New Tools in Writing Music – NOTATION SOFTWARE

This is the first post in a series I’m making about how to produce music in your basement. This post is on Notation Software. Other posts will follow on Digital Audio Workstations, Music Sample Libraries, Recording, etc.

Read on to learn about how to use music notation software, what it costs, pros and cons of competing softwares, free software, and more!

Download Finale keyboard shortcuts for Mac here!

Download Finale keyboard shortcuts for Windows here!

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Notation Software is a program that allows you to write music, create sheet music, insert notes, rests, measures, multiple parts etc. Once you have put notes down on the page, you can press play, and it will play the music back to you.

Buy Finale 2014.5 here.

Get Finale Notepad Free.

Buy Sibelius here.

Get Musescore Free.

Let me first let you know what I have and what I do. I have been using notation software since 2001. I started out on Finale 2001. I upgraded to Finale 2007 when I went to Utah State University. Since then I have upgraded to Finale 2012 and Finale 2014.5 which is the latest version of that notation software. If you want to be relevant, or if you want your software to run smoothly on your computer, you will need to be committed to upgrading your software.

Initial Cost and Upgrades

The latest version of Finale runs at about $600. Once you’ve purchased it, upgrades only cost you about $150. Every 2-3 years an upgrade is released. Upgrades include new features, bug corrections – sometimes they are monumental upgrades, other times  the upgrades are less-noticeable. Some upgrades are free e.g., when Apple released it’s OS El Capitan, Finale 2014 wasn’t going to be compatible with it. So Finale sent out an email telling its customers not to download the operating system El Capitan until Finale released an update that would make finale compatible with it. Then about a month after El Capitan came out, Finale released Finale 2014.5 which was a free upgrade for anyone who already owned Finale 2014, which I did. They took the time to address other bugs with the software, and now Finale is running smoother than ever.

What is Finale Like?

Finale lets you set up a score the way you want. You may choose the instruments and their order. You can also let Finale put them in “score order” for you. You can import and export files into MUSICXML files which allow you to transfer files between competing softwares i.e., Finale and Sibelius.

Finale Start Up

This is how you set up your score. You select them on the left and add them into the box on the right. You can let the instruments default into score order, or use the arrows on the right to manually adjust the order. The instrumentation can be edited later on in the score editor, but doing so can corrupt your file. If you confuse the program, sometimes you need to copy and paste the contents of the measures into a new clean document. This is one feature that I’d like to see fixed later on.

Score Set up

You type in the info that you’d like to make appear on the score. This info can be edited easily later on.


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You select your time signature, key signature, tempo, and number of measures. All of these things can be easily changed later on. You’ll easily be able to transpose, change keys, change time signatures, adjust tempos and so on. You can also select a variety of other asymmetrical time signatures.

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Your work station will then look like this, and you’ll have a toolbar across the top of your screen which will help you access a number of different options from transposing, to inserting cautionary accidentals.

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One of the most useful tools I have is my 88-key midi controller. I bought this in October of 2014. Since then, it has been part of every technological music project I’ve ever done.


Buy a midi controller here.

I use this midi controller to speed up my data entry into finale. It can literally save you days of work. You can use the hyperscribe option Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 4.47.59 PM in finale to insert music in real time. You need to adjust the parameters so it knows how picky to be with the rhythms you play into it e.g., you can tell it not to record anything faster than an 8th note – then if you accidentally play something too quickly, it will interpret it as an 8th note.

You can also use the speedy entry tool  Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 4.47.51 PM  to use the midi controller to control pitch (not in real time.) Both the hyperscribe, and the speedy entry tools are very useful.

Some other features that I love are the abilities to export the file as midi data (then it can be read by any program that reads midi files such as pro-tools, logic pro, garage band, etc.,) and the feature that allows me to export my music into PDF files.

The great thing about PDFs is that you can print on any size of paper and make it as big or small as you’d like, and you don’t lose ANY resolution. Everything stays crisp.

I’ve used Finale to write my Master’s Thesis, prepare music for commercial publication, and  various other projects. Here are some of the final products:

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These are screen shots, so the resolution isn’t great. But the actual files look flawless.

Finale’s Competitor: Sibelius

Finale’s main competitor is Sibelius. I’ve heard from many trusted sources that Sibelius is better than Finale. If you are new to notation software, you should start with Sibelius. I hear it is more intuitive and less bulky.

If you are very competent with Finale and you truly know it like your phone number, then you shouldn’t be reading this part of this post, and you should stick to Finale. I’m in that boat, I have years beyond years of experience with Finale for various projects which have required much more than a casual knowledge of it. At this point it would slow me down a lot to switch to Sibelius.

Your notation software will only get you so far. It will not help you produce music from your home, it will help you create sheet music for others to perform and publish your music.


Finale Notepad is a free version of Finale. It is extremely limited, but it may be useful for simple projects, and as a trial software.

Get Musescore Free.


Digital Audio Workstations

The process of arranging and recording “Amazing Grace”

Hello awesome people!

Today we want to tell you a little bit about our process in writing, recording, and  filming music. We have a brand-new audio track that we’ll be filming in the coming weeks. Click here to read about the filming of this music video.

Me and My

Me and My “Little Clarinet”


Last year (2014) I had the opportunity to conduct the Oquirrh Mountain Symphony (now Utah Philharmonic Orchestra) in a September 11 Memorial Concert. I composed two pieces for this concert including this arrangement of Amazing Grace. I used Finale 2014 to notate my orchestral scores.

Orchestral Score

Orchestral Score

This image shows a draft of that score.

Kacee and I wanted to make a recording of this music but we cannot afford to hire an orchestra to record it for us.

Cut off view of Orchestra Score

Cut off view of Orchestra Score

So I transcribed the piece for 5 Clarinets and 2 Bass Clarinets with the idea that I would record each line individually and then put them all together in the end. There were only a few issues with transcription:

  1. I cannot play the Clarinet as high as a professional violinist can play (at least not well). This means that I needed to make some octave adjustments which leave the clarinet version less expansive than the orchestral version.
  2. The Clarinet has a smooth attack. The sound on the clarinet begins with moving air. This is very different from the piano or drums which both use percussive strikes to elicit sound. Think of it like a coloring book. The Clarinet gives you color between the lines, while the piano and drums provide the dark outlines with their percussive attack (the piano then provides notes and color after providing the dark lined attack). This means that a clarinet-only piece will lack certain feelings of definitiveness. It will be airy and uncertain – kind of like really watered-down/flat soda.
  3. Along with the last issue, there is the lack of DIVERSITY in the tone color if you only use one kind of instrument. I think of clarinets as blue and purple, flutes as silvery pixie dust, Trumpets as vibrant yellow etc. In a clarinet-only ensemble you may have dynamic and harmonic contrast, but you will struggle to find contrast in TONE COLOR.

So these are the problems which presented themselves. How did we fix those problems? Well, read on! We basically solved these issues with a single solution.

We added piano to about 75% of the piece. By adding the piano we gave those darker/definitive lines to shape the color. By adding the piano to the clarinet lines we created a composite color (basically create a new instrument sound). The doubling of Clarinet and Piano is a satisfying blend. This only occurs when they play in exact unison – octaves don’t really count.

We gave it contrast by leaving some sections as clarinet-only, and we gave life to the high violin lines by leaving them for the piano instead of the clarinet.

Here’s what that 7-clarinet reduction looks like:

Clarinet Version

Clarinet Version

Now you need to know that I do not claim to be a clarinetist – I just really like that instrument, and I happen to own four of them.

Three Clarinets, one Bass Clarinet, two flutes

Three Clarinets, one Bass Clarinet, two flutes

So yes, there are many clarinetists who could have done a much better job than I did… but hey, I own the instruments, I might as well put them to good use!


We went to our friend Clive Romney’s house to record the tracks. I brought him a copy of score (and dedicated it to him). Bringing a score makes the process a lot easier; it saves you time and money.

I sat down at the piano and recorded a “practice track.” We would then have that track as a reference point in recording the other tracks. This track would not be present in the final product. This track needed to represent the exact timing of the final product as we would use it to match the other tracks. I would also add pulsating 8th notes to act as a make-shift metronome.

I got out my clarinet and put on the headphones and sat in front of the microphone. The practice track came on through the headphones and I recorded the first clarinet track in time with the practice track.

Practicing the Bass Clarinet for the Recording

Practicing the Bass Clarinet for the Recording

Sometimes I wouldn’t play exactly in time with it, and I needed to go back and re-do it. We repeated the process until all five clarinet tracks were completed, and two more bass clarinet tracks were complete.

Once the clarinet tracks were done, we put Kacee in there where she sang like an angel. When she finished, I added the “real piano track,” to give added clarity where it was needed.

KAcee singing

Today between general conference sessions, I went back to Clive’s to add my input in the mixing process. With about ten different tracks happening simultaneously, we needed to boost some sections, and make others less-prominent.


So that’s how we got this track. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s a really fun thing to do! Click here to read our post about filming this music video!