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2nd Annual Young Composers Contest

Young Composers Contest Announced!

In our annual celebration of Make Music Day, MakeMusic is again hosting a composition contest for young composers, aged 13-21. The winner will receive cash and other prizes. In addition, their composition will be performed live in select cities as part of national Make Music Day celebrations.

Contest Entry Details

Entries can be created in any notation software. Musicians without notation software are encouraged to download a free 30 day trial of Finale and start creating. Contestants must submit both PDF and MusicXML files of their composition. All licensing rights to pieces submitted will remain with each composer.

Eligible compositions must use (and are limited to) the following instrumentation and should be written at a level of difficulty that could be performed by a typical middle school band (this instrumentation is available as a Finale template on the contest website):

Flute (1 or 2 parts) Oboe Bassoon
Bb Clarinet (1 or 2 parts) Bass Clarinet Alto Saxophone (1 or 2 parts)
Tenor Saxophone Baritone Saxophone Bb Trumpet (1 or 2 parts)
Horn Trombone (1 or 2 parts) Baritone B.C.
Tuba Percussion*

* Percussion can be any combination of snare, bass drum, timpani (no more than 3), triangle, wood block, tambourine, bells, xylophone, and/or misc. auxiliary percussion).

All submissions are due by 11:59 pm Mountain Time on Sunday, April 15, 2018. The winner will be announced May 15.

Contest Prizes

The winning young composer will receive:

  • $250 one-time cash prize
  • Finale v25
  • Garritan Marching & Concert Band sound library
  • One-year SmartMusic Student subscription
  • One-year student membership to American Composers Forum

If you are over 21, this is a great opportunity for you to be a mentor. Please share the contest with students and young friends. You’ll find complete details and rules on the contest website.

Thanks to our co-sponsors, the American Composers Forum and the Make Music Alliance.

Spotlight on “Robert Schultz Piano Library” creator Robert Schultz

Robert Schultz

Robert Schultz is an American composer, arranger, and editor. He is also co-founder of Schultz Music Publications and creator of the Robert Schultz Piano Library. This library includes more than 500 publications of classical works, popular arrangements, and Schultz’s original compositions in editions for pianists at every level. In addition to piano work, Schultz has also produced original orchestral works, choral and vocal works, chamber music and works for solo instruments.

I spoke to Robert about his background and experience in engraving music notation.

When did you first become interested in notation music?

I guess it goes back to when I was a composition student at West Virginia University studying with Thomas Canning in the 1970s. Everything was done by hand in pencil or pen and you naturally began to look for ways to write more efficiently and accurately so that what you had written could be easily read by those attempting to learn and perform the music.

Copy machines in those days were scarce and not very good so even creating multiple copies of music was a challenge. The music school had a device, I believe it was called a Bruning machine, that would burn copies onto special, oversized paper, so we could use that for orchestra scores, but the originals had to be created with pen on transparent paper. It was a grueling process and I’m really glad we don’t have to do that anymore.

When did you first become serious about engraving standards?

Again, while a student at WVU, studying both piano and composition. Acquiring scores meant buying real editions that would become lasting library editions, and I found the look and quality of those scores to be fascinating. Things like the Schnabel Beethoven volumes published by Belwin Mills, the Durand editions of Debussy’s piano music, and others, were very beautiful and inspiring and this became a goal—to be a published composer and see my music in similar editions.

At that time there was no possibility of having such an edition of one’s music without a publisher, so that became the goal. I carried that care and concern with me when I became senior keyboard editor for Columbia Pictures Publications and pushed for the highest engraving standards possible.

What notation textbooks were influential for you?

There were no notation textbooks that I referred to as a student, only scores. Everything you needed to know existed in published scores so the library was the primary reference for anything you needed to know beyond what you had on hand. I still tell students that most of their questions about how and where to place things in their scores can be answered by checking a quality music edition.

There was one book that we kept in the office at Columbia Pictures Publications and did refer to—The Art of Music Engraving & Processing by Ted Ross.

Can you talk a little about your role at Columbia Pictures Publications?

After moving to Miami in 1978 I became a staff arranger at Columbia Pictures Publications, a position I held for one year and was then promoted to senior keyboard editor and also became their featured keyboard writer. The company’s primary activity was in the area of popular music, creating sheet music editions of current pop hits, movie music, TV music, etc.

I wrote a tremendous number of piano arrangements during the next 10 years, more than 2,500 piano solos and duets at all levels of difficulty from beginner to advanced/professional. I directed a staff of in-house arrangers and several freelance arrangers who would transcribe single songs and albums for the piano/vocal releases, the primary sheet music edition.

When the company acquired the rights to a new hit song or movie theme, I and others on the staff would immediately begin work on the arrangements that the music dealers and buyers expected to be released, and these would be completed, engraved and printed in a matter of a few days. Single sheet music editions would later be combined and released in collections.

For me, this was the beginning of the Robert Schultz Piano Library which evolved to include not only popular music but jazz arrangements, classical editions, Christmas music and my original piano works. I held this position until 1990 when I left the office to work from my home studio and focus entirely on writing and continuing to create new editions as the company’s featured piano writer. By this time, having acquired Belwin Mills, the company name had changed to CPP/Belwin. In the 90s the company was acquired by Warner Bros. and 10 years after that Alfred became the owner.

What process was involved in engraving music at Columbia?

The primary in-house engraving system was unique and a little bizarre. It involved placing white plastic noteheads with stems on a black felt board. The board resembled the kind that used to be used in hotel lobbies to display messages, letters inserted in horizontal slots. Our engraving boards had white staff lines running across with slots in between where you would insert the tabs on the back of the plastic notes. The engravers would place the white plastic noteheads and accidentals on the staves and when all was in place the board would be carried to a room where it was photographed. That process yielded a white page with black staff lines and notes. But it was far from finished.

From there the photograph page went to the “finisher” who would use a Rapidograph pen to draw ties, slurs, crescendo/decrescendo wedges, and anything that could not be done in step 1. Dynamic marks, accents, staccato dots and similar marks were added from rub-off sheets. Terms and phrases were typed onto gum stock, cut out with an Exacto knife and pasted onto the page. Then it would have to be proofread and any corrections generally involved using whiteout and ink.

It was difficult and the result was never elegant unless you slaved over it, but we did get music out to the public surprisingly quickly. We also used outside engravers for some projects, including one in Korea that made gorgeous engravings entirely by hand, but it would take months to get those back. Another South Florida engraver used an IBM music typewriter, a system that had its own quirks and problems.

What was your first introduction to Finale?

When Columbia Pictures Publications acquired Belwin Mills, they acquired a computerized engraving system as part of the deal. It was rudimentary but a great step up from the photographic system they had been using. It still required some hand finishing but the result was excellent. It must have been sometime in the late 1980s that they started using Finale as well.

They must have started with the earliest Finale releases and I began to see the results when I proofread my arrangements and transcriptions. As I recall, in those early days there was quite a learning curve for the engravers as they started to work with Finale so I and the other writers continued to submit pencil manuscripts to be engraved. I marked corrections on the proofs and learned what things were easy for the engraver using Finale to fix and what things were tougher.

Even in those early days, the look of the final product was excellent and I was so pleased that I could ask for things to be corrected such as beam slants and the amount of space between staves and systems, or even changing the layout when a system was too tight or too open. That was an amazing step in the right direction.

When did it become part of your ordinary workday? Was the transition contentious or otherwise difficult?

My personal work with Finale began in 2002 when I bought a Mac G5 and the 2002 version of Finale. I immersed myself in the tutorials and in less than a week had input a set of original works from manuscript that I had planned to use as a test project. And I never looked back. From that time on everything I wrote was set in Finale, although I still make initial rough drafts with pencil and manuscript paper, then use the speedy entry tool to input the notes in Finale.

Can you share a favorite Finale tip?

My first tip would be to encourage a new user to do the tutorials and read the instructional material before getting started. A lot of people tend to skip the software manuals these days and I feel that is not the way to start out with Finale. I met a music teacher once who complained that Finale couldn’t create odd rhythmic groupings other than a triplet!

Of course, my advice was to read the manual, and that there really wasn’t anything Finale couldn’t do, which I believe. I’m a big fan of metatools and am glad that I learned early on how much time it can save to create keyboard shortcuts for the elements I use regularly, particularly for inserting expressions.

I’ve always been picky about beam slants so I run the Patterson Beams plugin with my preferences before finalizing a score, and love to watch how that works. I also get a lot of use of the note mover tool to create cross-staff beams in piano scores. It takes a few steps but is well worth it.

What do you like (or dislike) about Finale?

Having come from a background where everything was done by hand, being able to extract parts from a score is nothing short of a miracle. If you’ve never copied parts from a big orchestra score that you just finished writing you may not be able to fully appreciate this, but it’s a big deal.

Even things like inserting a measure after you’ve worked in an area of a score, or experimenting with a different key signature just to see if it might read better, are amazing tools and advances compared to the way things used to be done. These things save so much time and I’ve been able to write a lot more music because of them.

What is your workflow today, from inception to the printed page?

For me, everything begins by working at the piano. I have a superb 1912 Steinway A that I have owned since I was in college and much of my work has initially emerged from that instrument’s sound. I have always made sketches and drafts at the piano then transferred the writing to a finished score.

My Finale scores are the final product for everything that is published in Schultz Music Publications—piano editions, chamber music, choral and orchestral works. My wife, Tina Faigen is an expert concert pianist with an innate sense about piano editing, so she sees everything before it is released. A second set of eyes is always helpful and I know that if I’ve missed something she will spot it.

When I’m doing projects for other publishers such as FJH, Alfred, Online Sheet Music, I send them the finished Finale files and they paste them into their own templates. I still have to proofread to make sure everything comes through intact, but except for some tweaking there are rarely any issues. I do work with the publisher’s editor who handles and coordinates the project with the in-house engravers and art department.

What current projects are you working on?

I just began work on a commission for a trio for piano, clarinet and cello. This is my second work for this ensemble, Zaffiro Trio out of the University of Pittsburgh, and I’m glad to be contributing in an area where there is not a wealth of repertoire. There are a few other new works that are in their final stages but have not yet been released: Eight Songs for Soprano and Piano on poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, a commission for a soprano here in Pittsburgh; Solitaire for Piano, a one-movement piece for the right hand alone, written for a friend in Detroit who has M.S. and has lost the use of her left arm.

I just sent Finale files to FJH for a Christmas edition in a new piano series they asked me to create. I also budget time when I can to go back into my early catalog and engrave in Finale those works that still exist only in manuscript. So trying to schedule and balance the time for composing, publisher projects and maintaining the website for Schultz Music Publications keeps me busy and inspired.

Special thanks to Robert for taking the time to share his experiences with us all.


Jonathan Feist, Author of “Berklee Contemporary Music Notation”

Meet Jonathan Feist, Author of Berklee Contemporary Music Notation

Jonathan Feist is no stranger to the Finale blog. He’s been a guest author and was featured in this previous post. By day Jonathan is the editor in chief of Berklee Press and a Berklee Online educator. He is also the author of Berklee Contemporary Music Notation.

Berklee Contemporary Music Notation

Two things really set this new book on music notation apart.

First is Jonathan’s writing. Apparently, he never received the memo decreeing that notation books must be stuffy resources and not enjoyable reads. Second is Jonathan’s commitment to “diversity in notation,” where he recognizes that there can often be more than one acceptable way to notate things.

Jonathan is as easy going to speak with as he is understanding of folks who want to notate things differently.

What inspired you to write a book on notation?

This book was written to address a specific need at Berklee, which was that the Professional Writing Division needed a resource about notation that was a bit more oriented towards contemporary music and a diversity of styles than what was currently out there. They wanted something that thoroughly covered the basic symbology and best current practices of writing music, and then also addressed things like drum set charts, guitar chord diagrams, measure repeat symbols, film scoring customs, large score/part layout, choral music, and so on.

Originally, I was asked to create an online course about it, and I started by expanding the scope of my Finale course, which I’ve been teaching since 2002. When I did that, there seemed to be an awful lot of text on the screen that would more effectively be presented in a book. So, I filtered out that stuff from the course and created the book out of it, after expanding it a bit to become a more comprehensive resource.

Were any classic notation texts particularly influential to you?

Yes, many. I’m a book hoarder. Gardner Read’s classic text has been a career-long companion. Berklee Press also has two books that I’ve used a lot as references over the years: Music Notation: Preparing Scores and Parts (Nicholl/Gruzinski), and Music Notation (McGrain). I have several others, too, but I don’t use them as much.

In the afterword, you tell a story about asking a colleague for the standard Berklee approach to a certain type of notation. Can you share that experience?

Oh, thanks, that’s the story that I introduce by saying I should probably not actually ever tell it, and here we are, telling it again…. But if this is going to be a tell-all piece for your gossip rag, so be it.

So, when a notation question comes up at Berklee Press, and there’s a need to come up with a “house style” way of rendering something, I have a process that I follow that I hope will lead us to the best answer. First, I try to find many examples from the literature, preferably published by a half dozen or so respectable publishing houses, and I see if there’s a clear majority way of presenting it. If it’s not clear, I ask several high-up administrators (usually division deans, department chairs, and old, grizzled professors) and other smart people at Berklee what their thoughts are. Finally, I reach out to colleagues and friends of mine outside of Berklee, working in the field, often far flung around the world, to see what they recommend. Hopefully, I arrive at a clear sense of best practice for that technique.

On one occasion, a question came up regarding how to notate a … Let’s say, it was an alphorn part, to protect the innocent. I learned to do it one way, the author sorta, kinda thought it should be done another, but wasn’t really sure. Fair enough, let’s see what the larger opinion of this issue was. So, I went to the chair of Berklee’s Alphorn Department (we don’t really have an Alphorn Department), and asked her how she’d notate that technique.

She scratched her chin, and then went to her bookshelf, and found a book about alphorn technique, consulted how that book rendered it, and then presented that page to me as what should be our definitive standard.

What she didn’t know was that I was actually the editor of that book—practically, its ghostwriter. And she was using my own writing to convince me of her own expertise.

In that moment, I lost a lot of faith I had in the authority of the printed page, because I knew how that sausage got made. I am not an alphornist, and I shouldn’t be the one dictating the definitive way to notate its techniques! Fortunately, I’m pretty meticulous about this kind of thing, and in that case, it was an appropriate and thoughtfully considered choice. But the point is, when something is published, it has a sense of authority about it.

It’s something we all need to be careful of—particularly today, when anybody can be a publisher.

Despite embracing notational diversity, you’re not wild about handwritten fonts.

Embracing diversity doesn’t mean that we all have to love terrible things…

Kidding, kidding. Handwritten fonts are not terrible. I just think that they are not as easily readable as engraving-style fonts.

In every class, I give my students an A/B survey of an example in a handwritten vs. an engraved notation font, and ask them which one they think is easier to read. Every time (and I’ve done this with dozens of classes, and nearly a thousand students), almost everyone expresses a strong preference for the engraved font version.

About one out of fifteen students prefer the opposite. I try to make sure that the holder of this minority opinion feels like a valid and valued member of our community, despite being a misguided, stubborn freak.  

Were there notation decisions you struggled over in the creation of the book?

One of the topics I really wanted to include was how to notate fiddle chop notation, which is coming up more and more frequently in our publications. “Chop” style is a percussive, groove-oriented fiddle playing technique, and everyone should check out the YouTube videos of Casey Driessen for some amazing examples of what a fiddle can do, in the hands of a mad genius.

There are various competing ways that people notate chop techniques, even at Berklee. Some really smart, talented members of our string faculty had been mulling this over for quite a while, working towards settling on a standard. I will admit to pushing them to clarify their thoughts about this before they might have preferred, so that I could include that information in my book. But they were really good sports, and very kind to each other during the rather fraught and highly technical conversations we had about it. It was a difficult but healthy process, and I appreciate their efforts so much. Looking at you, Casey Driessen, David Wallace, Oriol Saña, Darol Anger, Mimi Rabson, Mike Block, and several others.

Can you share a favorite Finale trick?

You know, I want to say that it’s a hard question, because there are so many, but in fact, something very quickly jumps to mind: that you can apply an articulation to a series of notes by simply holding down its metatool and dragging the mouse. So, if you want a few measures of sixteenth notes to all be staccato, choose the Articulation tool, hold down S, drag over the notes, and voila! I love that so much!

I also adore the Edit Filter. That one’s a very deep, long-felt affection, particularly for how it lets us copy/paste just chord symbols around a score. My students practically shed tears of joy, when I show them that one.

Can you share a favorite Finale story?

My favorite? Many years ago, I had an older student take my online Finale course. He was in his sixties and recently disabled, having had to give up his long and distinguished career—if memory serves—as a performing pianist and a high school music director. Mostly, he took my course because there wasn’t much else he could do as a result of his back injury, and so the course was a way to occupy his time while he was recuperating. But he fell in love with Finale and the engraving process, and a year after my course, he wrote to tell me that he had embarked on a new chapter of his life and career: as a notation engraver. I felt useful, that afternoon.  

It was a reminder to me about one of my favorite aspects of music: there are just so many ways to reinvent yourself in it. You can get tired of one dimension of music and leave, but then come back to it in a new way.

Music is always there, waiting.

In a fine interview at you mentioned how notation software has influenced notation. Can you share an example?

Yes, in so many ways. Particularly, though, I think that informal, non-published notation is a lot clearer now. One example is that measure numbers at the beginning of systems are ubiquitous, because they are the default. Decades ago, handwritten charts often didn’t have them, because writing them was a chore. This is a good change. Measure numbers are helpful.

There are certain other practices that are more neutral, in terms of benefit. For example, there was a handwriting convention of leaving clefs off the systems of single-instrument parts, after the first system. That’s fading a bit. You still see it, and some writers prefer it,  but it’s an unnecessary shortcut to leave those out. The same with the old shortcut of leaving off begin-repeat symbols from the first bar. The handy “Simple Repeats” shortcut in the contextual menu makes those so easy, why bother to leave them out? It’s clearer to leave them in.

Because notation software is so easy and so commonplace, there’s a higher expectation now that charts be readable. A couple decades ago, it was “hip” to handwrite charts, to fly in the face of those computer composer people, but that’s faded. Performers and students just want legible notation, and software is the easiest way to get that.

As you point out, despite your caveats about diversity in notation, you probably still have had some interesting reactions from readers. What’s the most entertaining feedback you’ve received so far?

You know, I thought I was going to get a lot of hate mail as a result of this book, but in fact, the feedback has only been positive. To me, what’s been “entertaining” is when people I consider to be much smarter and more experienced than I am tell me that they learned something from it. Lalo Schifrin, whose bootlaces I am not fit to tie, said that he found it “enlightening.” And my childhood hero, Peter Schickele, actually read it and gave me a fun quote for the back cover. So, I’m sure that the hate mail will find me, eventually, but I am grateful to have stockpiled a few supportive antidotes to comfort me, when it does.

I can’t remember the last time an answer to a Finale blog interview question made me laugh out loud. Thanks to Jonathan for the great resource and the fun.

Spotlight on “Once on This Island” Composer Stephen Flaherty

Finale Spotlight on “Once on This Island” Composer Stephen Flaherty

Once on This Island is an inspiring one-act musical that first ran on Broadway in 1990 and whose West End run won a 1995 Olivier Award for Best New Musical. Set in the Caribbean, it is a tale of the power that love can have in bringing people from different social classes together.

The book and lyrics were written by Lynn Ahrens; the music was created by Stephen Flaherty (fourth from right in the cast recording photo above). Last year the show was revived on Broadway with an opening on December 3rd. We spoke with composer Stephen Flaherty about the experience.

How does it feel to come back to Once on This Island after almost 30 years?

It feels wonderful. Like visiting an old friend that you love but haven’t seen in a long time.

Can you tell us a little bit about this particular production? What are the challenges you are facing?

This production is very different than the original Broadway production. We are at the Circle In The Square Theater this time, which is Broadway’s only theater in the round. We are trying to get to the roots of storytelling and story circles. Why we tell stories, how we relate to stories, and how stories can ultimately heal. The production is very elemental. We have sand, water, fire, rain. It is also entirely actor-driven.

Did you feel as though you had to update parts of the score? What parts specifically?

We didn’t update the score per se except for some connective tissue and mostly new dance music. But we did update the vocal arrangements and orchestrations. I worked closely with AnnMarie Milazzo, our vocal arranger, and Michael Starobin, our orchestrator. It was a very seamless collaboration. Very fluid. And the vocals were quite textured, not your standard SATB but literally 16-part vocals with each actor having his or her own part. The vocals were really “vocal orchestration.”

When we spoke, you mentioned using found objects as instruments. Can you talk a little bit about that process?

Yes. Michael Starobin came up with the concept of making music out of discarded materials and called up his friend, John Bertles, who founded a group called Bash The Trash, which makes instruments out of garbage. The process of integrating these found objects with our live band of four was a fun one. We just experimented and tried many different things during rehearsals. When something finally gelled, our intrepid music assistant, Haley Bennet, would notate the rhythms and pitches using Finale. Since things were changing daily Finale made the process easy and fluid.

Can you describe how you and Lynn Ahrens, along with your copyist, assistant, and vocal designer work together to create and keep track of all the changes?

Yes. With a show changing daily communication is key and everyone needs to be in the loop.

Lynn uses Word. I notate in Finale, composing and arranging the songs, and share the piano-vocal score and the daily changes with Lynn, my orchestrator, music director, music assistant and our copyists via DropBox. Our vocal arranger uses GarageBand – she sings all 16 parts (in the correct octave!) into GarageBand and our music assistant takes it down, notating in Finale. She also puts in the daily changes, all shared via DropBox. There are many changes that happen daily but we are always in sync. Of course, we don’t always have our faces in our computers. We actually talk to one another onsite, too!

Was Finale apart of your process in 1990? If not, can you tell us how you came to use it?

I notated by hand for years. I actually love creating order on a page. I find it beautiful and you can tell a lot about the music by seeing how it is written in the composer’s hand. The original score to Once on This Island was in my hand.

That said, the editing process by hand was very slow and grabbing all the changes and rewrites on the fly was challenging. So I learned Finale in 1994. My first score in Finale was the musical Ragtime, which was a very big show. Finale saved my life on that one!

What do you like or dislike about Finale?

I like how Finale easily lets my team work together, whether we are at the theater or at home. We are always literally working on the same page.

Have a favorite Finale tip or story?

Yes. I first learned Finale while I had some time off. I also had dental surgery at the time. I don’t recommend the pairing of the two!

That sounds like good advice. Once again, congratulations on the revival. Where can we get tickets?

Once on This Island is running at the Circle In The Square Theater on Broadway. You can get tickets at once onthislisland.comAnastasia [which also features music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty] is on Broadway six blocks south at the Broadhurst Theater, where it will celebrate its 300th performance this month. You can get tickets for Anastasia at

Clearly, this has been a banner year for musical theater and for this composer. A year to remember.

What’s next for you?


Thanks again to Stephen Flaherty for taking the time to chat with us before his much-deserved holiday.

Top 5 Finale Blog Posts of 2017

Top 5 Finale Blog Posts of 2017

The end of 2017 is almost here. Were there things you had hoped to accomplish this year that you didn’t get to, like reading every Finale blog post?

No worries.

Below are the top five blog posts of the year. All the questions on the test will be from these five posts; brush up on the tips they offer, and you’ll be good to go!

5. Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation

Improve your music notation to ensure better performances by considering beaming, the invisible barline, chord naming, and clear comping notation.

4. Finale QuickTips: Cross-Staff Beaming

Check out this simple shortcut for cross-staff beaming. Start by entering your notes on one staff. Next highlight the area you wish to have appear on the other staff. Finally, press option + arrow. Done!

3. Finale Quick Tips: Creating Tempo Changes

Finale’s Setup Wizard makes it easy to add a tempo marking to any new score. But what if you decide to add tempo changes elsewhere or later in the process?

2. Just Released: Finale v25.4 – a Free Maintenance Release

Our second most popular post of the year didn’t offer any tips at all. Instead, it highlighted features in the 25.4 update, which is free-of-charge to all Finale 25 users. If you’re interested, we also published posts about 25.3 and 25.5 this year, and the 25.5 post also hints at the mystery of the missing clear key.

1. Creating PDF Files from Finale Scores

Creating PDF files from Finale is easy, and represents a great way to share your music with others when you don’t need (or want) them to edit the files.

Happy holidays to all and best wishes for 2018!

Tim Davies on Creating Music for Trollhunters

Tim Davies and Guillermo del Toro

Trollhunters is an award-winning animated TV adventure series on Netflix. These are not the cute trolls with the neon-colored hair. The creator of this show is Guillermo del Toro, the incredibly creative mind behind The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth, the Hellboy films, and so much more (including co-writing the screenplays for all three Hobbit films). These are serious trolls.

Creating the music for Trollhunters is Finale power user (and incredibly busy Hollywood arranger, orchestrator, and conductor) Tim Davies. As season two of Trollhunters has just been released on Netflix [this preview may warrant a spoiler alert], we thought this would be a great time to check in with our friend Tim (pictured on the left above with Guillermo del Toro) and learn a little bit about the show.

How did you come to be the musical force behind Trollhunters?

It can actually all be traced to my relationship with Sony Interactive. My first real project was a game called SOCOM 3 with composer Jim Dooley. I got along well with the Sony team and they have continued to bring me onto projects to this day. One of them was a game called The Last of Us with composer Gustavo Santaolalla. The two of us also got along really well and he invited me to work with him on a film called The Book of Life. The producer of that movie happened to be Guillermo Del Toro.

While I never met him at the time, his next movie was called Crimson Peak and they got behind on the score, so he called and asked me to help out with some additional music. When I met with him to see what he wanted me to do on Crimson Peak, he said he had this new TV show and he wanted me to write the score. There was a bit of time lapse from finishing the film to when they finally called for me to start, so for a while I was not sure it was actually going to happen.

What involvement did Alexandre Desplat have in the show?

Del Toro and Desplat had been looking for a project to do together for a long time, way before I entered the picture. Desplat does not have the time to write a whole series, but he could write the main title and a few themes. He wrote a theme for our hero, Jim, and a little suite of darker material that I raided for nuggets to build other themes from.

I did not know of his involvement and when they mentioned this in my first meeting at Dreamworks I think I swore out loud. Everything I had done as a composer (for media) up to then had been using others’ themes and I was looking forward to just using my own. Now here I was being told that someone else had written the material again! Guillermo said don’t worry, there are plenty of characters to write more themes for, and he was right!

Also, Desplat is one of the top film composers on the planet and the material he gave me was amazing, so it really was a blessing, not a curse.

Do you have a favorite of all your character themes?

There are so many, but my favorite is Angor Rot. He is a very bad guy, so I got to come up with a dark and angry theme for him. Hear a suite of music for Angor Rot.

Can you talk about the unique workflow of the music on this show?

The first part of the process is to meet with the director and producers to spot the episode and discuss the music. There is a temp track already in place and it is usually a great guide for where I should start. So I come home and map out the cue in Cubase and decide on tempo and meter. I listen to the tempo of the temp and often use that as a starting point, but I also tweak it as I go.

But the music is very orchestral and I can’t write that style of music straight into a piano roll in a DAW, I need to see it as a score. So I write scores in Finale and orchestrate it as I go like I would any other score. I import the map information from Cubase into Finale and write the cue. I press play in Cubase, which also has the picture chasing from a program called Video Slave, then play in Finale when I see it hit the right bar.

I have a template set up for Finale playback hosted in Plogue Bidule. Between the show and all of the other projects I have going on, I might easily open 50 files or more in a day. Hosting and waiting for instruments to load would kill me, so having them loaded all of the time outside of Finale is a real time saver.

Once I am done writing the cue, that file goes off to one of my programmers. They will export it as a midi file and load that into Cubase and program all of the virtual instruments. We use a mix of libraries. For the woodwinds it is mainly Orchestral Tools Berlin Woodwinds, Brass is a mix of Cinebrass, Berlin, and Hollywood. Synths and pianos are mainly spectrasonics and strings are mainly Berlin. No one library works for everything so it is often a mix. I have the East West Composer Cloud as a catch-all for anything I don’t have already. I also have a lot of custom samples that I have made over the years.

We have a master file for each episode where all of the finished cues go. I will check it and give notes. We have duplicate setups so I can either open the file myself and make any changes or I can just send a message back to do it. Once finished, I take that on my laptop to Dreamworks, plug into their editor’s system and play it back for them. They will give a few notes. Once I have addressed them, we send a QuickTime video back for a second review. They will usually be happy with most of it, but might have a few other things that they want to be done differently, especially since the finished animation is all still coming in and things need to be moved around a bit.

Then my assistants will print the stems and send to the dub, the mixing session for the sound.  Stems are audio files of each section of the orchestra. In a perfect world they just leave everything balanced as I have it, but sometimes at the dub they need to make a change to clear for some sound effects or they want to boost something, so every project delivers these splits.

What else have you been working on lately?

I have kept my “day job” going while writing Trollhunters. We always have a movie or two that we are orchestrating. Recent projects include The 12th Man for Christophe Beck, Proud Mary for Fil Eisler and an ongoing project with Sony, the next Spiderman game with John Paesano. Jeremy Levy and Jordan Seigel work with me on all the orchestrating. We also continue to do the TV show Empire each week, and this year did Lego Ninjago with Mark Mothersbaugh, Olaf’s Holiday Special and the Trolls Holiday short with Chris Beck and Jeff Morrow.

I just got back from conducting four shows of Frozen live to picture in Taiwan, and in January I am conducting the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center for a concert with Babyface. We are doing all of the arrangements for that show too. I have 3 more episodes of Trollhunters season 3 to write, then I plan to get back to my big band and blog, and maybe sleep in.

Thanks to Tim for taking time out a crazy schedule to share some of the details with us.


Reflections on 2017

Reflections on 2017

As the year winds down, I’d like to take a moment to reflect and express gratitude to those around me. First and foremost, to all our users that choose Finale to “create their way,” thank you. You make Finale possible and 2017 has reinforced that notion for me. I am fortunate to hear from users every day with their ideas and suggestions, expressed with great passion and enthusiasm. Again: thank you! I actively dialogue with users on the Feature Request Community. If you haven’t visited to vote on a suggestion or voice your own idea, please consider doing so.

The Finale Development Team

I’m also grateful to the Finale development team (pictured above). 2017 has been a busy year for this team and they’ve all risen to the occasion. They approach their work with authentic dedication, determination, and drive. With the understanding that they are standing on the shoulders of those who’ve come before them, the team approaches the code, defects, and feature requests with a great humility and desire to make the world a better place. 2018 will mark the 30th anniversary of the release of Finale 1.0, This both humbles and inspires me to continue to improve Finale. Surrounded by such a talented team, I know the future shines brightly.

As I look at the current landscape of notation applications on the market, I can’t help but pause and reflect on how much the world has changed in the past 30 years and will be rapidly evolving in the future. I respect everyone making music notation software today and appreciate their contributions to the art of capturing musical ideas, as well as for pressing the Finale team to raise our game.

Finale 25.5

Last month we released Finale 25.5, holding true to our promise of releasing frequent and free updates to our users. While much of the work the past 18 months has been in internal code clean up, we have also provided many features and defect fixes. As I prepared some documentation for the upcoming Midwest Band and Orchestra convention in Chicago, I was delighted by the list of features we’ve introduced in v25, many of which have been delivered in 2017. View the list of all the features added in Finale version 25 for Macintosh and Windows users.

Speaking of the Midwest convention, if you also plan to attend please stop by our booth to say hi. Again, kudos to the Finale team for adding features while addressing technical debt and thanks to you, Finale users, for making it all possible.

May 2018 be filled with peace, joy, and love for you and yours.

Michael JohnsonMichael Johnson is the vice president of professional notation at MakeMusic. He first joined the company in 1996 as a technical support representative, solving tricky issues with Finale 3.5.2. He is grateful to Scott Yoho for giving him a chance 21 years ago.

Michael lives in Colorado with his spouse, Owen, and their son, Elliot. During the month of December, he can be heard tooting holiday tunes on his trumpet around the Boulder area with the Gunbarrel Brass Quintet (which has less to do with firearms then the name might suggest).

Free Holiday Music

Free Holiday Music

MakeMusic had it’s annual holiday party last weekend, and it was a smashing success. Above, our own Kait Creamer, Ryan Sargent, Michael Johnson, and Mark Adler perform, along with Kait’s husband Andrew. Our company choir also sang and many folks sat in with the house band, led by Ryan Sargent. 

Of course, we performed lots of holiday titles, and this is our cue to continue the tradition of sharing free holiday music with you.

Free Holiday Music

The collection includes:

  • Lead sheets with melody, lyrics, and chord changes
  • Piano pieces from pre-readers to advanced
  • Classical guitar arrangements
  • A caroling collection
  • Instrumental duets, trios, and solos with accompaniment
  • Vocal pieces for SATB and accompaniment
  • An easy holiday ukulele songbook
  • One piece each for beginner band, jazz band, string orchestra, and handbells
  • Four medium to easy flexible band arrangements
  • At least one quartet each for strings, barbershop, woodwind, and brass
  • Our “Tannenbaum!” graphic notation piece

Download the collection here.

These files are saved as Finale (.musx) files that can be opened directly by Finale version 25 and 2014. If you don’t own either feel free to check out the music in the Finale free trial.

Happy holidays!

Finale Tips: Delete vs. Clear (or Backspace)

Finale Tips: Delete vs. Clear (or Backspace)

As I mentioned previously,  in Finale version 25.5 the keystroke Function-Shift-Delete was added as an alternative for the Clear key on Macintosh computers.

So What?

In most applications, Clear and Delete mean different things. For example, in Microsoft Excel, Clear will remove contents of a cell, while Delete will remove the cell from the document. Finale follows a similar paradigm.

Windows users have a Backspace to accomplish the same results as the Clear key. Some Mac users own an extended keyboard that includes a numpad on the right side with a Clear key next to the Equal (=) key. The keystroke added in 25.5 is for all the rest of us Mac users who have a smaller keyboard offering only the Delete key. We can now type Function-Shift-Delete to clear information (as folks with more robust keyboards have done for years).

When to Avoid the Delete Key in Finale

When would you use Clear, Backspace, or Function-Shift-Delete in Finale?

When you want to remove formatting or positioning. In contrast, you’d use Delete to completely remove the element from your score. I like to think of Delete as being more destructive.

There are many places you can put this to use. While the full list of keyboard shortcuts are provided here, here are a few of the most common ways this keystroke can save you time by resetting or reverting the positioning of an item to the default setting:

  • Articulations
  • Slurs
  • Expressions
  • Special Tools Edits
  • Lyrics
  • Chords
  • Group or Staff Names
  • Tuplets

Note that you can simply use these keystrokes with the Selection tool to resort to defaults: you don’t have to choose a specific tool beforehand.

Here are  a few more uses, specific to note entry:

  • In Simple Entry, the Caret/Selection is cleared
  • In Speedy Entry, a note can be removed from a chord or a single pitch can be changed to a rest

And one of my favorites is to clear the contents of a measure without deleting the whole measure. This even works if a partial measure is selected.

Finally, Clear functionality does not relink an element between the score and the linked part. This means you can go to a linked part, press Clear (or Backspace or Function-Shift-Delete) to reset the positioning to default settings without relinking to the score and thus causing potentially bigger problems.

Did it Have to Be Three Keys?

While many will find it pretty easy to hit Function-Shift with the left-hand while hitting Delete with the right, you might wonder why a simpler key combination wasn’t used. Pairs like Shift-Delete or Option-Delete come immediately to mind. It turns out that the OS uses these and many other key combinations, so we selected an option that will not produce conflicts elsewhere.

If you’re curious about what some of those other Macintosh key combinations actually do, here you go (courtesy of this link from Apple):

  • Option+Delete = Delete the word to the left of the insertion point
  • Fn+Delete = Forward delete on keyboards that don’t have a Forward Delete key. Or use Control-D
  • Cmd+Delete = Select Delete or Don’t Save in a dialog that contains a Delete or Don’t Save button
  • Shift-Command-Delete = Empty the Trash
  • Option-Shift-Command-Delete = Empty the Trash without confirmation dialog

Because I find this functionality so useful (and a significant productivity boost) it’s my hope that you find this post to be perfectly clear on the subject.

Michael JohnsonMichael Johnson is the vice president of professional notation at MakeMusic. He first joined the company in 1996 as a technical support representative, solving tricky issues with Finale 3.5.2. He earned his music education degree from the University of Dayton and his computer science degree from Metropolitan State University.

Michael lives in Colorado with his spouse, Owen, and their son, Elliot. When he isn’t working in Finale, he enjoys playing the trumpet and bicycling around the Rocky Mountains.

Finale 25.5 and the Mystery of the Missing Clear Key

Finale 25.5 and the Mystery of the Missing Clear Key

Today we released Finale 25.5, the fifth free-of-charge update for all owners of Finale version 25. As previously mentioned, this release is part of our ongoing effort to more frequently provide smaller updates. The goal is to continually share improvements as they are made (and without additional cost to you)  rather than saving them up in large batches (or for paid upgrades).

High Sierra

The primary focus of 25.5 is improved support of macOS High Sierra. There are several fixes related directly to the new operating system. We’ve also made improvements to the Garritan installer (which is the process used to get the premium instrument libraries properly positioned on your computer). These fixes not only make the installer compatible with High Sierra, they also improve the installation process on its predecessor, Sierra.

The Mystery

Okay, here’s the mystery: where is the darn “clear” key on the Mac keyboard above (as well as on other Macs and Mac laptops)?  Don’t you need one to do things like clear the contents of a measure without deleting the measure itself?

While we weren’t able to add an extra key to your keyboard, 25.5 does make function-shift-delete work for this and other clear key functions. Check out this related post to learn more about how to use the clear or backspace function to increase your productivity (no matter what computer or keyboard you use).

Other Improvements Include:

  • The elimination of crashes when saving audio files on Windows or using ReWire with select DAWs,
  • Performance enhancements when exporting MusicXML,
  • Additional MusicXML improvements including support for duplicate measure numbers (as seen in pieces with multiple movements),
  • Improved Finalescript commands, and more.

Want to see all the features and fixes that have been added in Finale 25.5 (and earlier versions)? The Finale User Manual lists them in the “New Features” sections for Mac and Windows.

Installation Instructions

Ready to install? If you own Finale v25 or v25.1, 25.2, 25.3, or 25.4.1 here’s how to get the free update:

  • Either follow the update prompt in Finale or:
    • Mac: Choose Finale > Check for Update. For Finale 25, click Learn More. About Finale appears. Follow the onscreen instructions and skip to Step 2. For Finale 25.1, 25.2, 25.3, or 25.4.1, click Install Update. The download begins immediately.
    • Windows: Choose Help > Check for Update. For Finale 25, click Get update. About Finale appears. Follow the onscreen instructions and skip to Step 2. For Finale 25.1, 25.2, 25.3, or 25.4.1, click Install update. The download begins immediately.
  • When prompted, log in to your MakeMusic account under “Existing Customers”
  • Click the Download button
  • Close Finale (if it’s still running) and run the installer from your Downloads folder

Don’t own Finale 25 yet? Try it for free.

Want to know a secret? Maybe it’s just because I am a CTA fan, but I’m really excited about version 25.624.

Michael JohnsonMichael Johnson is the vice president of professional notation at MakeMusic. He first joined the company in 1996 as a technical support representative, solving tricky issues with Finale 3.5.2. He earned his music education degree from the University of Dayton and his computer science degree from Metropolitan State University.

Michael lives in Colorado with his spouse, Owen, and their son, Elliot. When he isn’t working in Finale, he enjoys playing the trumpet and bicycling around the Rocky Mountains.