Music, Tech Support

Microtonal Notation and Playback In Finale

I’ve been searching for information on how to notate microtonal music in Finale and get it to play back properly.  Since it’s hard to find good documentation on this, I wanted to share my findings.  (As a side note, I’ve come across a number of forum posts by people saying they only want to do microtonal notation and they don’t care about playback.  Really?)  Here’s the easiest approach that I’ve found so far, working with Finale 2012:

Step 1: Create a Nonstandard Key Signature with your preferred number of subdivisions of the octave, and assign accidental symbols as you like.  The best explanation of how to do this I’ve found is in this PDF by Ere Lievonen.

Step 2: Set up the Aria player that comes with Finale to use a Scala file that defines your tuning.  For this, you’ll need a recent version of the Aria player, since Scala integration seems to be a newer feature.  The basic process is as follows:

  • Set MIDI/Audio->Play Finale Through Audio Units
  • Open this dialog: MIDI/Audio->Audio Units Banks & Effects
  • Click the pencil icon for Bank 1 to open the Audio Unit Viewer
  • Select Settings from the tabs on the right and look for the area labeled Tuning
  • Import your chosen Scala file

That’s it (for this summary, at least).

Of course, if you only want to experiment with nonstandard tunings that have 12 notes per octave (and you don’t want to use any special accidental symbols), you can skip Step 1 and go right to Step 2, selecting your Scale file in Aria Player.  There are a couple of Scala files included in the Aria installation, and you can download many more at the Scala site.  The neat thing is that if you do want more than 12 notes per octave, Step 1 and Step 2 work well together: if your nonstandard key signature has, say, 24 notes per octave and your Scala file has 24 notes, they’ll be matched during playback.  (This is how it should work, of course, but until I tested it tonight I wasn’t sure it actually would work.)  You can get any one of those 24 notes to play back properly by applying the appropriate accidental as you defined in Step 1.  It’s no longer necessary to use the older technique of creating pitch bend expressions.

I’ve just begun playing with this and will update this post as I learn more.

Update 1:  Another way to get more than 12 notes per octave is to include the “extra” notes in a separate part in your score.  If you’re writing a solo work, this would mean writing the piece as if it were a duo with two instances of the same instrument.  You would need to go into Window->Score Manager and assign each part to a separate “bank.”  In Audio Units Banks & Effects, you can then click the pencil icon for each bank to launch a separately configurable instance of the Aria Player.  In this way, you can apply a separate scala tuning file to each bank.  So, if you indicate 12 pitches in one scala file and 12 in another you’ve gained access to 24 pitches in the octave without needing to create a nonstandard key signature.  The compromise is that your score has gotten bigger and you need to keep track of which pitches are available in which part.  Of course if you conceive the piece as a duo between two different tunings or pitch sets, this setup would work quite well.

Update 2: A much more comprehensive description of how to configure microtonal notation and playback in Finale is now available on the Xenharmonic wiki.