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Quick Finale Tips from Jon Senge – The Clear Key

I spent years in Finale before I learned about the Clear key! Today it may be the most-used key on my keyboard. Select the handle of nearly any object, hit the clear key (Backspace key on Windows), and it jumps back to its default positioning.

Apple Keyboard

On my Mac laptop, which doesn’t have a clear key, I use Keyboard Maestro to remap Control+c as the Clear key. See more about macros in my previous post.

This tip is short and sweet. I hope I’ve saved you the years it took me to realize the functionality of the Clear key!

Jon Senge engraves music for several notable publishers and loves talking notation. Tweet him at @jonsenge and see his other Finale Blog tips here.

Quick Finale Tips from Jon Senge – Creating Macros for Finale

Jon SengeJon Senge engraves music for several major U.S. music publishers as well as for notable entertainment companies around the world.

In this new blog series, Jon shares his favorite time-saving Finale tips.

Every day it feels like more work lands on my desk than leaves at the end of the day. In order to have a chance at keeping up, I am always searching for ways to shave time off everything. A day’s worth of saved seconds add up to extra whole minutes I get to spend with my kids!

Today I’ll start with one of my very favorite (and most-used) Finale time savers:

Creating Macros with Keyboard Maestro (or similar shortcut/macro apps)

The Keyboard Maestro application is a tool I use on my Mac to create customized keyboard shortcuts, or “macros,” for the notation programs I use everyday. If I have to do something more than twice, it’s nearly always worth the effort to write a quick little macro that’ll do the task faster than I can click through menus. In the words of Tobais Fünke, “then you have it!” for next time.

Both Finale and Sibelius have built-in keyboard shortcuts, but with an app like Keyboard Maestro, I can create keyboard shortcuts that do a little more than the built-in shortcuts, and I can ensure that the shortcuts are the same for me on both programs.

I have simple keyboard commands for the simple stuff:

  • Opt+w = Save & Close
  • Cmd+Opt+p = Create PDF
  • Opt+m = Make Multimeasure Rest from selection
  • Opt+Shift+q = Change note size to 75% for cues
  • Customized shortcuts to all toolbar functions

Macros can do some pretty heavy lifting as well with the right programming. I have had macros that perform a number of functions to upgrade older Finale files into newer templates, updating fonts, layouts, etc., across entire folders of files. Some of these processes can have a dozen steps to do in each file, and I just don’t want to devote mental energy and time to repetitive tasks when there’s a better (and quicker) way.

If you’re new to creating your own Macros and would like a little guidance, leave me a comment below or send a tweet to me @jonsenge.

MakeMusic Joins Peaksware

Peaksware MakeMusic

Today MakeMusic announced that it will join Peaksware, the umbrella company owned by LaunchEquity Partners, the investment company that took MakeMusic private in 2013. You can learn more about Peaksware and view the press release at

Here’s an excerpt from the release:

“Through a unique approach to deliberate practice, each brand within Peaksware develops software solutions and provides services to help guide people along their own journey of improvement. From completing a triathlon to learning a musical instrument, the same strategy applies: set a specific goal, get expert instruction, perform focused practice and receive immediate feedback. This shared approach is the common thread connecting the brands.”

It’s easy to see how SmartMusic fits with this deliberate practice model. When I think back to what Finale initially offered me as an aspiring composer, instant feedback played a big role as well. I could create notation and immediately hear what it would sound like, which was a revelation. Like Dave Brubeck said about Finale: “Wow, in the old days you couldn’t hear what you’d written until the dress rehearsal – and then it was too late!”

Obviously, Finale always has been, and will remain, much more than simply a learning tool for young composers, but this is just one of many ways that Finale — and Garritan — fit into the Peaksware vision. Finale and Garritan libraries are professional tools designed to efficiently and effectively meet the goals of high performing customers, and this is at the core of Peaksware.

Peaksware is also the home of TrainingPeaks, a complete web, mobile and desktop solution for enabling smart and effective endurance training. It’s a company run by people who are passionate users of their products, just as MakeMusic employees are passionate users of Finale, SmartMusic, Garritan and MusicXML. What’s more, like MakeMusic, TrainingPeaks is committed to providing software solutions that empower people to do the things they love – really well – at the very highest level.

Have a question or observation about today’s news? Please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Finale Spotlight on Ashkan Mashhour, author of Guitar Fingers

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Guitar Fingers: Essential Technique in Pictures is an ingenious new guitar book that analyzes the mechanics of left and right hand technique with the aid of more than 250 photos and diagrams and over 200 exercises, all notated with Finale. I recently spoke with author Ashkan Mashhour about the book and some of the unique aspects of its creation.

Scott Yoho: What was the inspiration for this book (and when did you start work on it)?

Ashkan Mashhour: A lot of guitarists, me included, are attracted and wowed by the technical wizardry of their favorite artists and the sounds these artists can achieve through their technical ability. But there is great detail involved in guitar technique which is all too difficult to decipher: most of us gather this information through observation, trial-and-error, and awareness. There is also something utterly beautiful about good technique. I wanted to focus on these elements and make them visually appealing. So Guitar Fingers is full of pictures, diagrams, exercises, and explanations about the nitty-gritty of guitar technique.

Guitar Fingers has been a long time in the making. I started jotting down notes and ideas for the book in 2010 but only put pen to paper in 2012.

SY: Are you aware of other books that have a similar focus on the mechanics of playing the guitar?

AM: Few books delve into the mechanics of guitar technique, in particular for modern guitar playing (using pick or pick+fingers). Classical guitar is well known for its codified emphasis on technique. Electric and acoustic guitar have always been more informal with technique but many players have been pushing the boundaries in a variety of styles. For classical guitar, works like Scott Tennant’s Pumping Nylon are on many nylon string players’ bookshelves. For the guitar played with a pick, a great exercise book is Troy Nelson’s Guitar Aerobics. Take a tour on YouTube and you will come across a rich offering of short technically-focused tutorial videos by players around the world. One of my favorite is UK-based guitarist Rick Graham’s wholesome approach to guitar.

SY: What were some of the greatest challenges in creating the book?

AM: Creating and organizing content, which must anticipate the needs and wants of the readership, was the first challenge. Guitar Fingers dives deep into guitar technique and each section had to set the stage for the following section. The next challenge was to make that a reality and putting it on paper, working with a variety of software tools to achieve this. That’s where Finale came in. In Guitar Fingers, there’s also plenty of photography, illustration, and recording involved, which meant juggling with very different skillsets. The last step was to prepare and format the book in accordance with the printshop’s capabilities and limitations. This is actually something to keep in mind throughout book production in order to avoid surprises in print, especially when a book is in color!

SY: What do you like about Finale?

AM: The reason I first picked Finale over competing products was what some considered an advantage, and others considered a drawback: Finale’s flexibility. This can translate into a longer learning curve but the user’s ability to customize Finale’s features is tremendous. Where other notation software give you a pre-defined framework to work with, Finale gives you access and allows you to tailor many of its parameters to your specific needs. As an example, for my first book Intervallic Fretboard, I created a new interval-based notation style, coined IVL, and Finale had the bells and whistles to make that possible.

SY: Do you have any tips for those notating guitar with Finale?

AM: Absolutely! MakeMusic has had in place for years a very active user forum. A great deal of issues are discussed on a daily basis in that forum, with solutions, suggestions, or workarounds available for almost any problem one can encounter when engraving music. Whether it’s for Mac or Windows, the most recent or an earlier version of Finale, the forum addresses common and obscure issues and features alike. A number of regulars, most of whom are power users, will chime in within minutes of your posting a question! It’s an outstanding resource. And that goes for any instrument, not just guitar.

SY: Do you have any suggestions for others who would like to author guitar literature and see it published?

AM: The market abounds with tutorial material for guitar. Can I write something new, can I write it better, or can I write it differently? As an author, you write about what you know, research what you don’t know, and put yourself in the reader’s shoes, always aiming for quality. Aspiring guitarists are more likely to pick up a book if it’s easy to read (cuts to the chase and uses clear language), easy on the eyes (illustrations, pictures), participative (exercises), and overall user-friendly. But once it’s published, you’re not done, you must use all the means available to you to get the word out (traditional press, online media, social media, academe, etc.). It’s a fun journey and you learn a great deal along the way—but it doesn’t happen overnight.

For an example of writing something new, take a cousin of the guitar: the ukulele. This little instrument has grown oh-so popular over the past few years and opportunities to create innovative instructional material for it are numerous.

I’d like to thank Ashkan for sharing his insight with us. What are you creating with Finale? Guitar music? Something else? Please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Re-gifting in July: Free Finale Music for Large Ensembles


Last November we again shared a collection of free Holiday-themed Finale titles. Included in the giveaway were three large ensemble pieces: “Housetop Hoedown” for beginner band, “Jingle Bells” for jazz band, and “A Christmas Canon” for string orchestra. If you learned about these pieces too late to program them in your holiday concerts, this blog post is offered as a “second chance” to work them into your repertoire this year.

Each of these Finale 2014 files includes a score and linked parts so all the editing is done: You need only to print them out. If, however, you’d like to change the music to fit your group, you are welcome to do so. You might give your star clarinet player a solo in “Housetop Hoedown,” add a drum feature in “Jingle Bells,” or add a piano accompaniment to “A Christmas Canon.” We not only encourage you to see how creative you can get with these pieces, we’d love to learn about your performances (or better yet hear a recording or see a video).

In addition to the Holiday Giveaway music, you might also review the worksheets and repertoire section of Finale 2014. Included are ensemble pieces just waiting to be performed: “Gen Mixup USA,” “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” “Simple Gifts,” and the infamous “Hey There’s a Mouse in My Bucket Mute.”

In short, anytime you’re pondering what your ensemble will be playing, please consider looking at these resources offering free Finale music for large ensembles.

The Holiday Giveaway download can be found here:

The other tunes can be found by selecting the Worksheets and Repertoire item under the File menu, and then navigating to Repertoire, and specifically Large Ensembles.

File> Worksheets and Repertoire> Repertoire/ Large Ensembles/

Please let us know how you’re using these files, and let us know what repertoire you’d like us to add this year by clicking on “Contacts” below.

Jocelyn Hagen’s Finale Tip for Piano Writing

Jocelyn Haugen - Finale Piano Writing tip

Jocelyn Hagen

This week composer Jocelyn Hagen shares a tip with the Finale Blog. Here’s Jocelyn Hagen’s Finale tip for cross staff beaming:

“I’ve been using Finale for over 15 years and I still don’t think I have everything figured out with the program! But I have mastered many skills that help me engrave my music fast and beautifully.

Because I am a pianist, many of my piano parts are quite detailed and virtuosic. Pondering how to make the score look the simplest and easy to sightread takes up much of my time. I tend to compose lots of arpeggiated chords in which there is a seamless switch between the left and right hands. Using cross-staff beaming is the most effective method to notate this kind of technique. Here are a few examples of cross-staff beaming from my scores:


Too See the Sky Jocelyn Hagen

Too See the Sky excerpt (courtesy of Jocelyn Hagen)  Order the full score at

Mood Goddess excerpt (courtesy of Jocelyn Hagen)

Mood Goddess excerpt (courtesy of Jocelyn Hagen)      Order the full score at


With this kind of notation, the pianist does not have to contemplate which hand to play which note, or have to negotiate unnecessary rests. It’s clean & simple ~ just what pianists like!

The first couple times I did this in Finale, I always had to refresh myself on the notation technique, because I could never remember. Years ago the steps to achieve cross-staff  beaming were lengthy, yet, I had it down to a science. You can probably relate if you’ve been using Finale for as long as I have.

Today’s Finale makes it easy. First introduced in Finale 2011… here is the keyboard shortcut for creating cross-staff beaming:

1. Choose the Selection Tool then click + drag to select the notes you wish to move.

2. Press Alt+up/down arrow on Windows or Option+up/down arrow on Mac.

Hope this helps! I use this trick all the time, and I encourage you to use this technique when composing piano parts. It’s a very natural way to play, and very effective.”

Thanks again to Jocelyn Hagen for providing her Finale piano writing tip. To find out more information about Jocelyn’s recent projects and performances, visit

Listen to Jocelyn’s MASHUP of Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team” and Debussy’s “Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” from Children’s Corner. Available now on iTunes.

Have a Finale question for Jocelyn? Leave a comment below!

Finale 2014: Looking Back, Looking Forward

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Michael Good, third from right, in West Bay Opera’s L’elisir d’amore. Photo: Otak Jump

Since I’m new to this blog, let me introduce myself. My name is Michael Good, and I invented the MusicXML format for sharing digital sheet music. I joined MakeMusic in November 2011 as director of digital sheet music when MakeMusic acquired the assets of my previous company, Recordare. My first project was to design and develop MakeMusic’s new notation file format. Shortly after MakeMusic went private, I was promoted to vice president of research and development, where my responsibilities now include Finale product strategy. Musically, I sing tenor in opera and symphony choruses. I sang on the San Francisco Symphony’s SACD recording of Beethoven’s 9th conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. Above is a photo of me in the chorus of West Bay Opera’s 2014 production of L’elisir d’amore. You can find more about me on my blog and on Twitter.

Last week’s SmartMusic update, supporting MakeMusic’s new notation file format, marks a major point of closure in my work over the past 3 years. In May 2011, Beth Sorensen, MakeMusic’s vice president of products, and I had dinner at Madhuban Indian Cuisine in Sunnyvale, California. Recordare had been contracting with MakeMusic for 9 years to supply Finale’s MusicXML import and export software. Based on that experience, Beth asked if Recordare would be interested in contracting on a new forwards and backwards compatible file format for Finale, SmartMusic, and any new notation apps that MakeMusic might create in the future. I asked if MakeMusic would be interested in acquiring Recordare, and the rest is history.

Finale 2014 introduced this new file format to our customers for the first time. Until the next version of Finale comes out, people won’t enjoy the full benefits of including both forwards and backwards compatibility within the file format. However, we used the same technology to allow export of Finale 2014 files to Finale 2012 format, fulfilling one of our most frequent and long-standing customer requests.

Finale 2014 also exports custom SmartMusic accompaniments in this new notation file format. This meant that we once again had the problem that the latest version of Finale created accompaniments that SmartMusic customers could not use until the SmartMusic application was updated to support the new Finale file format. This year, customers were at least able to export Finale 2014 files to Finale 2012, which could then create custom SmartMusic accompaniments in the old format. Now that SmartMusic for iPad, Mac, and Windows all support the new file format, we won’t have this problem in the future. Accompaniments created in a newer version of Finale will be able to be opened in an older version of SmartMusic.

The new notation file format has additional benefits beyond compatibility between versions. The format adds flexibility for supporting new features for Finale, SmartMusic, and possible future applications. We hope to roll out some of the new features enabled by the new file format in our next major release of Finale.

The new file format was only one part of the tremendous amount of software modernization that took place in Finale 2014. Another huge effort was making the transition on Mac OS X from the old Carbon technology to the current Cocoa technology. This transition provides a more modern appearance for Finale on Mac, and allows full support for native Mac features like full screen mode and pinch to zoom. We also changed Finale’s audio engine to provide better performance and a stronger technical foundation for the future. We added better integration of Human Playback into Finale with a centralized preference control.

Along with all these technology improvements, we also focused on new features that offer better productivity. Keyless scores allow for much faster creation of music without key signatures, with features designed for specific situations like atonal scores, tonal scores, or instruments that traditionally show without key signatures like horns and timpani. Linked Parts now allow many more adjustments between score and parts, particularly in the formatting-specific details of Finale’s special tools. Beat-attached Smart Shapes add more musical intelligence to hairpins, trills, and other shapes.

For the future, MakeMusic looks to extend Finale’s role as the most powerful tool for creating high-quality music notation, extending our capabilities for “music notation perfection.” The sheet music world is in the midst of a major transition from creating music for print to creating music for both print and digital applications. MakeMusic’s experience with both the MusicXML format and creating repertoire for SmartMusic gives us unparalleled insights into the issues behind this transition. In particular, our improvements for keyless scores and Linked Parts are models for where we see many of our future improvements coming. We also plan to continue our work in technology modernization.

We also look to maintain Finale’s preeminent position in standards support, including our industry leadership support for the MusicXML format – both the format itself, and its import into and export from Finale. Many digital sheet music app developers tell us that MakeMusic’s free Dolet for Sibelius plug-in exports MusicXML files better than Sibelius’s own built-in MusicXML export. Finale was also the first music notation program to export files in the standard EPUB format for electronic books. We have also been actively involved in the development of the Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL) standard for music notation fonts.

The past two years have been a tumultuous time in the music notation software industry. MakeMusic’s move from public to private ownership has only enhanced our focus on music notation and literate musicians, both in music creation and music education. When our ad campaign invites you to Own The Future by using Finale, we really mean it.

Finale and SmartMusic in Sync

Yesterday a SmartMusic update was released that includes full support for accompaniments made with Finale 2014. Finale and SmartMusic are again in sync, so users of Finale 2014 can now save SmartMusic files directly.

This SmartMusic release is much more than good news for those using Finale 2014c who wish to make SmartMusic accompaniments. It’s good news for anyone creating SmartMusic accompaniments.


Finale 2014’s new file format makes Finale 2014 forwards and backwards compatible. The next version of Finale, and the version after that, will use the same file format. Not only does this mean that Finale 2014 and subsequent versions will be able to effortlessly exchange files back and forth, it also means that the current (and subsequent) version(s) of SmartMusic can already read whatever files you’ll create in future versions of Finale.

In short, we’ve eliminated the interdependency of each version of Finale and SmartMusic, so you will always be able to save SmartMusic accompaniments in the current version of Finale, and open them in the current version of SmartMusic, even the very day new versions of either program are released.

Are you creating SmartMusic accompaniments for the 2014-2015 school year? Please let us know how it’s going for you, or ask any questions, by clicking on “Comments” below.

Now Available: Finale 2014c

Finale 2014c is a free update now available to registered Finale 2014 owners.

Finale 2014c addresses the following issues for both Windows and Mac users:

  • MIDI key velocity information is now played back in all layers.
  • Stop and start values are now interpreted correctly by Human Playback.

…it also addresses this Windows-specific issue:

  • Crashing behavior introduced in Finale 2014b on some Windows computers has been resolved.

…and these two Mac issues:

  • The audio sample rate is now retained in the Finale preferences.
  • Documents no longer print off-center when selecting crop marks or registration marks.

While all the improvements found in 2014c are listed above, they can also be viewed in the associated read me files available for both Mac and Windows.

Finale 2014, 2014a, and 2014b users can update by following automated prompts upon launching Finale, or manually from within Finale itself. To do so:

  • On Windows, navigate to Help > Check for Update…
  • On Mac, navigate to Finale 2014 > Check for Update…

Please let us know how Finale 2014c is working for you by clicking on “Comments” below.

Finale Spotlight on Brian Balmages

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Brian Balmages is an American composer, conductor, producer, and performer whose music for winds, brass, and orchestra is played around the world. His schedule of commissions and premieres includes groups ranging from elementary schools to professional ensembles. Check out Brian’s website to get a sense of the breadth of groups who have performed his music and have invited him to guest conduct. Brian has also served as an adjunct professor of instrumental conducting and acting symphonic band director at Towson University in Maryland, and is currently the director of instrumental publications for The FJH Music Company.

In our offices Brian is best known for his 75 compositions for band and orchestra found in SmartMusic, which are extremely popular with students and directors alike. Brian was kind enough to speak with me recently while simultaneously making final preparations to leave for Hawaii.

Scott Yoho: You have a unique gift to write music for student ensembles that sounds right – as if great music was the primary goal, and this great music just happens to be within the grasp of a younger ensemble. How does writing for a student ensemble compare with writing for professional groups, and how to you approach each?

Brian Balmages: People are often surprised by my answer to this question. My approach never changes, regardless of whether it is a student group, professional group, chamber group or large ensemble. One of my main issues concerns the words “restrictions” and “limitations.” We often use these words to characterize younger performing groups. However, when we discuss professional brass quintets, string quartets, etc., we never use these words. If you really think about it, a brass quintet has a TON of limitations and restrictions. They are all brass instruments so your timbres are limited. You only have 5 notes to work with, and on top of that, players need to rest at times so you wind up with 1-4 notes at a time. There are range restrictions. Often no percussion section. I could go on and on. Yet people never think these groups have restrictions – they simply perform literature within their medium, and do it at a high level.

Therefore, using this as a basis, I think it is fair to say that a beginning band or orchestra can be treated much the same. There are no limitations or restrictions. A composer just needs to write within the context of the group. A beginning group should be able to perform any literature “within their medium.” When I conceive a piece for younger players, I start small and work larger. This helps make a piece sound more complex than it may actually be. The danger is starting big and then placing “restrictions” on melodies, etc. That is when a piece can wind up sounding watered down.

When I write for professional groups, I still tend to start small and work larger. It helps to come up with a few ideas and let them germinate and develop. Some of my best works for professional groups are based on a small collection of themes and ideas that are developed throughout. This is a great way to have a sense of cohesion in a work. I believe Steve Bryant uses the term “economy of materials” or something similar. I like that idea – taking a single motif and seeing how much you can do with it while still compelling the performer and audience.

SY: I’m curious about your compositional process. Do you sketch things out or do an outline of a piece first? At what point do you work in Finale versus pencil and paper?

BB: I used to try and approach every piece the same way. Then I started running into roadblocks. Finally I realized that every piece is different, so it is okay if the approach for each piece is different as well. There are several ways I typically approach a piece. On those rare (and wonderful) occasions where the muse is sitting on my shoulder, I’m able to go straight to Finale right away and begin writing. Sometimes I sketch within Finale – writing melodies as I hear them in different instruments, rhythms, harmonies, etc. Then I go back and orchestrate. Other times the orchestration is so crucial to my ideas that I orchestrate as I compose. Again, this doesn’t always happen, but I welcome it when the ideas are flowing so freely.

There have also been quite a few pieces that simply would not work in Finale at first. In those cases, I go to paper and pencil. I find this process to be very intimate and organic. It is always nice to be able to get away from a computer for a while and just sit with pencil and paper outside and sketch ideas. When I do this, I typically write down as much as necessary to remember my thought process. It can sometimes be just a melody, or a melody with chord symbols. Other times, it may be up to 6 staves of music (a melody, counter melody, specific chord structures, percussion rhythms, etc.). Basically, I write things down much as someone would use notecards. In certain cases, you have to write bullet points for everything you want to talk about – however, at other points, you can just jot yourself a quick note and know exactly which direction you are going.

When sketching by hand, I often sketch an entire piece before going to Finale. In fact, I often know exactly how many measures a piece will be when I sketch by hand. I enjoy this process because it allows me to separate composition and orchestration. Since orchestration is such a big part of what I do, it’s nice to have the composition aspect put aside so I can focus purely on orchestration. These sketches also help me get a good overall picture of the form and arch of the work before I begin orchestrating.

SY: What did you use before Finale, and what was your first introduction to Finale?

BB: I have always used Finale. My father was an elementary music teacher and he bought the 2nd or 3rd version of Finale (I still remember us installing it off of floppy disks!). He would use it for school projects, but we also used it to input piano parts for trumpet sonatas. I was a very serious trumpet player at the time and my father would add piano parts from trumpet sonatas into Finale so I could play along with them at home. At one point, we had an entire library of tunes that he programmed. We had a nice Roland digital piano, so the playback sounded pretty decent!

I personally did not begin using Finale much until high school, and not seriously until college. Prior to that, I was more involved with sequencing and trumpet performance. Once in college, I started writing for ensembles that I was playing in, and things kept progressing from there.

SY: What do you like about Finale?

BB: There are so many things. For me personally, I like how it allows me to customize a lot. I like my music to have its own look, so it is nice to be able to customize fonts, articulation placement, beaming rules, etc. Also, I finally started to use the built-in Garritan sounds. (Up until 2012 or so, I was using the same little midi module to check for wrong notes, but it did not serve much greater a purpose than that.) As I find myself traveling a lot more, it has been handy to have the Garritan sounds on my home computer and laptop. The footprint for these sounds is small enough that I can fit them on a regular laptop without having to do a ton of expansion. And for the first time ever, I can hear my music on the road exactly the same as I can at home. For some people, this is normal. For me, it took over 12 years before I finally discovered this!

SY: Have any Finale tips to share?

BB: I like to program certain shortcuts and keep them consistent across all of my projects. Being able to just hit a key to go between the articulation tool and the expression tool for example – you lose a ton of time if you add up each time you move your mouse to the selection palette and back. Also, I like to use both an Apple Magic Trackpad and a Kensington Slimblade Trackball. The trackball lets me fly all over the screen without having to move my hand much, and I’m able to program things like double-clicks and screen redraws right on the mouse. The magic trackpad is great to navigate through the score, so the combination of the two is ideal for me.

SY: Have any advice for composers in general or specifically for those interested in composing for student ensembles?

BB: For young composers, I always suggest that they listen to a lot of music and look at a ton of scores. If a piece fascinates you (whether it is something you are playing in school or something you heard in a concert), get a recording and a score. I always like to listen with a score in hand and circle places in the score that really catch my ear. When I’m finished listening, I’ll go back and look specifically at the places I circled. What made them so special? Was it a harmonic device, orchestration, special effect, or something with the form? Once I’ve figured it out, I add it to my “bag of tricks” so I can use it in my own music if the need arises.

Another comment deals with a lot of residencies I have done at schools throughout the country. It may seem silly, but I encourage composers to view as much of the score on screen as they can. Often, I can tell when a composer is orchestrating directly in Finale (on a smaller screen) because I always see block scoring. All the woodwinds playing together. Then all the brass. Then the percussion. Then back to the brass, etc. Very often, young composers only orchestrate what they can see on the screen. So I encourage composers to either work on larger screens, or take time to look at the bigger picture and make sure they are being creative with their orchestration.

SY: What projects (compositionally AND otherwise) are you working on now?

BB: Right now I am finishing up a band piece for a school in Canada that will be having its grand opening this fall. I also leave for Hawaii later this week to rehearse a group for a premiere that will occur later this summer. The premise of the piece is one of the coolest things I have ever done – so much so that I can’t even get into much detail until after the premiere in July. Other projects include putting the final touches on a string method that I am writing with some incredible co-authors. I feel I have learned a ton from this project, and my writing for strings is only going to improve as a result. Very exciting!

I’d like to thank Brian for taking the time to share his insights with us. Please share your insights too, by clicking on “Comments” below.