I finally jumped off the bridge and installed NotePerformer 3.2 this week as my virtual instrument library on my 25.4 version of Finale. Here is my initial, and highly premature, reaction to this shiny new toy.
First off, what is NotePerformer? It is a software library, produced by Wallander Instruments, of most orchestral and band instruments coupled with an audio player that converts the notes on the page from your notation software (Finale, Sibelius, Dorico) into an audible facsimile of real instruments. It was originally written as a highly successful plug-in for Sibelius. The joy Sibelius users experienced with it produced a clamor to make it available for Finale (like me) and Dorico users. Wallander finally produced a beta version for Finale and Dorico last year (2018) and late last year released supported versions of the software (albeit with some caveats) for both notation programs.
The attraction of NotePerformer is its purported ability to use artificial intelligence to produce “realistic” sounding music from within notation software with very little manual intervention, and do it at a ridiculously low price of $129. It is aimed at composers who need plausible demonstration tracks or just some realistic feedback of their ideas but have neither the time nor the budget to invest in high end digital audio workstations (DAW). These, although capable of producing nearly perfect simulations, require thousands of dollars to purchase and require hours and hours of tweaking to get the sound right. For Finale users in particular, there has been a long-held and deep-seated frustration with the quality of sound that come out of Finale’s default instrument library, Garritan Instruments for Finale (hereinafter GIfF). GIfF is capable of producing fairly OK simulations but often only with lots of tweaking and hours spent under the hood of Finale to get it to do what one needs. Thus, if the promise of NotePerformer is true, it would be a real boon for Finale users.
So what did I find out? First, there was some trepidation whether the current version of NotePerfomer (3.2) was compatible with my 25.4 version of Finale (introduced in 2017). The NotePerformer website states that only Finale v26 is supported. However, based on trying out the free demo last year and some forums that indicated others were using it, I gave it a go. Result? No compatibility problems! It installed flawlessly and integrated with Finale just as the user manual says. Now, what about those caveats? There is a well-known functionality issue (plainly explained on NotePerfomer’s user guide for Finale) that delays playback sound by about a second. This occurs both when entering notes on a staff and during playback (the delay on note entry has been eliminated for Finale v26). It’s an annoyance, but one you can live with. I’ve experience two other buggy items (further explained below), but other than that, NotePerformer gets along well with my Finale v25.4.
Now, what about the main issue, the sound? Well, to quote Tony the Tiger, it’s grrrrreat! OK, maybe that’s a little over the top, but it’s waaaay better than what I was getting from GIfF. The “out of the box” clarity, blending, and balance are all superior to GIfF. The expressiveness is far more realistic and human-like than GIfF’s “human playback.” And, the best part, it just works! It makes nice simulations on its own without me having to correct all its misinterpretations. The artificial intelligence does it job! Perfect? No. Usable? Yes! Below are the pros and cons I’ve noticed along with my contrasting evaluation of the pros and cons of GIfF. But first, so you can year for yourself, are two audio tracks of a short trombone quartet I’ve arranged produced from the exact same Finale file. The first, made with GIfF, with a good bit of manual tweaking involved. The second, made with NotePerformer, with no manual intervention whatsoever. It’s just what NotePerformer made right out of the box.
A comparison of the pros and cons of GIfF and NotePerformer 3.2.
Garritan Instruments for Finale
- More individual instrument choices
- Overall better quality individual instrument patches, but some are pretty bad (e.g., bass trombone)
- Groups don’t play well together. Some instruments stick out, others hide, very poor clarity when multiple instruments are playing – just a big mush of sound.
- Terrible balancing problems: base volume levels of instruments little reflect their natural relationships. You may find yourself jumping through hoops trying to keep the clarinets from covering up the snare drum and many other frustrations.
- Takes a lot of manual tweaking and balancing to get a fair facsimile of an ensemble.
- GIfF does a better job on certain solo instruments, particularly piano, as their sound patches are just richer and more realistic. But, as more instruments are added, this advantage gets weaker.
- Simplicity but less flexibility
- Individual patches are ordinary
- Groups play very well together. The blend just works and clarity is pretty good. Different lines and voices can be clearly heard even in tutti passages.
- The balance just works. The results are natural and intuitive.
- Here are a couple of buggy things that I need to
submit to tech support:
- When exporting to audio file there is a tendency to clip off the last ¼ second or so of the music. Depending on how the music ends, this can be a big wart or of little consequence.
- With NotePerformer active and after exiting Finale, Finale will sometimes spontaneously restart. It doesn’t seem to happen every time, but it is frequent.
Bottom line: this isn’t yet a match made in heaven but the relationship shows a lot of promise. So much so that I plan to stick with NotePerformer to make my demo tracks going forward while eagerly awaiting more improvements and elimination of the little bugs.
Just to be clear, I have no affiliation or relationship with NotePerfomer, Wallander Instruments, or any of its officers or employees. I’m an independent composer sharing my own opinion and experience. With that being said, to learn more, download the demo, or purchase your own NotePerformer license visit this site: https://www.noteperformer.com/