SmartMusic Finale Garritan MusicXML

PrintMusic and El Capitan, Mac OS X 10.11

PrintMusic Crop

With the release of Finale 2014.5, Finale is now fully compatible with El Capitan, the latest Mac operating system. Now our top priority is getting PrintMusic running 100% in El Capitan, too.

Today we announced we will update PrintMusic 2014 to work with El Capitan. This update will be free to all registered owners of PrintMusic 2014 for Mac, and will be available before the end of 2015.

In the meantime, if you rely on PrintMusic and haven’t updated to El Capitan, we’d suggest you wait. If you can’t, here are a few points of clarification:

  1. While PrintMusic is not supported in El Capitan, and doesn’t allow you to add vital items including expressions and articulations, it does run. If you simply need to open, play, edit some notes and print some files, don’t assume you’re locked out.
  2. In the interim, consider the free Finale 2014.5 trial version as an option. It’s fully compatible with El Capitan, as well as your PrintMusic files, and will allow you to edit and save your work for 30 days.

If you have any remaining questions about PrintMusic / El Capitan compatibility, please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Arranging for the Young Jazz Combo

Andrew Stonerock

You don’t have to be a seasoned big band arranger to write for jazz combo. Just as the combo format can be less intimidating to student performers — providing great opportunities for interaction and improvisation — it’s also more welcoming to less experienced arrangers. Even if you’ve never arranged for jazz combo before, the following tips can help you be successful and provide more opportunities for your students.

First, find music that students will enjoy playing. Feel free to think beyond typical “jazz standards,” and also consider popular tunes that are more familiar to your students. Secondly, and perhaps most important, secure an accurate lead sheet with the correct melody and chord changes. There are several “fake books” online and in print that contain errors in the melody, chord changes, or both. Find a good recording to use as an authority while determining what is correct. Finally, peruse the lead sheet to make sure it will be appropriate for your ensemble. Some considerations include tempo, complicated melody, complicated chord changes, etc. When deciding how complicated a set of chord changes are, a good general guideline is to analyze the tonal centers. Typically, the more tonal centers that are used, the more difficult the task of improvisation.

Bass Lines

Bass lines in swing usually consist of either walking (4 quarter notes in each measure) or a 2-beat pattern (2 half notes in each measure). In both cases the root of the chord should occur on the first note of each new chord change.Root Bass Chords b

Next, the bass line needs to fill out the rest of the measure. The easiest way to achieve this is in the walking style is to arpeggiate the chord change. In a 2-beat style simply alternate between the root and the 5th of the chord. Notice how both the walking style and the 2-beat style have the 5th of the Cmaj7 on beat 3.

Bass Arpeggios

To add even more interest to the bass line, often times the note immediately preceding a different chord change is either a half-step above or below the root of the next chord change. In the walking bass style, the quarter note immediately preceding a different chord change is used for the half-step motion. In the 2-beat style, an eighth note is added before a different chord change.

Half-Step Bass Lines

Notice the chord change symbols are included in all of the above examples. This is important because students will start to learn to develop their own bass lines by using the guidelines created. While this might be a little scary at first, encourage students to start to see patterns in the bass lines and apply them to other chord changes.

Chord Voicings

The harmonic instruments in a typical jazz combo, piano and guitar, often have opposite strengths and weaknesses. Generally younger pianists can read notes but lack the knowledge to spell chord changes. Conversely, younger guitarists can often read chord changes while not being able to read individual notes. Even though younger guitarists will be able to play several chords, it is unlikely they will know how to play chord extensions or have knowledge of typical jazz guitar voicings. There are several books and websites that deal with this issue. For the purposes of this article, I will focus exclusively on jazz piano voicings.

When a pianist is playing with a bass player in a jazz combo setting, usually “rootless voicings” are used. These piano voicings are exactly as the name implies; chord voicings that reflect the sound of the chord, but do not contain the root of the chord. The reason these voicings are used is because the bass player plays the root of each chord change.

There are a couple of guidelines when writing rootless voicings. First, be sure to always include both the 3rd of the chord and the 7th of the chord. Second, try to include any upper extensions of the chord, particularly if they have any alterations (b9, #11, etc). Finally, when moving between chords, try to move each individual voice as little as possible. Below are some examples of rootless voicings from simple to more complicated. 

Simple Piano Voicings


Intermediate Piano Voicings


Advanced Piano Voicings

At first, these voicings might sound a little thin or odd without the bass. Eventually, students will learn to hear these sounds as normal, especially with the bass added. As with the bass lines, notice the chord changes appearing in the piano voicings. Again, encourage your students to analyze these voicings and use them for different chord changes or other charts.

The rhythm used when comping can be as varied and individualized as musicians themselves. Below are a couple of common rhythms to use when comping.

Rhythmic Comping 1


Rhythmic Comping 2

In general, it’s best to rest more than play, particularly when another musician is improvising. It is also good to vary the rhythm so as not to become monotonous.  

Rhythmic Comping Mixed

Drum Set

Drum set parts for jazz combo are very similar to those in a traditional jazz ensemble. A few distinct differences will help things go more smoothly. First, the drummer is typically going to be reading slash notation. It’s good to include the time feel, tempo, and sometimes the actual rhythmic feel you want the drummer to play. However, because the drummer should be interacting with the other musicians, they should be listening more than reading.

Sweet Wheel

Second, include important rhythms the drummer should accent, just as in a big band.

Pavlov's Waterfall - Sextet

Finally, include the chord changes in the drum part. Although the drummer will not be playing the harmony or improvising using the harmony, it will help them follow the form and represents an opportunity for good ear training.

Ojos de Rojo

Horn Voicings

When voicing for multiple horns, there are several factors to consider: how many players, what is the instrumentation, what are the ranges of the instruments/players, etc. What follows are very general guidelines and a few tips that I have found to be helpful.

KNOW YOUR MUSICIANS! When arranging for a specific group, think about the individual musicians and their strengths and weaknesses. Write brass parts that match the range of the musicians, as well as woodwind parts that match the level of technique of the musicians.  

Know the idiomatic strengths and weaknesses of the instruments themselves. For woodwind players, playing high and then low in quick succession in not terribly difficult; however, it is quite difficult for brass players. It is also good to understand tricks of the different instruments as well (tricky valve combinations for brass, tricky slide position changes for trombone, tricky fingering combinations for woodwinds, etc.)

What sounds good on a computer may not sound good in real life and vice versa. MIDI can play anything put on a page regardless of how complicated, fast, or downright absurd, and it can do it all without breathing or needing to take a break. Unfortunately, students are human with all of the limitations MIDI is lacking. So, make sure that the individual parts make sense and are playable. Learning to listen to MIDI and tell if something is going to sound good in real life is an art unto itself. Most people learn through trial and error over time and develop the ability to discern what will sound good or not sound good by hearing live musicians play their arrangements.

Here are a few tips when voicing chords for horns:

  1. Try to keep the horns in the same tessitura respectively (don’t have the trombone playing really high while the trumpet is in the middle of her range).
  2. Keep the melody in the upper voice, especially if that voice is a louder instrument.
  3. Avoid using roots in the horn voicings unless it is a melody note.
  4. Try to include the 3rd and 7th of chords in the voicing when possible.
  5. In a three horn voicing, the “drop-2” technique can be effective. This means using the top three notes in the piano voicing, “dropping” the middle note down an octave and dividing it into the respective parts.

Drop-2 Voicings

There are several books that discuss jazz arranging and different voicings for horns. Following some guidelines and experimenting will help develop the right sound for jazz combo.

Jazz combo can be a rewarding experience for both the students and the director. While the term “jazz arranging” can sound intimidating, it truly is not. The key is experimenting to discover what works for you and your students. In the end, as long as the students have fun, the experience will be well worth the journey.

Andrew Stonerock BioDr. Andrew Stonerock is the director of jazz studies at Cameron University. He oversees all aspects of the jazz program and directs the jazz ensemble and jazz combos. He is frequently in demand as a saxophonist, woodwind doubler, adjudicator, and clinician. 

In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his family and his dog Basie.

Finale 2014.5 is Here!


Finale 2014.5, a free-of-charge upgrade for all Finale 2014 owners, is now available.

To get 2014.5, launch Finale 2014 on your computer, then:

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

If you don’t have 2014 installed, and know your MakeMusic password, use these links to download for Mac and Windows.

If you don’t own Finale 2014, you can purchase it in our store.

Finale 2014.5 incorporates new features, bug fixes, and significant modernization of Finale code, including many Mac-specific updates resulting in performance improvements and full compatibility with Apple’s OS X El Capitan operating system.

Features added in this release include:

  • The ability to save SmartMusic accompaniments with premium VST/AU instrument sounds, including the provided Garritan sounds
  • A means to quickly and easily reorder staves
  • Enhanced MusicXML and EPUB support
  • Options to automatically create double barlines before key changes
  • Updated SmartScore X2 Lite scanning software, with many improvements in core musical features such as beams, augmentation dots, and tuplets

All plug-ins provided with the update have also been modernized, and many have been enhanced, including FinaleScript, Global Staff Attributes, Latin Percussion, TG Tools Lite, Band-in-a-Box Auto-Harmonizing and more. Finale’s documentation has been overhauled, offering vastly improved search results and compatibility with any device, including smartphones and tablets. (This could allow you, for example, to have Finale’s documentation displayed on your iPad while you work on your laptop or desktop computer.)

The release also resolves more than 120 bugs, prioritized by customer requests. Complete lists of what’s included in Finale 2014.5 are available for both Mac and Windows users.

“The breadth of this free update makes it feel more like a paid upgrade,” said Mark Adler, MakeMusic notation product manager/senior editor. “It even works more like an upgrade, as it installs as a new application rather than changing your existing Finale 2014 installation. We’re fortunate to be in a position where we can delight our customers with such a robust update at no charge.”

As Mark indicated, Finale 2014.5 is a new, separate installation from Finale 2014, and can be distinguished by a new, flatter desktop icon seen at right above. You can keep both versions on your computer or uninstall 2014 if you wish to save space.

While anticipation for the release of 2014.5 is likely highest among Mac users eager to update to the latest El Capitan operating system, this compatibility represents just a small part of all the advances included in the release, which has benefits for all 2014 users, Mac and Windows alike.

Please let us know how Finale 2014.5 is working for you by clicking on “Comments” below.

Creating Distinctive Music Notation House Styles: Fonts


Ketchup is a perfectly fine condiment. People only question your taste when you put it on everything.

The same goes for Times New Roman; few great music publishers use this text font prominently in their scores. It’s a great place to start, but no way to distinguish your artistry.

As I encouraged you to experiment with line widths in my previous post, this week I’d like to encourage you to venture beyond the ubiquitous Times New Roman, as well as boldly explore different music fonts.

Sans vs. Serif

To begin our discussion, I’d like to define sans-serif and serif fonts. While I’m certain that “sans” is a French word that means “without,” I’m just guessing that “serif” comes from a Roman word for “fancy thingy.” In the example above the sans-serif font (Arial) has no fancy lines on the end of the s, r, i and f, while the serif font (Times New Roman) does.

Much has been written about which font type is more legible; generally book-length text is thought to be more readable in serif fonts, while in shorter doses (and at smaller sizes) some will tell you that sans-serif fonts are more legible. I encourage you to do a web search on the topic if you’d like to learn more. In music, I think a sans serif font, in headers and footers, lends itself to a more modern look. On the other hand, I generally avoid them in the actual music, but your tastes may differ.

Text Fonts

Today everyone with a computer has a wide variety of fonts at their disposal. Part of creating a style guide for my clients involves the selection of both text and music fonts. I might present a new client with three or four font options, including serif or san serif headers and footers (titles, composer, lyrics, etc. – everything above and below the music, including copyrights). Personally, I like to see header and footer text to be all in the same font, and I don’t personally like mixing sans and serif fonts, but feel free to try them as an option.

Want some best practices? Don’t pick a font you’ll be embarrassed by in ten years. I’d suggest avoiding overly ornate or goofy fonts for titles, and I’d always advocate for readability: If others have to struggle to read your title, your flowing script font may not be the best fit.

To my eye, Bodoni, Palatino, and New Century Schoolbook are all good-looking text fonts. The best publishers often end up selecting something along these lines.

Want to set yourself apart? For a modest fee, you can purchase some really spectacular text font alternatives from Adobe and Linotype. Since most people are unwilling to part with even $29, this is a relatively inexpensive way to distinguish your creations.

Keep in mind that like most things in life, there is a continuum. On one end is bland: everything in Times New Roman. Near the other end is goofy, and even further out is a different goofy font for every item in your score. This has all the aesthetic beauty of a poorly planned yard sale (or landfill) and should be avoided at all costs (unless that’s your desired effect).

Lyrics and Numbers

Times New Roman is so wide it makes spacing for lyrics difficult. This problem was my inspiration to create the Finale Lyrics font: it makes it possible to get more lyrics, legibly, on a line of music.

Here’s an example, using default spacing settings, in Times New Roman – look at how crowded the lyrics appear, especially in “spacious skies” and in each hyphenated word:America the Beautiful TNR 700

Here’s the same example in Finale Lyrics:America the Beautiful FL 700

Think about the fonts you use for numbers, too. Measure numbers, tempo markings, fingerings, rehearsal marks, multi-measure rests, and repeats all contribute to your style and should all work together.


One of the reasons that Finale uses Times New Roman as a default is that it is one of the few fonts that is available on all devices. Buying a nice but somewhat obscure font is great if you plan to distribute your music via print or pdf files. It can prove problematic, however, if you plan to distribute Finale files, and you want everyone’s printout to look exactly the same. Please note that the fonts used in your Finale file do not travel with your file, and generally speaking the license you purchase fonts by probably doesn’t allow you to send these fonts along with your Finale files. And of course, this problem is not unique to Finale. For many, distributing PDF files is a good solution.

Music Fonts

Finale ships with three engraved-looking music fonts (Maestro, Engraver, and Petrucci) as well as two music fonts with a handwritten appearance (Jazz and Broadway Copyist).  For this piece we’ll focus on the first three options:

Petrucci is Finale’s original font, somewhat similar to Adobe’s Sonta font, which is the grandfather of all digital music fonts. To me it is characterized by small noteheads.

Engraver is Petrucci’s immediate successor. Engraver features bigger noteheads, and remains a favorite of many publishers today.

Maestro, the current Finale default font, was modeled after Notaset transfers which were a preferred look of many publishers in the era immediately preceding music notation software. Maestro’s noteheads aren’t as wide as those in Engraver, and its articulations are quite a bit different.

I would encourage you to try out all three fonts. In Finale it’s very easy to make this change – simply go to Document > Set Default Music Font. Want even more options? Go to Document >Document Options > Fonts. If you’re not using Finale, it’s no secret you can install these fonts for use in your software by downloading the Finale free trial.

Of course, using the various music fonts included with Finale represents only a starting point.

Other third-party font options include November (a beautiful font that emulates plate engraving), Musegraph, and others. Again, this is your chance to distinguish yourself – stop being so dang cheap. The folks at Musegraph will even digitize your signature and their fonts are reasonably priced.

I also suggest mixing and matching your music fonts, using some characters from this font and other characters from that. Many publishers do. For example they’ll use Maestro noteheads and Engraver articulations. Some people feel the Maestro accent is too wide and prefer the narrower Engraver accent. Finale users can find links to font character sets, like this one for Maestro (for both Mac and Windows) in Finale’s Help menu, and everyone can find them online.

Similarly, some people will substitute Engraver tremolos for the default Maestro tremolos which I might describe as very sturdy. Open up a character map and see if there’s something that either grabs your eye – or doesn’t.

One of the easiest ways to distinguish your music is by trying out different clefs – it’s one of the first and most noticed aspects of any page of music.

Font Customization

In my music, I use my own clefs, created in a font editor. I personally use Fontlab, but there are several really good open source free font editors on both platforms.

As I mentioned above, there are issues surrounding portability when using proprietary fonts. In addition, creating fonts that work on both Mac and Windows can also produce additional hurdles. (If you choose to create your own music font, you can eliminate these issues by adopting the SMuFL standard).

With those caveats having been said, if your goal is to simply create your own clefs and noteheads, it’s reasonably simple and can be very rewarding.

I have even heard of copyists who have created minimally original fonts simply because they are less portable – working sort of as a poor mans’ copy protection – however, be prepared that this may upset some customers.

I hope this brief overview of font choices inspires you to be more adventuresome in your font usage and more discriminating when reviewing your own engraving work as well as the work of others. For my next post I plan to share a free font with you. If you’d like to be notified when new Finale blog posts are published, click on the SUBSCRIBE button in the upper right corner of the blog.

Mark Adler

Mark Adler is MakeMusic’s notation product manager/senior editor, a professional trumpet player, and a freelance music editor and engraver.

When he’s not making music, or working on his wife’s “honey do” list of home improvements, he might be found teaching the neighbor kids the finer aspects of pumpkin carving.

Finale and OS X El Capitan Work-Arounds

Finale and OS X El Capitan Work-Arounds

Update: Finale 2014.5 has been released.

If you’ve read our previous post on Finale 2014 compatibility with Apple’s new El Capitan operating system, you know that it appears likely that Apple may address the remaining issue. If not, MakeMusic will make it work in the free 2014.5 release, due before the end of November.

Until this is resolved we don’t recommend that Finale 2014 users upgrade to El Capitan. That said, in the meantime, you may find that you have to use Finale 2014 on El Capitan.

While there are caveats, it can be done.

The remaining problem has to do with crashes that occur when you close specific Finale dialog boxes. The dialog boxes affected are those that allow you to select from several items. The most common examples involve expressions and articulations.

Keep in mind you can add expressions and articulations without accessing these dialog boxes by using metatools.

“Metatool” is the term Finale uses to describe a keyboard shortcut associated with a specific music character. While it can be an initial hurdle to memorize (or make note of) what keystrokes coincide with which characters, once you get past this, the use of metatools is much more efficient, and is a “best practice” used by nearly everyone who uses Finale every day.

Need to add an accent using Finale 2014 in El Capitan? With the Articulation tool selected, hold down the A key and click a note (or drag select several notes). Done.

Not sure what keys coincide with which articulations? Below is a screenshot of Finale’s default articulations. Note that many items have letters or numbers in their upper right corner. These are their associated metatools.


Want to add a forte? With the Expression tool selected, old down the 4 key and click a note. Find the default expression metatools here:


Have to use El Capitan today? Try these shortcuts, remembering to save frequently, and let us know if you run into other obstacles. Keep in mind we’re not suggesting this is a solution, just an option if you are forced to work with El Capitan before these issues are resolved.

Finale and OS X El Capitan Update

El Capitan Update

Update: Finale 2014.5 has been released.

On Sept 28, MakeMusic announced that Finale 2014 would not be compatible with El Capitan, Apple’s latest operating system, upon its release on Sept 30. At that time we indicated it was our hope that Apple would resolve this incompatibility, but if they didn’t we’d provide a solution in Finale 2014.5, a free-of-charge update for owners of Finale 2014 scheduled for release by the end of November.

To be clear, two issues stood in the way of Finale compatibility, having to do with accessing and closing frequently used dialog boxes.

Apple has subsequently fixed one of these issues in their latest update (10.11.1). While 10.11.1 doesn’t currently represent a solution for Finale 2014 or PrintMusic users, we’re cautiously optimistic on the second issue and continue to work with Apple to resolve it.

One frequently-asked question on our blog concerns PrintMusic 2014 compatibility with El Capitan. Should Apple not resolve this remaining issue, we will provide a solution for owners of PrintMusic 2014, but these details and their timing have not yet been finalized.

In the meantime, Finale 2014.5 remains our top priority as it also offers many additional enhancements to Windows users as well as Mac users on previous operating systems.

Photo by Rainer Marks, licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Finale Templates: Your Personal Music Assembly Line

Ford Model A Assembly Line 1913

One Finale blog reader recently shared this suggestion:

“It would be great if it were possible to save personal preferences, so that whenever I open a new document it already looks the way I want the score to look, with all the info [font, composer, arranger, copyright, etc. ] without the need EVERYTIME, to type, or deselect the various options.”

When Scott Yoho replied that it’s possible to simply make these edits―once―in a template file, another reader replied:

“On MacOS, the place where templates are stored is hidden now, so finding where to put your favourite template is very difficult. It would be great if MakeMusic could make that easier. I’m an expert (more or less) and even I have to look up the procedure each time because it’s so complex.”

Today I hope to share some tips that will help BOTH readers – and you.

About Finale Templates

Anything you do in every Finale file can be saved in a template. This includes text like composer names and copyrights, page formatting, document options, libraries of markings, and instrumentation. Whether you’re writing for a full symphony orchestra or transcribing a one-page lead sheet, you can benefit from using templates.

To get you started, Finale includes several great templates for various styles and ensembles. You can use them as-is, edit these templates to your liking, or create your own custom templates.

Finding & Editing Finale Templates

The second Finale Blog reader quoted above was right. In an effort to save us from ourselves, modern operating systems can make these files a little difficult to find. In an attempt to follow best practices, Finale puts user files where each OS recommends we do so, but here’s the slick way to find them:

Finding Finale Templates on Mac OSX 10.7 – 10.10:

  • In Finder, choose Documents from the Favorites sidebar or the Go
  • Open the following folders:
    Finale Files > Finale 2014 (alias) > Music Files > Templates
  • Open any subfolder to find template documents.

Finding Finale Templates on Windows:

  • Press the WINDOWS key + R key to open the Run dialog box.
  • Type (or paste) %appdata%\MakeMusic\Finale 2014\Music Files\Templates and click OK.
  • Open any subfolder to find template documents.

Where to Start

To edit an existing template, double-click the file to open it.

  1. Press CTRL+K (Windows) or CMD+K (Mac) to open Score Manager.
  2. Add score information (composer, arranger, copyright, etc.) under File Info. Any information entered here will automatically appear in new documents created with this template.
  3. After making all your desired edits to this template, save and close it.

Best Practices

Because any information contained in a template will be present in new scores created from it, we recommend that you do not enter any information into a template that is specific to one piece, such as a title or tempo marking.

It can also be tempting to open a previously-completed score and choose File > Save As. This workflow can be especially problematic if the score was created in a previous version of Finale. Instead, begin a custom template as a new, blank score by choosing File > New > Document with Setup Wizard. This will ensure that your templates—and files based on them—maintain their integrity over time.

Using Templates

  1. Choose Templates from the Launch Window or File > New > Document from Template from the menu.
  2. Choose the desired template and click Open.
  3. An abbreviated version of the Setup Wizard appears so you can add additional details to the new piece, such as title, key, time, and pickup measures.
  4. Your score is created as a new untitled document, leaving your template clean for future projects.

I believe it was one of the founding fathers who famously—or infamously—said, “An ounce of templates is worth a pound of scores.” Or maybe it was Scott Yoho. In any case, you will find that the practices outlined here will save you precious time when creating new scores, while at the same putting your personal stamp on them.

Chad MathisChad E. Mathis is a customer success manager with MakeMusic. He has been with the team since 2013. As a bassist, he brings the funk to Boulder.

When he’s not holding down the low end, he enjoys making popcorn for his colleagues, going to shows, and listening to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

Finale and OS X El Capitan

Finale 2014 and El Capitan

Update: Finale 2014.5 has been released.

According to Apple’s website, OS X El Capitan, the latest Mac operating system, will be released this Wednesday, September 30, 2015. In our testing with the latest beta versions of El Capitan, we’ve discovered some new incompatibilities with Finale 2014d. Specifically, opening certain dialog boxes (involving expressions, articulations, and others) can cause Finale to crash.

We are working closely with Apple and hope to resolve the issue soon. While Apple could possibly address this before launch, at this point we advise against upgrading to El Capitan immediately upon its release. If the solution is on our end we will address it with Finale 2014.5, which we plan to release by the end of November 2015.

Regarding other Finale family products:

  • Finale PrintMusic 2014 is similarly impacted.
  • While Finale 2012 and Finale NotePad 2012 are not supported in Yosemite or El Capitan, they do not exhibit additional problems in El Capitan.
  • Finale 2011 and earlier versions are no longer supported.

Please note that only Finale 2014 is likely to be updated for optimal use with El Capitan.

Further testing in all current Finale products will occur once the shipping version of the OS is released. Until this can occur – and we can report the results here – we suggest waiting on updating your OS.

We will continue our testing with the release version of El Capitan and will notify you as any further developments occur.

Creating Distinctive Music Notation House Styles: Line Widths

Mendelssohn After 150 crop 700

Ever wonder why your music doesn’t look like your favorite engraved notation? Great publishers devote a lot of time and thought to make their music look beautiful – and distinct. One glance at a score by Schott, Baerenreiter, or Henle and I immediately recognize their masterful fingerprints, which we refer to as a house style.

In addition to my role at MakeMusic, I also continue to work as an engraver. I feel that a large part of the service I offer is to encourage each client to develop their own style; through collaboration we identify a unique combination of text fonts, music fonts, and other settings to set their music apart.

All notation software comes with default settings that by nature are compromises, designed to give good results in the widest variety of usages… Part of defining your personal style is to tweak these settings for your specific use.

In this and subsequent blog posts I plan to offer some suggestions of ways you might create your own house style, regardless of what music notation software you use.  Along the way I’d like to stress two points:

  1. Look at everything. Take every opportunity to study the work of a wide variety of publishers, make notes on what you like, and try to emulate them. Just as young performers mimic their favorite artists, you’ll eventually create your own style as your collection of influences grows.
  2. Software makes it possible to change every aspect of your score easily and quickly (and to change it back). Take advantage of this freedom!

Line Widths

For a starting point, let’s look at line widths, including staff lines, barlines, ledger lines, stems, enclosures, repeat brackets, etc. I see a great variety in line widths from publisher to publisher; they offer a great way to set your work apart, quickly and easily.

Quite a few publishers use a line width between .00624” and .00765.” Finale’s defaults are within that range but on the light side at .00624.” (Finale users note that all line widths are accessible from Document > Document Options.) Also note that Finale’s default line widths maintain a consistent width (.00624”) across staff lines, bar lines, stems, and ledger lines; not all publishers do this.

Take a look at a Henle score. Henle favors a much heavier barline in relation to their staff lines. They also feature a heavier ledger line. There’s a practical reason for a heavier ledger line: in sections where there are many notes on several ledger lines, making the ledger lines easily distinguishable from staff lines can be a great aid in readability.

Heavier ledger lines are also a nod to the traditions of the past: back in the engraving days ledger lines would have been struck, while staff lines were etched.

In the two examples below, compare both the widths of the bar lines, ledger lines, stems and crescendos:

Before AND After

Interested in the specific values I used?

  • Barlines: .01736”
  • Ledger Lines: .01597”
  • Left Half Ledger Line length: .0243”
  • Right Half Ledger Line length: .0243”
  • Stem Line Thickness: .00763”
  • Crescendos: .00833”

You may notice that the slurs were tweaked, too, but that’s a topic for a future post.

Other Lines

Let’s look at beams, too. You might want to make your beams fatter than finale’s default of.00624”. I personally wouldn’t go any thinner, but what I’d do isn’t the point: experiment! Have fun!

Stem thickness are another area to consider. Some publishers like to beef up their stems (we don’t want to call anyone out for having “fat stems”), but this is another area for you to review and explore.

If you prefer using a handwritten music font, you will likely want to make all your line widths thicker to produce a more handwritten result. Hand written line widths might start around .01215” and go larger from there.

Temporary Detour: Measurement Unit Confession

One of my goals of this blog series is to share info with fellow musicians, regardless of whether or not they use Finale. For that reason, I’ve provided all measurement units in inches. In truth, I never think that way.

Instead I think in terms of EVPUS: or ENIGMA Virtual Page Units. Isn’t that cryptic?

Okay, a little background is in order. Enigma is the name that Finale’s original creator, Phil Farrand, gave to the file format that he created for Finale. It is an acronym for “Environment for the Notation of Intelligent Graphical Musical Algorithms.”

Here’s how to convert between EVPUs and more common units:

288 EVPUs = 1 inch
24 EVPUs = 1 space

Some might think that creating your own measurement unit is an example of hubris. Others might be tempted to suggest, incorrectly, that Phil Farrand was a mad genius. In practice, EVPUS prove to be extremely handy. When I’m creating a custom template using Finale, instead of typing in values like .00624” or .00765,” I can set my measurement units to EVPUs and enter 1.8 or 2.2.

If you’re interested, here are the values I shared above as EVPUs:

  • Barlines: 5 EVPUs
  • Ledger Lines: 4.6 EVPUs
  • Left Half Ledger Line length: 7 EVPUs
  • Right Half Ledger Line length: 7 EVPUs
  • Stems: 2.2 EVPUs
  • Crescendos: 4.2 EVPUs

I find this practice to be a convenient time-saver.


Hopefully this post will inspire some readers to look more closely at engraved music and question the line width decisions made in their creation. It is also my hope that you’ll share your opinions and reactions in the comments section below. In addition to adding additional perspectives to this article your comments are a great source of inspiration for future articles.

Mark AdlerMark Adler is MakeMusic’s notation product manager/senior editor, a professional trumpet player, and a freelance music editor and engraver.

In what little free time he can find, he’s also interested in finding and restoring vintage pinball machines; Scott Yoho’s boys are eager for him to get one up and running so they can play it.

Finale Spotlight on David Wohl and Uncle Jed’s Barbershop

"Uncle Jed's Barbershop" Ken Prymus (center) and cast - photo by Jonathan Slaff

Uncle Jed’s Barbershop is a soul-stirring musical that tells the story of Sarah Jean Carter and her Uncle Jed – the only black barber in 1928 Monroe County, Arkansas – who has a dream of one day opening his own place of business. Flavored by the atmosphere, language, and music of mid-century America, the show is a celebration of hope, love, work, faith, and the power of dreams that never grow old.

Fourteen years in the making, the creation of the musical is a similar celebration. Based upon the award-winning book by Margaree King Mitchell, Uncle Jed’s Barbershop features music and lyrics by David Wohl, book and lyrics by Kenneth Grimes, choreography by Cleo Parker Robinson, musical direction by Michael A. Williams and is directed by Susan Einhorn.

I spoke with David Wohl about the production as he and the crew prepare to launch an extended run at Denver’s Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Theater, beginning September 26.

How did you first get involved with Uncle Jed’s Barbershop?

I discovered the original book (same title) while visiting an exhibit on illustrations from African American children’s books. At the end of the exhibit, there was a room of books from which the illustrations came, and I began to read them. The story and illustrations of Uncle Jed’s Barbershop stirred an emotional response from me, and I immediately perceived the potential for a full length family musical based on the story.

Can you talk about the collaborative process on this project?

Ken, Susan and I began to sketch out the plot of the show, filling out the story, creating new and important characters and situations. Over a number of iterations of the show, things that worked – and which did not work – revealed themselves, and script and songs were modified accordingly. I kept a musical and lyrical journal of ideas, motifs, harmonies, potential dramatic moments, etc., that I could refer to.

How do you describe the show and the music?

This is a show whose family, community, and generational story lines and dynamics tell a powerful and moving universal story for all people of all times. The music is theater music that is both eclectic and “rooted.” Influences include blues, spirituals, romantic music, gospel, Motown, country, and so forth. The main purpose of every musical number is to advance plot and to continually fill out the inner lives of the characters, in a way that lyrics and script (the “book”) can’t do. That is how I approach all the music (and lyrics) that I write.

Can I assume it’s always lyrics first?

Sometimes we start with a lyric, sometimes with a melodic or rhythmic concept. Always, it is with character and situation in mind. As a composer, I often hear a beat and musical pacing prior to writing a lyric, and so I’ll improvise or write some ideas. Other times, I’ll wait for the lyric to make sense, and then marry it to the musical concept later. Usually, the music leads the lyric by a little bit, especially once the general concept and structure of a song feels right.

What about your personal workflow? To you compose at the piano? If so, at what point does Finale enter the equation?

I compose in my head and at the piano. Finale enters the equation once the overall harmonic and melodic structure is established, and I need to get my ideas in written form. The orchestrations follow, naturally, and are continually revised through the rehearsal process.

What is the instrumentation for the show?

Piano/organ, bass, drums, fiddle, guitar/banjo, reed tripler (sax, clarinet, flute), trumpet, trombone. We have 14 actors in this production, and so the vocals are SATB, with moments of 5-6 different parts.

While I understand this is the first fully produced version of the show, I understand it has been a labor of love for some time. Has the music evolved a lot?

Yes! The music has evolved and grown and matured. Songs that always worked have remained. A number of new songs replaced others that were taken out. Lyrics were tweaked, as we understood the characters and the emotional arc of the show better and better. I think I “felt” the singing much better, too, as the years went on, and let go of my “piano” mind a bit. This really allowed the score to soar and fill out more!

Can you describe some of the ways you use Finale to create notation specific to musical theater, or specific to your particular needs?

One doesn’t write a musical; one re-writes a musical. So, you need software that allows you to do that. Certain features in Finale are great for quick changes in sections (meters, tempi, articulations, etc.) And, the syncing of Parts with the score is quite good.

I’d like to thank David for taking time out from his preparations to speak with us, and look forward to seeing the show later this month.

What are you creating with Finale? Let us know by clicking on “comments” below.

The “Uncle Jed’s Barbershop” cast photo, with Ken Prymus in the center, is by Jonathan Slaff