Having used Sibelius notation software for about 25 years, the idea of switching to an alternative platform would normally be considered unthinkable… times change.
After updating my Mac’s operating system to ‘Big Sur’, I discovered my perpetual Sibelius 7.5. licence had been rendered quite useless. Although the software itself can install and boot in Big Sur, the standalone application which verifies the product licence code is not actually compatible, thereby limiting usage to that of expired trial access features. Furthermore, Avid now consider anything below Sibelius ultimate as ‘legacy software’ and as such it is very unlikely they’ll ever do anything to remedy this issue for Mac users. I feel very bitter about the idea of sacrificing my “perpetual licence” for Avid’s subscription package and feel motivated to look elsewhere, or in the worst case, switch to Windows.
I reviewed both Finale Notepad and Garritan Person Orchestra on behalf of ‘Techstrike UK’ back in 2012. My initial thoughts of both products were resoundingly positive, although at the time I was cautious of the inevitably steep learning curve adopting a new notation platform would demand.
Nine years on, I have just installed a fresh copy of Finale (v27) on my Mac and am very grateful to the team at Makemusic for making this article possible.
Please consider this article my first impressions of Finale in 2021 – I will definitely need to revisit and update my post as I become more fluent with the software. Although it will most likely take months, if not years, to gain a similar degree of fluency with Finale as I have with Sibelius, there are several tasks that Finale quite noticeably does very well, which will assist readers thinking of transitioning between platforms:
XML Score Imports
Although not an exclusive feature to Finale, the XML score import function offers a lifeline when transferring Sibelius files from their bespoke .sib format and I have begun the lengthy process of converting over two decades of .sib files to xml so they are not lost to history.
XML files import surprisingly well into Finale – as can be seen from figs A and B below – with only slight formatting and text alignment hiccups which are very easily and quickly remedied.
Audio Units / Banks / Effects
Although Finale’s own sound banks are absolutely fit for purpose when demoing a score. I am already growing very fond of the setup page for AU, banks and effects. Sibelius does offer similar functionality, however I found Finale’s setup to be both concise and intuitive. I was able to calibrate score playback within seconds.
Although this may seem like a very simple feature, it is something I’ve never noticed when using my previous version of Sibelius – customisable ensemble selection when using the new document setup wizard. I often write several pieces for the same people in the same ensembles. Finale’s feature makes repetitive score setup much more efficient and allows a little more time and space to hit the ground running on new projects.
I decided to write a short passage to offer a cross-comparison between Finale and Sibelius.
Although the passage below is relatively short and simple, it features; multiple time signature changes, frequent switching between triplets and standard notation, repetition, ties, symbols and augmentation as well as cosmetic elements such as notehead colouring and automatic text alignment.
The excerpt above was produced in under a minute using Sibelius. However, it would be unfair to judge my experience based on speed alone as I am still new to Finale. After following a few online tutorials, I quickly got the hang of Finale’s UI and put the second score together (below) in about 10 minutes. Although it is not a 100% accurate re-creation (I still don’t have the proficiency to deal with notehead colorings, removing the unintentional extra tie at the end of bar 4 or adding symbols), I was still very pleased with the results of this early attempt.
Software boot time
A very quick point here, but I was blown away by how quick it is to install and boot Finale from scratch. Regular boot time to the setup wizard is a matter of seconds, lightyears ahead of my experiences with Sibelius.
All of that said, I do have a few minor reservations…
Input / Note selection
This is an entirely subjective, stylistic preference but I am not a fan of Finale’s non-visual num pad integration. As can be seen below, Sibelius offers a really intuitive keypad solution which aligns almost perfectly with the num pad on most mechanical keyboards. Although rather simple, the Sibelius keypad really does help to streamline the whole writing process and I absolutely love the ability to see the note voicing I am using on the fly.
Num pad functionality is available in Finale and (if you have the time) can be individually hotkeyed, but to the best of my knowledge, Finale does not offer a comparable visual solution to Sibelius. At the time of writing, I cannot find a similar graphical representation of the num pad. In short, begrudingly I am going to have to take the time to memorise and get used to a slightly different layout in Finale, although I’m sure it’ll be worth the effort.
Again, perhaps an unfairly subjective critique – I am still inexperienced and still coming to terms with notation input on Finale. For a long-time Sibelius user, the input process may seem unnecessarily slow and bumpy – for example, selecting an individual note on a score doesn’t seem to be as simple as left clicking on the note with a mouse. I am reluctant to be too harsh at this early stage though and will certainly be happy to revisit my comments once I become more familiar with the software and shortcuts in a few months time.
All in all…
To the uninitiated, switching to Finale is not without caveats; the UI and contrasting hotkeys will feel alien and, be under no illusion, the software comes with a steep learning curve for those better used to other platforms.
That said, Finale does really well at accommodating a lot of the needs a migrating Sibelius user may have. In particular, its efficient boot, document and audio playback setup sequences as well as surprisingly clean xml integration will be a big plus for many, myself included. I hope to revisit this article after I’ve had a few months with the software but overall, my first impressions are very positive indeed.