Finale 2004 - A Review

By Jari Williamsson, August 07, 2003

With this review, I'm trying to give you an in-depth discussion of the new features in Finale 2004. It also contains a number of tips regarding the use of Finale 2004.

Please note that this review is based on the Windows version of Finale 2004.

First the questions...

I'm a Mac user - How about OS X support?

Finale 2004 for Macintosh will now also run as a native OS X application - but as stated above this review will be based on the Windows version.

What's new?

  • Human Playback
  • Numerous improvements to expressions 
  • Simple Entry now has more functionality than Speedy Entry
  • Improvements of accidental placement between layers
  • Smart word extensions and hyphens
  • Clef Tool improvements
  • New text inserts
  • New "hidden" text style
  • Beam over Barline plug-in
  • Smart Page Turns plug-in
  • Smart Cue Notes plug-in
  • FinaleScript plug-in
  • Drum Groove plug-in
  • Text Search & Replace plug-in
  • Articulation Tool now displays all articulation handles
  • Save to WAVE file
  • SoftSynth driver for playback
  • Many enhancements to the plug-in development kit (PDK)
  • Hidden notes can be displayed
  • Music can be copied between layers
  • New screen update system - no more need for Ctrl+D
  • Other smaller additions and bug fixes

I currently use Finale 2003. Do I have to "re-learn" something to use Finale 2004?

I you use custom default files, you will probably want to spend some time modifying your expressions to take advantage of the new features of the Expression Tool.

Please note that (despite all new additions to the Simple Entry Tool) you can use both Simple Entry and Speedy Entry in the same manner as in Finale 2003.

Anything else I should know about?

Finale 2004 has copy protection. You can read how it works on MakeMusic!'s own site.
Here's a reflection: What MakeMusic! does not tell you is what's going to happen the day they decide to not support registrations for Finale 2004 anymore. Since MakeMusic! make no guarantees about future installation/registration support, there's a risque here that you will not be able to reinstall the software somewhere in the future.
August 09 addendum: MakeMusic! has now announced "In a forthcoming maintenance release, which will be available free of charge to owners of Finale 2004, we will include a means to transfer registration from one computer to another without the need to contact MakeMusic!." (This would mean that you can continue to use your available Finale 2004 registrations even if you change computers in the future - even if new Finale 2004 registrations no longer are supported.)


In Finale 2004, a huge number of improvements have been made to Expression Tool:

  • Most of the things that can be done with text blocks can now also be done in text expressions, such as mixing fonts, inserting line breaks, inserting text inserts, etc.
  • Expression definitions can have a description texts. The descriptions are listed in the selection list for text expressions.
  • The editor for text expressions is now a true WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor where font changes and line breaks show up as they will appear in the document.
  • Expressions now support auto-positioning. There are separate options for note-attached or measure-attached expression positioning.
  • Expression positioning also includes alignment options. An expression can be left-aligned, horizontally centered or right-aligned.
  • Measure-attached expressions can now be "connected" to many different elements of a document, such as barlines or time signatures.
  • Note-attached expressions can now be vertically "detached" from the note entry (if the positioning option supports it). Even if the pitch changes, the vertical position of the expression can remain fixed.
  • The expression editor is now a multi-page dialog box with more logically arranged contents than in earlier Finale versions.

When working with expressions in Finale 2004, two things might feel different compare to earlier Finale versions:

  • Default positioning are now more "connected" to the expression definition.
  • The baseline "triangles" that previously were available for chords and lyrics are now used for expressions as well. Only expressions that has a positioning option that support the baseline will be affected by them.
Note-attached positioning
Horizontal Vertical

Horizontal Click Position
Left Of Primary Notehead
Center of Primary Notehead
Center Of All Noteheads

Vertical Click Position
Above Staff Baseline
Below Staff Baseline
Top Note
Bottom Note
Above Entry
Below Entry
Above Staff Baseline Or Entry
Below Staff Baseline Or Entry
Measure-attached positioning
Horizontal Vertical
Horizontal Click Position
Left Barline
Start Of Time Signature - Excellent positioning choice for tempo directions.
After Clef/Key/Time/Repeat
Start Of Music
Center Between Barlines
Center Over/Under Music
Right Barline - Great for elements that need to be attached to barlines, such as fermatas.
Vertical Click Position
Above Staff Baseline
Staff Reference Line
Below Staff Baseline

It's easy to find the wanted positioning options by looking at the sample bitmaps:


How to create a fermata over barline.

This example demonstrate how to make a centered fermata over barline as a measure expression:
1. In the expression selection dialog box, press Create... to create a new expression definition
2. In the Text Expression Designer, select Font... from the Text menu. Choose the font for the fermata, for example Maestro 24 points.
3. Select Text->Inserts->Symbol... to choose the fermata character. For the Maestro font, that's character number 85.
4. You might want to add a description for the expression. For example, type Fermata over barline in the Description: field.
5. Display to the Measure Positioning page.
6. Set the Expression Alignment Point to Center (to work from the center of the fermata).
7. Set the Measure Alignment Point to Right Barline (to put the fermatas on the barline that appear after the measure the expression is attached to)
8. Set the Vertical origin to Staff Reference Line (to put the fermata above the staff).
9. Set the Additional Vertical Offset to something like 16 EVPUs (to create a small gap between the staff and the fermata)
10. Press OK
11. Now you can put the fermata in the document as a measure-attached expression and it will automatically put itself above the barline.

Please note that text inserts now can be used in text expressions as well. 3 new text inserts are designed for use only with expressions. Actually these aren't exactly new, since they replace the old "Replace # with" feature to provide better flexibility:

  • Value - The value field for the expression expression.
  • Control - The controller number for the expression definition.
  • Pass - The pass number for the expression definition.

A problem with all these 3 text inserts is that you don't see the actual referenced number in the text editor - there's always a zero value displayed. So mixing more than one of these text inserts in one single text expression is very difficult during editing. In the text expression selection list, the value is displayed, however.

Personally I feel the downsides of the new Expression Tools are very few. I mentioned the text insert problem above. The only other 2 flaws I can think of are:

  • If you want an expression to be auto-positioned both above and below the staff, you'll most probably need two separate expression definitions. (On the other hand, you can now separate similar expressions using different descriptions.)
  • The After Clef/Key/Time/Repeat option for measure-attached positioning takes some of the Document Options into account which doesn't align it directly after the Clefs/Keys etc. It also, makes an positioning using this option document-specific rather than universal.


Lyrics has gotten simpler in Finale 2004. There are options how to control hyphens over system breaks and they update automatically.

If you use the new smart word extension feature, word extensions are now automatic. They break over systems and numerous settings are available to control the appearance/placement of the word extensions. Word Extensions can also be forced to appear by using the underscor character ('_'). Unwanted Word Extensions can be removed by pressing the Delete key while the handle is selected. For cases where the default values wouldn't work, you can adjust the right side of each word extension. Please note that you can only edit the length of one word extension at a time (although all word extension handles display at the same time). You can restore the word extension to the default length by pressing the Backspace key on a selected handle.

Automatic update of hyphens and word extensions can be turned off to gain some speed in complicated documents. This is done on the View page of the Program Options dialog box. For such cases, there are 2 commands in the Lyrics menu for doing manual updates.

Lyrics now has its own page in the Document Options dialog box.


A new text style is now available, called "Hidden" text. This text style will display on the screen as greyed-out text but will never print. It's available for all tools that use font selections (Articulation Tool, Expression Tool, Text Tool, and so on).

This new text style is working differently than the old "Do Not Print" method that is available for some tools - the hidden text style can be used for a small part of a text and in combination with any other font name/size/style. Old files with expressions using comments within '<' and '>' are the only elements from old files that will convert to the new hidden text style. (Look in the Text Search & Replace section below for a tip on hidden text in expressions.)

A few new text inserts has been added:

  • Copyright Symbol. This text insert uses the current font, so you have to make sure that the font does contain a copyright symbol.
  • Total Number of Pages
  • Performance Time. This will insert the total playing time (the time reported by MassEdit/Utilities/Check Elapsed Time...) in the format minutes'seconds'' (such as 5'35''). Currently, no other formatting options are available for this text insert.

The 3 new text inserts designed for text expressions are described in the Expressions section above.

Simple Entry

Huge efforts has been made to make Simple Entry more powerful. In some aspects it now surpasses Speedy Entry as the entry method of choice.

I think it's actually very easy to summarize the improvements in Simple Entry: For addition of new material without using a MIDI keyboard (although MIDI entry is now supported in Simple Entry), Simple Entry is now the best entry method. For editing existing material or when using a MIDI keyboard, there are yet too many limitations in Simple Entry to say it's the best tool to use.

The "new" Simple Entry features:

  • Computer keyboard support. The music is entered directly into the document by a "caret", which looks a bit like the Speedy Entry cursor.
  • MIDI keyboard support
  • The ability to insert clefs, key signatures, time signatures and articulations without changing tool. This method is based heavily on the metatool keys and can be very fast if you consistently use the same metatool keys throughout your documents. For articulation entry you can also make an articulation "stick" for a longer phrase.
  • Start input in another layer in the middle of a measure.
  • When notes are added any accidental earlier in the measure are remembered. This is not an option that can be turned off, however.
  • Totally configurable keyboard layout - you can decide what editing commands you want to use and where on the computer keyboard they should be placed. "Sets" with different keyboard layouts can be saved. Please note that a custom-configured keyboard set can not be printed out.
  • The names of the notes can be used during entry. For example, pressing 'A' will enter an A at the nearest position from the current caret point.
  • Some commands that are not found in Speedy, such as jumping one octave up/down or to quickly add an interval (such as a 3rd for example) to a selected note. 
  • A Repitch mode that will preserve the rythm and only change the pitch of the notes.

The limitations of the new Simple Entry are:

  • You can't insert notes into existing music without using the mouse.
  • There is no feature for changing the accidentals enharmonicaly. This is probably a big drawback when using MIDI entry.
  • You can't replace individual notes in a chord unless you drag the notes or use similar technique.
  • You can't insert expressions or smartshapes during entry.
  • You don't have an option to hear the playback of a transposed instrument in true pitch (which is an old problem in both Simple Entry and Speedy Entry).


A number of clef-changing bugs has been fixed in Finale 2004. However, some notable additions has been made to the the user interface as well:

  • Multiple mid-measure clef handles can now be selected at the same time.
  • A "region selection" mode is now available in the Clef Tool as well. (If a region is selected, no handles will be selected and vice versa.) You can for example select a document region, press a clef metatool key and the full region will get that clef.


All articulations handles are now automatically displayed in the Articulation Tool, so you don't need to first click on a note to see the articulation handles for that note.

To see which note a handle is attached to, you can use the Ctrl+Click method (just as expressions have worked in previous versions).


Finale now includes its own sound device, called the SmartMusic! SoftSynth. It's using a General MIDI SoundFont as the source for the instruments. The SoftSynth does not use the MIDI channels on your sound card, which makes the sound output very similar regardless of what sound card that is used.

The SoftSynth is also a way to "proofhear" the document before saving to WAV files, since the same technology is used there.

You don't need to use the SoftSynth to use Human Playback, but Human Playback works very well with it.

If you have a General MIDI SoundFont (there are for example many 3rd party General MIDI SoundFonts available on various SoundFont archives the net) that you believe is better than the one supplied in Finale 2004, you can replace the synthgms.sf2 file in the Component Files folder with your own version.
This will affect both the playback when the MakeMusic! SoftSynth is used and the result of the WAV file saves.

Human Playback

Human Playback is without any doubt one of the major features of Finale 2004. The difference in playback quality for most scores will be huge - without any manual tweaking.

When the playback button is pressed, the document is interpreted by Human Playback and modified to produce a sounding result that would more resemble how the music actually looks. Trills, glissandi and many other types of effects, hairpins, tempo changes, fermatas, and much more are interpreted totally automatic. The timing of the notes are also adjusted to give a much more human-like feeling and the instruments are automatically panned. Tempo is taken into account when unmeasured tremolo and similar effects are created.

For each document, you can use any of the predefined Human Playback styles or use a custom style where you can toggle and finetune different aspects of the playback (such as which items to interpret). Selecting the style "None" disables will use the old playback style used before Finale 2004.


When playing back using Human Playback, it's very important that the staves or groups have relevant instrument names - Human Playback base its playback interpretation on those names.

When a document is saved as a MIDI file, the Human Playback information will be stored as well.

Human Playback is not used for the spacebar playback styles. Please note that Human Playback's interpretation can take some time, so spacebar playback might be a solution for occasional faster playback.

Instrument changes (patches) are not interpreted by Human Playback, so instructions like "pizz." will not be interpreted. This can be a bit of a problem if you on the same staff switch instruments for example. Human Playback does also not have any intelligence regarding how channels are used, it's your responsibility that MIDI channels doesn't conflict during the playback.

Another problem is that the Human Playback settings can't be turned ON or OFF within a document. For example, if a part of a document is a Viennese Waltz and should be played back as such, there's no way to indicate that for that section only. The only command that's available is to turn Human Playback interpretation on/off completely for sections of the document (using a new expression playback style).

Yet another problem is that there is no way to "balance" an orchestra in a "realistic" way (like telling how many players each instrument has). For example, one flute balances very differently against 6 violins than against 40 violins.

Finally, there might be situations where you don't agree with how Human Playback interprets the document. Since Human Playback is in most part fully automatic, there might be no other solution that to turn Human Playback off for that document.

I've also created a separate page with a real-life example of how Human Playback would work on a Finale document.

Save to WAV

Finale 2004 now supports saving to WAV audio files (for example for use when creating CD Audio tracks). The SoftSynth doesn't need to be selected as sound device for this to work, although the SoftSynth's technology will be used.

Accidental Placement

There's now a document option (on the Accidentals page) to prevent accidentals in different layers to collide. The result when using this option is more or less as if the notes of the layers were one chord.

Although most of the accidental collision cases between layers will be "fixed" by this option, please note that this option isn't perfect: if an accidental collides with elements from other layers (such as a notehead) there will still be a collision.
Also, this option doesn't take care of Finale's problem when using big single-layered chords with many accidentals (where the accidentals often need more horizontal place than the directions in Ross, Read and other music notation sources).

Beam Over Barline

A "light" version of Robert Patterson's popular Beam Over Barline is now included in Finale 2004. This version is extremely easy to use: Mark the measures around the barline and select Beam Over Barlines or Beam Over Barlines/Remove.

What this version mainly is missing compared to the full version is the ability to automatically rebuild the beams over barlines when the layout has changed (such as when a part has been extracted).

Smart Page Turns

The Smart Page Turns plug-in can help you to produce usable parts quickly, with page turns that "works".

However, this plug-in might not be as automatic as it sounds. When you start it, you get a dialog box with a huge number of options. The options are divided into:

  • Timing Settings - Defining how long the break should be around the page break. A nice feature here is that you can define a time in seconds that should be available for a page turn.
  • Break Settings - How the scanning of the part should be done.
  • Place Rests - Where to place the rests.
  • Page Settings - How page layout should be achieved.
  • Warnings - How warning and information texts should be displayed in the parts.

The main problem with this plug-in is that it (if the default options don't work well) often becomes too hard to use it because of the number of options. There is no way to store a set of settings and save it for future use.

Smart Cue Notes

The Smart Cue Notes plug-in puts cues passages in the score. There are 3 main "modes" in which this plug-in can operate:

  • Mark Proposed Cue Locations - The cue locations are marked with a text in the score.
  • Add Cue Notes - Cues are automatically added to the score.
  • Add Cue Notes, Interactive - For each location found, you get a question on what to do at the location (create a cue or continue the search).

Like for the Smart Page Turn plug-in, you can alternatively indicate in seconds how long the rest should be until a cue is created.

In my opinion, the feature set for this plug-in is very well designed and the plug-in produces good cues. The thing that isn't smart with this plug-in is that all cues are put in the score instead of in the parts. With the technology available to Finale plug-ins today, it would absolutely be possible to automatically find the corresponding part and put the cue directly there.


The FinaleScript language is actually a plug-in that can be used for scripting tedious or repetitive work. It's more of a batch language where you describe a sequence of things that should be processed. There are no features like jumps, conditions, variables or user inteface support.

The main strength of the FinaleScript language is that is very easy to understand for anyone. For example:
insert staff "Violin"
The script statement above will insert a new staff with the staff name Violin.

The FinaleScript language works mainly in these areas:

  • Printing - Printing with specific printing options. FinaleScript also includes booklet printing.
  • Settings Manipulation - Setting individual document settings for a document.
  • Document Transfer - Transfer settings between documents. (This is working like Forza!'s Settings Transfer, but without the user interface.)
  • Menu commands - Most of the common Finale menu items are supported. This also includes switching to other tools.
  • Text Search and Replace - Similar feature set to the Text Search and Replace plug-in.
  • Playback

FinaleScript supports a command line where you can enter individual commands. This is a great place to test if a command works in the way you expect.

A FinaleScript can be run on one single file, all opened files, all files in a folder, or you can specify how to switch between the currently opened files.

There are a couple of problems with FinaleScript. The main problem is that there is no good way to organize many scripts - all scripts are listed in one single list. Another problem is that if you don't follow the syntax exactly, FinaleScript might interpret the command as something completely different. For example: "new staff" will create a new document, since "new" is the word that is triggered here.

Drum Groove

The Drum Groove plug-in is a small plug-in to fill a repeated drum groove pattern to a section of a document (either in a new staff or in an existing staff). The plug-in can create any of these 3 notation styles:

  • Notation With Percussion Map
  • Normal Notation
  • Slash Notation
A great thing with this plug-in is that you can easily insert your own patterns. The drum groove patters are read as MIDI files from the Drum Groove subfolder in the Component Files folder.

Human Playback interpretation will automatically be turned off for sections that are generated with Drum Groove.

Text Search & Replace

Finale 2004 includes a plug-in to search and replace text. Text or font style contents can be searched/replaced, or a combination of these two. The text can be searched everywhere in the document or for specific element types, such as only for Lyrics. A real power feature is to make the search/replace in all currently opened files.

Very similar search/replace methods can also be used by FinaleScript.

TIP: How to turn hidden text expression comments into displaying in one font.

Older files that are read into Finale 2004 will have text expression comments within '<' and '>' converted into the new hidden text. However, it's likely that you still can't read the comment text on the screen, since it might be in a music notation font, such as Maestro. Here's how to change all hidden text into the more readable Arial 12 Italic font:
1. Open the Text Search and Replace plug-in
2. Check the box to the right of Search for:
3. Push the Use Style... button
4. In the Style group, check Hidden. Press OK.
5. Check the box to the right of Replace with:
6. Select Arial in the font list. Enter 12 as the Size. In the Style group, check Italic. Press OK.
7. Press the expand button in the bottom left corner
8. Uncheck Search Everywhere
Make sure only the Text Expressions check box is checked as element
10. If you want to make the search and replace in all currently opened files, check the All Open Documents box
11. Push the Replace All button

Plug-in Development Kit (PDK)

In the previous Finale version, the feature set of the PDK was expanded for the first time since its initial release. In Finale 2004, the feature set of what plug-ins are able to do has now been expanded even more.

Plug-ins written for 2004 can now easily support things like:

  • Open/save/close any document. The importance for general productivity of this feature cannot be overestimated. An excellent example of this can be found in the FinaleScript plug-in, where a script can be applied on a folder of files.
  • Print documents with custom settings. An implementation of this can be seen in the FinaleScript plug-in when using a print or booklet script command.
  • Execute any menu item in the Finale menus. Plug-ins who have done this in the past had to resort to all kinds of technical tricks. Finale now provides an easy and robust support for this. An implementation of this can be found in the FinaleScript plug-in when using commands for switching tools, executing massedit features, etc.
  • Import MIDI files. An example of this can be seen in the Drum Groove plug-in where the custom drum grooves are stored as MIDI files and then imported into the current document.

New Screen Update System

In earlier versions of Finale, one of the very first things a new Finale user had to learn was to use the Ctrl+D to redraw the screen. This is no longer necessary. In Finale 2004, the system that draws objects on the screen has been completely rewritten.

To me, this is a major and very welcome improvement. What you see on the screen should now always be what you get on print. In other words, there is no longer a need to use Ctrl+D or Ctrl+Shift+D. Another way of putting it: if you still encounter situations where the screen does not display as it should, make sure to report the bug to the technical support!

This feature makes the performance during editing a bit slower than in previous Finale versions. If you have a very slow computer or run on very high screen resolution, you might be affected by this.

If you encounter bad performance while dragging objects on the screen, make sure to clear all the files in your Temp folder. (You can use the Windows utility Disk Cleanup located in System Tools to do this.) Lots of unnecessary files in the Temp folder can cause considerable slowdowns to the Finale 2004 screen update system.

Misc. Additions

  • The old Move Layers feature in the Mass Edit Tool can now be used to copy layers as well. The new function is called Move/Copy Layers.
  • You can now see how a measure-attached smartshapes is attached to the score. Clicking on a main handle for a measure-attached will display a rectangle in the score.
  • Hidden notes and rests can now be displayed on screen with an option in the View menu. This will display the notes/rests in the same manner as the new hidden text style (described above). However, there's a a built-in problem here that make the use of it limited: Visible notes/rests do not have any priority over hidden ones when both are displayed in the same area of the document. Since hidden notes on layer 4 for example always will overwrite visible notes on layer 1, this makes it virtually impossible to see the notes that are going to be printed when hidden playback notes (such as notes created by the Beam Over Barlines plug-in) are used.
  • The Esc key is now an additional shortcut key to get to the Selection Tool.
  • Dragging groups and staff names in the Staff Tool will now directly update correctly. When you now drag a group name or bracket in a non-optimized score, all "connected" names or brackets will move as well. This is also true when moving abbreviated staff names.
  • Each MIDI output device can be set (or not set) to match note On/Off messages for each notes. This is mainly a setting for MIDI devices that don't support note off messages for individual notes.
  • The TGTools Lite now also incudes the Cross Staff plug-in where you can move notes between staves. The full version of TGTools can as always be found at
  • There are now 55 Quick Start Videos.