Interview by Jari Williamsson, January 2005

Christopher is a composer/arranger of mainly jazz and commercial music. He also teaches at the college/university level, where he uses and teaches Finale. Here he gives some detailed information about his work methods in Finale.

What's your background?

Started trombone in my high school band program in Montreal. Bachelor's degree in classical trombone, jazz minor, from McGill University. Freelanced for a while and began writing more seriously, then went to Eastman School of Music for a Master's degree in Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media. Since then I have balanced playing, writing, and teaching in various proportions, with an emphasis on jazz and commercial music while never completely leaving the classical world.

When did you first start use Finale?

Version 3.2 for the Mac. I had little experience with computers at that point, but I had used Macs as part of my Master's program, so I bought a Power Mac 7100 essentially to run Finale so that I wouldn't have to struggle with scissors and glue every time I wanted to change one of my pieces. Like a typical computer newbie, I didn't realize that I would have to struggle with the computer, too! But Finale definitely beats scissors and glue.

In what ways do you use Finale?

Mostly I just copy my scores, then extract parts. This is very fast and painless now that I have set my work methods, especially when I need to make a new version of an existing Finale document.

However, I also create lead sheets and master rhythm parts, copy excerpts for my school examples, make class handouts (inserting EPS files into text documents), and transpose piano/vocal works. Most of this is in a jazz or commercial idiom, but I occasionally need to write in a classical esthetic.

Which additional tools do you use when you work in Finale?

TG Tools is a life saver! I can't say enough good things about this suite of plugins. I use the full version normally, which is worth many times the small amount I paid for it. Smart Distribution of Parts (and the related items) is INCREDIBLE! It appears to read my mind when I have several instruments on the same score staff, and interprets it better than some conductors I have known. 8-) This utility alone has paid for itself several times over. Create Cues saves me hours. Easy Harmonics, Easy Tremolos, likewise. Align/move dynamics/hairpins I still need from time to time, even though the new automatic placement of expressions in Finale has taken some of the pressure off. I still like TG Tools lyric utilities more than Finale's new-and-improved built-in results, especially for things like Spacing and Word Extensions, as TG has more flexibility and is more intelligent. Some swear by the Layout tools, but in my work I find I don't need them as often. If I wrote more for publication, I would use the Layout Tools more, I am sure. Some other items I might go months without using, then suddenly I get a weird file from somebody else that I need to clean up, and TG Tools has just the exact thing I need, like Find, Reset, or Respell.
Robert Patterson's tools are terrific as well, and I use his Beam Over Barlines and Patterson Beams, which are included now in Finale. His Settings Scrapbook (fabulous) is not included in Finale 2005, and I haven't updated yet, but I should. Back in Finale 2002 I heavily relied on JW Space Systems (way better than Finale's system spacing, even now), JW Score System Divider, JW Time Signature, and JW Booklet Preparation, but unfortunately these are not available for FinMac 2005 (hint, hint!)

I use the JazzFont for all of my jazz and commercial music, with jef chippewa's special edited version of JazzCord, and I have a custom set of chord suffixes with different fonts that I put together that look more the way I like. This makes it hard to exchange files with other Finale users, though.

My word processor is AppleWorks. I know it very well, and I can import music examples very quickly.

I have a 20'' Apple Cinema Display, which allows me to get a whole bunch of music on screen. My old Sony 17SF monitor is set up to the left beside the Apple display, as my video card lets me run two monitors, and I keep tool palettes and additional windows on it.

I had an inkjet printer for the longest time, but I regret the purchase now that I have seen the light. The best hardware purchase I made was an old re-furbished HP Laserjet 4M laser printer. It is fast, clean, low-maintenance, sturdy, still compatible with my new computer, and in the long run, quite cost-effective.

Have your work methods changed during the years using Finale? If so, in what ways? Do you work faster today or produce better end results - or both?

Smart Shapes, Type Into Score for chord symbols, automatic expression placement, staff lists, Staff Styles, Metatools, and the evolving Mass Edit tool have all changed the way I work, for the better. I am definitely faster, and, I like to think, produce better results. The defaults that come "out of the box" with Finale are much better than before, and the program is generally better organised for fast work. I used to have a macro program in OS9, and procrastinated replacing it when I moved to OS 10, and never ended up replacing it. Now I don't find that I need it as badly, simply because Finale's interface is better now.

Membership on the Finale listserve has helped me, too. I joined to get help with computer software issues, but ended up learning way more about engraving, notation, music in general, art in general, and life.

When doing arranging/composing, do you work directly with the computer? Are any other computer applications part of the arranging/composing process?

I started out with pencil and staff paper, and still use it to do all the creative work. I make a short-score style sketch with two to four staves, very messy and with many shortcuts, and only create the full score in Finale once all the decisions have been made with a pencil.

I find the left-brain emphasis that is required to operate the computer is not conducive to the right-brain oriented process of creation. Some of my students compose directly to computer, and I am in awe of how cooperative their two sides of the brain seem to be. I work better when I separate the two processes of creation and clean-up.

On rare occasions during the creative process I use Band In A Box to try out a groove or a chord progression, kind of like a custom Music Minus One, so I can noodle over it and see what comes up. When I was in my serial phase I used various small apps and a spreadsheet (AppleWorks) to help me keep track of the various tone rows. But I still wrote on paper before I went to Finale.

For the purposes of client relations and salesmanship, I sometimes need to create a MIDI realization of a work. For this I prefer to export from Finale as a MIDI file to a proper sequencer and tweak it there to make it sound better. I use Cubase because I know it very well, though any major sequencer would do. I recently bought Garritan Personal Orchestra in the hopes that this process will become easier and give better results. This is a bit of a slippery slope, as the better the demo sounds, the more the client tends to identify it as the final product. This means that he either wants the demo to sound perfect (and keeps sending you back to improve details endlessly before he will sign off on it) or that he is unwilling to accept ANY sonic difference between the demo and the live musician version.

How do you progress from paper to Finale output? Do you follow certain "steps" until you get to the final output?

With the paper sketch in a document holder to the left of my computer keyboard, I use Speedy Entry with my left hand on a MIDI keyboard at a 90 degree angle to my desk, right hand on the computer keyboard. I have been thinking about getting a smaller controller, with accordian-sized keys that would let me enter large chords in one pass. The extra keystrokes needed to get large chords in quickly bugs me. I generally try to avoid the mouse when a faster keyboard command exists, like the arrow keys, Return, Shift-return, ] and [ to navigate from measure to measure.

I often use the Setup Wizard to create the score template. There are a few things I have to change each time, but it is faster than building the template by hand. I so seldom reuse the same instrumentation that it is not much use to me to keep a blank template, especially if Finale will be in a new version by the time I reuse the template. I have noticed that odd complications arise when I use template files created in older versions of Finale, so I try to avoid that if I can. I have made several changes to the JazzFont Default (which is the file that is read when one uses the Setup Wizard with the Jazz Font) to reflect my needs, so I don't have to change those things every time. They are detailed in my webfile, called Finale 2002 Edits, available at:

By the time I start to work in Finale, I know what the form of the work is, and how many measures there are, so I enter the key structure, time sig changes, double-bars and rehearsal letters first for the entire piece. If there is a rhythm section, I often enter basic chord symbols in one staff, like the piano or guitar, for the entire piece using Type Into Score attached to half rests or quarter rests in Layer 1, and copy and paste as necessary. This helps me keep my place for the other parts. If there is a vocal part, I usually enter that for the entire piece as well before moving on to the other instrumental staves.

I enter the other parts a phrase at a time (on my big monitor, this is usually fits about 8 measures onto one screen, a real advantage to me). After entering the notes for one phrase, I enter articulations (using Metatools, of course!), Smart Shapes, and expressions, and perform any special operation that needs to be done. Then I move on to the next phrase. If there is any repeated material, completing a phrase at a time allows me to copy and paste entire phrases if necessary. When there is a big homophonic section, like a brass or sax section that all play the same rhythm, I enter it as a chord in the lead staff. I add articulations, slurs, etc. Then I use Explode Parts (Mass Edit metatool 2, fast, but stupid) or TG Tools Smart Part Distribution (smarter, but fussier) to get the notes distributed into the lower staves. For unisons and octaves, I rely heavily on copy-paste, and the Mass Edit transposition metatools. I have assigned 6 for 8vb, 7 for 8va, 8 for diatonic step down, 9 for diatonic step up. Metatools are an enormous help in speeding things up in general. I often use Staff Sets at this stage, to speed up screen redraws. Finale after 2003 can be quite logy on the Mac, with large files.

I go back after the entire score is done and complete the rhythm section parts. Sometimes I have made decisions about details of orchestration and phrasing while entering music into Finale, so I am approaching the rhythm section parts from the point of view of supporting an existing arrangement (rather than the rhythm section leading the arrangement, which is perhaps a more common philosophy in jazz and commercial music.) I typically use a staff set showing first chairs of each section, along with the entire rhythm section.

In my rhythm section parts I often have to mix Slash Notation (Staff Style Metatool "s"), Rhythmic Notation (Staff Style Metatool "r"), and normal notation in the same measure. To do this I choose Edit Menu>Select Partial Measures and I can change parts of a measure. I have to keep turning it off, though, because copy and paste when this is selected is very touchy.

I set up my percussion map in the drum part so that cymbals automatically are notated with X-heads. If I use the Setup Wizard, my perc map settings are not used, so I have to do this every time. I'm getting very fast at it! I put cues in the drum part in the space over the staff, using Layer 3, which I have set to have stems and ties always up, regardless of whether there is music in other layers. I sometimes use the Tip from your website ("Easy kicks over time") to do this. Once everything is in Layer 3, I choose View Active Layer Only, select the drum staff, Mass Edit Menu>Change>Noteheads>Size 75% to make them cue-note size, then I turn off View Active Layer Only. Since Finale 2003, they have changed the way Slash Notation and Rhythmic Notation Staff Styles work, so I have to edit them to allow items in other layers to appear. All of these edits are detailed in the web file I posted for my students, called Finale 2002 Edits (despite the name, many of them apply to later versions of Finale too!)

Since I usually want measure numbers ONLY on the lowest staff, I set Measure Numbers that way in my default and use Global Staff Attributes to turn off Measure Numbers for all staves. In my scores I usually want EVERY measure numbered, whereas this gets messy sometimes in parts that need to be extracted quickly, so I change this to Beginning of System before I extract parts. I also force measure ranges to appear on multi-measure rests, a nice feature in jazz/show charts (this is set in my default.)

I typically use standard File Menu>Extract Parts, and I set the dialogue box to automatically open the extracted parts. I find I often have to manually set the Left page margin, which seems to get set to .75 inches no matter what I do with my default file. Everything else is set already in my default file, except for changing the Generate Names From... name typically from something like

"MyTune revised score %n %s"
"MyTune r %n %s"

If that name is too long, instruments like Trumpet in Bb 1 cause error messages like "File Name Too Long."

I extract one part to test everything, then proceed with the rest if all is well. I make any changes necessary to the score so that I don't have to, say, nudge the same tempo marking 26 times on 26 different parts. If everything goes well, I change the Page 2 text block from "MyTune - score" to "MyTune - alto 1" and I can print. This doesn't happen very often, but it's what I strive for.

If Alto sax 1 and Alto 2 have the same layout, then I just copy Alto 2 into the already-laid-out Alto 1 part (detailed above), change the instrument name on page 1 AND page 2, and save it as Alto 2. I can do the same thing with Tenor Sax, if I change the transposition. I try to do this with any parts that need it. There is a big chance of screwing up here, so make sure you Save As.. RIGHT AWAY!

What would be your best advices when creating successful commercial notation?

The main issues are NOT computer issues, but human ones. This means that you have to notate in a way that your target reader is going to understand what he is expected to play. Generally, the differences in notational language between classical and non-classical music are very small, but there are certain things that are specific to jazz and commercial music that show up rarely, if at all, in classical music (measure numbers UNDER the staff instead of above, not beaming three eighths together in 4/4, chord symbols, slash and rhythmic notation, many articulations go OVER the note instead of opposite the stem, etc.) Most of the issues relating to jazz and commercial specifics are covered in Clinton Roemer's book, The Art Of Music Copying. Most of the special glyphs that he refers to are available in the JazzFont, or any other inkpen-type music font. The reason inkpen-type fonts are so popular with jazz and commercial musicians is that they resemble the kind of hand copied look they are used to seeing, thus they respond immediately without stopping to interpret the symbol. I have noticed otherwise fine musicians "stiffen up" when sight-reading an oddly-notated piece, whereas they play better the first time when everything looks the way they are used to.

Even though I endorse Roemer's book whole-heartedly, I feel I have to distance myself from agreeing completely with his views on chord symbol notation. The JazzFont chord symbols are based on his concepts, but I find that using only upper-case letters in chord suffixes is counter to quick and universal interpretation of the symbol. My custom suffixes use lower-case letters as well.

The computer-related issues I see most often with my students and in professional situations are these:

* Avoidance of collisions between items. It requires a bit of practice to figure out how to place a slur, expression, or dynamic so that it is in the right place, but not touching things it is not supposed to. Neophytes often ignore collisions that ruin the clear communication of the music.

* Selecting the right font, size, and enclosure for expressions so that they are legible, they are intuitively identified as applying to the correct notes, and that one expression resembles other expressions of the same type, while separating it from expressions of different type. Sometimes it is hard to judge the correct size of a font when you view it onscreen. You have to have the part on a music stand before you realize that most of your expressions are too small!

* Using the correct text tool for the job. There are at least five different ways in Finale to get text into the score, each with its own strengths and limitations. Learning these can streamline the process and help avoid frustration, both for you and for the musicians reading the part.

* Print the parts on stiff paper, not the cheapest paper available. The parts will stand up on the music stand, and last longer in the band library.

* Tape pages together, preferably with acid-free paper tape.

(Okay, these last two don't have anything to do with the computer. But it was never an issue in the time before computer notation, because part paper came on card stock, two pages at a time.)

I could go on for much longer, but those are the main points. More tips are available on the webpage for my students I mentioned above.

Which direction would you personally like Finale to take in the future?

Mainly what I would like is for existing features to work as advertised, or else just more productively, rather than new features. I regularly send in feature requests of this nature to Finale, and often ask for list members to write in as well, as things get moved up in MakeMusic's To Do list if more people request it.

In their favour, MakeMusic is very friendly and responsive when emailed with these kinds of questions and requests. They have a list of workarounds which are very clear and easy-to-understand. I would NOT want this to change!

Here are some of my wants/needs. A large number of them apply to the Chord Tool, and I have many issues with the JazzFont:

1) Better default settings, particularly for jazz and commercial idioms using the JazzFont. Things have improved considerably over the last couple of versions, but they could be even better. I have a long list of things in my webfile that I suggest to students to change in their JazzFont Default file, especially related to drum parts, which are too fussy to create as it stands.

2) Chord symbols should transpose correctly when Chromatic Transposition is selected.

3) Chord symbols should be attachable to beats, whether or not there are entries in the measure.

4) EPS output, the preview is in a bitmap format of such low quality that it is almost impossible to lay out the work properly once I import it into my favourite word processor (appleworks 6). According to Brian in Mac support, this was a conscious decision by MakeMusic in order to reduce file size, because Apple stopped supporting vector preview, but I suggest a user-selectable preview quality slider.

5) In Speedy Entry, when you accidentally enter too many beats, there should be Cancel button in the dialogue box. Also, when you are using a MIDI keyboard, after leaving this dialogue box Finale "forgets" that you are holding the key down, and enters rests instead. This is a new behaviour, but should be changed back to the old behaviour.

6) We need a command to automatically scale a score to fit inside the page margins, like the Setup Wizard does automatically. I would like it to operate without asking whenever I add new staves using the Setup Wizard, plus I would like to be able to invoke it without adding new staves. Experimenting with different values in the Zoom tool gets old real fast.

7) SPEED. 2004 was unusable, and 2005 gets REALLY logey when the file gets large, or if the screen is zoomed out for easy drag-and-drop. I turned off some of those new and presumably expensive features (Human Playback, Automatic Word Extensions) so that I could get some work done, and it STILL isn't as fast as 2003 was under System 9. I sometimes see the screen redraw three times when I change tools, which gets pretty slow when the screen is full.

8) I wish that MIDI file importation worked more intelligently. The quantise options are very fussy and hard to understand, and don't always work consistently on passages that are supposed to be the same. Many sequencers with very limited notation capabilities can display badly-quantised MIDI information very cleanly, making excellent guesses as to what rhythm was intended, and deciding things like note length with excellent accuracy (eighth note, eighth rest – or quarter note?). Finale should be able to do this, too, as there is far too much cleanup required.

9) Include the Edit..., Create..., Duplicate, Delete, Move Up, and Move Down buttons into the Type Into Score Chord Suffix Selection dialogue box

10) Intelligent Chord spacing in Music Spacing.

When 'Avoid Collision of Chords' is checked in Music Spacing Options, chords should only avoid collisions with other chords. Currently, checking this option causes the note or rest following the chord symbol to be displaced far to the right, distorting the spacing, even when the subsequent note or rest doesn't have a chord attached -- i.e., there's no collision to avoid. If there's no actual collision between two chords, then no displacement should occur.

11) Nudge keys should work in the Chord Suffix Editor

12) Ability to insert and delete characters in the chord suffix

13) Ability to create polychords with suffixes on the bottom

We need to be able to create a chord symbol like


We also need a better underscore by default in the JazzFont default. The diagonal slash is nice and bold but the underscore is anemic, and easy to miss. I can’t find any mention of this character in the documentation.

14) There are many common suffixes missing from the default set included with the JazzFont Default file, and some of the ones that are there are NOT standard, and some of the ones that are useful contain items that are badly spaced.

I have a long and boring list, too long to include here. Most of this falls under the heading of the first point, anyway.

15) Sigler’s JazzCord font needs some changes

We need a font that has every glyph we normally use, in the same point size so as to make suffixes that match each other. The default suffix set is nicer than previous efforts, but to achieve what he did the designer had to mix characters from three different fonts (Jazz, JazzText, and JazzCord) in many different sizes, and adjust the baselines for items (like parentheses and alterations) that should not normally need to be adjusted. (We expect to have to drag things around for stacked extensions, but not for un-stacked extensions!)

16) Baseline Control

When having Capo Chords above the original chord, give us the same type of baseline control in the chord tool as we have with the lyric tool by typing in baseline numbers in a dialog box instead of eyeballing distances. There are also times when an editor does not prefer the "MakeMusic" baseline default setting between the original chord and the capo chord above. Currently the only solution which gives me control is to enter the chords in as lyrics with a custom made font...I know...a terrible solution if you need to change the keys or worry about playback but it helps to eliminate most problems occurring during proofing.