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Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation: Part 1

Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music NotationMusic notation plays a huge role in both sides of my double life. By day, I work at MakeMusic, where my primary tasks involve transferring published sheet music into SmartMusic. On nights and weekends I play guitar in a variety band. Unlike the published music I encounter by day, charts for this band are often hastily made, with little regard for the finer points of copy work. The results can sometimes look like the excerpt above, which is clearly not optimal for sight reading (or anything else). 

After reading many bad charts, I’ve begun to recognize some of the most common pitfalls people encounter when writing pop music for performance. Today, we’ll examine some of these bad habits and share quick ways to correct them in your work.

Beaming, Rests and the Invisible Barline

Beaming and rest choices are often ignored by the lazy copyist, but a little extra effort here will lead to better performances.

The meter of a measure must always inform the notation. Every time signature implies a grouping of beats, which determine beaming and rest choices. Take the following excerpt as an example. Which is clearer? 

Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation 1

Most working musicians could play the first example correctly after some practice time, but ideally we’d like these charts to be sight read, as is typical on the gig. By contrast, the second example clearly defines the halfway point in the measure, which is a great aid to readers. This is a concept known as the “Invisible Barline,” and is vital to writing in an even meter.

Additionally, notice how the beaming has been changed to outline each beat in the measure. This practice makes it easier to subdivide rhythms while reading the piece. Proper beaming technique is especially important in complex meters: Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation 2

The engraver’s rests must also support the performer by outlining the meter. I find each of the following measures to be very difficult to read: Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation 3Here is the same example with appropriate rests and beaming: Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation 4

Note that each syncopation is split into multiple rests. Again, this helps the performer subdivide rhythms easier. When mixed rests are needed, always choose rests which outline the beat appropriately.

Writing Chords

Another challenge for many writers is using chord notation. While this is a large topic that I’ve covered before, here are some basic guidelines to remember when building parts for the rhythm section.

First and foremost, develop a system that works for your performers. If your musicians prefer to see a ø7 chord suffix instead of min7 b5, then you need to swallow your pride and write the chord they want – even if you believe it’s “wrong.” Never sacrifice a good performance in the name of being “right.”

Just make sure to stay consistent – don’t write “C-7” in one measure, “Cm7” in the next and “Cmin7” later.

Comping Notation

Suffixes aren’t the only important part of writing chords; you must also pay attention to notation in the staff. While the lazy copyist may not see the value in writing notation during a comping part, the performers often need it badly, and each member of the rhythm section expects different conventions.

When in doubt, keep the notation simple. Here are some of my rules of thumb for writing rhythm section parts.

1. If you know exactly what notes you want them to play: write the notes in the staff. (This should be rare.)

Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation 6

2. If you only have a few specific notes: write the rhythms in the staff and only the specific notes you want. (This is common for guitar players, who often remember voicings based on the top note of the chord.)

Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation 7

3. If you don’t care what voicing they use but you have a specific rhythm: write rhythmic slash notation. (Common in a score with ‘hits’ that the band plays together.)

Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation 8

4. If you want them to improvise a comping part: Use slash notation. (This is the most common and easiest way to notate chords, but your performer may not know exactly what to play.)

Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation 8Being a guitarist, I wrote all of these examples for a guitar part. However, the same rules apply to other instruments. Typically, the bass part is written with a sample bassline and chord symbols – that way, the bass player has an idea of what groove to play, but they can freely ad lib fills when appropriate. 
Quick Fixes to Improve Your Music Notation 8
In part two of this post, we’ll step back a bit and turn our attention to how your refined notation appears on the page, discussing phrasing and layout.

Peter Flom is the production manager in the repertoire development department at MakeMusic. A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, Peter has previously worked at KMA Studios in New York City, and in MakeMusic’s Customer Success department. He now spends most of his days developing new content for Finale and SmartMusic, and has worked with many publishers along the way.

He also is a freelance arranger and engraver, and plays a mean guitar when no one’s watching.

Jazz Composition and Arranging Tips: Drum Cues

One question I am asked frequently in my courses is how to create drum cues. This refers to small notes written above the drum staff, indicating what rhythms other sections are playing (as seen above).

I used to, literally, enter each cue note individually and then reduce its size. This was not efficient! Then I “discovered” a hidden secret: Finale has a way to do it that is almost automatic – it just takes a little prep work.

1. Preparation for Drum Cues

First of all, I set up Finale’s layers. The trick is to designate layer 4 to hold the cue notes, and to NOT play them back. See how in the short video below:

2. Creating a Staff Style

You also need to create a Staff Style that allows you to show, simultaneously in different layers, the cues and one-bar repeats (or slashes, if you prefer).

3. Creating Drum Cues

Now we are ready to create the cues. In my example, I show use the lead trumpet part to show the drummer cues for an ensemble passage.

I hope these “tricks” will help you create your charts more efficiently. If they do, please check out my other Finale blog posts on ensemble voicing and copying and pasting

Socrates GarciaSocrates Garcia is a composer, arranger, producer, recording engineer, bandleader, guitarist, and educator from the Dominican Republic. He currently is the director of music technology at the University of Northern Colorado, where he teaches a variety of courses in music technology and advanced jazz arranging. He has given clinics at many music conferences including the Jazz Education Network, International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers, TMEA (Texas), CMEA (Colorado), and OMEA (Ohio). His 2016 award winning album for MAMA Records, “Back Home,” features the Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra, a contemporary jazz big band that combines Afro-Dominican genres that include merengue, bachata, and palos or atabales, alongside other Afro-Caribbean genres.


Jazz Composition and Arranging Tips: Edit Filter and Paste Multiple

Jazz Composition and Arranging Tips: Edit Filter and Paste Multiple

As I mentioned in my previous post on ensemble voicings, I enjoy sharing tips with fellow Finale users that can help them work more quickly and efficiently. Today I’d like to share tips using the Edit Filter and Paste Multiple features. This pair can greatly speed up your work when you copy and paste in Finale.

The Edit Filter

This very powerful feature allows you to select specific items to copy/paste. For example, the Edit Filter makes it possible to copy things like chords and lyrics without also copying associated notes.

The Edit Filter was recently covered in this excellent Finale Blog post, but I felt compelled to mention it again for two reasons:

  1. Visual learners may benefit from seeing the whole process in action in my video below, and…
  2. I also want to mention Paste Multiple.

Paste Multiple

My second copy/paste tip involves the Paste Multiple feature. This is a supercharged way to make the copying/pasting process faster and more efficient.  

To use it, choose the Selection tool, highlight some music, and copy it to the clipboard by clicking CTRL+C (COMMAND+C on Mac).

Next, go to the Edit menu and choose Paste Multiple or type ALT+CTRL+V (CONTROL+COMMAND+V on Mac). Here you can choose to copy the music horizontally (to the next measure) or vertically (to the next instrument staff):

Paste Multiple in Finale In both cases, you can also choose to have the paste occur as many times in succession as you wish.

See the Edit Filter and Paste Multiple in use:

I hope you find these two features as invaluable as I do!

Socrates Garcia is a composer, arranger, producer, recording engineer, bandleader, guitarist, and educator from the Dominican Republic. He currently is the director of music technology at the University of Northern Colorado, where he teaches a variety of courses in music technology and advanced jazz arranging. He has given clinics at many music conferences including the Jazz Education Network, International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers, TMEA (Texas), CMEA (Colorado), and OMEA (Ohio). His 2016 award winning album for MAMA Records, “Back Home,” features the Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra, a contemporary jazz big band that combines Afro-Dominican genres that include merengue, bachata, and palos or atabales, alongside other Afro-Caribbean genres.

Jazz Composition and Arranging Tips: Ensemble Voicings

Jazz Composition and Arranging Tips: Ensemble Voicings

I have been a Finale user since the mid-1990s. Along the way, I have learned many “tricks” to use the application in a way that compliments my writing flow and allows me to do things quickly.

I enjoy sharing these tricks in clinics for composers, students, and teachers as well as in my courses at the University of Northern Colorado. In all cases, it’s exhilarating to see the faces of fellow Finale users light up when they see a quicker and more effective way to do something they do on a regular basis.

I’m excited to share one of those tips today and look forward to sharing more in future posts.

Ensemble Voicings from Sketch to Score

As I am composing/arranging I often create my ensemble voicings in a single staff. This allows me to see all of the actual notes in one place and in concert pitch. For me, this simplifies work on sectional and ensemble voicings before I create the actual transposed score. In fact, when writing for jazz orchestra, I often use a sketch version of the score comprised of two grand staves, one for the saxes/woodwinds section and another for the brass section; and staves for guitar, piano, bass, and drums. You can hide or delete these staves later.

In addition to entering notes, I also add all my articulations and dynamics as I write these one-staff voicings (which saves me the effort of adding them to individual voices later).

Once the notes are entered, there’s an easy way to distribute the individual voices of each section to the appropriate staves. Finale calls this process “Explode Music,” and it’s pretty simple. With the Selection tool chosen, you indicate what music you want to distribute. Then from the Utility menu, you choose Explode Music and follow the prompts. Here’s what it looks like in action:

Exploding music can save you a lot of time and avoid many clicks of the mouse. It also allows you to develop a faster workflow. I hope this tip makes you smile and helps you to more efficiently create and share your music.

Socrates Garcia

Socrates Garcia is a composer, arranger, producer, recording engineer, bandleader, guitarist, and educator from the Dominican Republic. The director of music technology at the University of Northern Colorado, he teaches courses in music technology and jazz arranging. He has given clinics at many music conferences including the Jazz Education Network, International Society of Jazz Arrangers and Composers, TMEA (Texas), CMEA (Colorado), and OMEA (Ohio). His 2016 award winning album for MAMA Records, “Back Home,” features the Socrates Garcia Latin Jazz Orchestra, a contemporary jazz big band that combines Afro-Dominican genres that include merengue, bachata, and palos or atabales, alongside other Afro-Caribbean genres.

Problem Opening Finale Files Saved in Version 25.4

Problem Opening Finale FilesWe’ve received a few reports of a very isolated problem that is new to Finale v25.4. Certain files, that have been previously saved in Finale v25.4, cannot subsequently be re-opened. We want to make you aware of this issue, clarify the scope of the problem, and tell you how you can avoid it.

UPDATE 7/24/17: This issue has been fully resolved in 25.4.1, which is now available.


The problem only occurs in Finale v25.4  and requires the use of an external file. Typically this is a percussion map, although an embedded graphic, an audio file, or other file types could also be part of the equation.

For the problem to occur, the file names of these external files must contain one or more of a few special characters, including the ampersand, angle brackets, apostrophe, and quotes.

The problem can be completely avoided by not using “&, “, ‘, <, and >” characters in these file names. For example, we recommend naming your percussion map “Brushes and Mallets” instead of “Brushes & Mallets.”

When the problem does occur, the file will appear to save properly but will produce one or more error messages when you try to reopen it (and it will not open). Specific error messages are listed in this related knowledge base article.

What Do I Do?

You can completely avoid the problem by not using the characters listed above in your file names.

If you do encounter this problem, please submit a case here and attach your file. We can repair the file for you, so it can be reopened, and we can help those who prefer to roll back to v25.3 until a fix has been released to the public.

Working on a solution is our top priority. We hope to share it soon.

Should I Not Update to v25.4?

If you don’t use the above-mentioned characters in your file names, you will not encounter the problem. Because v25.4 solves issues that impact more users, it will remain available while we finalize a solution.

In the meantime, thank you for your patience. If you have additional questions, please let us know via the case system.

UPDATE 7/24/17: This issue has been fully resolved in 25.4.1, which is now available.

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

 Just Released: Finale v25.4 – a Free Maintenance Release 1This morning we released Finale v25.4, the fourth free-of-charge update for all owners of Finale version 25. This is part of our previously mentioned plan to frequently release modest-sized updates. The idea is to share improvements as they are made rather than saving them up in large batches.

MusicXML 3.1 is included in Finale v25.4

MusicXML is the technology used to exchange music with others – regardless of what software they use. Finale 25.4 includes a new version, MusicXML 3.1. In addition to being compatible with the new SmartMusic, 3.1 also offers improved conversion of the following items:

  • Arrowhead symbols
  • Circled noteheads
  • Dynamics such as n, pf, and sfzp symbols
  • Hidden ledger lines
  • Enclosures with more than 4 sides
  • Expressions or text blocks that contain a mix of Maestro text and symbols
  • Parenthesized accidental marks
  • Unexpected Maestro symbols used for articulations
  • Distinction between Finale’s two default percussion clefs (rectangle and vertical lines)

The benefits of MusicXML 3.1 are also available to users of Finale 2009-2014.5 via the Dolet 7 Plugin. For further information on the MusicXML 3.1 features in Finale 25.4 and the Dolet 7 plug-in see these release notes.

Additional Features in Finale v25.4

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

Two features added in 25.4 can be seen above. You can now add rounded corners to any enclosure, as well as determine just how rounded they are.

We’ve also provided more control on how key signature cancellations appear. Previous versions of Finale would always show courtesy cancellations when moving from a flat key to a sharp key (or vice versa). Now you can eliminate all such courtesy cancellations with a single checkbox.

Also included is Windows-only feature that notifies you when you don’t have an audio device configured and a Mac-only addition providing access to presets for AU instruments (in addition to the access to presets for AU effect that was available previously).

Finale v25.4 Bug Fixes

Finale 25.4 also includes many bug fixes. We’ve highlighted a few below.

Windows only:

  • Launching Finale by double-clicking on a Finale file on an external drive no longer produces an authorization error message.
  • Finale now launches successfully on systems which also have ProTools 12 installed.  

Mac only:

  • Fixed crashes that could occur when specific Simple and Speedy Entry keyboard shortcuts were invoked.
  • Repaired truncated text in impacted dialog boxes.
  • N-up printing scaling has been restored.
  • Setting the audio buffer size to 32 no longer produces a crash.

Want to see all the features and fixes that have been added in Finale v25.4 (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, or 25.3, 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 or 25.3, 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 or 25.3, 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 v25 yet? Try it for free.

Please let us know how 25.4  is working for you via Facebook or Twitter.

Robert Piéchaud Releases Medieval 2

Robert Piéchaud Releases Medieval 2Robert Piéchaud is a composer, performer, and a veteran Finale software engineer, having created Human Playback, FinaleScript, Score Merger, the November music font, and more. Today Robert has released Medieval 2, an update to his ingenious solution to creating ancient music notation with Finale. Below Robert explains exactly what Medieval is, what’s new in version 2, and what’s on the horizon.

How do you describe Medieval? Is it a plug-in? A font? Both?

Medieval is a specialized third-party solution devoted to ancient music. It was designed to help musicians create the most ancient types of Western written music known to us, taking advantage of the power of the world standard of “standard” notation, Finale.

It is a package with many facets; a font family, a very powerful plug-in with a multilingual user interface, rich documentation, and some specific templates and component files. Together with Finale, it offers a comprehensive environment devoted to medieval music. It could be described as a software within a software as its relationship with Finale is definitely a symbiosis.

Can you provide a brief history of the Medieval product?

I have long been bewitched by the idea of emulating the “warmth” of traditionally engraved music, but with modern digital tools. Keeping a strong link between the analog and digital worlds is an important theme in my work and in my music.

In the 1990s  Finale, Sibelius, Score, and other products were available, but I realized that there was no satisfactory solution to produce music notation created before the 15th century. Inspired by my passion for the fabulous musical diversity that existed since the 8th century, I came up with the idea of a font (Neuma) that would include many fine ligatures and medieval music features  I soon realized, however, that more was needed in order to adapt to medieval paradigms.

Neumes, in particular, proved problematic as they do not represent rhythms per se. Finale “thinks” in term of bars and rhythms while, for instance, there are no such things in Gregorian chant. Fortunately, Finale provides the flexibility to allow users (and plug-in developers) to emulate almost anything.

While in London in 1999 I met by chance with John Paulson, the founder and former CEO of Coda Music Technologies (before it was named MakeMusic). I had an early build of what would become Medieval on my MacBook and I was able to show it to John, who loved it. At the time I referred to the project with the obscure war code “Gradualis” to which John reacted abruptly with a “What the heck is this?” Then, in a gentler voice, suggested I rename it “Medieval.”

What circumstances led to the release of version 2 now?

Over the course of many years, Medieval became obsolete. A significant amount of work had to be done to adapt it to be compatible with modern operating systems (and versions of Finale).

While there was a great deal of interest in an update, and I had even created a beta version (that was used for publication by some chant specialists), I never could find the right window of time to complete the project. Finally, after the release of the November 2 font in February 2015, I began to find the time to sit down and work seriously on the update.

What is new in version 2?

First of all, the code base has been entirely rewritten. In addition, Medieval 2 has many new features. Perhaps most notably the Neume tool – a unique recognition system – has been enhanced a great deal with over 200 forms of fundamental neumes.

Robert Piéchaud Releases Medieval 2 for Finale

Graphically speaking, I have entirely revised the Neuma font family, adding many new symbols and paying much attention to details, as in my November 2 font.

I’ve made Medieval 2 much easier to use, with a dedicated menu and keyboard shortcuts. There is also a friendly notification system that feeds you with information or warnings without breaking the workflow, and the documentation has been rewritten from scratch. There are probably other many good points I’ve forgotten to mention!

Plus, you can now choose between five languages for the user interface: English, German, French, Italian… and even Latin! (This is thanks in part to my 15-year-old son who already is a true humanities scholar…)

Finale News: Robert Piéchaud Releases Medieval 2

Is a Windows version coming?

Yes, absolutely. Version 2.1 of Medieval is already scheduled for Q3 2017, and will be Mac and Windows. The Medieval 2 project had taken so much time that I felt that I couldn’t delay the release of the Mac version until both were complete. It was important to me to give the outside world a concrete sign of my progress! I am also planning the translation of the documentation into French, German, and Italian, as well as other goodies.

UPDATE 9/25/17: Version 2.1, with support for Windows, is now available

Other goodies?

Well, for instance, I am working on a new font that will emulate the St. Gallen style of neumes. It is a fascinating and very specific type of music notation that takes us back even further into history. Also called campo aperto (“open field”), it was developed around the 8th century at the Abbey of St. Gallen (Switzerland) and has no staff, so actually it is closer to mnemonics. In some ways, it resembles certain avant-garde music notation experiments! (The same could be said  for Ars Subtilior, another very interesting notation period that Medieval 2 embraces). Very often, scholars write Gregorian chant with the standard square notes and staff, and with the St. Gallen neumes upon them. The idea in Medieval 2 is that these neumes can be entered as text font characters, above the music and through a specific verse line in the Gregorian template.

What’s next for you?

Writing music is definitely high on my list! Last year was already quite intense with a carte blanche program entitled “Amerika” that was performed at Festival d’Automne in Paris, featuring my Wittgenstein-Lieder, my wind quintet (with voice) The River (after Henry David Thoreau), and some personal arrangements of music of the great Charles Ives, among them the Variations on America.

But for this year and the year to come, my dearest desire is to achieve some more ambitious orchestral projects. Perhaps this may lead me to some new technological ventures. Who knows?

I’d like to thank Robert for sharing this background. Medieval 2 is available through Klemm Music Technology, who is also the exclusive distributor of German-language versions of Finale.

Creating PDF Files from Finale Scores

Finale creations can be a saved in a wide variety of file types that allow you to share your music with collaborators. These options include the ability to export MusicXML files that can be imported and edited in a multitude of other music apps.

But what about those times when you simply want to share the notation, and not the keys to your masterpiece? PDF files work great for this. Not only are they not directly editable, they can also be viewed on Macs, PCs, tablets, phones; pretty much everything.

PDF files are very simple to work with. In most cases, there is no need for any additional software to create, open and view them.

Users of Finale for Macintosh have long been able to create PDFs directly from Finale. If you’re a Windows user, and using Finale 2011 (or an earlier version), you’ll want to check out third-party software like CutePDF, PDF Creator, or PDF995 (or consider upgrading to Finale v 25).

Otherwise, here are the steps for creating a PDF file in recent versions of Finale:

Creating PDF files from Finale for Windows

If you are using a PC with Windows 7 – 8.1, simply open Finale’s File menu, go to Export and then select PDF. Now, just save the file where it is convenient for you, and you’re done! You can see the process in action above (click on the animated GIF if you’d like it to appear larger).

If you are using Windows 10, you will also have an alternative option to use. Within the Print dialog, Windows 10 users can also select Print to PDF as an OS native printer.

Creating PDF files from Finale for Macintosh

If you are using a Mac, navigate to the File Menu, select Print, click the PDF option, then select “Save as PDF.” From here you can follow the prompts and you’re good to go. This menu also offers other options including“Mail PDF” or “Send PDF via Messages” to more quickly share your document.

It’s that easy.

Do you have remaining questions about creating PDFs with Finale? Please let us know via Facebook or Twitter.

David CuciskOutside his role as a MakeMusic customer satisfaction representative, David Cusick spends a lot of his time composing and producing music for TV and media. He has a passion for everything related to music technology. David’s music often incorporates digital and electronic sounds with traditional acoustic instruments and samples.

When not producing music, he enjoys hiking, camping, and biking in the beautiful Colorado outdoors.


May the Fourth Spotlight on Joann Kane Music

May the Fourth Spotlight on Joann Kane Music

In celebration of May the Fourth day, I spoke to Mark Graham, owner of Joann Kane Music. Those of you who watch movie credits will recognize his company’s name as they are frequently listed as “Music Preparation” in top films, including many Star Wars classics.

Mark (pictured above at left, with John Williams and Victor Pesavento) was kind enough to speak to us about their work on these films in honor of the day.

What Star Wars films have you been involved with?

I worked on the three prequels, Episode VII, and we’re just finishing up on Episode VIII now.

Can you describe your workflow on these films?

John William writes very detailed handwritten sketches. On the prequels, these sketches went to orchestrators. The orchestrators would write pencil scores and we would copy parts into Finale.

But for the past six or seven years, John has just sent the sketches directly to us. We put them straight into Finale. I’ve kind of edited them, checked them out myself, and then we’ve used them at the stage for recording.

Is there much in the way of back and forth or does he trust that you know what he wants?

Well, I would say it’s a relationship based on twenty years of pretty much full-time activity and a lot of trust. He’s very careful with the way he writes his sketches. Obviously, when we input them into Finale scores, we’re very respectful of that. He uses several forms of shorthand, but we’re accustomed to the way that works, and know what to look for.

The only thing I would say that we sometimes have to deal with is the woodwinds, in term of assigning particular instruments. Often I have to make a decision on instruments to cue in case he might want more sound in a particular place.

We’ve got it down to a well-established practice now because we’ve been doing it for so long. I’ve been at all of the recording sessions since 1998, so I have a very good sense of how he works as I’m always there. Once he sends the sketches to us, it’s only very rarely that he’ll want to look at the score.

May the Fourth Spotlight on Joann Kane Music 2

So the first time he sees the score is at the recording session?

Typically, John will work from his sketches and look at the score every now and then if there’s an issue we need to work out, in terms of balance or something like that. For this reason, I’m very near the podium during the sessions, and I have a set of his sketches and a set of the scores we’ve prepared that the engineer uses to mix with.

Can you share a sense of what it feels like at the sessions? Is it tense?

No, it absolutely is not tense. Many recording sessions can be very tense and tempers can get frayed and there can be an atmosphere sometimes, but his sessions, I would say that they’re very business-like. He can lighten things up with humor, but he can be very demanding on an orchestra as he has very high standards. He’s got a vast amount of experience and he doesn’t waste any time.

He’s always prepared. We start right at ten o’clock. There’s no speeches or chat or “Is this ready?” or “Is that ready?” The musicians know exactly the order of the cues we’re going to play that particular day. We typically post difficult music online for them to look at ahead of time if we can, so they have a sense of that. The principal string players will have a sense of how it’s going to be bowed and all the rest of it, and then we move on really quickly.

We can typically record comfortably over twenty minutes in a day, which is a lot for epic film scores like these, and we’ll be done without overtime. But that’s because he’s so efficient and everything is well prepared and thought out.

Can you share a story of a time when things didn’t go exactly as planned?

I can remember one incident on a “Harry Potter” film. There was a short cue he’d written for a kind of unusual small band and there were no strings. There might have been an accordion or a keyboard or something like that.

So I got a call to go out to the podium. And he said to me, sotto voce, “There are no strings on this cue.” We looked at it together and I said, “Well, you didn’t write any strings.” And he said, “Well, you know what to do.”  [Laughs]

So I provided the string parts from his keyboard sketch and within forty-five minutes or an hour they had strings and that’s the way we did that.

Again, there’s that level of trust.

Definitely a level of trust, yeah. None of this would work with any of these composers without some level of trust, frankly.

May the Fourth Spotlight on Joann Kane Music 3

Do you ever see clues in the music that reveal upcoming plot twists?

Yes – often. And the people here are very sensitive to that. We’ve got to be careful. There can be a big reveal either with some text in the cue or with thematic material which indicates the appearance or disappearance of a character.  

As a fan, I think it would be tough if you were working on the project and had a reveal like that.

Yes. People here are interested. I can remember at the end of one of the prequel movies, we were saying goodbye to George Lucas and my colleague at the stage asked him about one of the characters. And George was very surprised to get this question – I would say taken aback – and said, “Well, how did you know about that?” And my colleague explained his thought process on this character.

George listened to this and then gave a big explanation of how this character was going to be very present in the next movie. And it was quite interesting to hear that whole thought process, which was all worked out, and of course, we hadn’t seen any of it yet because they hadn’t even shot the film. But obviously, it was coming. And my colleague had worked it out in advance and then a couple of years later, we saw all the evidence of that in the film.

“The Force Awakens” was recorded in the U.S., right?

Yes, and Episode VIII was also recorded in the U.S.

The three prequel films, Episodes I, II, and III, and were all done with the LSO at Abbey Road. I think IV and V were done at Denham, an old film studio in London, but that’s before my time.

Interesting enough, we’re recreating those first scores right now for some concerts with the New York Philharmonic in September. We’re going to do the first three films and “The Force Awakens” in concert over a  period of about two weeks, with two shows for each film or something like that. And that’s been a very interesting project to put together.

Can you say anything about the difference in working on Star Wars music with an American orchestra in a different studio?

The LSO is a leading, well-established, top symphony orchestra. They play together all the time and they have a definite kind of overall sound and Abbey Road also has got its own unique sound. We’re working with a studio orchestra in L.A. which is a fine orchestra, at  Sony, one of the L.A. scoring stages in Culver City. It’s a big room that can absorb a lot of sound. And so there’s a denser kind of feel to the sound the orchestra makes than at Abbey Road – it’s not quite as bright.  It’s a slightly different experience.

When we did the prequel films, we would just do five or six days in a row and then go home.

The way that John works now, we’ll do a day or two in a week and then have a couple of weeks off. It’s a much more leisurely pace partly due to the writing schedule and a myriad of other factors, but it works very well. The filmmakers can get a sense of what they like in certain sections of the movie, which informs all of us as we move forward and can save quite a bit of back and forth.

So it’s a different experience from that point of view, but basically, the orchestra has been the same kind of players, the same people. And they played very well. They’ve really kind of risen to the challenge of this music, which is difficult.

Are efforts made to make it sound like the earlier recordings?

No. They want to make this music that he’s written now as good as it can be. I mean, that’s the whole thing. Mr. Williams is not a person to kind of rest on his laurels. He’ll want to constantly improve both in terms of performances and what he thinks he can do in terms of writing thematic material slightly differently, orchestrating slightly differently, working on the performances just to really fine tune stuff.

To close, is there something that I haven’t asked about that I should have?

I don’t know – people get very excited about Star Wars material. When you hear some of these beautiful themes played, 30 or 40 years later, with these musicians here in L.A., I think there’s a big feeling of… I don’t want to say reverence exactly, but certainly a massive feeling of respect toward that music and towards making it sound really good. It’s become a cultural icon like it or not, and I think people really want to be a part of that, and really want to do well in their contribution

This includes the engineers, stage crew, the musicians and all of the people at my office. We work really hard on this stuff. And the production team as well – the people who mix it and everything, they really want to make it great. They know a lot of people are going to listen to it for a long time.

Many of the people are working on music that’s been part of their lives for most of their lives.

Oh, no doubt. It’s remarkable.

Sometimes I see footage and I try to imagine it without this particular music. Obviously, it could be done with a different approach, but John’s music has been the language of these films and is a very big part of it.

Thank you for your time today.

My pleasure. I’m not a person who gives a lot of interviews, but I understand that this is interesting to people. And Finale, using your software has been a big part of this. All the Star Wars films we’ve done have been prepared with it and it’s very handy to do this stuff digitally and to have very clear and accurate parts on the music stands. Finale has been a great tool for that. You can talk yourselves up a bit for that – It has been a good thing for us to use it.

People might not immediately understand that in the early films the performers were actually reading from handwritten parts.

Oh, yeah. We’ve got some handwritten material from the very first film. And when we look at how we’re doing that material now, it’s very nice and clear for people to read from. Put it like that.

May the Fourth Spotlight on Joann Kane Musiic 4

Thanks again to Mark for taking the time to talk to us and to everyone at Joann Kane for the part they’ve played in so many of our favorite films!

Finale Tip: Using the Edit Filter to Save Time

Using Finale's Edit Filter to Save Time

Have you ever wanted to copy select elements of a staff to other places in your score, without overwriting existing notes? This is easily done with one of my favorite features in Finale: the Edit Filter.

Using the Edit Filter allows you to select particular item types, or categories of item types, to copy and paste while leaving everything else alone. You can find the filter by choosing Edit > Edit Filter. This will bring up the Edit Filter dialog box where you can choose what you want to copy and paste and what you wish to leave behind.

Be forewarned, however, the Edit Filter has a sneaky side.

Once you are done using the Edit Filter be sure to go back into the Edit menu and deselect that Use Filter. It gets selected right after you close the Edit Filter dialog box and you may find yourself trying to copy notes later and forget that it has been selected. I’ve done this more than I care to admit, so consider yourself warned!

To get a sense of how powerful this feature can be, let’s look at two examples where you could save a lot of time copying only specific things.

Chords & Fretboards

When I learned how to copy ONLY chords from one place to another in Finale, the clouds parted. Here’s how to feel that glorious sunshine for yourself.

  1. In your Finale document, choose the Selection tool from the Main Tool palette.
  2. Choose Edit > Edit Filter; the Edit Filter dialog box appears.
  3. Click the None button in the lower, right-hand corner of the dialog box to deselect all options.
  4. Check the box next to Chords & Fretboards option (found in the Markings section).
  5. Click OK; your filter is now active.
  6. Using the Selection tool, highlight the section of music that contains the chord symbols you wish to copy; choose Edit > Copy, or use the appropriate keyboard shortcut CTRL+C (Windows) or CMD+C (Mac).
  7. Select the first measure of the next region to which you wish to copy the chords and paste them there using either Edit > Paste or the keyboard shortcut CTRL+V (Windows) || CMD+V (Mac).

Note: you can also highlight the section you wish to copy, hold down the CTRL key (Windows) or OPTION key (Mac) and click the first measure of the section to which you wish to paste the chord symbols to complete steps 6 & 7 in two quicker actions. You can just hold the appropriate key (CTRL or OPTION) and keep clicking away to continue pasting to other staves.

Here’s what this looks like: 

Using the Edit Filter to Save Time Copying Chords

Secondary Beaming

Secondary beaming is another example where the Edit Filter can save a lot of time, especially when you have a specific beam break pattern that repeats often through your score. Start by perfecting your secondary beam breaks in at least one measure, and then follow these steps to copy this beam break pattern elsewhere:

  1. Choose the Selection tool from the Main Tool palette.
  2. Choose Edit > Edit Filter; the Edit Filter dialog box appears.
  3. Click the None button in the lower, right-hand corner of the dialog box to deselect everything.
  4. Choose the Secondary Beam Breaks options (it’s part of the Special Alterations section).
  5. Highlight a measure or partial measure.
  6. Hold down the CTRL key (Windows) or the OPTION key (Mac) and start clicking away! (In all seriousness, click the next beamed figure to which you wish to copy the secondary beam breaks).


I hope these two examples give you a sense of the many different ways you can leverage the Edit Filter to save time. I encourage you to experiment with this incredibly powerful feature, and please let us know how it’s working for you via Facebook or Twitter.

Lawson DuttonLawson Dutton is a Notation/Garritan product specialist for MakeMusic and a longtime Finale fan, which he uses to complete his own music engraving and arranging projects.

In his free time, he enjoys playing piano and heading out into the mountains for a hike.