Finale is the flagship program of a series of proprietary music notation software developed and released by MakeMusic for the Microsoft Windows and macOS operating systems. First released in 1988, version 26 was released in 2018. Finale has been regarded as one of the industry standards for music notation software. Finale is one of a number of types of software used by composers, songwriters and arrangers for creating sheet music, including the score for an entire ensemble (e.g., orchestra, concert band, big band, etc.) and parts for the individual musicians. A scorewriter is to music notation what a word processor is to text, in that they both allow fast corrections (via the "undo" button), flexible editing, easy sharing of content (via the Internet or compact storage media), and production of a clean, uniform layout. In addition, most scorewriters, including Finale, are able to use software-based synthesizers to "play" the sounds of the notated music and record the music—an especially useful feature for novice composers, when no musicians are readily available, or if a composer cannot afford to hire musicians. MakeMusic also offers several less expensive versions of Finale (currently available for Microsoft Windows only), which do not contain all of the main program's features. These include PrintMusic and a freeware program, Finale Notepad, which allows only rudimentary editing. Discontinued versions include Finale Guitar, Notepad Plus, Allegro, SongWriter, and the free Finale Reader.
The default Untitled document is a 31-measure piece for a single treble clef instrument. A Setup Wizard, an alternative method of starting a project, consists of a sequence of dialogs allowing the user to specify the instrumentation, time signature, key signature, pick-up measure, title, composer, and some aspects of score and page layout. Finale's current default music notation font is Maestro.
Finale's tools are organized into multiple hierarchically organized palettes, and the corresponding tool must be selected to add or edit any particular class of score element, (e.g., the Smart Shape tool to generate and edit trill lines and dynamics "hairpins" (so-named because the symbols resemble hair pins); the Staff tool to add and edit the parameters of individual staves). Alongside these tools, additional controls are available to view or hide up to four superimposed layers of music that can be entered onto any particular staff, for purposes of organizing multiple contrapuntal voices on the same staff. Several of Finale's tools provide an associated menu just to the left of the Help menu, available only when that particular tool is selected. Thus, the operation of Finale bears at least some surface similarities to Adobe Photoshop.
On the screen, Finale provides the ability to color code several elements of the score as a visual aid; on the print-out all score elements are black (unless color print-out is explicitly chosen). With the corresponding tool selected, fine adjustment of each set of objects in a score are possible either by clicking and dragging or by entering measurements in a dialog box. A more generalized selection tool is also available to select large measure regions for editing key and time signatures, or transposing, among other uses. This tool also provides the ability to reposition several classes of score object directly, and more recent versions of the software have implemented extensive contextual menuing via this tool.
Finale automatically manages many of the basic rules of harmony and music notation, such as correct beaming, stem direction, vertical alignment of multiple rhythmic values, and established rules for positioning noteheads on chords. In other situations, without careful advance user customization, the program makes what can be described as good guesses, especially in the area of enharmonic spelling of newly entered data generated from a MIDI keyboard, while respecting the current key signature. It is "smart" enough to spell an enharmonic pitch when secondary dominants are used in a piece.
For the majority of Western tonal music, Finale chooses the correct spelling for chords of the tonic and dominant keys correctly, but when the music wanders to tonal regions further away from the tonic, Finale tends to make enharmonic "spelling" mistakes by treating chords as if they belonged to the tonic key in some way. When using a nonstandard key, experts have recommended that the user "assign a spelling for each pitch in the chromatic scale" using a dialog box available from the Preferences menu.
The lead programmer for Finale version 1.0 in 1988 was Phil Farrand, better known in some circles as an author of Nitpicker's Guides for Star Trek and The X-Files. He wrote the original version software for Coda Music Software, which was later sold to Net4Music and then became MakeMusic. After Finale version 3.7, Finale's marketers made the switch to years as identifiers for each new release, starting with Finale 97. Those early versions of Finale used a file format called Enigma Transportable File with extension ETF.
Finale 2004, released in early 2004, was the first release to run natively on Macintosh computers running Mac OS X Panther (v10.3). This was considered a late release by MakeMusic, and full support for the features of Mac OS X was limited at first. More comprehensive support was brought "on-line" through maintenance releases going forward into 2004. Finale 2004 also continued to support PowerPC Macs running Mac OS 9. This release shortened the development cycle for Finale 2005, which was released the following August. While the number of new features in Finale '05 were necessarily limited, this was the first release to have both Windows and Mac versions on the same distribution CD.
The most advertised new feature of Finale 2006 (released in the summer of 2005) included the Garritan Personal Orchestra, an integrated sound library with upgradeable selections from the Garritan Personal Orchestra for more lifelike playback than the SmartMusic SoftSynth (which is still included in the program). A limited-functionality music-scanning module, SmartScore Lite, was also included. Along with Page View and Scroll View, the 2006 release added StudioView, a display mode which is similar to Scroll View with the addition of a sequencer interface. This feature offers an environment for creation, evaluation, and experimentation with different musical ideas in a multi-track environment. In StudioView, an additional staff appears above the notation, called TempoTap, allowing for complete control over tempo changes like rubati, accelerandi, and ritardandi.
A key new feature of the Finale 2007 release was an integrated "linked" score and part management system. A properly-set-up "full score for extraction" could now contain all the data and formatting necessary to generate a full set of linked ensemble parts, ensconced within a single Finale master document. Limitations on the scope of format and layout control between parts and conductor score (including measure numbers and staff system breaks) suggested that this new feature was targeted to media production work, where quick turnaround and accuracy is a crucial factor, rather than publishing, though publishers still may use some aspects of linked parts to improve the part creation process. The 2007 release was a Universal binary, and runs natively on both PowerPC and Intel-based Macs.
Finale 2008 was the first version to come out with full Vista (32-bit only) support. It also changed the way several editing modes are accessed, by introducing the multi-purpose “selection tool” described above. The 2008 release offers the importation and/or recording of synchronized real-time audio as an additional single track in a document.
Finale 2009 was identified as the 20th Anniversary edition. It offers many fundamental workflow changes not seen since the program's inception, such as the organization of expressions by category. Also notable is the re-designed Page View, which enables the viewing and editing of multiple pages within the same document window: these pages may either be arranged in a horizontal line or tiled vertically within a window. Finale 2009 includes Garritan's new Aria Player Engine, and has new samples for this. The older Kontakt 2 Player is still supported, and the samples load under this also.
Finale 2010 was released in June 2009 with improvements to percussion notation and chord symbols. This version also introduced measure number enhancements, auto-ordered rehearsal marks, support for additional graphic formats, and a new Broadway Copyist font option resembling the look of handwritten scores.
Finale 2011 was released in June 2010 with additional Garritan Sounds, Alpha Notes (notation with note names inside), a new lyric entry window and other lyric enhancements, and, most notably, a reworking of staff, system, and page layout handling. In Finale versions before 2011, systems could be optimized to remove empty staves from them and also permit staves in a system to be positioned independently from other systems. Eliminating empty staves from systems with many staves (sometimes called French scoring) is a common notation practice used to economize (or optimize) the use of the page. Users needed to take caution while optimizing, because if measures with notes were moved into an optimized system, or notes were added to staves while viewing the score in Scroll View that had been optimized out, they could be omitted in the printed score. The recommended solution was to always optimize as the last step in the score editing process, immediately before printing.
Finale resolved this condition with a number of solutions in Finale 2011, including the new "Hide Empty Staves" command under the Staff menu, which hides all empty staves in systems. If notes are added to the system, the staff reappears automatically. (The capability of intentionally hiding staves containing notes is still available using a Staff Style). Also, any staff or staves can be positioned in systems independently (based on the selection). These improvements resolved some of the longstanding frustrations novice and advanced users could encounter when working with multi-staff scores. Other improvements to this Finale version include easier capo chords and a new Aria Player.
Finale 2012 was released in October 2011 with new functions as Finale's ScoreManager™, unicode text support, creation of PDF files, an updated setup Wizard, improved sound management and more Garritan sounds built-in.
Finale 2014 was released in November 2013 with new functions. As with all previous releases, a new file format was introduced, which is incompatible with older versions of Finale. However, this time easier file exchange with future versions of Finale was promised. Finale 2014's new functions include a rewritten file format for forward and backward file compatibility, improved Apple OS X support, a new audio engine, additional Garritan sounds, and a new user interface. 2014d is the last version. An updated version, Finale 2014.5 fixes several problems.
Finale Version 25 was released on August 16, 2016. The Finale Blog says that "highlights of the new release include 64-bit support, additional Garritan sounds [100+], transposed instrument entry, ReWire compatibility, significant streamlining, and more." Some new features include: ReWire support, so that Finale can be used simultaneously and in sync with digital audio software, including Logic, Pro Tools, and Digital Performer. Allows 64-bit sound libraries to be used directly in Finale, without 3rd-party software. The new "Aria Player" speeds up and simplifies the choosing of Garritan instruments. Workflow was simplified. Beginning with this version, the user manual is found entirely online. Band-in-a-Box and a couple of other plug-ins were removed. The ability to import scanned documents was removed. Several other features were added.
Finale Version 26 was released on October 10, 2018. This release includes new features such as automatically stacking articulations, automated slur collision avoidance, expedited processes for entering chord symbols and expressions, and additional templates.
Finale Version 27 was announced by MakeMusic in May 2021.
Finale 2007 introduced linked parts, which allow ensemble parts to remain linked to the master score, so that changes to the master score will be instantly reflected in the parts.
Finale can notate anything from a textbook chorale to a cut-out score including new symbols invented by the composer. It is also capable of working with guitar tablature and includes a jazz font similar to that used in the Real Book. Nearly all score elements can be positioned or adjusted, either by dragging (with the appropriate tool selected) or by using dialog boxes with measurements in inches, centimeters or picas.
Music can be entered in a variety of ways: using the computer keyboard alone in real time or via a command line window; using user-determined combinations of mouse clicks, computer keyboard, and MIDI piano keyboard; or by MIDI keyboard alone. It also includes a function for optically recognising printed music from a scan, similar to OCRring text. From Finale 2001 onward, the program included MicNotator, a module able to notate melodic pitches played on a single-pitch acoustic instrument via a microphone connected to the computer.
Finale can import and export MIDI files, and it can play back music using a large range of audio samples, notably from the Garritan library. As of Finale 2009, it can use VST and AU plug-ins. A feature called 'Human playback' aims to create a less mechanical feel, by incorporating playing styles into the playback, including ornaments, ritardandos and accelerandos. Finale can export audio files as .aif, .wav or .mp3.
Finale 2004 also introduced FinaleScript, a scripting language for the automation of tasks such as transcribing music for other instruments to use.
It is used by prominent composers such as Brian Ferneyhough,  large publishers such as Alfred Music, the Hal Leonard Corporation, and smaller, specialist publishers such as G. Henle Verlag, Edition HH, Promethean Editions, and Acoustic Guitar magazine. It is also used by institutions such as the New England Conservatory, the Juilliard School, Millikin University, the Berklee College of Music, the Lemmensinstituut, and George Mason University.
Academy Award-nominated films such as Million Dollar Baby, The Aviator, Spider-Man 2, Sideways, Polar Express, The Village, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, The Passion of the Christ, Finding Neverland, Ratatouille, Michael Clayton, and The Golden Compass were all scored with Finale.
In 2013, MakeMusic signed an exclusive distribution agreement with Alfred Music, a music publishing company with a focus on materials for music education. Under this agreement, Alfred Music is now the sole distributor of Finale and Garritan products in several markets, including North America. The move builds upon the existing relationship between the two companies, in which Alfred Music had previously licensed content for use in MakeMusic’s SmartMusic software.