Ah, upgrades. Time was when software companies had basically two objectives when offering product upgrades: (1) continual feature set additions and improvements in an attempt to match or one-up the competition, and (2) an ongoing revenue stream to pay for all that R&D and promotion. These two forces used to dictate when the upgrades appeared. In recent years, many companies, including MakeMusic, have started pegging each of their upgrades’ names to the year they will be sold and used. Thus, unfortunately, if the pace and price of upgrades remains relatively constant (one a year,) the only variable left is in the richness of what they deliver, with some being released, let’s say, a bit lightly. Finale 2011 is one of those.
In terms of goodies, it’s not a cornucopia. Usually, each new version contains 3 kinds of newness, in ascending order of value: (1) “enhancements” to existing features which may or may not be important to the user depending on how the program is used, (2) new capabilities within existing features which reduce or eliminate drudgery or workarounds, and (3) totally new elements which allow functionality not previously possible under any circumstances. Using these yardsticks, the banner years for Finale were 2004 and 2007. Here is what we get with 2011:
Ever been confused or frustrated by optimization? No longer. A clunky tool, it was previously used along with the Staff Tool for both trimming wasteful score real estate (not critical to film folk) as well as allowing individual vertical staff manipulation (occasionally a lifesaver.) It has been eliminated and its functionality consolidated entirely within the Staff Tool through a new command, “Hide Empty Staves.” Working either globally or on a single system (and far more nicely,) it even surpasses previous versions of this capability by accepting post-”optimization” note additions to invisible staves and having them all reliably reappear.
Also working entirely within the Staff Tool, vertical staff manipulation is now much more elegant. Previously, in order to respace, you had to optimize the system, select some or all staves, and click-and-drag or nudge them with arrow keys. Now, with the staff tool, you simply click on the top staff you want to move and drag up or down, and all the staves below go with it. Look ma, no optimization! Want to affect all systems at once? Double-click and drag. Voilà! And if you want to play with measure layout while you are at it (moving measures to or from previous systems,) you can also now get it done from within the Staff Tool and not just through the traditional Selection Tool. (Redundancy can be a good thing.) Now if there were just a click-and-drag or arrow-key method for spreading out the staves in a particular system without using the “Respace Staves”-by-the-numbers/trial-and-error method, or some way to drag noncontiguous staves at once like in the optimizing days… (I couldn’t find one.)
Reorganizing staves is now accomplished though a revamped Staff Usage List, and “Respace Staves,” and “Reorder Staves” commands, all found under the Staff menu. Instead of using that tool to drag staves around willy-nilly to change their order, and then using “Sort Staves” and “Respace Staves…” commands to clean up the resulting clutter, you can now do it all from within one dialog box, using up and down buttons. A useful consolidation, but not earthshaking.
While not of huge importance to film folk, there are a number of improvements to Finale’s Lyrics Tool which, while not granting us many new capabilities, did make the ones we’ve had easier or more automatic, mostly in the areas of spacing and word extensions.
Of considerably more value to commercial score preppers is the new ability to change staff and group definitions regionally, not just globally, making it possible to change names on each score page. This will be useful on percussion staves, where you could more elegantly indicate by group or staff name what doubles were in use at the start of that page. Coupled with the new ability to change percussion maps at will throughout the score, your sound will be as flexible as your look.
Finale now touts “improved” pickup measures. automatically filling them with the appropriate rest durations. Unfortunately, as Finale’s duration set is not complete, containing only single and dotted rest durations (eighth, sixteenth, whole, etc., and no combinations of such) you’re out of luck if you need a pickup bar of a sixteenth and two eights. And since, on playback, it plays out the entire bar anyway, what is the improvement over the old method of simply putting the durationally-desired rests in the top empty bar, hiding what you don’t want to show, respacing that measure’s beats once with the measure tool, and then cloning them down the page? Add to that a real missed opportunity by not automatically renumbering the bars so the first whole measure is considered “1” and I think this feature needs further work.
In Finale 2011, MakeMusic has once again revamped the Aria Player for use with the newly enlarged Garritan soundset. While improvements to your sample host are always welcome, the graphics of this player seem rather buggy: Instrument names (and the white button signifying the active track being tweaked) don’t update reliably with each new selection, sometimes making it unclear which instrument you are currently adjusting. The mixer may show 8 instruments lit up, but only one is really selected.
The new additions to the Garritan sample library are certainly welcome, especially the solo bass trombone and children “ahs.” However, one shouldn’t really expect the whole included library to be useful for much beyond crude demo or proofreading situations. As a notation program (with its necessarily uncompromised focus on its look rather than its sound,) Finale and its brethren will always suffer from certain limitations not hampering dedicated sequencers, just as sequencers in turn are limited notationally.
On the whole, as an upgrade to a venerable product line, Finale 2011 gives our community some new ways to go, just not enough to cause some heavy breathing. I look forward to the drawing board at MakeMusic being even more cluttered with ideas for next time.