versions of Finale have helped with some of these problems.
1. Adjusting systems by dragging the system margin handles. When trying to get the system spacing the way they want, people often drag these handles rather than the systems themselves. Then when they try to drag the systems, the margins often prevent proper positioning.
The Systems per Page addition to Finale 2003 was a huge help.
2. Copying via ctrl+c/ctrl+v (Edit menu commands) instead of ctrl+shift+click or drag method.
3. Misunderstanding the purpose of the lyric-positioning triangles. Trying to use them in place of switching to a new verse.
4. In Update Layout Options, setting it to remove system locks (many people felt uncomfortable seeing the locks on the screen and tried to solve it this way).
5. Moving measures from one system to another. Many people don't know about Fit Music or highlighting a measure and pressing up or down.
6. Optimizing too early. It should usually be saved for the end. Page layout in general is a stumbling block for many users.
7. Using 4 layers for two staves of SATB instead of just layers 1 and 2.
What about the "life after Simple Entry and metatools" - the layout and tweaking process after all material has been added to the document. Do you have any tips for working speed in this area?
A solid work order is I think the best help. If I start by locking my measures on the systems, then set the systems per page, space the music, adjust slurs, beams, expressions etc, and finally adjust the size of the music and distance between staves, I'm going to find that the last action has made the first steps useless. If I instead resize the music first, space the music, move/lock the measures, set the staff spacing, adjust the systems per page and then tweak slurs/expressions etc, I'm usually in much better shape.
People who have used Finale for years often skip over the Selection tool. Hitting Escape has become habitual for me, and I use it extensively when cleaning things up, editing text, deleting, etc.
There are tons of ways to speed things up via plug-ins, the creation of templates, libraries, scripts, shortcuts, macros, etc. When I find that I am doing the same thing with multiple files or many times with the same file, it's usually time to look for a way to make Finale, a plug-in, or a macro program do the work for me. For people who do a lot of part extraction, I strongly recommend asking for opinions on the forum or Finale mailing list. There are many ways to speed up this process.
In what direction(s) would you personally want Finale to move in the future?
I favor developments in the automation of commonly performed tasks. I still think there are large improvements which could cut work time by 50% or more for 90% of the userbase, and I'd prefer these instead of fixing individual bugs or addressing technical features which affect 5% of the userbase each and wouldn't save nearly the same amount of time even for them. Ultimately everything can be measured in time since there's at least a work-around for almost every limitation in Finale. So if the note entry process could be cut in two, if page layout could be automated to the point where it could basically be ignored (except for engravers for whom it will never be quite right), if note spacing and vertical spacing could be mostly automated - then when we would come to our tiresome workarounds, we'd only be 1 hour into the project instead of 2. Time saved in one part of the project is as good as time saved in any other.