Category: Reviews

Finale 2003 - Review

By Jari Williamsson, June 01, 2002

With this review, I'm trying to give you an in-depth discussion of the new features in Finale 2003. It also contains a number of tips regarding the use of Finale 2003.

Please note that this review is based on the Windows version of Finale 2003.

First the questions...

What's new?

  • "Real" tablature notation support
  • Staff Attribute additions
  • Completely redesigned Document and Program Options
  • Expansions of what plug-ins can do
  • Engraver Slur Enhancements
  • Group Optimization
  • SCORE importer
  • 2 new plug-ins: Dolet Lite and the MiBAC Jazz Rhytm Section Generator
  • SmartScore Lite
  • Feature additions to Space Systems Evenly
  • Customizable user interface
  • Other smaller feature additions and bug fixes

I currently use Finale 2002. Do I have to "re-learn" something to use Finale 2003?

  • The Options menu has been redesigned and the options have been regrouped into much more logical units. A more thorough explanation about this follows below.
  • The interface changes including the selectable look of the toolbar icons might seem different. However, it can be reverted back to the "Finale 2002 look".
  • Tablature notation is handled very differently than in previous versions. Please read below.

Tablature Notation

In Finale 2003, TAB notation (for the guitar, lute, etc.) is now treated as "real" notation. That means that no more plug-in is needed and no more need to work in the Note Mover Tool for tablature notation. It's important to point out that the tablature notation in Finale 2003 is a completely reworked approach.

TAB notation in Finale 2003 is handled as one single staff (not as the "one-staff-for-each-string" method that was used in previous Finale versions). TAB staves can be created using the Finale 2003 Document Wizard, or by turning normal staves into TAB notation. Since it's now treated as a normal staff, you can easily do things that was very difficult or impossible before, such as:

  • Create TAB notation as a Staff Style, to use it partially in a region.
  • Drag music between normal notation staff and a TAB staff to automatically convert the music between the 2 different ways of notation.
  • Enter music to a TAB staff using normal input methods.

It's important to understand that the "old" way of tablature notation still exists, to maintain compatility with tablature files created in older versions of Finale.
Finale 2003 will not automatically convert older TAB notation into the new approach of TAB notation. To convert, do like this:
1. Select the Mass Mover Tool and mark all staves (=strings) that were part of the old-style tablature.
2. Select MassEdit/Utility/Implode Music..., choosing to create a new staff at the bottom.
3. Follow the instructions below on how to convert a normal-notation staff to TAB notation.

To convert a normal-notation staff into TAB notation in Finale 2003, do like this:
1. Select the Staff Tool
2. Display the Staff Attributes dialog box by double-clicking on the staff
3. In the Notation Style selection list, select Tablature
4. Click on the Select... button next to it. (The Tablature Staff Attributes dialog will open)
5. Select the TAB istrument you want to use in the Instrument list. (If you have created the document with the Finale 2003 Document Wizard, you'll have a large list of TAB instrument definitions to choose from at the top. Otherwise, you might have to create your own instrument definition - unless your TAB instrument is Standard Guitar.)
6. IMPORTANT: Check the On "OK", Reset Staff's Attributes To Tablature Defaults box
7. Press OK twice.

Notes for a TAB staff is easiest (and very intuitive) to enter in Simple Entry:
Click on the string and you'll get a 0 on the string. Press a digit to change it into a different fret number. Move the note to another string by dragging it vertically.
A new setting has been added to Simple entry, called Select Tablature Notes on Entry. Most users will probably want this ON (which is the default).

In Speedy Entry, a TAB staff will be displayed as normal music notation. The clef that will be used in Speedy entry is defined in the tablature attributes for the staff.

TAB Notes that are not within the string's range will be displayed in a different color than valid notes. Negative (too low) fret numbers will not print.

Two new clefs have been added to Finale 2003 for tablature notation, one with serifs, one without serifs.

The Document Wizard in Finale 2003 includes a huge number of predefined instruments definitions for tablature notation in a new instrument group called Fretted Instruments. For example, 9 versions of Guitar TAB, 2 versions of Sitar TAB, 2 versions of Lute TAB (with and without letters), 6 versions of Banjo TAB, etc.

For TAB notation styles where it's appropriate, stems will be used for the TAB notation.

Technically, the TAB notation is based partly on the staff attributes (for example if stems/beams/dots should be displayed or not) and partly on the tablature instrument definition. In the tablature instrument definition, options like the different strings (a maximum of 24 strings can be used for a TAB instrument), the number of frets, diatonic intervals (for diatonic fretted instruments like the Dulcimer) and the clef to use in Speedy entry are set.

The Smart Shape Tool has a new tool called Guitar Bend Tool which you can use with TAB notation. There is a couple of extra options in a new dialog, called Guitar Bend Options, that will control how the guitar bends will display. For example, if bend text automatically should be created, or if a "1" bend should be replaced with "Full" and which fonts to use.

Staff Attributes

As a nice "side-effect" of the enhanced TAB notation support is that Finale 2003 has quite a few new options added to the Staff Attributes dialog box. Many of these options are useful for other types of music notation as well, especially when used in Staff Styles.
Most notably:

  • Set the staff to display beams or display the music non-beamed
  • Set the staff to use a specific stem direction.
  • Set the staff to hide or display stems (this setting will automatically control the display status of stems and flags as well)
  • Set the staff to use fixed positions as origins for stems.
  • Set the staff to display or hide augmentation dots.

This means, for example, that the most fast and flexible way to now set the stem direction for a region of a staff is to create and apply a Staff Style for it.

Another option that has been added - but is probably of limited use for other purposes than TAB notation - is the possibility to set the distance between staff lines for a staff. (In previous Finale version, this value was hard-coded to 24 EVPUs.) Please note that this option behaves very different from resizing the staff with the Resize Tool; this new option will not resize any objects on the staff.

Document and Program Options

Probably every Finale user have experienced the "lost-in-the-Document-Settings-menu" phenomenon. What I mean by this is the confusion that could arise in the old Options/Document Settings submenu, such as:
"Is the option I'm looking for in Music Options or in Notation Options or in some other dialog?"
"What does Notation Options mean?"
"I selected the wrong dialog - again..."

In Finale 2003, this has been fixed.
The Options menu has been reorganized, the Document Settings submenu has been removed, and there is now basically only one single dialog box for Document Options (settings that will affect the appearance of the current document and will be saved with the document) and one dialog box for Program Options (settings that will affect Finale, but not the documents themselves).

Since the new Document Options dialog will affect user productivity to a much higher degree than the Program Options dialog, I'll focus on this (the look and feel between these two dialogs is very similar).

Screen shot of the Document Options dialog box. Please note that the screen shot below has been resized and is not as clear as the original.


All settings that previously was available in the Options/Document Settings submenu have now been included in the Document Options dialog box - or in a few cases (such as for Pickup measures and Page Formats) have been placed conveniently in the Options menu.

The Document Options dialog have a list of settings pages to the left. Clicking on any item there will display a new page with settings.

It's important to note that the pages are now rearranged mainly based on musical objects. For example, settings that will affect time signatures are placed on the Time Signatures page, settings that will control grace notes are placed on the Grace Notes page and so on. This makes it very fast to locate the settings needed.

You can apply the settings that have been changed by using the Apply button. That will not close the dialog, so the changes made will display in the document behind the dialog. The OK button will do the same as Apply, but will also close the dialog. It's important to understand that the Apply/OK buttons will apply the changes for all pages where changes have been made. Each page will get its own slot in the Undo/Redo list, so if you make changes on many pages before hitting Apply/OK you'll need to use Undo multiple times to revert all the changes.

The Document Options dialog has a keyboard shortcut (<Ctrl>+<Alt>+A), which is easy to access with one hand. Also, the last opened page in the dialog will be remembered when you reopen the dialog, which makes the process very productive. Another very good improvement is that selecting the measurement unit is done in only one place in the dialog, which will affect all the settings pages.

One important thing to point out is that the Document Options dialog opens and operate rapidly. It will not become slower just because it contains many pages with settings. This (in combination with that the last viewed page is remembered and the keyboard shortcut) makes it very fast and easy to use the dialog.

Buttons to save and load libraries has also been added to the dialog, so it become possible to save/load settings libraries directly into the dialog. However, this implementation isn't perfect: First, any type of library can be saved (and it will not default to saving Document Options), which might be very confusing for users that aren't that used to libraries. Also, you can load any type of library, even libraries like lists of articulations. So if you aren't careful while searching for the correct library to load, you might accidentaly fill your lists of articulations/expressions/shapes with many new unwanted items.

Since the Document Options dialog is very logically structured, there is absolutely no problem to learn how to use it. However, I feel it's a huge pain to go back and work in Finale 2002 and earlier versions, since the frustrations of using the old Options/Document Settings submenu now becomes very evident.

However, there are still improvements that can be made to the Document Options:

  • All document-specific options aren't included here, most notably the options in the Smart Shape menu.
  • Some settings pages (such as the Ties page) have buttons that will display an extra dialog full with settings. These settings are very hard to find and should be placed on separate pages instead.
  • It's currently not possible to navigate with the up/down arrow keys in the page list (in the Windows version).
  • When making changes to many different pages before hitting OK or Apply, it soon become next to impossible to remember on which pages you made the changes. There's no visual indication on which of the pages that have been modified but not yet applied.
  • It's not possible to "see" some of the options without opening an extra dialog box, for example for settings such as the music characters. This is actually nothing new (it works identical to how it used to work), but since the surrounding interface is so much better, problems such as this become much more focused.

Note: One document setting has actually been moved outside of the Options menu: Display Expressions for Parts which has been moved to the Expression tool menu.

Tip: If you want to program keyboard macros for use on a specific page, do like this:
1. <Shift>+<Tab> 5 times on a newly opened page will put the keyboard focus on the page list
2. <Home> will move the top-most item in the list, <End> will move to the last
3. Use the first letter of the page name to select it. If more than one page share the same first letter, you might need to repeat #1 to return the focus to the page list.

Group Optimization

The new Group Optimization is a very convenient feature when optimizing a score. You can now control the deletion of staves in groups in these 3 ways:

  • Optimize normally (the "old" way of optimizing)
  • Remove staves only when all staves in the group are empty
  • Never remove any of the staves in the group during optimization

Specially to be able to remove the group only if all staves are empty is very practical, for example for keyboard parts or for scores where all instruments should be listed if any in the group is playing.

Tip: The Document Wizard in Finale 2003 will automatically set group optimization for instruments that use a grand staff (such as Piano, Organ, Harp, etc.)

Engraver Slur Enhancements

A few additions have been made to how Engraver Slurs are initially created:

There's now a separate option to set the space around accidentals.
In Finale 2002, there was no separate value, so the "Space Around Objects" value was used. This caused the Engraver Slurs to often be lifted way too high when they collided with accidentals, which could result in lots of unnecessary manual tweaking.

Here's a screen shot comparison between Engraver Slurs in Finale 2002 and Finale 2003:

Tip: Since slurs go around the accidentals in a curve, you can set the "Space Around Accidentals" to 0 and still not have a collision between slur and the accidental.

There's also a new option controlling what to do first when the slur collides with elements. In Finale 2002, the slur was lifted first and stretched afterwards if needed.
In Finale 2003, there's the extra option to strech vertically first, and if needed lift afterwards.
The stretch/lift preferences often give virtually identical results, but for steep slurs it can make a difference. Personally, I think strech first gives better results.

User Interface

The user interface of Finale has become more customizable than in previous versions with much new graphics, probably mainly to make it look more attractive to potentional first-time users.

6 new icon palettes are available in 2 different sizes, called "Medium" (26x26 pixels) and "Large" (32x32 pixels).
However, most of the palettes use too dominant backgrounds, at least for my taste. The most usable palettes in my opinion are the "Cool Gray" and the "Glass" palettes.

Some icons have been changed, most notably the icons for the Mass Mover Tool and Note Mover Tool. The new symbols for these icons should be less confusing for beginners.

"As usual" with these kind of visual changes, users will probably be divided into 3 groups: users who thinks the changes are cool, users who don't care about it, users who don't like it.
If you don't like it, you can change back to the old Finale 2002 palette. It is still available as the "Traditional" palette set. It's in the old size, now called "Small" (20x20 pixels).

One thing that I think is good with the visual user interface changes, is that the small icons that were added to the menus some versions ago have been removed. For items with an ON/OFF state, like many menu items in the View menu, it is now much easier to see if the items are selected or not.

The background around the documents in Page View can now be customized. You can select any solid color or use a bitmap (stretched or tiled). Finale 2003 includes a few tileable bitmaps, but you can use any BMP file as background.

Tip: The Mass Mover "truck" mouse cursor has been removed in Finale 2003. If you for nostalgic reasons still want this feature, you can get it by adding UseTruckCursor=1 to the [Settings] section of FINALE.INI

Page Layout (Space Systems Evenly)

2 new ways of placing systems on the pages have now been added to the Space Systems Evenly dialog (in the Page Layout Tool):

  • Place ??? Systems on Each Page. This will put a fixed number of systems on the indicated page(s).
  • Place Maximum Number of Systems on Each Page. This will put as many systems on each page as will fit on each of the indicated pages without getting any margin collisions.

Although I have personally never been a big fan of the Space Systems Evenly feature as implemented in Finale, I guess these new additions would become useful to many users for basic page layout work.

Note: Don't use the new options on pages where fixed page breaks have been added. Due to a bug, that will create very strange results.

Plug-in Support

For the first time since Finale's plug-in support was introduced (in Finale 97), additions have now been made to the plug-in support. This means that plug-ins written for Finale 2003 can do many things that previously wasn't possible. The most important additions - at least to the end user - are:

  • Plug-ins can now completely control the items added by the plug-in to the Undo/Redo list, including the list names.
  • Plug-ins can now read or change all document options.
  • Plug-ins can now affect any opened document.

I'm just speculating here (since it hasn't happened yet), but from a productivity standpoint, the multiple document support might perhaps be the most important addition to Finale 2003 - although it will not happen until the plug-in developers include multiple-document support in their plug-ins.
Hopefully, most plug-ins that now can process one document will in the future be able to process any number of currently opened document (for example, process all parts as one task). And in combination with the plug-ins' ability to now be able affect the document options, all kind of settings transfers and house style plug-ins can be created.
Make sure to contact the plug-in developer [including Coda] of your favourite plug-ins to make sure that multiple-document support are added (where it would make sense).

Older plug-ins running on Finale 2003 will also benefit from some of the enhancements:

  • When browsing among plug-in menu items, the user will now get useful message texts in the message bar.
  • The plug-in edits can now be traced with names in the Undo/Redo list, just as normal Finale commands. No more "Undo Plug-in Edit" in the Edit menu.

SCORE Importer

With Finale 2003, you can now import files from the Score notation program. The Score import function can open files in PGE, PAG and MUS file format (the MUS file format here is not the same as a Finale notation file, which also uses the MUS file extension).

To import Score files into Finale, all the page files that should be imported to a document must be selected. If you just select the first page file, Finale will not automatically find the rest of the pages.
When all page files have been selected, the page format manually has to be set before the conversion process starts, since Score doesn't contain page format information in the file.

After the import, the resulting document will have a "Maestro look".

You should not expect 100% accuracy after conversion of a Score file. How accurate the import will be is very much dependent on how the Score file was constructed. However, the accuracy shouldn't affect the music itself, the most likely need for tweaking is the vertical positioning of objects.

Tip: The Score importer base the import on the ScoreDefault.MUS file. If you generally find that Finale converts to a font or character that you don't want, you can make changes to that file to globally modify the import behaviour.


The old MIDIScan has now been replaced with SmartScore Lite. Although the results will be better than from MIDIScan, you'll still need a lot of tweaking to get the result you want (slurs and other element will not import).

If you're serious about music scanning, you should absolutely consider SharpEye Music Reader from Visiv. Finale 2003 includes Dolet Lite, which will turn MusicXML files from SharpEye 2 into Finale documents.
[Note: Finale 2003 does not include SharpEye, but you can try a 30-day trial version available from Visiv's web site: ]

New Plug-ins

Two new plug-ins have been added in Finale 2003.

I already mentioned Dolet Lite in the section above. Appart from importing files from SharpEye, MusicXML files can be used to transfer data to previous versions of Finale (if the previous version have Dolet) or to import from other applications that support MusicXML. Dolet Lite is only available in the Windows version of Finale 2003. The Dolet plug-in is created by Recordare:

The other new plug-in is the MiBAC Jazz Rhythm Section Generator, which will create accompaniment to an existing melody with chord symbols. It can create a maximum of 3 instruments as accompaniment (Piano, Bass, Drum Set) and you have 4 different accompaniment (Ballad, Swing, Bebop, Bossa Nova).
The produced notation can be set to Normal Notation, Normal Notation with Chord Symbols, Slash Notation with Chord Symbols.

The result will not sound as "static" as often found in computer-generate music programs - if the same chord sequence appear twice in a piece it's very likely that the solutions will differ. However, it still feels a bit predictable and strange, since the plug-in make excessive use of certain musical "effects".

The most likely general use of this plug-in will probably be to quickly produce slash notation with playback.

This plug-in is created by MiBAC:

I perhaps should also mention that more than 60 fixes and enhancements has been made to these built-in Finale plug-ins:

  • Add Cue Notes - Can now optionally copy slurs, articulations, chords and lyrics. Will always copy custom noteheads, custom stems, secondary beam breaks and other Special Tools adjustments.
  • Canonic Utilities - Can now remove the items that prevent a region from being eligible for a retrograde.
  • Cautionary Accidentals - An option called "No Accidentals On Repeated Notes" was added. Many other fixes to this plug-in!
  • Change Noteheads
  • Change to Default/Real Whole Rest
  • Check Duration - Can now be started over when done
  • Check Range - Knows more instruments, and should now mostly use the same ranges as the Document Wizard.
  • Clear Measure # Positioning
  • Command Line - Now works with user-defined clefs.
  • Create Tempo Marking
  • Find Parallel Motion
  • Global Staff Attributes - 4 new check boxes added to support "Display Item" attributes that were added in 2003.
  • Midline Stem Direction
  • Move Rests - Two new options that determine how whole measure rests are treated.
  • Number Repeated Measures
  • Piano Reduction
  • Rythmic Subdivision
  • Voice 2 to Layer
  • Word Extensions
  • TGTools lite

Other Additions

  • Gravity Zone. The "Gravity Zone" concept is a feature where a "shadow" can be displayed around the guides to display the region where the guide is sensitive to "snap-to" mouse drops.
    I personally find this to be a very poor solution to the snap-to problem. It clutters the document and it will not help the user to locate the exact position to where the object will be dropped. I hope this feature will be removed in the future and be replaced with a true "snap-to-while-dragging" display solution as in other DTP applications.
  • One new Text Insert has been added: File Date.
    This will insert the date when the document were last changed/saved. A good thing here is that Finale uses internal storage for the date information, which means that even if the file date changes (for example in some cases when the file is transfered over the Internet), the date printed on the destination computer will remain intact.
  • Drag-create Smart Shapes from right-to-left will create the "opposite" version.
    This isn't as complicated as it might sound: If for example the Descrescendo Tool has been selected, a left-to-right click+drag will create a decrescendo. Click+dragging in the opposite direction (right-to-left) will instead create a crescendo.
  • Rhymer
    A rhyming dictionary has been added to the Lyrics Tool. This is a 3rd party product that has been added to Finale clearly for the purpose of adding some marketing value. Although the rhyming options are pretty advanced, I can find little real use for it.
  • The supplied default files have been enhanced.
    The Maestro and Jazz font default files have partially new settings, which is probably a big help to all those users who don't use bother changing the default files. For example, there should be no collisions between multimeasure rests and clefs, and the minimum measure width has been reduced. The text fonts of the Maestro default file use more bold than previous default files and lines are slightly thicker.
  • Some other stuff added like expanded support for SmartMusic, which I haven't tested.

Notes to Upgraders

Here are some additional notes to users who upgrade from previous Finale versions:

  • Don't copy older versions of instrument.txt into Finale 2003, since you'll lose much of the new functionality, such as automatic TAB staves and group optimization.
  • Don't copy older versions of FINALE.INI to Finale 2003, since the [SimpleKeys] section has been expanded and modified.
  • Note that data files that Finale use (such as Wizard default files, instrument.txt, tips.txt, etc) has been moved into a separate folder, called Component Files. If needed, this folder can be user-defined in the Program Options.

Finale, SmartMusic and Coda are trademarks of Coda Music Technology, Inc.
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Microsoft, Windows, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000 and Windows XP are registered trademarks of Microsoft Corporation.
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