SmartMusic Finale Garritan MusicXML

Finale and OS X El Capitan

Finale 2014 and El Capitan

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”
  • Stems: .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



The Finale Copyist Font: A Hidden Treasure You Already Own

Finale Copyist Blog Post

Today I’d like to highlight some of my favorite aspects of the Finale Copyist font. Designed by Mark Adler to fill the gap created by the lack of lowercase letters in other “handwritten” fonts, Finale Copyist also includes many hidden treasures. Whether you’re adding text to your parts, analyzing jazz harmony, or just inputting chord symbols, Finale Copyist offers many time-saving tools to help you make great-looking music more quickly.

In a previous post on chord symbols, I outlined some common chord systems that require lowercase letters, and these conventions spurred the creation of the font, as did a desire to increase legibility. Check out the following comparison:

Broadway and Finale

Which text is easier for you to read?

To get a sense of what else the font offers, you can view the entire Finale Copyist character set in the associated Character Maps for Mac and Windows. (These maps can also be found from within Finale via the Help menu.) Here you’ll find the font offers many additional tools. Several special characters, such as text repeat markings, accidentals, and metronome markings are all included to provide hand-written text solutions throughout you scores. There are even a few characters to help create a handwritten enclosure around text, which is commonly seen in writing for big band jazz music.

Special Characters

Personally, I’ve gotten a lot of use out of the characters provided to assist in harmonic analysis. Admittedly, most analysis in jazz harmony is done with a pen, but when I was in college, making a beautifully printed worksheet really helped to distract my professors from the occasional flaws in my analyses! After years of cutting my teeth by making cadence arrows with the Shape Designer, having a font that includes these characters was a deep breath of fresh air. You can even string multiple characters together for a longer arrow.

Roman Analysis

For all its intricate details, the Finale Copyist font can be easily implemented. We’ve made a library of chord suffixes which use this font – lowercase characters included! Simply click File > Load Library and open the file named Chord Suffix (Finale Copyist) from the Chord Suffixes folder. Here’s the full directory of this file in you don’t see it right away:

C:\Users\(your computer account name)\AppData\Roaming\MakeMusic\Finale 2014\Libraries\Chord Suffixes\

~/Library/Application Support/MakeMusic/Finale 2014/Libraries/Chord Suffixes/

Here’s just a glimpse of what you’ll find:Chord Suffix Library 700Have question about using the font or the library? Have some Finale Copyist tips to share? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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.