Hands-On Review:Notation software for string jockeys!

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By Andres Solvege


There comes a time in your musical life when you want to commit your creative energies to paper. Traditionally, this has meant taking pen to manuscript and meticulously scribing each individual note, stem, dot, clefs, key signatures, accidentals, dynamics, braces, and myriad other bits of information that other musicians will need to realize your creative vision. Of course, before this happens you must have learned the ins and outs of music theory including instrument ranges, all the rules and conventions for notating western music, plus have an eye for calligraphy, a steady hand, and LOTS of spare time!


Having done this myself, I can assure you that it is an intense, meticulous process. And that’s just for the score! With the same attention to detail, each individual part must be transposed, transcribed, and formatted for playability. (That look in the eyes of the player who is required to turn a page in the middle of a 16th-note passage is not love, I assure you!)


Makin’ copies

Historical records show that 18th-century composer George Frideric Handel created and scored all 56 pages of "Messiah"-over 250,000 notes-in only three weeks. This is, without a doubt, a work of inspired genius! Fortunately for most of us, technology picks up where genius leaves off. Thanks to those gifted programmers at Coda, composers in the 21st century enjoy the incredible depth and power of an application called Finale.


Pick up the tab

OK, you may be thinking, "I’m not Handel or Beethoven or even John Williams. I’m just a guitar player who wants to make charts for my band. I don’t need all that power!" The folks at Coda have heard you! Fresh off their shelves comes Finale Guitar, with much of the power of Finale 2003 but geared specifically to the six-string player.


Finale Guitar comes with settings for standard guitar notation (that sounds an octave lower than written) as well as nine different tablature (or tab) settings! As you probably know, tab notation uses positional rather than symbolic notation to show the notes to be played, as in the example below:


In this example the first two notes, E and B, are represented in the top system as traditional notation, with symbols on the first and third staves. In the bottom system, tab notation indicates that the third string is fretted at the second fret, the fifth string is played open, and both notes are played simultaneously.


This works great for standard tuning, but there’s more to life than E-A-D-G-B-E, and Finale has made allowances for that. The nine preset tab options feature, among other things, seven-string tab, plus tab for D, DADGAD, double D, drop D, and open G tuning. If you’re feeling more experimental, you can create completely custom tunings quickly and easily.

How to score

Writing music is a specialized skill that takes years of practice to master, and let’s face it-we often have more important things to do with our time! Thankfully, Finale Guitar provides many ways to get the job done.

While you can start with a blank sheet, using the Setup Wizard makes prepping your score a snap. In the first Wizard screen, you enter the title of the song, the composer, copyright info, and page size (important for later printing). In the next screen, you select the instruments in the score and the order they’ll appear. You input time signature and key information in the third screen, and the fourth screen you set up meter and font choices. You get two fonts with Finale Guitar - the staid, elegant Maestro font and the informal, handwritten look of the Jazz font.


Like most MIDI sequencers, Finale Guitar lets you step-enter notes, one at a time. They call this, appropriately, Simple Entry. Clicking on the desired note value and then clicking on the staves (standard or tab) will automatically place notes in the proper location. You can audition notes as you place them using your computer’s internal MIDI voices or external MIDI synth.


If you have a MIDI instrument handy, you can use Speedy Entry. With this method, you play the notes or chords on your MIDI keyboard and use your computer keyboard to set note values, placement, time signatures, tempos, and many other parameters. For example, to lay in a two-bar E7 chord with 8th notes, simply play an E7 on your MIDI keyboard while repeatedly pressing the 4-key on your computer keyboard, and the pattern will drop right in place. Of course, you can vary the pattern and chords simply by pressing different keys, and can lay down the chord and rhythm foundation of tune in just a very short time.


Most sequencers require you to set a tempo at the beginning of the recording process lock slavishly to its unrelenting beat. I’ve always found this unpleasant, as the heart and soul of music is its ability to flow and breathe. (Not to mention that unless you’re a perfect performer, there will be times when you need to play a passage slower to nail it!) Finale Guitar breaks this barrier with what they call Hyperscribe. Hyperscribe combines realtime input from a keyboard or MIDI guitar, and at the same time uses any MIDI message as a tap-tempo source. I have a MIDI foot controller, so I mapped one of the buttons to the Beat Source and used a MIDI guitar to play a short tune. As I tapped the controller and played, Finale Guitar’s metronome clicked, and notes fell into place where they belonged. The last two measures included a 16th-note whole tone run from low E up to high D that I’m a little rusty on, so I simply tapped slower. Finale Guitar tracked my varying beat without fail!

Musical scanning

One of the most powerful features of Finale Guitar is its inclusion of SmartScore Lite software. In concert with your scanner, SmartScore will scan and translate sheet music much like OCR software "reads" text documents. Once you’ve scanned your music, you can open it in Finale Guitar, drag-and-drop the notes onto a tab staff, and have Finale Guitar instantly translate it to guitar notation. For me, this feature is alone with the price of the whole package!

Lead sheets

Very often, a simple lead sheet with rhythmic "slash" notation plus chord symbols is all that’s necessary to realize your musical ideas.

If you’ve already entered standard notes and rhythms to your score, choosing Rhythmic Notation will automatically change the display to slashes with stems. You can even have Finale Guitar fill all or part of a score with stemless slashes.


Adding chord symbols to the score is easy, too. Using the Chord Tool you can either play the chord on your MIDI instrument or type in the chord symbol on your computer keyboard. Either way, Finale Guitar will quickly and neatly display your chords above the staff. And it gets better, too-select the Show Fretboard menu item, and instantly add full-blown fretboard diagrams underneath the regular chord symbols. They’ll even transpose when you change keys!

Passing out

After spending time creating and notating your music, it’s good to know that Finale Guitar will let you turn your efforts into beautiful, readable manuscript that your band will surely appreciate. You can print the whole score for your own use and split out separate parts for the bass player, keyboardist, singers, and even the drummer. Even better, if you’ve written parts for transposing instruments (as you might for a horn section), Finale Guitar will apply the correct transpositions before it prints those parts. In the bad old days of hand scoring, this was one of the most tedious tasks. Of course, the errors that crept in were easily heard on the first run-through, but Finale Guitar banishes those embarrassing moments to the past!


In this review I’ve only just scratched the surface of Finale Guitar. While you can get up and running in virtually no time, and be producing scores and parts like a pro in short order, Finale Guitar layers options upon options for everything you encounter in the program. As you become more familiar with Finale Guitar, you’ll find your own favorite paths and your ideal workflow. And this, to me, is the deep inner beauty of Finale Guitar. If you’ve ever wanted to do the right thing for your music and your band, you can’t do any better than this!




System Requirements
  • Enter notes directly onto tab staves, or drag-and drop from standard notation staves onto tab for instant conversion
  • MIDI and notation editing is fast, easy, and intuitive
  • Seven different entry methods let you work your way
  • SmartScore Lite lets you easily scan and import printed music
  • Generate tab notation instantly with your MIDI guitar
  • Notating hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends, and releases is a breeze
  • Use standard or your own customized fretboard notation symbols
Finale Guitar 2003 for Windows
  • Windows 98/2000/Me/XP
  • 64MB RAM minimum
  • 128MB RAM recommended
  • 70MB hard drive space required

Finale Guitar 2003 for Macintosh
  • System 8.6 or higher
  • Operates under OS X in Classic Mode
  • 64MB RAM minimum
  • 128MB RAM recommended
  • 70MB hard drive space required

  • MIDI interface
  • MIDI input and/or playback device
  • Printer
  • Scanner