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Finale Spotlight on Isaac Roth Blumfield

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Meet composer Isaac Roth Blumfield. Isaac is a five-time first-place winner of Minnesota Music Educators Association composition awards, an MMEA Composer of the Year, and a three-time Schubert Club Composer Mentorship participant. He’s also a student at Central High School, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Isaac and I spoke recently about his music, inspiration, plans, and Finale use.

Scott Yoho: What was your introduction to composition?

Isaac Roth Blumfield: I first started writing little ideas I had down around third grade. Back then, I just wrote things by hand, but didn’t really imagine sitting down and writing a whole piece. Then, in fourth grade, my band director, Maggie Burton, introduced me and a few other kids to Finale. Suddenly, the idea of writing a real piece of music wasn’t nearly as daunting. After messing around with the program for a few months, I wrote a little piece called “Chamber Sonata” for my school band. I didn’t really know much about music theory at that point, but using MIDI playback, I more or less wrote the piece by ear. Our director did the parts and, to my delight, had the band perform the piece. That experience, of my classmates performing my own music, totally turned me on to how fantastic being a composer could be.

SY: How would you describe your compositional style?

IRB: I’m hesitant to name any specific genre of contemporary classical music to identify with, mostly because I’m still right in the beginning of my compositional life and am still trying on different styles. My biggest influences, though, are probably mid-20th-century American composers, like Copland, Schuman, and Bernstein, and contemporary Americans, some of whom are often dubbed neo-romantics like Corigliano, Rouse, and Kernis, as well as so-called minimalists like Reich, Glass, and the whole Bang-on-a-Can type of sound. A lot of what I focus on in my music is the tone that I’m conveying. I try to use my rhythmic and tonal language in a fresh, almost informal way. I figure, if I’m only 18, my music should have the same young energy that I do!

SY: What is your creative process today? Do you sketch on paper first?

IRB: Generally, I like to think big picture at first, and have a concept and direction for the piece before I begin writing it. It’s good to know whether it will be multi-movement, what the mood will be, what forms I’ll use, etc.

Once it comes to the actual writing, I start sketching in total abstract. I write down little phrases I like, any idea I have, and just collect material and concepts before I start to organize. Recently, I’ve started sketching on paper first. It’s a bit more challenging, because all of the sounds are only in my imagination, but it definitely is helpful in terms of being able to think outside the box. Often I’ve found that there’s some crazy notation thing I want to do that I wouldn’t think of while I’m actually at the computer.

However, once it comes time to engrave the music, Finale is totally able to notate anything easily, which is extremely helpful. I use Finale for all of my engraving, and use Human Playback a lot as well to give me a more precise and accurate of how it will sound.

SY: What do you like about Finale?

IRB: One of the main reasons that I use Finale is simply how beautiful and clear the music looks. It looks very professional and straightforward. I also love how easy it is to use and how flexible it is. Like many contemporary composers, I like to use somewhat unconventional notational practices from time to time, and Finale lets me do that easily. Another great benefit is having wonderful MIDI Human Playback recordings of pieces. While nothing beats working with musicians, Finale does a pretty incredible job of rendering life-like, extremely usable recordings, which is a huge help.

SY: Have a Finale tip to share?

IRB: One of my favorite things to do in Finale is to set the Human Playback channels to instruments other than what I’m writing for in order to hear the piece in a new way. I’ve found this is especially helpful for choral music, or anything where all parts have similar tone qualities, in order to differentiate the parts. It’s a fun way to hear different textures and view your work from a new angle.

SY: I understand you recently completed six weeks studying under Sam Adler, former professor of composition at Juilliard. How did that come about? Can you tell us what it was like?

IRB: I studied with Dr. Adler through the summer composition course at Freie Universität Berlin. I met with Dr. Adler for the first time last October, and he told me about the program. I applied, and I ended up being lucky enough to participate.

It was pretty surreal to have the chance to study with such a legend. I mean, this is a composer who studied with Copland, Hindemith, and Koussevitsky, etc., knew Bernstein, and wrote one of the most ubiquitous music textbooks, “The Study of Orchestration.” Having him look at my work felt like a dream come true.

One of the most inspiring things about Dr. Adler as a teacher was how remarkably invested he was in our works. Whenever I brought in music I’d written, he would go through it carefully, checking every single note and detail to make sure that it was correct. Even in busy, chromatic contrapuntal sections, he still paid amazing attention to harmony and texture. He has an amazing ear and incredible knowledge of all things musical. Most of all, he is really dedicated to making his students the best composers they can be.

Hear Isaac’s “Wo?” written as part of this summer composition course: and see the title page.

SY: What are you working on now?

IRB: I just finished editing and preparing parts for an orchestral piece, “Open City,” which will be premiered by the St. Paul Central Orchestra this December. I’m writing a choral setting of “Before the Summer Rain,” a Rilke poem, for the choir that I sing in, the Central Chamber Singers. I’m also working on a viola sonata for one of my friends from school, and a horn trio that will be premiered by Melange a Trois next April as a part of the Schubert Club Composer Mentorship program.

SY: What plans to you have for the near and distant future?

IRB: I’m currently in the process of applying for college. Wherever I go, I’m planning on being a composition major, and after that, most likely graduate school for composition. I’m trying to leave a lot of options open though. I also sing and play piano, so hopefully I’ll be able to incorporate those somehow into what I do. I also took a conducting class recently and loved that, as well, and I’m a total music theory nerd, too. I’m not totally sure what combination of those I’ll end up doing professionally, so for right now, I’m trying to learn as much as I can about all facets of music, and leave a lot of doors open.

I’d like to thank Isaac for sharing his time with us and I’d like to wish him the best of luck in his application process. I like concluding our interview with his open door metaphor, as think of Finale as an open door that can lead us anywhere.

What are you up to with Finale? Please let us know by clicking on “Comments” below.

Finale Blog: Keyboard Playback Tips


Sometimes I’m so focused on how my notation looks I utilize playback only for proofing. Other times I’m all about fine-tuning the playback. Today I’d like to share one of my favorite keyboard playback tips I use when I’m in a fine-tuning mood.

To join in the fun, open up the following piece, included with Finale:

File > Open Worksheets & Repertoire…> Worksheets & Repertoire > Repertoire > Classical > Piano Keyboard > Bach Invention 1

In the first measure, add the two dynamics I’ve added in the example above.

Upon playback the right hand begins forte, but drops to piano when the left hand starts playing. If you’d prefer that the two staves respond to dynamics and articulations separately, this is easily accomplished in Finale, and it opens the door to more refined playback possibilities. One way to do this is to assign each staff to a separate MIDI channel.

Here’s how:

  1. From Finale’s Window menu select Score Manager (or use the shortcut Ctrl+K on Windows or COMMAND+K  on Mac).
  2. In the Name column, click the triangle next to [Group 1], which expands to show both staves.
  3. Finally, on [Staff 2] change the playback channel from 1 to 2. To do so select the “1” listed in the Channel column, type “2,” then hit the Enter or Return key. The result should look like this:

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Now when you play the file, the right hand will remain forte when the left hand begins: each staff will respond independently to dynamics. Best of all, this change applies to articulations, hairpins, and pedaling.

If you’d like to see a Finale file that’s already set up with independent piano channels, check this out:

File > Open Worksheets & Repertoire…> Worksheets & Repertoire > Repertoire > Classical > Piano Keyboard > Liszt Consolations no. 3

In this piece you might also notice some “ghost” expressions, which appear on screen, and impact playback, but don’t print. Interested in how to do that? Let me know by clicking on “Comments” below and I’ll share in a subsequent post.

Finale and OS X Yosemite

The new Mac operating system, OS 10.10 (Yosemite) will be here soon. Rumors suggest that it could be available as early as tomorrow.

We have been actively testing our notation programs on the Yosemite beta builds, and are pleased to report that Finale 2014 runs well. We are tracking a few issues, including performance of pinch zoom gestures, but overall things look very promising.

We have, however, come across a potential crash when using Human Playback in older versions of Finale.

Finale 2012, 2011, PrintMusic 2011 and SongWriter 2012 can crash if Human Playback is enabled. In Finale 2012 and SongWriter 2012, this crash can occur when pressing “play” or exporting to an audio file. In Finale 2011 and PrintMusic 2011, we have also seen crashes occur after creating a new file with the Setup Wizard.

Changing HP to “none” can prevent the crash in Finale 2012 and SongWriter 2012, and in Finale 2012 the “Apply Human Playback” plugin can be used as an alternative to HP.

This crash is NOT present in Finale 2014, PrintMusic 2014, or NotePad 2012.

To be clear, options for users of older versions of Finale include:

  • Postpone updating to Yosemite until more information is available, or
  • Turn off Human Playback, or
  • Upgrade to Finale 2014. Learn more here.

Of course, Yosemite is still subject to change until its official release. As additional information becomes available, we’ll share that in future Finale blog posts. If you wish, you can automatically receive all Finale blog posts in your mailbox by clicking on “SUBSCRIBE” near the upper right hand corner of this page.

UPDATE 10/22/14: To be clear, Finale 2012 and earlier are not supported in Yosemite. While results vary, there are known problems. If you’re using Finale 2012 or earlier, I don’t recommend updating to Yosemite at this time. We’ll provide more information on this blog as it becomes available.

Finale Blog: Tim Davies’ Orchestration Screencast

Regular visitors to the Finale Blog are likely aware of Tim Davies, the Los Angeles-based arranger, orchestrator, and Grammy Award-nominated composer who’s also a busy conductor, drummer, and bandleader. His recent film projects include work as conductor and orchestrator on Disney’s “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” which opened last week, and as the conductor and score arranger on “The Book of Life” (which opens this Friday). Visit the bio page on Tim’s website to see a few more of his many high-profile projects.

I know part of the secret to Tim’s productivity: He’s crazy efficient. He also clearly enjoys leveraging technology to increase this efficiency. Tim not only uses third-party software like QuicKeys to create additional keyboard shortcuts for Finale, but he also uses a separate iPad app to provide instant access, via MIDI, to all of his many QuicKeys scripts.

Tim recently created a screencast, titled “Extreme Australian Orchestrating,” that offers a glimpse of his workflow. In it he orchestrates a cue – from beginning to end – and details many of his productivity tricks, both in and outside of Finale. Be sure to check out the “picture-in-picture” view of his hands, input devices, and tricked-out iPad:

If you’re interested in learning more about Tim’s world, I encourage you to explore deBreved, Tim’s orchestration and arranging blog.

Let us know what you think – or how you’re using Finale – by clicking on “Comments” below.

Finale Blog: Halloween Pumpkin Fun Again

In anticipation of Halloween, we’re reposting this fun piece that Mark Adler created with Finale last year.

This traditional Halloween song can be sung as a round. Feel free to download the file and play it back in Finale. Mark suggests: “For added fun in the classroom, delete the eyes and mouth before printing and let your students create their own pumpkin faces.”

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Are you curious about how this piece was made? Mark explains:

“People often ask how I create files like this, assuming that I have imported graphics into the Finale file. This file contains no imported graphics or customized fonts; it was created entirely in Finale. To start, I create a playback staff and entered the round that the file would play back. I chose G minor because it places most of the notes within the staff. While having notes with ledger lines is really not a problem, it does add to the time it takes to tweak the finished file. Next, I hid all of the notes and staff lines in the playback staff.

“I then created the pumpkin shaped staff lines using the shape designer. The eyes were entered as expressions made with triangle noteheads from the Broadway Copyist font. I considered using a mordant for the mouth, but was not too happy with the expression it produced, so I created a more friendly mouth using the shape designer. The pumpkin stem is actually an eighth note flag from the Jazz font. Most everything else on the page, all of the notes and lyrics, was entered as a custom Smart Shape. By using a Smart Shape, I was easily able to rotate each element to match the contour of the pumpkin.”

We hope this pumpkin puts a smile – spooky or otherwise – on your faces, too.

Happy Halloween!

Quick Finale Tips From Jon Senge – Align/Move Dynamics

If you have ever wrestled with aligning your dynamics and hairpins under a staff, this Finale tip is for you.

TG Tools is a collection of Finale productivity plug-ins created by Tobias Giesen. A subest of this collection is provided for free with Finale, and includes one of my favorites: Align/Move Dynamics. This plug-in can horizontally align hairpin markings and dynamics, and move them together – up and down – as desired.

Situations like the following are no sweat with Align/Move. Just use the Selection tool to choose which area to align and run the plug-in. In most cases involving normal expressions, you’ll see perfectly aligned dynamics and hairpins.

Align move dynamics

Here are some Align/Move details. I hope you try it out on your next score.

Jon Senge engraves music for several notable publishers and loves talking notation. Tweet him at @jonsenge.

Upgrade and receive the Finale Trailblazer Guide for free


Finale 2014 offers workflow improvements to help you complete more in less time, additional Garritan® sounds, and notation enhancements designed to produce perfect results without editing.

Also included are many technological investments, including improved Apple® OS X® support, a new audio engine, and a completely rewritten file format, offering backward and forward compatibility and more flexibility into the future.

By now, most readers of the Finale Blog know all this, and yet, not everyone has upgraded: Perhaps some of you are waiting for a deal.

Starting today, for a limited time, when you upgrade to Finale 2014 for $139.95, you can receive Finale 2014: A Trailblazer Guide, free of charge.

Revised and updated for Finale 2014, this guide continues to offers clear, step-by-step methods to help you easily create great-looking notation. Readers will find a concise overview of Finale’s framework followed by a guide to the everyday tricks and shortcuts that make using Finale a breeze.

Author Mark Johnson guides you through the latest Finale 2014 features – as well as less recent enhancements you may have overlooked – with the goal of increasing your productivity.

Upgrade or learn more at Offer expires on 9/30/14.

Do you have this or another version of the Finale Trailblazer? Share your experiences with this guide by clicking on “Comments” below.

More Real-Time Finale Tips: Modify Rests

My last blog discussed how you can use quantization to speed up note entry and reduce subsequent editing. Today I offer another tip to help clean up any music entered in real-time – whether you’re playing notes directly into Finale or importing MIDI files.

Here is a piece I played into Finale:

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For this example, I quantized to a 16th note and purposely lifted my fingers early to demonstrate a common way in which what we play can differ from what we intend to play. As you can see, many pitches are expressed as a 16th note followed by a 16th rest.

Now for the fun part: Tobias Giesen’s great plug-in called “Modify Rests,’ included free with Finale. This plug-in offers many options to alter the appearance and duration of rests. I’ll use it here to extend the duration of some of the shorter notes above to reduce rests:

      1. Choose the Selection Tool and highlight the music you want to clean up.
      2. Select Plug-ins > TGTools > Modify Rests.
      3. This dialog box will appear. Select the Simplify tab and check all four boxes:MODIFY RESTS db
      4. Click “OK” and the music above gets instantly “cleaned up” to look like this:

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While the results are similar to what we would have gotten had we quantized to 8th notes, we preserved some 16th notes in the process, so I welcome this approach as an additional option.

Along with the concepts of quantization and re-transcribe, I hope the Modify Rests plug-in will greatly improve your real-time note entry. Enjoy!

Retranscribe in Finale


Last week Tom Johnson shared a blog post about real-time MIDI entry in Finale. Today a reader commented with a related question. Although I’ve already answered the question, I thought a slightly expanded reply – in the form of a short blog post – might be helpful to others as well.

The discussion concerned Finale’s ability to re-notate an existing performance with a different quantization setting. In Finale this is called Retranscribe, and it’s easily done.

Before I share the steps, let’s look at why you might want to do this. Let’s say you’re using Finale’s HyperScribe tool to enter a keyboard performance in real-time. Imagine that the piece is mostly eighth notes and larger durations, but has one tricky section with smaller durations. In this scenario I might set my quantization to eighth notes, play in the whole piece, and then simply retranscribe the tricky section with a different quantization setting. Here’s how to retranscribe that section:

  1. Use the Selection tool to highlight the measures you wish to re-notate.
  2. From the MIDI/Audio menu choose Quantization Settings, select appropriate values, and click OK.
  3. From the MIDI/Audio menu choose Retranscribe.

It’s that easy.

Keep in mind that this works horizontally as well as vertically. Let’s say someone created a band score in a sequencer, and sent you a MIDI file. It’s likely that the quantization setting you choose on input will work better for some staves than others – so you could retranscribe select staves as well as select measures.

We’d love to hear more of your thoughts on real-time note entry. Please share them by clicking on “Comments” below.