Note: This will be the first of a two-part series discussing software for Film Composers. The first part will cover notation software, and the second, digital audio workstation software, or DAW. I have chosen to address the specific software I use in my workflow, Finale and Logic Pro.
Many film scores are presently being created one hundred percent digitally, meaning there are no real instruments utilized in the score’s creation- only virtual instruments. There are a number of reasons for this shift, but they all essentially boil down to money and time. Live music costs money: a film utilizing professional musicians and instruments must pay for these musicians as well as their studio time. Live music takes time and effort: organizing studio time, tailoring music to fit musicians’ abilities, rescheduling sessions if there are any unnoticed flaws in a recording, etc. And here again, time is money, so we’re back to our original point.
Let me be clear, though, digital scores are in no way a Hollywood default. Major motion pictures still make use of the titan composers of our time to write massively successful “live” scores that feature aggressive horns and dramatics strings, etc. These are the scores that most people would hear in their head when someone asks them about their favorite film score. So does this mean that acoustic or “live” scores are inherently better than purely digital scores? Perhaps that is a much larger discussion.
The scope of this article is to assert that, however film music trends may evolve, there is always a significant role for live scores and their creative processes to play within the film industry. Part of that process involves music notation, which is the focus of this article. As a film composer, it is imperative to master at least one notation program, and be functionally familiar with others. (I must interject here and make a clarification moving forward that the word “score” can be interpreted in multiple ways. Where I was previously using “score” in reference to a film’s original instrumental music that one hears while watching the film, I will now be using the word to describe the written music that musicians read off of printed manuscript paper.)
Notation software allows you to produce clean, precise, and professional scores. Pitches and accidentals are clearly indicated ot the musicians, and both directives and any tempo or dynamic markings are accurate in their placement on the page. Additionally, notation software allows a composer to easily remove or add bars without recopying whole pages, perform transposition, inversion, and retrogression functions, and generate parts for individual musicians.
I use Finale notation software for a number of reasons:
- I learned Finale extensively as an undergraduate studying composition,
- Finale is the most user-friendly music notation software to date,
- Finale is the most comprehensively powerful music notation software, and
- Finale also seems to boast the best customer relations, including online forums and staff support.
As a composer I find myself in the notation software debate constantly, with many other composers annoyed at Finale’s lack of a virtual piano for note entry purposes. This is easily avoided by owning a MIDI keyboard, which any composer likely already has. I use Finale for all notation purposes and would recommend it to anyone currently looking for a new program. With all that said, let’s cover a few techniques within Finale that will raise your notation game from amateur to pro. Each technique is accompanied by a YouTube tutorial I’ve created to help you learn. After all, it’s much easier to learn software visually than by reading a list of steps!
- Speedy Entry Tool – Ditch entering individual notes and learn speedy entry to quickly input notes and chords with your number pad and your MIDI keyboard.
- Multimeasure Rests – No musician wants to ready your score with 40 empty measures that they have to piece through. Give them what they want to see: a multimeasure rest.
- Working With Parts – Easily work with parts in your Final score to ensure precision in your printed parts for the musicians.
- Directive Placement – Sometimes you’re working with a large enough score that you need more flexibility for your directive placement. Learn to place directives anywhere you’d like.
- Working With Different Page Views – All composers must learn to work efficiently with multiple page views. Learn about these views and their potential in your workflow.
- Creating Ossias (Floating Measures) – A powerful technique that allows you to provide optional parts within your score. Have a part you might think is too difficult for some of your musicians but not others? Learn to create two options for the group to play from.
- Creating Large Time Signatures – This is perhaps the most important and most powerful technique on this list. When creating a conductor’s score it is imperative that the conductor is able to briefly glance down at the score and know exactly what’s going on. In other words, directives, time, and tempo information must be large enough for the conductor to see without meticulously searching for them.
Hopefully these techniques take your scoring to the next level. Of course, there are so many tools and techniques to learn within Finale. For a more comprehensive archive of tutorials, feel free to check out my entire MakeMusic Finale Tutorial playlist on my YouTube channel. Stay tuned for the second article of this two-part series, Logic Pro X for Film Composers.
Remember: a professionally-typeset score is the best way to make an impression on your studio musicians. Do yourself a favor and master a music notation software of your choice.