Tuesday, April 15, 2008

(Re)Learning Finale, Part 3: Some accolades (!)

(You may wish to read Part 1 and Part 2 first)

Sibelius' instrument names make me sad.

It can't all be doom and gloom on Finale, right? The program must have some redeeming qualities or engravers would have abandoned it long ago. Happily, it does a few things much better than my beloved Sibelius – things that the Brothers Finn would do well to emulate.

The approach to instrument names is quite different between the two packages. Sibelius fairly limited in this regard. It handles all the basic needs competently, without much need for adjustment. When more complicated situations arise, especially instrument names between staves, the support breaks down fairly quickly.
You can see in this image that it is possible to achieve nearly identical results with both programs. Both names are centered between the staves and each individual staff has its own name, properly centered as well.

Getting to this point is a fair hassle in Sibelius. First, one must create staves for the appropriate instruments and label them individually. In this case, (1,2) and (3). Happily, at this point, one can ignore them, for they will always update their positions properly. Then, one must create the group name (Cl. in Bb) as a separate piece of text for every single system upon which it is to appear. The singular difficulty with this approach is that every time the measures are reflowed, the instrument name might end up floating randomly in the middle of the page. Furthermore, should staves be repositioned vertically, the text will become slightly off center, as it will maintain its position relative to one staff, not the center of both staves. The solution to these issues is to wait until the very, very last moment before the final draft goes out and go through the entire score and position each name by hand. This is kind of a drag.

Why Finale is better (gasp!)

Setting up Finale's staff and group names is straightforward enough, but the important thing is: once it's set up, one never has to deal with it again! Step one, much like Sibelius, is to define staff names: here, (1,2) and (3,4). Step two, something Sibelius should do, is to define group names (Tpts. in C). One is able to independently set horizontal and vertical positioning relative to the precise center line between staves. One can even set line spacing on a two-line group name (e.g. Vlns. II/div.) and have both lines contract around that center line. When I saw that, I smiled a lot! Once one has set these names up, they behave correctly throughout the rest of the score without prodding.

To be sure, Sibelius can automatically center names between staves. The problem arises when one tries to have both a staff name and a group name. The manual suggests creating a single, centered piece of text that includes all the information. This is quite simply unacceptable. (Click the image to read all of the shocking text!)
You will note that they even acknowledge the inherent flaw in this solution – the staff names "will get slightly mispositioned if you change the gap between staves from the default." I need as much flexibility as possible when setting pages. Being locked in to one staff distance for an entire piece is not even an option, so far as I'm concerned. My solution retains flexibility at the cost of extra time spent at the end of the project. Were I to work in Finale, there would be no extra time needed.

Oh slurs, you're my only friends!

Finale's Smart Shapes (™®, probably) are generally equivalent to Sibelius' Lines with one striking exception. Finale's slurs are amazing. Pure and simple. They are a joy to use. I don't say this about much in that program, but in this case, they are truly stunning. It's not just that they automatically avoid stems, beam shoulders and accidentals or generally choose the correct side of the notes to fall on, although that's fairly impressive. It's not just that I can set a wide range of options for default behavior.It's all about control. The kind of control offered by this editing frame should explain my enthusiasm.

Being able to independently tweak the arc, shoulders and endpoints of the curve, even to make s-slurs with complete confidence almost makes up for the reams of crap Finale throws at me daily. As I was putting together these Stravinsky pages, I ran into a couple of spots where my long history with Sibelius made me instinctively brace myself for a long, drawn-out battle with the slurs. Miraculously, I just put the slur where I wanted it. And that was it.

Now, Sibelius' slurs are fine. They get the job done fairly well, but adjusting them is sort of like playing the piano with mittens. I can certainly get in the ballpark of what I want, but when push comes to shove, sometimes the program pushes a little harder than I'd like. I can only drag one point of the slur at once, so more complicated passages require a fair amount of massaging before I'm satisfied. S-slurs, while certainly possible on Sibelius, are a major undertaking to get right. Adjusting one side of the arc tends to mess up the other side in spectacular ways. Coaxing these slurs into position is not my idea of a fun afternoon.

I've set two identical passages here to illustrate the difference. I've done my level best to make Sibelius' slur as good as possible. It's not bad, but there's still a hitch where the two halves join. Add to that the odd sharp hooks at the end of the slur and you have a functional, but not necessarily aesthetically pleasing object. Finale's slur, on the other hand, arcs gracefully around the various features and has a smooth join in the middle. Finale's implementation of B├ęzier curves here is very similar to Adobe Illustrator's. Illustrator has been in the business of manipulating such curves for 20 years and their approach is immaculate. Sibelius needs to get with the picture on this one.

I've spent enough time with Sibelius to know its little quirks and flaws. When Finale completely nails something that the other does poorly, it's something of a double-edged sword for me. On the one hand, it is lovely to see and work with a properly-implemented feature. On the other, it makes me look forward to the time when Sibelius can finally put all the pieces together to create the—dare I say it?—ultimate music notation software. Until that day, we must accept the various problems inherent in the available tools and work around them as well as may be possible.

Next time: tremolos. What the hell were they thinking?

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