Finale 2008

Yep, that is a waveform inside Finale. (I hope you can print out the waveform on your score if you choose, for the massive market of electro-acoustic composers.)

With some software tools, less is more. When it comes to the complexity and breadth of music notation tools, though, more is often more, because everyone’s needs are different. If the “pro”, “high-end” tool happens to do exactly what you need to do efficiently and quickly, that’s the tool you’re most likely to use — even if your notation needs are “modest” in your own eyes. In other words, if you use only 10% of the capabilities of the tool, but everyone’s different 10% is included, you’ve got a winner. And that’s probably part of why two major rivals continue to dominate mindshare in notation, Finale and Sibelius. Finale is on an annual release schedule, compared to Sibelius’ semiannual appearances. 2007 is one of the years the two coincide, with releases shipping almost exactly simultaneously next month.

We took a first peek at what’s new in Sibelius 5: massive plug-in support, an ideas hub, and other enhancements. Here’s what’s doing in Finale 2008 (keeping in mind Finale spreads new features out across annual releases):

Audio recording: This is this year’s banner feature for Finale. You can now import audio and use that as a vocal track in playback or for transcriptions, something not present in any other dedicated notation tool. (Naturally, this is something you can do with a sequencer, but not a scoring-only app.) This wouldn’t be impossible in Sibelius, because Sibelius can import movie files, but Finale does show you the waveform on the score itself.

Copy and pasteSingle selection tool, better cut/copy/paste/insert: Finally, Finale does away with its confusing multiple selection tools, choosing instead a single selection tool that does everything, something Sibelius (and most other notation software) have always had. There’s also a new contextual menu that looks more like Sibelius’ classic menu, as well. Now, before you Finale fans start complaining, yes, I recognize Finale has some selection workflows that you may prefer to Sibelius. Sure enough, what Finale 2008 offers that Sibelius lacks is a new set of selection and pasteboard tools that makes it extremely easy to make selections from keyboard shortcuts and drop/adjust placement of inserted music. (See the selection and cut/copy/paste/insert overview.) Back when I did Sibelius trainings, this was a heavily-requested feature, and on first glance, I’d say Finale 2008 may have the superior implementation, though I’ll have to have a closer look. Given that moving notes around is really a big part of composing and arranging, this to me is far more important than plug-in support or audio recording. Sexy? No. Absolutely vital to your work? Probably.

Styles: Document Styles combine templates with various other assets and engraving settings. It’s quite a lot like Sibelius’ Engraving Rules and templates (heck, the style selection dialog box even looks similar), but it does appear to be more comprehensive than what either program has done in the past.

Mo Playback Features: 2008 expands on the Garritan sound library, and adds expanded human playback support. That’s a far cry from Sibelius 5’s integrated plug-in support, but Finale has more extensive integration of the sounds it already has, as far as playback features and whatnot. The implementation in Finale really is very, very detailed, so you’re more likely to hear little details of your score on playback. There’s new implementation with tools like Garritan’s Stradivarius violin.

Merge multiple scores: If this works as advertised, this could be a huge timesaver — composers working on big projects know exactly what I mean.

Vista compatibility.

The tight race between these tools continues. I am a little disappointed that we’re past the point of real revolutionary tools in actually scoring — the emphasis in both programs has shifted to usability tweaks and playback. Both tools tend to be really weak when it comes to getting off the “grid” of bars and staves and free-handing notation, which is important not only to avant-garde notations, but any user who wants to shift to more of a page layout/illustration software method of working. But for what they are, both tools continue to improve. Composers, arrangers, educators — feel free to chime in.

  • Tim Thompson

    These are some very welcome improvements (modernizations…) in Finale. Even though Finale's update cycle is annual, I have been sticking with biennial upgrading in the last few years, and that has worked out pretty well. I'm looking forward to this update. IMHO, Finale's implementation of human playback and kontakt/garritan integration has much better results than Sibelius'. Even listen to the online demos from the Sibelius website vs. the Finale website. I stopped by the Sibelius booth at NECC and they had version 5 running with a standard orchestral score (can't remember which–Rossini?). I put the headphones in and ran the playback. It was a complex setup with mostly Garritan instruments, and it sounded like crap. Articulations, dynamics, nothing was very intelligently followed. Everything was very abrupt and crass. Finale 2006 seems to do it much better than Sibelius 5 with no effort on the user's part. I don't understand why this is. All my friends who are Sibelius users have terrible automated playback results.

    Sorry if it sounds like I'm bashing Sibelius. There is no reason why there should be so much disparity in this area.

    Peter, another thing I noticed is that Fin08 accommodates combination of playback engines for human playback. That means I can stop sending MIDI from Finale to AU Lab to do this.


  • I agree absolutely, Tim, and I'm generally a big fan of Sibelius in other respects. I think there is some reason for this, though, and that's that there's an awful lot of work to go through an implement all these details, and there may just not be anyone willing/capable enough on the Sibelius side. But I hope they do look at this, as Sibelius does push these playback features — and in the early versions of Sibelius, they were some of the first to introduce basic "humanized" playback in the first palce.

    Finale 2008 does look like a big upgrade. One thing I never fully understood was people complaining about the annual upgrades, because you can simply ignore them and grab them when you're ready. Upgrading every year may not make sense for many people — particularly lab environments, where you multiply the upgrade cost across a lot of seats. But you do have a choice.

  • _object.session

    those really do sound like a good set of upgrades. i first used finale for a composition class this past spring, but these improvements already sound helpful. but as a student (and not exactly a music student), notation programs seem pretty expensive. compared to other academic prices, at least.

    are there are any comparable low cost or free alternatives? comparable meaning almost as powerful (an 8 staff limit doesn't really seem to cut it) and almost as user friendly? or maybe i should invest in this and try to use free application elsewhere (word processing, etc).

    the added audio import capabilities are probably pretty simplistic, although it looks like maybe you can cut and move portions of the input? being able to print and maybe label or otherwise add notation to the samples would be handy, but probably wishful thinking.

  • Vince

    I've used both Finale and Sibelius, and I've always found the menus in Finale clumbsy, but the playback engine more agreeable. The Softsynth sounds were of good quality for scoring and were included in a small install, compared with Sibelius which is useless without added Kontakt libraries – a large install and more distraction to tweak.

  • pb

    I find the import audio feature a bit disappointing. One can't (or a least I can't figure out how to) manually manipulate the measures/bar lines or nudge the track around in the program once imported. With regard to the imported audio track, Finale chooses what it thinks your tempo is and creates it's own measures and barlines -which you are then stuck with (even if they are incorrect). This is okay if the track you are importing has been recorded to a click but if you import a live studio track (recorded without a click) that you wish to write an arrangement for, it is impossible.

    There should be a way to import the track without Finale determining the parameters, then create one's own tempo map and barlines. Have flexibilty. Love Finale, but this one was too good to be true for me. Maybe a great future update.

    I think Logic Notation is ahead of the game on this issue.

  • Anyone knows if the audio file can be printed in the score and/or parts?

    That would be very useful for EA composers… thanks

  • Warren Blum

    I haven't upgraded yet, but this discussion is very convincing. One thing I really like about Finale is their tech support.

  • Andy

    Notability Pro has had the ability to drag in audio files for ages. Half the price of the big guns too. AU hosting way before either Sib or Finale too!

    Mac only though but better for Mac users for that!

  • Quinn Bastian

    Why are we seeing comments from 15 months ago about a version that was only recently released?

  • Drew

    I am having problems cutting and pasting Music into a word document. Is there an easy way to do this in Finale 2008 ?? When I finally get it there I seem to have problems with spacing it. Do you have an easy solution?