Wednesday, April 16, 2008

(Re)Learning Finale, Part 4: Tremolos

(You may wish to read Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 first)

Are you trembling with excitement...or fear?

Well, the love-fest couldn't go on forever. Dealing with tremolos in Finale is like extracting one's own molar with a rusty Allen wrench. Now, I'm sure I'm going about everything all wrong and the myriad experts out there who know everything there is to know about quickly working around the various broken systems in MakeMusic's funhouse will smile and shake their heads in bemusement when they read about my trials. May I ask a favor of the imminently-bemused? Tell me where I'm going wrong, please! Things can't possibly be as bad as they are…can they?

Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). I needed unmeasured single-note tremolos and unmeasured trill tremolos. These are two entirely different devices, but Finale manages to make them both a headache. To create a trill tremolo, one must either run an included plug-in (TG Tools Easy Tremolos Lite), which works well enough, or make one from scratch. Making a tremolo from scratch is, as you might expect, a royal pain. The procedure for making two half notes connected three beams in the space of one half note is, briefly: create two 32nd notes, define them as a tuplet that is two 32nd notes in the space of one half note with a hidden number and bracket, change the noteheads to half notes, and insert a gap between the two inner beams with the beam extension tool. Pause to catch breath/mop sweat off of brow.

"Easy" Tremolos

The Easy Tremolos plug-in automates all the steps up to inserting a gap. It has the added benefit of being able to take two notes of any duration and replace them with an appropriate tremolo that fits in the space. It can also optionally insert hidden notes that will play back correctly. The full version of the plug-in includes options to specify beaming styles and gap size.

The catch is: if you don't know how the plug-in works, editing your brand-new fancy tremolo will be a complete mystery. The manual has only this to say about making tremolos: "run the plug-in!" It includes no discussion about how to go about it any other way. In fact, the manual is actually misleading – the accompanying illustration shows a tremolo with gapped interior beams. The plug-in as installed will only produce connected interior beams. I needed gaps on my tremolos and only figured it out how to do it by examining the finished ready-made tremolo closely.

By the way, to do the same thing in Sibelius, one must simply create two quarter notes and press the tremolo button. Yes, the tremolo button. One can easily choose between different numbers of beams and beaming styles. It works perfectly in nearly every circumstance.

In a future post, I will examine the degree to which Finale has become dependent on hacks, plug-ins and workarounds to solve pervasive and enduring problems with the software, but for now, let us move on to unmeasured single-note tremolos.

Tremolos on single notes

To create an unmeasured tremolo is ostensibly simple: create the appropriate articulation and attach it to the desired stem. In fact, one can apply the tremolo articulation to a whole region of notes at once very easily. The sticking point (and you knew there was a sticking point, didn't you?) is in the default behavior of such an articulation. On stemmed notes, the slashes attach so that the furthest slash from the notehead is nearly flush with the end of the stem. Furthermore, the slashes are not centered on the stem. Rather, they are off to the notehead side a bit. While this positioning tends to look pretty bad, the default position of a tremolo on a whole note is ridiculous, tending to completely obscure the notehead (the stem on a whole note is very short!)

One may object, "But you can fiddle with all of the positioning parameters so they can be exactly to your taste." This is true, and the following settings do a much better job than the defaults. If I try to change the vertical offset, the articulation moves relative to the end of the stem, not relative to the notehead. If I change the setting to "Auto note/stem side" with a vertical offset of -2.4 spaces, newly-created tremolos will attach to the notehead and be reasonably positioned. This also happily fixes the centering issue. However, it attaches to the first notehead in a chord, so oddities can be expected. (This also looks somewhat less dumb on whole notes.)

None of this changes the fact that adding an articulation to a note does precisely nothing to the length of its stem. When three (slightly smaller than) beam-sized slashes go through a stem, one likes to see a wee bit more than a little nubbin sticking out over the top. For every note affected, one must go through and manually lengthen the stem to accommodate the tremolo. If you're like me and you don't like simple wedges on any beam, anywhere, you must be prepared to go nudge every single one of those articulations into the correct position.

By the way, to do the same thing in Sibelius, one needs only to turn to the erstwhile tremolo button and press it. Imagine. It just works right. Stems are lengthened; slashes are properly positioned and easily modified. It's enough to make a man want to switch programs.

Next time: more "fun" with articulations.


ouibjamn said...

Thank you for this post! I'm a stubborn, die-hard Finale user and needed big-time help creating undulating tremelos! Between you and Google, I got what I need.

One question though, I followed your steps (two 32nd notes in the space of one half note) and all looks good EXCEPT that the stem on the half notes comes down too far, just slightly PAST the notehead. Any way to clean this up?

contrap54 said...

I found this page while trying to figure out how to vertically move the tremolo beams between two whole notes, in a tremolo created with TGTools Easy Tremolos (Finale 2008). There's no way to tell whether the beams area an araticular, an expression, or what.

I tried learning Sibelius 2 years ago and didn't have the patience to make the switch from Finale.