Almost every time I do a clinic I am asked what “gear” to get. My answer is: “That depends.”
Your individual needs should drive the decision of what hardware you should purchase for use with Finale. Do you have a budget in mind? Do you have some keyboard proficiency? Is space at a minimum? Are you interested in scanning? Are you a Mac or a Windows person? And on and on.
Some people might think it bad business to recommended actual products, but I don’t. I find people want real help. They want gear that works – simple as that – and they’ll forgive me if I recommend brand X – because it works fine for me – even if I haven’t tried every other brand as well. Most of us just want to get our work done as quickly and easily as possible.
I travel a lot and I am a pianist. Those two factors define, in large part, what gear I bring with me when I do Finale clinics. So I need a keyboard but also have to keep things compact: These are common, practical considerations that you might share. While my work also requires I bring an LCD projector everywhere I go, and run two different operating systems on my computer, at heart I am not really a “gear head,” and I think this helps. I find it easy to put myself in the mindset of many of the folks in my audiences: non-technical, but still curious about ways to make Finale work better, faster, and easier.
So, in that spirit, and with those caveats – Let’s talk about gear.
If you’ve seen me demonstrate Finale you know I am excited about scanning. I have found that some scanners work better than others, however. I’ve had great success with Canon and Epson flatbed scanners. Granted, I don’t have quantitative data, but I do note that Musitek (the creator of the SmartScore scanning software included with Finale) also recommends Canon and Epson scanners on their site. I’ve also seen other music notation clinicians using the same scanner I’ve had success with, so I suspect I may be on the right track. I use a Canon LIDE 25 flatbed scanner. I used to use a Canon LIDE 20 – but on my way to PASIC two years ago my trusty scanner became a mess of glass shards. I went online, Googled “inexpensive flatbed scanners,” and chose the cheapest Cannon available. Thanks to FedEx, my replacement scanner arrived at my hotel the very next day – just in time for the conference!
This scanner remains with me to this day and works great. I can COUNT on it to give the results I want – no small thing. I don’t really need to know WHY it works. I just need to know that it does.
First of all – do you need one? Well, in my opinion, even if you have the most basic keyboard skills, the answer is yes. If your goal is the fastest note entry with the least amount of editing (and who doesn’t have that goal?), then you want a MIDI keyboard.
Not sure where to start looking? If you’re on a budget, I’d suggest narrowing the search to either a two-octave or four-octave MIDI Controller. If you’re a better brass player than a keyboard player, then a two-octave MIDI Controller is likely all you need. If you’re a more proficient keyboardist, then you will probably prefer a four-octave MIDI controller, unless you travel all the time and size is a primary concern.
Whichever keyboard you get, I recommend you get one with the least “bells and whistles”, keeping price low and ease-of-use high. That said, you probably want these features:
- Up and down octave buttons – these shift the range of your keyboard so you can also enter really high and really low notes.
- USB powered – the keyboard should be powered by the USB cable from your computer, and require no additional power source.
- A modulation wheel/controller – when playing music in real-time these let you easily control the vibrato of appropriate instruments.
- “Velocity sensitive” keys – these ensure that soft notes playback soft and loud notes loud.
As far as specific recommendations, I love my EDIROL PC-100, but EDIROL doesn’t make it anymore. I’ve seen several coworkers happily using the EDIROL PCR-M1, so that’s a good bet, and I also have a super-compact (and inexpensive) Korg nanoKEY, which I can heartily recommend.
I love it when I see a music educator with a compact midi controller sitting on their desk – it takes up so little space and is so functional – plus it’s powered by the computer so there’s even an efficient use of cables and cords. Sweet.
Finally, I love how portable all this gear can be today. I can have my laptop, nanoKEY, scanner, and even my LCD projector in my carry-on luggage — all safely on the plane with me. It’s compact, inexpensive – and it actually works!
As my wife says, “KISS” (Keep it simple, sweetheart).