Finale 2011 - A Review

By Jari Williamsson, JUNE 03, 2010

With this review, I'm trying to give you an in-depth discussion of the new features in Finale 2011 (compared to Finale 2010). It also contains a number of tips regarding the use of Finale 2011.

Please note that this review is based on the Windows version of Finale 2011.

First the usual questions...

What's new?

  • Staff layout redesign
  • Group/bracket enhancements
  • Measure Attributes changes
  • Lyrics Tool redesign
  • Add/remove Capo Chords
  • Multi-user support
  • Finale Percussion and Finale Mallets music fonts
  • AlphaNotes educational music font
  • New color scheme and icons
  • New Quick Reference Guide
  • Other smaller additions and changes

I currently use Finale 2010. Do I have to "re-learn" something to use Finale 2011?

Yes! The handling of staves and groups is fundamentally different compared to all earlier Finale versions. However, since the changes are pretty self-explanatory the learning curve would most probably be short.

Staff Layout Redesign

The single largest change in Finale 2011 is probably that the term "optimization" (used in previous Finale versions) is now gone. The systems are always "optimized" (using the old terminology) and there isn't any layout connection with Scroll View anymore. The Page Layout tool is no longer required to control staff layout. There is always only one handle for the staff in Finale 2011.

The staff handling in Finale 2011 is a complete redesign, both in terms of user interface and much of the underlying technology. It affects how staves and groups are handled and, to some extent, it also affects staff systems.

The user interface for repositioning and working with staves works like this in Page View:

  • When a staff handle is clicked, that staff (on that system) is selected.
  • When a staff handle is double-clicked, that staff is selected for the whole document.
  • When the Shift key is used while clicking, the selection of staves expands.
  • When selected staff handles are dragged, the staves move and affect all staves below the selected staves. The staves below move with the drag.
  • When selected staff handles are dragged while the Alt key is held down, the "old" staff movement method is used (the selected staves move independently of the staves above/below).
  • The selection and dragging can be combined into one step, so you can for example double-click and hold down the mouse button to start the drag directly at the last click.

Measure regions can also be selected as in previous versions of the Staff Tool, but now the staff handle get selected as well and selected staves in the region move during the staff dragging process. If any measure on a system is selected, that staff's handle gets automatically selected for that system. It's all pretty simple and transparent to the user.

Since double-clicking a handle now will select the staff throughout the piece, the Staff Attributes dialog box has to be opened by double-clicking on the staff itself.

One of the concepts of the new system is that it should now be impossible to accidentally hide measures containing music if the measures move to another system. So to actually hide measures with music (such as in playback staves), the measure have to be "force-hidden" either through changing the staff attribute or applying a staff style.

When force-hiding measures with music, there are now 3 different ways:

  • Cutaway: The vertical space for the staff remains even when the full staff is hidden.
  • Collapse: Removes the vertical space for the staff if the full staff on a system is hidden.
  • Collapse in score only: Same as Collapse, but only in the score.
In the Finale 2011 default files, there are some staff styles changes related to the forced hiding mechanism: Metatool H will produce the Cutaway style staff style (similar to the hidden staff style in earlier Finale versions) and metatool D will produce the Collapse staff style.

In the Program Options, there are some new settings for the situations where files from older versions of Finale are opened (and contain staves with music that are hidden via optimization). There is options to show or hide the music and to optionally display a dialog box and make a choice selectively for each file. If a staff is hidden via optimization for the whole older piece, the conversion will collapse the staff as a staff attribute. If a staff is hidden for some system(s) only, the conversion will collapse the staff as a staff style.

TIP: It's not possible to redisplay a collapsed staff in a single system directly from a score view when it has been collapsed with a staff style, instead do like this:
1. Display the score
2. Select the measures for the system where the collapsed staff should be displayed
3. Display the part where the staff should be uncollapsed in the score. The measures for the staff should now be preselected.
4. Right-click in the measure selection to bring up the context menu. Select Clear Staff Style from->Score
5. Switch back to the score. The staff should now be visible in the system.

To hide staves that has no music (the concept that was called "hide via optimization" in earlier Finale versions), it's accomplished through the context menu of the staff handle or through the Staff menu. The command is called Hide Empty Staves. As in earlier Finale versions, staves and groups can selectively be set to not hide even if they are empty although the references to "optimization" in those settings have now been renamed to "hiding".

TIP: Hiding all staves in the score that has no music is now a simple 2-step process:
1. Press Ctrl+A in the Staff Tool to select all music
2. Right-click on any a staff handle and select Hide Empty Staves from the staff handle's contextual menu

When staves have been hidden because they are empty, they will appear as gray dashed horizontal lines with a handle. The handle for hidden staves can't be moved vertically, but it can be selected and it has its own contextual menu:


To display staves that has been automatically hidden, it's easiest to use the contextual menu for the hidden staves. From the contextual menu there's a choice to show individual staves from the hidden "group", or to Show All hidden staves from the hidden group.

When dragging staves vertically with the mouse, the distance between all staves is displayed numerically. This is a very welcome addition to provide more accurate staff layout. However, the numerical distances are not displayed while nudging handles using the keyboard, which is. Also please note that the distances displayed are between the staff baselines. It's not possible to display the whitespace distance.


Instead of the sorting and auto-sorting of staves in previous Finale versions, reordering of staves is now handled through the Reorder Staves dialog box:


The Reorder Staves dialog makes it very easy to rearrange the score compared to earlier Finale versions. You can reorder the groups or the instruments within a group, or both.

The Staff Usage dialog box has also been modified. This dialog was extremely cryptic in earlier Finale versions and is now much more straightforward. The staves are now displayed in the list as their names and the distances are to the previous staff instead of the top staff.


Please note that third party plug-ins that use staff layout (or even staff system layout) would need to be updated to work correctly with the new Finale 2011 staff design. From a plug-in developer's point of view, the modifications are quite easy to do.

Group/Brackets Enhancements

The group and bracket handling has been significantly simpler in Finale 2011 as part of the new staff layout design. Now, groups are created and edited as measure regions.

Since there is no thing like "optimization" anymore, it's now a very straightforward to add or edit groups and brackets anywhere during the notation process

When browsing among the groups in the Group Attributes dialog box, there is now a list of the current group names in the score. That's a huge step forward compared to earlier versions, where there was just a group "ID" as reference.

In the Group Attributes dialog box, there's also a to change the measure span for where the group should be or to just use all measures.

It's not possible to automatically create mid-system brackets (as in contemporary cutaway scores) even with the new group handling. This still has to be done by using workarounds. Since groups are measure-based and there is a staff style to indicate collapsed staves before the group, I think the combination of these two should indeed produce a mid-system bracket - which currently isn't the case.

Measure Attributes changes

As a part of the new staff layout design, the Measure Attributes dialog box has also got some updates.


First of all, the user interface has been cleaned up. The controls and check boxes have been visually grouped into logical units related to what kind of elements they control.

There is also a new, but very important, setting in the Measure Attributes: Show full staff & group names. It will display the full names (instead of abbreviated names), if the measure begins a staff system. The obvious use for this setting is when creating multiple movements, which now is almost a one-step process by visiting the Measure Attributes dialog box.  Please note that when this setting is checked, the Begin a new staff system setting is also checked by default, since that's probably the wanted behavior.

Lyrics Tool Redesign

The Lyric Tool got a big change in Finale 2011. Although perhaps not as technically different as for the Staff layout, there are still a great number of changes and additions to the Lyric tool.

The lyric spacing has been vastly improved. The major change is that syllables now can expand below subsequent notes if they don't contain a syllable. Old files will still convert as when they were spaced for the old Finale version, but as soon as you re-space the old file, the new lyrics placement will be in effect.

In the Document Options, there's a new option which can further enhance the syllable spacing called Ignore Syllable Edge Punctuation. With this option, you can control which characters that shouldn't "count" as a part of the syllable when the lyrics spacing is calculated. A predefined set of characters is available even for old imported files.

Many updates have been made to the smart word extensions, so they update more accurately and much more efficient. For example, the word extension will stop automatically when you place the cursor within a word extension (even before typing a new syllable).

The Lyrics window has been updated. There are buttons for easy access to each Lyrics editing mode. When a syllable is selected in the score in the type-into-score mode, it gets selected in the Lyrics dialog as well. The Lyrics window can now be accessed with the Ctrl+L shortcut.


Please note that Hard spaces can now be added (in Windows as well) with Ctrl+Space.

A new drop-down menu has been added for the type into lyrics mode, called Text. The text menu is available in the Lyrics window as well. In this menu, the following things are available:

  • Font change
  • Size change
  • Style change
  • Add hard space (or Ctrl+Space)
  • Add hard hyphen
  • Add Symbol

The Type Into Score mode is much cleaner compared to earlier versions. For example, it updates smoother and the typed text is displayed against the background (instead of against white).

In the Adjust Syllables mode, all syllable handles are displayed at all times. The handles can be group-selected and moved.

There are Auto-Number options in the Lyrics menu which can be used to automatically put numbers before the verses/choruses/sections. In the Document Options, there's also an option that will control how the Auto-Number digits will appear in the document (all number left-aligned at the very first syllable in the piece or each number together with its first syllable).

Add/Remove Capo Chords

In Finale 2011, there's a new feature to automatically add or remove Capo chords in the music. The feature works on regional selections, so since the Chord Tool  doesn't support the Add/Remove Capo Chords dialog is accessed through the Utilities menu.


The Capo Chords are added as conventional capo chords and can be edited with the Chord Tools later if needed. The optional text added before the capo chord region is created as a measure-attached text block. There's no additional options to put the capo chords within parenthesis or to change the capo font (with the exception of the Italicize option in the Chord Tool).

Multi-user support

The internal folder structure for Finale 2011 is quite different. In previous Finale versions, just about everything (apart from Fonts) was installed in the Finale program folder and its subfolders. In Finale 2011, just the core program is installed in the program folder, but all configuration data is installed in the the YOUR_USER_NAME\Application Data\MakeMusic folder.

This new structure makes it much more straight-forward to use Finale for multiple users on one single machine. The downside is that if you make a lot of customizations to the data files (such as page sizes, default document styles, FinaleScipts, and so on), you have to copy the customization to all users on the computer.

Finale Percussion and Finale Mallet Music Fonts

Finale 2011 contains two new fonts mainly aimed toward percussionists.

The Finale Percussion font contains pictograms of a large selection of percussion instruments. It also contains a large symbol selection of mallets as well as some other percussion-related symbols.

The Finale Mallet font only contains mallets. This fonts is very useful for creating "home-made" combinations of mallets.

However, some of the font characters can also be very useful for other instruments. For example the sine waves characters in the Finale Percussion font:


Finale AlphaNotes Educational Font

Finale 2011 ships with a font aimed towards education, the Finale AlphaNotes font. Each notehead letter has versions for flat and sharp, as well as a version without accidental. The font contains no notehead letter version with a natural sign.


The font contains the letter H as well, so it's possible to use the German/Scandinavian-style scale spelling (H instead of B natural). It also contains the letters R M S L T to support the Solf├Ęge scale system.

There's also 9 different states of "emoticons" (smileys) as noteheads, which can for example be used to mark individual notes in the piece to make a certain effect. And in addition to that, the font contains some decorative noteheads such as a Halloween pumpkin and an Easter egg.

Due to the small details in the notehead design, the Finale AlphaNotes fonts requires a large staff size to work well. Sizes smaller than staff size 1 (100% resulting staff size in Finale terminology) would probably be too small. The horizontal middle line of the letters A, B, E, F, H is lowered slightly in the Finale AlphaNotes font so the middle line doesn't collide with staff lines.

New Color Scheme and Icons

The whole default look of the score has been changed in Finale 2011. The bright colors are gone, and have been replaced with more toned down colors. The score icons has been redesigned to a new more neutral gray-scale look. The default background has also been modified. The icon for "optimized staff system" is not used in Finale 2011.

Finale 2010 default colors and score icons
Finale 2011 default colors and score icons

The biggest advantages with the new default look is that it's easier on the eyes and it's also easier to get a good impression of how it's going to look in print. The biggest disadvantage is that when editing just certain elements, these elements will not "jump out" on the page as much.

Finale 2011 doesn't contain any feature to load specific color sets. However, the user can of course create FinaleScripts to change between different color sets, just as in earlier Finale versions.

Quick Reference Guide

Finale 2011 includes a new, redesigned 35-page printed Quick Reference Guide (Mac and Windows versions get 35 pages each).

The Quick Reference Guide is very different compared to the Quick Reference Guide found in earlier versions of Finale. The new Quick Reference Guide is now organized in tasks (instead of tools) and it doesn't assume that you know "Finale terminology". For example, the section about Hyperscribe is named "Playing-in Music: Hyperscribe" which would make it much easier to understand for Finale beginners.

The graphic design of the Quick Reference Guide is more attractive than the on-line reference. Each page containing many screen shots and numerous annotations to explain what each element on the screen shot do.

Although the material at first glance seems to be aimed towards beginner/intermediate  level users, I'd say that the Quick Reference Guide is suitable for everyone. It still contains The last 4 pages (the Efficiency Tips part) of the Quick Reference Guide contains material that would be of interest to everyone who want to be more productive in Finale.

Needless to say, the Quick Reference Guide isn't a replacement for the online reference. However, for most common tasks, the Quick Reference Guide would work excellently by itself.

The Quick Reference Guide contains the following sections:

  • Getting Started
  • Finale Screen View
  • Navigating Your Music
  • Entering the Music: Simple Entry
  • Multiple Voices: Layers
  • Playing-in Music: Hyperscribe
  • Selecting Music
  • Copying, Pasting and Inserting
  • Transposing
  • Working with Measures
  • Working with Staves
  • Markings and Text
  • Key Signatures, Time Signatures, and Clefs
  • Lyrics, Chords, and Repeats
  • Playback
  • Page Layout
  • Sharing Your Music
  • More Finale Help Resources
  • Using Contextual Menus
  • Metatools

Other smaller additions and changes

  • A couple of new instruments have been added to the built-in Garritan instruments in Finale 2011. The most important additions are probably the Bass Trombone, Flute Section, and the Brass Section. The Aria Player has also been updated in Finale 2011.
  • Many new Worksheets have been added to Finale 2011 as well as over 100 Classroom Repertoire pieces.
  • The rests in Pickup Measures now behaves more intelligently. When a pickup measure is completely empty, the appropriate rest is automatically displayed (instead of default rests as in previous Finale versions).
  • Apart from various bug fixes, the MusicXML update in Finale 2011 contains support for things like the Broadway Font family, accidental inserts in staff and group names, and measure numbers that is displayed on per-measure or per-system spots in the score.
  • The ScoreMerger now uses the new Show full staff & group names setting for each new piece when merging multiple pieces into one document.
  • There are some new default folder options in the Program Options. Default Files and Document Styles are now separated into two options. There is now also a Configuration Files folder option, to support the new folder structure in Finale 2011.