Finale and Alternative Music Notation Systems

John Keller, a notation designer from Australia, has pioneered a way to use Finale music software with alternative notation systems. His method makes it possible to transnotate music into his Express Stave and other alternative notation systems. To see the results of his efforts check out the musical works we have available for Express Stave which he created with his “Finale Notation Converter.”

You can see how it works in the following video he created.  See more videos on his YouTube page.


Using Finale with Alternative Music Notation Systems

Using Keller’s Finale conversion method requires the full version of Finale ($600 or $350 academic pricing) or a copy of Finale NotePad 2006 or 2007. These earlier versions of NotePad were available as a free download until the fall of 2008 when MakeMusic pulled them from their site. They did not want them to compete with their new NotePad 2009 (which they began selling for $10, along with the free Finale Reader that is read-only and offers no editing functions – more details from our blog).

The method involves pasting custom (alternative) staff styles onto existing (traditionally notated) music. Creating the template files that contain these custom staff styles requires the full version of Finale. However, if you just have NotePad 2006 or 2007 you can still use staff styles by copying them from pre-existing template files. So NotePad can be used to transnotate music from traditional notation into alternative notations, when it is combined with the relevant notation template file(s) and possibly a custom music font (depending on the alternative notation system). NotePad 2008 and later versions do not have this ability to paste staff styles over existing music.

After you have created a score in an alternative notation in Finale NotePad 2006 or 2007, the file can then be imported into a later Finale application, in which the original template file itself would not work (such as NotePad 2008 or 2009).

If you are interested in giving this method a try, please contact us.

Editing music on a chromatic staff in Finale or NotePad 2006

With this method it is also possible to compose music directly in an alternative notation, or edit music that has been transnotated. To write music, first apply the alternative staff style from a template file to an empty staff or staves in Finale or Finale NotePad 2006 or 2007. If you are using one of the simpler chromatic-staff systems where only one note goes in each line or space, you can then use your mouse to enter notes by clicking on the chromatic staff just as with a traditional staff.

There are some complications for notation systems like Express Stave or Twinline where more than one note may occupy the same line or space (in the Finale staff style). After entering a note on the staff in these systems you may then have to use the minus (-) or equals (=) keys to scroll through the possible notes for that particular line or space to select the correct note.

Another limitation is that when dragging a note up or down the staff, or using the up and down arrow keys, the note will scroll within a particular diatonic scale, rather than scrolling through the full chromatic scale. Unfortunately this diatonic scale is not necessarily the one that matches the current key, but varies depending on the identity of the original note. To correct for this, simply apply accidental signs to the note after dragging it.

(If the original note is a C D E F G A or B (a white-key note on the piano), then it will scroll through that set of notes, the notes of the C major scale that do not require an accidental sign. If the original note is one that requires an accidental sign (a black-key note), then Finale interprets it as a flat.[1] When it scrolls up or down the staff it will remain a flat, moving through a diatonic scale of flat notes, a Cb major scale: Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb. The single exception is an original note of F#/Gb, which Finale interprets as F#. This note will remain sharp and scroll through a C# major scale: C# D# E# F# G# A# B#.)

Other drawbacks when using NotePad 2006 or 2007 are that the clefs will not show correctly because there is no way to change the standard clefs that come with the default document. Also the detail of stem connections will not be quite perfect.

Another anomaly is that if you restore the music to traditional notation by pasting the “restore” staff style, NotePad 2006 does not always show all the necessary accidentals. To make the accidentals appear, you have to copy and paste the music back on to itself.

A slightly different method

There is a slightly different method that still works with more recent versions of NotePad, but it is much less convenient. It entails using the full version of Finale to create a file with empty custom (alternative) staves, and then pasting existing (traditional) music onto the empty staff. The file with the empty alternative staves has to match the music that you want to paste into it (in terms of pitch range, length of the piece, etc). In the other method described above these details are handled automatically, making the process much simpler and more convenient.

[1] In Finale, if you have a chromatic note defined by a midi pitch as they are when using percussion maps ( eg midi note 61 is C#/Db ), it uses a default system for deciding which enharmonic note to use. By default the “black-key” notes are all interpreted as flats, except for F#/Gb which is interpreted as F#.