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Introducing Finale to Broadway

Broadway Sign Image

[Editor’s Note: After reading my interview with Steven Alper about the use of Finale on Broadway, another long-time Finale user, Peter Miller, described to me some of his experiences on Broadway in Finale’s early days. I replied by asking if he’d share his story on the blog, and he thoughtfully produced the following. –Scott]

“Copy a Broadway show on a computer? That will NEVER happen.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I would have been so rich I might never have had to invent a way to actually do it. Musicians of every discipline repeated this mantra with near Glass-ian consistency. It was easy to understand why. In the late 1980’s, computer-assisted copying and composing was still in its infancy. And, while there existed a few notational programs capable of transcribing notes, they were uniformly inelegant and clumsy, incapable of managing a complex assignment—like the copying of a Broadway show. None of them had the power, finesse or versatility that would be required to take an entire Broadway production, notate it accurately and quickly and, perhaps more importantly, make the innumerable revisions, modifications, adjustments, transpositions and changes that would be required between the first rehearsal and opening night.

In those ancient times, music-preparation on Broadway—or, for that matter, anywhere—was still being executed by hand. And every time it was suggested that it might be accomplished with a computer, you could have heard the dismissive laughter all the way back in Minnesota at CODA, Finale’s parent company headquarters. Indeed, it would be years before the technology was not just accepted, but embraced. But before that could happen, generations of tradition, practice, and convention had to be confronted.

B.C. (Before Computers)

In 1988, I was a hand-copyist, librarian, proofreader, and printer toiling away in the long tradition of “music preparation personnel.” As a copyist, I spent my professional life in the pursuit of producing readable, page-turnable, accurate parts for the theatre, recordings, , movies, TV, etc. This was when everyone was still reading written music that had been prepared by hand, in pen and ink (and sometimes pencil), written on manuscript paper, with a layered-on collection of ransom-note like correction strips all cut, pasted and taped. It was efficient, but cumbersome. Mostly, it was the way it had always been done. Finale forever changed all that.

I learned about Finale—“it’s amazing; you have to see this thing!”—through an arranger whose many recordings, commercials and club acts I had, for many years, been preparing for him by hand. With an address he scribbled on a crumpled piece of manuscript paper (such irony), I soon found myself in a darkened room deep in the theatre district.

There, I watched in awe as the notes that I played into a digital piano keyboard magically appeared on an oversize computer monitor. And then, with a few strokes, the music I had just entered was played back! Not only were all the notes there, but being scrolled as they sounded. And fully orchestrated! Yes, the dynamics had to be added, but even these performed as expected: the mp’s were softer than the mf’s; the staccatos were as short as the tenutos were long; fermatas did their job. It was indeed “amazing” and as I walked out into the blazing lights of the great white way, past the Broadway theatres that would become my many second homes for the next couple of decades, I could feel a paradigm shifting.

But not right away. In those pre-computer days, while churning out notes, or printing parts on a machine that reeked of ammonia, hastily making last-minute changes in a theatre bathroom, crawling over the feet of players in a Broadway pit—sometimes while the show was going on above—or simply racing against some deadline, I would often muse to colleagues about how much easier transcribing, composing, arranging, printing, etc. would be if it could only be done by machine. I mean, books weren’t being written by hand; why should music?

But there was more than a little resistance from the producers, the orchestrators, the musicians in the pits, the musicians’ union, my fellow copyists—indeed, anyone who had any connection to how music found its way to a music stand. They all had an opinion—mostly negative:

“The technology isn’t reliable”
“No one is going to want to read printed music in the pit”
“It looks too neat”
“It takes too long”
“The notes are too small”
“The notes are too big”
“It doesn’t swing like when you write it with a pencil”

The one positive comment that was pretty consistent was: “Well, at least it’s much easier to tell when you’ve copied a note wrong.”

At a time when Finale was still distributed on floppy discs, when it would take ages to launch the program as well as to print a single page, it was hard to argue convincingly that this was the future. Moreover, there was the very real concern and fear that this new technology was going to cost musicians—already a highly unemployed demographic—their  jobs.

The fact is, there were indeed a few “traditionalists” who were never going to toss away their pens, who would continue to copy music by hand until they retired—or the industry discourteously discarded them. This gave me pause.

For as much as I embraced the promise of computer-assisted music preparation, at the same time I mourned the loss of all that beautifully crafted script. Those guys weren’t just musicians; they were artists. And no page of music created on the computer using the fanciest and most “pen-like” fonts would ever match the elegance and grace of those steeped in a tradition that was soon to be decamped.

Respecting the Tradition

So, in 1989, when my office, Miller Music Service, was engaged to copy the score for Grand Hotel, the first Broadway show using computer-assisted notation (and, specifically, Finale), it was to these experienced artisans that I turned. Rather than reinventing an entire system, it seemed the more prudent and expeditious approach to emulate the rules and formats employed by hand-copyists and honed over centuries, and apply them to the new technology.

Some of those musicians made the switch and never looked back. Some remained entrenched. The learning curve was steep and many quit in frustration when early versions of the program proved too idiosyncratic or non-intuitive. But slowly and inexorably, a reluctant industry, from arrangers on down (and up), began to witness that not only could the work be accomplished with accuracy and clarity, but this new system would provide musicians more work, not less, while still allowing for savings in time, money and effort that would be immeasurable.

It took nearly a decade for other offices to make the shift, and the transition did not happen smoothly. Many clung to the belief that this new technology would not survive, and for much of that time, Miller Music Service stood as the lone computer copying office, with me referred to as “that computer guy” (it was not a compliment). But eventually the producers’ fears, and the trepidations of the union, were mollified. Resistance diminished and, in time, computers with their great efficiency and speed were welcomed and championed, not just by the old guard, but by a young army of computer-savvy musicians.


Today, of course, it is impossible to find a theatre in NYC, a recording studio, a nightclub act, a movie, etc. where the written music has not been transcribed by way of computer. Miller Music Service was involved with over a hundred productions on- and off-Broadway, a list that, in addition to that first time with Grand Hotel, includes such shows as Beauty And The Beast, The Secret Garden, Jelly’s Last Jam, The Goodbye Girl, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, The King And I, Little Shop Of Horrors, Bring In Da Noise Bring In Da Funk, Flower Drum Song, The Boys From Syracuse, Once Upon A Mattress, Titanic, The Scarlet Pimpernel, The Music Man, Footloose, Jesus Christ Superstar, The Little Mermaid, Young Frankenstein, Oklahoma, Aida, 42nd Street, The Producers, The Sound Of Music, and Wicked —notably all done exclusively using Finale and all of it created using a technology that, as little as 20 years ago, was considered laughably inadequate.

And while, yes, sometimes the quickest way to turn an A into an Ab is with a pencil, when it comes to the preparation of an entire orchestra, from one large enough to fill the halls of Lincoln Center or small enough to fit in a closet, it makes about as much sense to create orchestral parts by hand as it would be to write a novel using a quill.

The pen may be mightier than the sword, but neither of them has a chance against the computer. It changed my life, the lives of many musicians, and, along the way, changed forever the way the curtain would rise on a Broadway show.

Peter R Miller© Peter R. Miller—August 26, 2015

Peter R. Miller is a musical director, composer, audition coach, and music-copyist in New York City.

He was the first, in 1989, to prepare the music for a Broadway show—“Grand Hotel”— employing computer-assisted notational software; which just happened to be Finale.

Finale Tip: Using Layers in Choral Music

Choral Music ExampleI recently received an email from a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. Most of the email took the form of a question:

“If I have a score with SATB voices on different staves, what’s the best way to merge the S/A and the T/B into one staff each?”

Was I disappointed my friend didn’t inquire about my thoughts and feelings first? Not really; I’m always relieved when people ask me questions I can answer! Plus the question is timely: not only have we just begun releasing choir repertoire in SmartMusic, but also many of us are scrambling to put together our own choral music for use in a recently-formed MakeMusic choir.

When putting more than one voice on one staff, I often use layers, typically entering the higher voice in layer 1 and the lower voice in layer 2. Controls to switch from layer to layer are in the bottom left corner of your screen; how this looks on the Mac appears on the left below, and on Windows on the right:

Layer Controls in Finale Mac and Windows

I typically enter all music in layer 1 unless circumstances require me to add an additional layer. By default, Finale always lets me know when I’ve entered notes in layers 2-4 by coloring those notes on-screen; this helps me remember to switch back to layer 1 after I’ve added a second voice. In the image at the top of this post, notes entered in layer 2 appear in red.

With that in mind, here’s how I’d move the contents of the separate voice staves into two staves:

  1. Select the alto staff, choose Edit > Move/Copy Layers, and move the contents of layer 1 to layer 2.
  2. Choose Document > Show Active Layer Only. Note that the music on the alto staff has disappeared. At the bottom left of the page, select layer 2 and it should reappear.
  3. Drag-copy the contents of the alto staff into the soprano staff. When you’re done, deselect Show Active Layer Only to see the results (then switch back to layer 1 unless you plan to do some editing in layer 2.)

Then I’d follow the same process to copy the bass staff into layer 2 of the tenor staff (and possibly change clefs as necessary).

If you’re working on a classic four part hymn, these steps may product exactly the result you’re looking for. In modern choral practice, however, I’m told that you’d typically use common stems when the two voices on each staff share rhythms and durations (as seen in the example at the top of this article). To achieve this result, you’ll find yourself manually removing some notes from layer two and adding them back to layer one. You’ll also likely want to hide some rests in layer 2, easily done in Simple Entry by selecting the rest and pressing the h key.

Having said all that, there are other ways to answer the initial question. One would be to use Utilities > Implode Music to move the contents of two staves into one. If you choose that route, try moving the alto and bass staves to layer 2 before running Implode Music. There’s probably other solutions I’m not thinking of, possibly involving a plug-in created by someone not affiliated with MakeMusic, that offer additional functionality.

Have a suggestion of how you’d answer my friend? Have questions about any of the above? Want to inquire about my thoughts and feelings? Let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Writing Chords in Jazz and Popular Music

Chord Suffixes

Today I’d like to start a discussion on writing chords in jazz or contemporary music. In a way, chord charts are their own language, filled with hundreds of different systems and dialects. While the goal is always to write something that your reader can understand, getting there can be a challenge.

My plan is to talk about a few of the typical ways chords charts are written, and hopefully hear from some of you about your methods in showing harmony. I’d like to stress that this is not by any means an all-inclusive list! I’m certainly not specifying a preference since there are so many different schools of thought on chords – so much that even professors in the same school may not agree with each other!

In my view, most chord charts fall into about four different methods of notation. The first method I’d like to explore is one I call the east coast system, so named because it is often seen in scores written by publishers based in New York, and is the method taught at many jazz schools on the east coast:

East Coast Suffixes

In this system, the chord quality is written as a three-letter abbreviation. Chord tensions are usually parenthesized, as well as voicing instructions such as omit 5 or no 3rd. If a tension affects a chord’s quality (as in the case of suspended chords or the min7b5 chord), it is not parenthesized. Chords appear at the same height unless multiple, nonconsecutive tensions are included in the voicing. In that case, the tensions are often stacked on top of each other, or separated by a comma.

In what I call the west coast system, chords are written similarly, but there are some important differences that warrant a separate system:

West Coast Suffixes

 In many of the film scores and jazz charts coming from Los Angeles shorthand is often used in place of numbers (I’ve seen this in jazz charts from parts of Texas, too). Perhaps the best example of this is the min7b5 chord, which is known by another name out west: half-diminished. This chord is expressed using the ø symbol often found in many Scandinavian languages, because a fully diminished chord (which as a double-flatted seventh) uses a º symbol. Chord tensions are typically not parenthesized, but are written in superscript instead.

There are shorthand versions of both systems, and they differ so much between people that it cannot really be classified. However, it is typical to see a capital M or delta (∆) symbol for major chords, a lowercase m or dash (-) for minor chords, a degree symbol (º) for diminished chords and a plus sign (+) for augmented chords. Unfortunately, that is where the similarities end:

Shorthand Suffixes

These two systems also differ when using polytonality. Chords with a specific bass note (sometimes referred to as “hybrid” or “compound” chords) are written with a slash followed by the desired bass note. On the west coast, it is common to see the word bass written after the bass note letter. When a true polychord is used, the west coast system may use the slash notation described above, while the east coast system often writes the top chord above a horizontal line, with the bottom chord written below:

Hybrid Suffixes

In Nashville, an entirely different method is growing in popularity, known as the Nashville Number system. This system was created in the late 1950’s as producers needed a simple, quick way to write chord charts for session musicians:

Nashville Suffixes

In this method, chord roots are written as Arabic numerals relative to the key of the song. Major chords use only the numeral, while minor chords include a dash. Any tensions or suspensions are written as shorthand.

So what does Finale use? The answer is a little more complex than you might think, but Finale’s chord suffix library aligns well with a slightly different system, devised in the early 70’s by copyist Clinton Roemer:

Roemer Suffixes

 In this system, all chord symbols are capitalized. Major and Minor are expressed as two-letter abbreviations (“ma” and “mi”), and shorthand is used for diminished and augmented chords, but nothing else. In Finale’s default document styles, three-letter abbreviations are also included to more closely represent chord practices more widely used, and of course all suffixes can be edited to fit your needs. Any tensions or changes to the chord are written in parentheses and superscripted. Polytonal and hybrid chords are written as described in the East Coast system above.

I’ll be the first to admit that as a jazz musician, I wasn’t familiar with the Roemer system myself until I started using Finale. To me, this system seemed strange at first, because it didn’t look like the charts I was reading from the Real Book. As I became more comfortable with the system, I found many good reasons to start using it. While it may not be a system that everyone is familiar with, it does have the advantage of being really hard to misinterpret, and for that reason I’ve been using it in my own music for about the last decade.

Ultimately, I want my players to know what chord I intended (even if they complain about the suffix). To me, that’s much better than hearing the wrong chords on the gig.

What are your rules when writing chords? Do you do something different than what I’ve described above? Let us know in the comments below!

MakeMusic Transfers MusicXML Development to W3C

Michael Good

Today MakeMusic announced that it is transferring development of its industry-standard MusicXML format to the new Music Notation Community Group at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Pictured above are the three co-chairs of the Music Notation Community Group (L to R):

  • Joe Berkovitz, president of Noteflight
  • Michael Good, VP of research and development at MakeMusic
  • Daniel Spreadbury, product marketing manager at Steinberg

Michael Good invented the MusicXML format in 2000 to create a standard interchange format for music notation applications. It has been adopted by more than 200 applications, including nearly all the major web, desktop, and mobile notation programs.

Finale was the first widely used music notation application to support the MusicXML format, starting with the release of Finale 2003 for Windows. Finale added MusicXML support for Mac with Finale 2006. Finale’s implementation of MusicXML import and export has been a reference for the music notation industry.

The MusicXML format was originally developed at Michael’s former company Recordare, with the participation of a large and active developer and musical community. MakeMusic’s 2011 acquisition of Recordare’s assets changed the community dynamics, since Finale was a competitor for many of these developers. This increased the community’s desire to move MusicXML development to a more neutral forum.

Today’s transfer of MusicXML to an open W3C community group marks another step forward in MakeMusic and Finale’s support for open standards such as MusicXML, MIDI, and the EPUB electronic book format.

Simultaneously, Steinberg has announced that it is transferring development of its Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL) specification to the same W3C Music Notation Community Group. MakeMusic has been actively involved in SMuFL development since the format was first announced. Michael Good from MakeMusic, Daniel Spreadbury from Steinberg, and Joe Berkovitz from Hal Leonard/Noteflight will serve as co-chairs of the Music Notation Community Group.

You can read more about the story behind the formation of the W3C Music Notation Community Group on the group’s blog at:

MakeMusic, Steinberg, and Hal Leonard invite developers, publishers, musicians, and other interested parties to join the W3C Music Notation Community Group. Membership is free of charge. More details are available at

Moving Lyric Verses in Finale

TestNeed to move lyrics from one verse to another? Select the Lyrics tool and go to Lyrics > Lyrics Window. From here it’s a simple task: Just cut the text from one lyric and paste it in another.

Once the words have been moved, however, they’ll likely need to be re-assigned to the notes in the document. You can use a modifier key – CTRL on Windows, OPTION on Mac – to click-assign the entire lyric in one go. The feature even avoids rests and tied notes.

This works great if your document has a 1:1 ratio of syllables to notes, but what if some notes are slurred together as a melisma?

Shift Lyrics offers an easy solution. Instead of having to plod through your document, click-assigning each individual note to avoid the slurs, you can use Shift Lyrics to quickly move a mis-assigned syllable one note at a time. Let’s take a look at an example.

In a sample document, I’ve inadvertently entered the lyrics of the second verse into Verse 3.  After only a few steps, I can get this corrected.

1. In the Lyrics Window, I’m viewing Verse 3. I choose Edit > Select All and Edit > Cut.

Lyrics Step 1

2. From the Lyric drop-down menu, I select Verse 2 and choose Edit > Paste. Then I select the Click Assignment tool.

Lyrics Step 2

3. In the document, I hold CTRL (OPTION on Mac) and click the first note. The entire lyric is assigned, but now I need to correct the few mis-assigned syllables. For example, “Ma-ry” needs to start in measure 3 below:

Lyrics Step 3

4. I choose Lyrics > Shift Lyrics to display the Shift Lyrics dialog box. This is already set to Shift Lyrics to the Right and Shift syllables by one note, to the next open note, so I click OK.

Lyrics Step 4

5. I click once on the syllables “Ma-”, “stood”, “ves-”, and “blood” to avoid the first four slurs, three times on “ful” to avoid the long slur, and once on “food” to avoid the last slur.

Lyrics Step 5

And that’s it: no need to manually assign each syllable individually. This can be a major time-saver in a lyrics-heavy document.

How are lyrics working for you? Share your experience with the Finale community by clicking on “Comments” below.

Steven M. Alper on Preparing Music for Broadway

Preparing Music for Broadway

In a recent Finale Blog post we met composer, author, and orchestrator Steven M. Alper, a long-time user and friend of Finale. This time, responding to a request from a Finale blog reader, Steven has kindly agreed to share his insights to preparing music for Broadway.

What are some of the unique challenges of being a Broadway music copyist? What are some of the hallmarks of parts prepared for Broadway?

First off, I’d like to point out that preparing music for Broadway is little different from preparing a score for any other form of musical theatre (in the theatre, the entire set of songs and instrumental pieces is referred to as the score) whether it be off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, regional theatre, etc. It’s really just a matter of scale.

Most of the process of modern computer music preparation for Broadway (and musical theatre in general) is a direct outgrowth of many decades of hand-copying. In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, under pressure from the producers, many of the Broadway copying supervisors made the decision to begin the process of shifting over to computer copying (using Finale, almost universally). They took their many years of experience and imposed the standards and procedures that had served well in the past on music copied using computers. To this day we still create parts that would be familiar to a copyist from the 1960s.

To understand what makes copying for musical theatre unique, it’s important to recognize that the fundamental underlying beast with which the copyist wrestles is change. I can’t think of another music-based field in which the material is potentially subject to such a great amount of revision. These can entail anything from taceting an instrument to cuts to insertions to wholesale replacement of numbers. And it’s the many years of experience of handling these kinds of changes that led to the basic rules of thumb the leading hand copyists used and that we still employ.

There are four relatively distinct phases of copying music for a show.


Pre-production is the time when rehearsal piano-vocal music is prepared. These may or may not be prepared by the supervising copyist, but will become the basis for the orchestral score. Even before rehearsals start, numbers which are not expected to change significantly may be released to the orchestrator to begin work. The copyist will prepare a template to the orchestrators’ specifications. For each number, the copyist pours into the template (or manually copies, if the rehearsal piano is handwritten) the vocal lines and the rehearsal piano part (which will be used as a sketch).  Next they lay out the score to a standard 4 bars per page, adjusting for proper phrasing (meaning to accommodate for music that does not fall into regular 4-bar phrases). If the orchestrator is working by hand, Show Rests in Empty Measures is of course turned off for all staves except the rehearsal piano and vocal.

Rehearsal Process

In this phase we will begin to see changes and revisions. Generally these are communicated to the orchestrator who will inform the copyists of what is needed (assuming the copyist has already received orchestration to work on). During the rehearsal period, hopefully, the bulk of the rest of the material will be released for orchestration. I say hopefully because the end of this phase leads to the event demarcating this phase from the next: the first orchestra rehearsal.

Because rehearsal time is expensive and necessarily short, parts are laid out according to some fairly strict rules which are designed to accommodate potential revisions and changes, and to assure that the music is as clear, comprehensible, and usable, as possible. Some of these include: eight stave first pages and ten staves on the following pages, all phrases and rehearsal letters or numbers begin at the left margin, double-barlines at the right margin, the use of instrument change warnings and new instrument labels, rests at every page turn (even if it means tossing out most of the other rules); and never having a page turn fall during an instrument change. Parts typically have 4 bars per line, and no more than 8 (have you ever tried to hand-write 12 bars of 16th notes on a single line to avoid having to reformat?) and no more than 8 bars of rests without cues.

First Orchestral Rehearsal through Opening

While new orchestrations may continue to come in, this is the period of most intense change and revision. Since the players will have made many marks on the music, to avoid reprinting entire parts and having to transfer all those marks for the players, it’s become standard procedure to print only the areas that have changes and paste these over the existing parts. So we try to lock down the layout as much as possible to prevent unaffected areas from losing their formatting. And limiting the parts to 4 bars per line means we can, for example, accommodate an 8-bar insert by changing 4 lines of 4 bars each to 4 lines of 6 bars each.

By the way, there’s a kind of Murphy’s law which states that all revisions will eliminate page turns or time to make instrument changes. This will of course require a more extensive type of layout modifications (try this on a bass part where you’ve squeezed 150 bars onto two pages in order to get to that one bar rest for a page turn).

Not all revisions are done at the computer. When we’re at the theatre and are informed of the need to make changes to the parts too quickly to go back to the office and print them, sometimes hand-correction is the fastest way to go. We’ll hand write the fix on blank staff paper, cut out the hand-fix and paste it over, just as we would with a printed fix.

When we go in to do our patching, whenever we have time we will look through the parts to see if there’s anything we can clean up to make the players’ lives easier.

At some point before a show’s official opening, a decision will be made to “freeze” the show, meaning that no more changes will be made. This call can be made any time prior to opening night, but I’ve been in situations where I was passing out new material to the orchestra just before curtain on opening night. This brief freeze period will give us time to sort out loose ends, take care of issues we haven’t had time to deal with, and to handle player requests (for layout changes, replacement of childishly scrawled and illegible rewrites, and the like).

Post-Opening Cleaning

Shortly after opening, if the producer feels that the show has a shot at a longer run, the copyists will be permitted to do a cleaning. In this, the last phase, the master files will be updated with all of the changes that were done directly to the parts (e.g., dictated to the players or hand-written by the copyists), as well as any other improvements and beautification deemed of value. These may include note fixes or changes, changes to instrument changes, cuts and other revisions, articulation additions, lyric changes, cue adjustments, layout improvements, etc.

Here’s a photo of a “short stack” of photocopied player parts, in preparation for a cleaning:

Preparing Music for Broadway 2

Granted, every show is a different animal and everything I’ve described above is subject to change. (I’ve also omitted two special circumstances: cast recordings and preparation for publication for a licensing house, which involve many of the procedures mentioned above.)

In Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, there was one particular number that was almost 400 bars long. For most of the parts the accordion-folded music for the number was about 1/4″ thick (even thicker for the keys and percussion). Spider-Man‘s troubled path saw its original director replaced after many, many months of previews (a typical Broadway show will have three to six weeks of previews). With the new director came a new vision, which included a new script, new music, and extensive revisions to the existing material. The production was shutting down for several weeks for the retooling. We received the direction to do a cleaning of the existing material to prepare the files for these changes. The parts for that particular number looked like snakes that had dined particularly well. They bowed outward in the middle from the quantity of revisions the number had received. There were patches over patches over patches, patches across patches, pages shoved into the middle to be pulled to the side. Some of those 1/4″ parts bulged to almost a full inch by this point. (The revision of this number that was played on opening night was cut it down to nubbins.)

Are handwritten or engraved-looking fonts the standard? For everything? Are there specific fonts that are particularly well (or poorly) received?

Many of the decisions about what the music ultimately looks like come from feedback from the players. In the early days we played around with handwritten font styles. Some players swore they preferred them until we actually put them on the stands. But it became apparent that the more traditional, engraver-ish fonts gave a greater sense of precision and accuracy. We’ve continued to play around with different fonts, but I’ve pretty much settled on Maestro for its weight and clarity (although I do use some Petrucci articulations which are more elegant and require less real estate).

Is there a standard size for parts, and a typical type (and color) of paper? Are pages taped together, in a book, loose, or ?

For Broadway and shows of similar scale, we use a special 9-1/2 x 12-1/2” heavy stock, taped accordion style, with each number taped separately. What the players end up doing with their parts can be wild; cutting them up and taping them in a different layout, tearing off cover pages, inverting the accordion folds. On one show, the bassist taped the entire first act together into a single accordion.

For out of town or off-Broadway or short runs we may use regular 8-1/2 x 11” letter size paper, printed or taped back-to-back. This of course has its own set of problems since every right hand page must accommodate a turn – there’s no option to have 3 rest-free pages with the marking “OPEN 3 PAGES” on the first page. But it is a much easier size to deal with when printing to unfamiliar printers or when photocopying the parts.

Thanks again to Steven for taking his time to share his experience with us. Have a question for Steven, or a request for future topics? Please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Finale Spotlight on A Cappella Guru Deke Sharon

Deke Sharon

Back in May I was delighted to discover a video interview with Deke Sharon, the “musical force behind NBC’s ‘The Sing Off’ and both ‘Pitch Perfect’ films.” In the video we see Deke using Finale 2014 to demonstrate one of his arrangements, which have become widely influential in the a cappella world and beyond.

After we shared a link to the video on social media, we received this tweet from Deke:

“FINALE!!! My life saver! Been using your amazing program since 1991 for over 2000 a cappella arrangements. THANK YOU!”

Emboldened by his kind words I reached out to ask if he’d be willing to be interviewed for the Finale blog and was delighted when he agreed.

How would you describe your arranging style?

Honestly, I’m not sure I can. People tell me they can absolutely tell if I’ve arranged something, and I don’t know how they can tell. Moreover, sometimes they’re wrong, and maybe it’s because I’ve influenced others… who knows. I just do what makes sense to me, and arrange in a variety of styles so it’s a rather wide bandwidth more than a clearly defined style.

What vocal arrangers have been most influential on you?

So many musicians, and arrangers in general (like Claus Ogerman and Nelson Riddle), as well as everything from classical arrangers (Vaughan Williams) through vocal jazz (Gene Puerling) up through modern a cappella groups (so very many, like the Bobs and Vocal Sampling), with a healthy dose of world music thrown in (From Bulgaria’s Les Voix Mystere to Ladysmith Black Mambazo). I wouldn’t begin to know how to tease these apart, as my iPod is like my brain: a thick gumbo of music spanning the globe and a thousand years.

Have you had to develop your own notational style for certain vocal techniques?

Pitch and rhythm are generally straightforward, but timbre can be a challenge, as extended vocal techniques and non-linguistic sounds have no clear spelling. I do my best, and then teach in person whenever possible.

Have any Finale or notation tips to share?

There is no doubt that many and perhaps even most of your users have many skills I don’t but I’ll bet I have the upper hand when it comes to lyrics, since pretty much every note in an a cappella arrangement has a syllable attached to it. I could probably speak at length (boringly) about the changes over the years… let’s just say I’d like to give a hug to whomever decided that a copied music section’s lyric changes no longer effect the original’s lyrics. That has added years to my life!

How do you notate “percussion” parts?  Are there generally accepted syllables for different “instruments”?

The vocal percussion and beatboxing traditions are aural with each person having their own style and technique, so as a result 99% of the time nothing is notated, and when it is it’s usually a simple pattern a measure or two long at the end of the arrangement to give the director a general guideline. Let’s be honest: most drummers can’t even read drum notation, so I’d be wasting my time!

Do you tailor the number of parts to the specific number of singers in a group or do you take what you need from the song you’re arranging and use that to determine the number of singing parts needed?

It depends if I’m custom-tailoring an arrangement to a specific group or if I’m arranging something for publication that will be sung by a wide variety of ensembles. I try to make arrangements no harder than they need to be so that people can focus on emoting rather than extended rehearsing.

Do you have any advice for people who want to sell their own arrangements or otherwise earn their living though a cappella-related endeavors?

I do, and get asked about publishing arrangements so very often that I wrote a blog post about it, to which I direct people weekly:

As for people wanting more info on a cappella related endeavors, I usually send them to, which I just started this year. A one-stop, ad-free clearinghouse of how-to a cappella information.

What was your introduction to Finale?

I reviewed it long ago, in 1991, for the Contemporary A Cappella Newsletter, and have been a convert ever since. I will admit I initially preferred arranging with pencil and paper, but as Finale has grown and expanded it has become increasingly clear that there’s no better tool for a composer or arranger.

What do you like about Finale?

You can do pretty much anything with it. I use it for sketches, and to publish music. It’s a high performance vehicle and a beater car, always getting you where you need to go.

Also, anyone can use it at many levels. I can always spin off midi files and PDFs, which I do, but being able to also send a .mus or .musx file and tell my singers to download notepad for free so they can watch the music scroll by as it’s playing (and make tweaks if needed) is priceless.

What would you change?

Since you asked: The default sound for vocals is always that washy “ah” choral sound, which when arranging a cappella always needs to be changed. I wish vocals always defaulted to a piano sound, which is much more useful in complex 12 part arrangements. This would save me 2 minutes, not a big deal.

You guys fixed the backward compatibility issue (THANKS!)

Ooh – here’s one more suggested fix: If I’m dragging lyrics from one staff to another and the second staff has rests, I’d love to have those words not copy, so I don’t have to go through and erase them. Often there are harmonies that don’t sing every word that the melody does, and having lyrics not “stick” to rests would definitely save time.

What you think is necessary to re-establish confidence in our innate human ability to be musical that was lost with the advent of recording technology?

We’re all animals, and like animals we use communication to connect with others, form bonds, mate. Singing is found throughout nature, from crickets to song birds, and is very clearly a part of human history, as it was the first music, and has been documented as a part of all cultures through time. All of our ancestors used to gather together around the fire at the end of the day and sing, tell stories, make music.

Something has happened in Western culture, a downward spiral, that started with a chosen few taking the stage, and then the birth of recorded music where we could listen to others make music instead of making it ourselves, and finally with the shaming of singers ala American Idol. The result is that people think they need to sing like Pavarotti or they’re garbage, and if they open their mouths in public they’ll be ridiculed. This is a travesty.

The result is that you have people singing in their showers, in their cars, under their breath. Going to karaoke bars and getting drunk before they dare take the stage. We don’t pass by a group of 30 year olds shooting hoops on a Sunday afternoon, so why should we so harshly judge some friends getting together to sing a couple songs on the street corner? We need to return music to the people, rather than the chosen few. The Simon Cowells of the world should be exposed for what they are – exploitive, shameful bullies who make fun of others to make money – and we should inspire more people to get back in touch with their own innate desire and ability to sing. They joy and connection in vocal harmony should be able to be experienced and shared and celebrated by everyone.

What music has recently moved you?

The high school group I’m working with on the new Lifetime show has been moving me every day. We recognize that teenagers lead the most fascinating, emotionally rich, complicated lives which is why they’re the focus of so many movies and stories (from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games), but they’re usually portrayed by older actors (ahem, Grease). This isn’t necessary, because when teenagers are given a voice and an opportunity to really express themselves it can be so very powerful, so very moving.

What’s next? An a cappella reality show on Lifetime? Will your participation include being on-screen as well? How is that going?

Yup! We’re shooting that right now in New Jersey. I’m one of two hosts/coaches, and will be on-camera working with a great high school group from Cherry Hill, near Philadelphia.

Just finished the first week, and I’m very excited for people to see this show, as for the first time (unlike The Sing Off, Pitch Perfect, Glee, etc.) people will be able to see how a cappella is really crafted before groups hit the stage.

If you’d like to learn more about Deke and his music, check out his website at where he even offers free a cappella arrangements. His published music can be found at and he offers free a cappella arranging tips at Thanks again to Deke for not only sharing his time with us, but for so generously sharing his knowledge with other singers and arrangers.


Finale Spotlight on Ben Byram-Wigfield

Ben Byram-Wigfield

In our office, Ben Byram-Wigfield is best known as a knowledgeable member of the Finale forum community. In London, however, he’s also a singer, musicologist, author and the operator of Ancient Groove Music, who publish editions of sacred choral and other vocal music. (Check out their website, which offers great free resources including beautiful music, engraving tips, essays, and more.)

Ben is also the author of a new book, Finale Music App Basics, available in the UK through Flame Tree, and in the US through Amazon and others, and the book’s publication seems like a perfect opportunity to introduce Ben to our readers.

Congratulations on the publication of “Finale Music App Basics.” How did you become involved in this project?

Simon Troup of Digital Music Art posted on the MakeMusic Finale forum that a UK publisher was looking for someone. They had to be familiar with Finale, experienced at writing, and able to work to a tight deadline and strict brief. I’ve worked in book publishing and I’m used to writing quickly, so I put my name forward.

How does this book differ from other Finale guides?

It’s designed to be a true beginner’s guide. Finale is so complex that it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the possibilities. The book keeps it simple and shows you how Finale does what it does.

Does the book’s organization reflect the order in which it was created, or did you consider other alternatives?

It takes you the whole process in a natural order: creating your first document, putting notes on the page, adding notation elements, text and lyrics, laying out the music on the page — all the way to the finished article. That seemed the most obvious and logical way.

You make it very clear that a staff is one line of music and the plural of staff is staves. Do I sense a pet peeve here? 

Not really. I do think that precision and agreement in terminology is important, and that’s how Finale has it. In the UK, “the music stave” is common. However, if you’re going to hit someone, you definitely need a staff.

You’ve been very generous with your time on the Finale Forums, helping many Finale newcomers. What motivates your forum participation?

I’ve received as much help from others as I’ve given. It’s a nice exchange of ideas, and a friendly community, though the passions of perfectionists can sometimes run high. I try to see it as some light relief from my day.

What was your first introduction to Finale?

In the 1990s, I worked at Gloucester Cathedral, and the Choir School had a copy of Music Prose 2.1 running on a Mac IIsi. I used it to engrave a newly commissioned piece for the Cathedral Choir. Not my finest work, but it started me on the path of becoming a professional engraver with Finale.

What do you like about Finale?

Flexibility and Control. Music notation has as many exceptions as rules, and Finale can achieve any result you want. You can adjust everything.

What would you change?

A lot of the UI needs an overhaul. There are too many “Russian doll” dialogs. And I’d like to see some of the plug-ins rolled into the core of the program.

Have a favorite Finale tip?

If in doubt: right-click on it.

Have any comic Finale or Finale forum anecdotes to share?

The most impressive thing I’ve seen is a drawing of a boat, done entirely in Finale.

Given Sibelius’ popularity in the UK, have you ever been pressured (or tempted) to switch (or use both)?

I was a chorister at King’s College Cambridge with the Finn twins, who wrote Sibelius. They were brighter than a pair of brain pies. [Editor's note: Check out this Ben Finn interview] Sibelius didn’t reach the Mac platform until quite late, and I’m a Mac user of old.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently exploring the darker corners of the late Italian Baroque. There’s some really whacky stuff out there, much of which is now sadly forgotten.

On behalf of everyone who’s benefited from his help on the Finale forum I’d like to thank Ben for his generosity and wish him luck with his new book and his brave explorations into the darker corners.

Mark Adler and What’s next: Finale 2014.5

Mark Adler

Lately we’ve been hearing lots of questions about the next version of Finale and I thought this might a great opportunity to answer those questions and talk a little about my new role at MakeMusic.

The project we’re currently working on is Finale 2014.5, which will be a free upgrade for all registered Finale 2014 owners. This release will feature performance enhancements, bug fixes, and will also add some new features based on your requests. Following the release of Finale 2014d we’ve been able (for the first time ever) to gather Finale usage data, and we’re very appreciative that so many of you have opted-in and allowed us to do this. This data plays a crucial role in the course of Finale development, including the creation of Finale 2014.5.

While we haven’t announced a time frame for the release, rest assured that Finale 2014 is the version for the 2015-2016 school year.

We’ve also been asked about our plans to support Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL) fonts in Finale. We’re concurrently working on this support and updating our flagship Maestro music font to be SmuFL compliant. In the process we will add thousands of new glyphs to the font. The current plan is to not provide this with Finale 2014.5, but to make it part of the next version of Finale.

As of the first of the year my title changed from Senior Editor to Notation Product Manager/Senior Editor. Today I am responsible for all of our notation products; defining the product road map and feature sets, as well as prioritizing development. As a long-time Finale user (starting with version 3.0), a professional copyist/engraver, an active performer, and a private music educator, I believe my notational interests and goals align with those of many Finale users, yet I’m always interested in learning about workflows and usages that differ from my own. My goal is to do everything I can to help make Finale the very best it can be.

If you’re interested in looking at some of my engraving work, readily available examples include the worksheets and repertoire included in Finale as well as some of my whimsical work on the Finale blog.

On a personal note, my wife and I moved the final box into our new Colorado home last week, and we’ve already made our first trip to the Goodwill to share with others some of the stuff we shouldn’t have moved in the first place.

I’m excited about my new role, home, and Finale’s future. If you have any questions for me, please share them by clicking on “Comments” below.

Steven M. Alper and Finale History

Visual Index for Print 3 700

Do you recognize the document above? This version of Finale’s Visual Index was found in the Quick Reference guide that came with Finale 3.0, with a copyright date of 1992. Today we’ll meet with its creator, Steven M. Alper, and learn a little about Finale history.

What was your introduction to Finale?

In the late 1980s I was always casting around for some way to get my music (original compositions, orchestrations, or arrangements – whatever) onto the paper more easily, quickly, and accurately. Convinced the computer was going to help, I accepted my first Mac (along with a dot matrix printer and a 20 Megabyte hard drive and software) as payment for the first show I ever copied. I had read about what software was available and decided to go with HB Engraver, which was at the high end.

On this particular show, all of the parts had been orchestrated except for the piano-conductor’s, who was reading from lead sheets. The easiest way, it seemed, to get his part notated was to have him play it into a sequencer and use software to transcribe that information. In those days, that wasn’t so easy. While HB Engraver could notate a file from MIDI data (and I believe this was before there was a Standard MIDI file  spec, or at least before it was generally accepted), recording functions were not built in. The only software that could output a file that HB Engraver could interpret was something called (I think) MIDI Painter, which could record MIDI from an external keyboard and also play back sequences you created by painting on a “musical canvas .” Quite cumbersome, but it worked after a fashion.

A couple of years later, I was music director for the off-Broadway revival of Godspell. Once we had run for a while, a guy named David Pogue started coming in to sub on the second keyboard chair. David and I hit it off and spent a lot of time in wide-ranging discussion. One topic that came up fairly frequently was notation software. David was a big proponent – oh, let’s say he was an evangelist — for a new program called Finale. It sounded interesting to me, but not enough to make me want to switch from HB Engraver.

We went around and around on this, and David was fairly relentless. He sensed victory when I finally asked, “If I buy this, will you help me find work using it?” At the time, Finale was available only at the full list price of $1000, which was a lot when I was taking home a little less than $300 a week as a big, hot shot music director.

The next day I visited David at home for an intro to the program. He spent about a half-hour demonstrating some of the basics of the different input methods and then jokingly showed how to shove about 140 measures onto a single staff. Then he told me that he was sending me to work with Jule Styne (if you have to Google that name, you should hang your head in shame). “What, are you crazy!?” I asked for at least a week. And sometime shortly after that I was working with Jule Styne, using Finale.

David was moving on to other things and started off-loading to me some of his clients for whom he did computer guru-type things as well as Finale work. And this ultimately brought me in to the Broadway copy shops.

You created some classic  Finale tutorial files. Can you remind me of your history with Coda?

I don’t know how it came about, but David was going to do that massive and brilliant revision of the Finale manual for version 3, splitting the original dense material into three volumes: a set-up and tutorial volume, a standard reference to the tools and what they did, and a kind of reverse of that which looked at what you might want to achieve musically and explained how to accomplish that. (Finale’s manuals have continued to utilize variations on David’s idea.) He brought me in to help with screenshots and to write and create the tutorial examples and The Visual Index.

David described what he wanted each tutorial example to illustrate and I whipped up some musical things to his specs. The biggest challenge was The Visual Index. David had this idea that there would be a piece of music that in two pages should demonstrate almost everything that Finale could do, with callouts telling the reader where to look in the manual for an explanation of that particular element. I remember little of the writing process, but there are two things I can tell you about this piece.

First, the production department needed the finished piece at a time well before the software was due to be completed. This meant that I was to create a piece of music that used types of notation that the version of the software I was using was not yet able to do. So I took it as far as I could in Finale, then exported it as an EPS file, which I opened in Adobe Illustrator and finished manually.

The other piece of trivia about The Visual Index is that I originally wrote a very different set of lyrics than what appeared in the final version. The people at Coda thought mine too irreverent and David came up with the pseudo-art song lyric that has appeared ever since. Here are mine:



By the way, while The Visual Index may be my most famous composition, some of the tutorial examples have been used in ways I never imagined. “Tin Dance” has been performed on several occasions and was recorded for use in a documentary (about what, I can’t recall).

When Finale 3.0 was released, it was notoriously and stultifyingly slow. I did a parody of the tool bar, which featured things like a Mass Mover truck that had crashed out of the side of the toolbar and was tumbling away (the “Instrument of Destruction” tool). Some other notable tools included the “Get-That-Stupid-Expression-Off-Your-Face” tool, the “MIDIternity” tool, the “Peek-a-Boo Ossiu” tool, and “Zippy has his temperature taken” tool.

I shared my parody with David who did something I never would have: he forwarded it to the Finale engineers who, according to him, got a great kick out of it. (Here’s what we reclaimed of the parody when we tried to open the ancient Canvas file.) I also have to say that 3.2, which came out very soon after the 3.0 release, was downright spritely.

What do you like about Finale?

I like: the ability to lock things down (when you remember to) to keep things from moving around; key-assignable tools, articulations, and expressions; multiple input methods; plug-ins; and I like the fact that 99% of the time anything I need to do I can eventually find a way to do.

The two biggest plusses about Finale: the beauty of the results after care and effort; and the fact that it’s what I know. I’ve been using it since the beginning, and while there have been a few major paradigm changes, it’s always become familiar relatively quickly. When I had to use Sibelius, I literally burst into tears of frustration because it was so alien. There is very little the two programs have in common except the end goal. (However, once I achieved some level of competence, I stopped bashing the program which I admit has its merits, and I see the Finale engineers striving for parity in the areas in which Sibelius excels.)

What would you change?

Kill the bugs. I wish: Finale was smarter about collision avoidance; that, when you’ve set up inside-outside margins, the Page Layout tool would recognize when you’ve inserted a page and not give you two right-hand pages in a row; that the Lyrics tool was smarter, didn’t suffer from so many problems especially after many revisions, and didn’t slow things down so much; that the Chord tool was more intelligent and that font changes didn’t require so much tinkering; that some of the Smart Shapes were smarter; that the measure numbering tool could place measure numbers below on single-staff parts, but above on multi-stave parts; that many of the things available as plug-ins were built in. I wish it wasn’t so hard to find the things you know are in the program but you can’t find because you haven’t used them in a while.

I really wish MakeMusic would purchase Sibelius from Avid, create a direct importer/converter of .sib files, and grab everything of value and incorporate it into Finale.

Have a Finale tip youd like to share?

Learn the plug-ins. If it had been around longer and hadn’t taken me so long to find, Jari Williamson’s “Copy Part Layout” alone would have shaved years of man hours. Same for Robert Patterson’s “Copy Page Titles.” And then there’s Tobias Giesen’s TGTools, which was (and still is) a huge toolkit of time saving devices. After seeing my complaints about dealing with page number placement and some other special notation that were required at the time, Robert Patterson created the “Copyist’s Helper” plug-ins, which did some extraordinary things that seemed nearly miraculous at the time.

What are you working on now?

Aside from my own writing and arranging projects, I am the supervising music copyist for Amazing Grace, which I was with when it tried out in Chicago last fall and is opening on Broadway in July.

This post came about when a reader of the Finale blog asked if we could provide a piece about the preparation of parts for a Broadway show. I put out a few feelers to folks-in-the-know who could provide some insight and Steven was kind enough to reply. My special thanks go out to Steven for this and an upcoming post in which he shares some of his experience in copying music for Broadway.