Digital Music Engraving
Ancient Groove Music endeavours to produce editions of music that have the highest standards of music notation. We aim to incorporate practices and rules from the days when music was scored into metal sheets by skilled craftsmen, but while still using the latest computer technology – what might be termed “digital engraving”. As with typography and graphic design: having the software is not enough! There are a great many rules, brought about from years of practice, good judgment and a keen eye, that the computer cannot know.
“Fully automatic high-quality music notation is not merely non-trivial, but in general impossible, without human-level intelligence.” Donald Byrd, Music Notation by Computer, 1983
Here is a list of commonly seen errors in computer-generated music scores, which we strive to eradicate:
- Unsuitable staff size for purpose
Music was traditionally engraved using staves and notes belonging to one of eight ‘gauges’, each one being used for a particular type of score. For example, an instrumental part, viewed on a desk, needs to be larger than a vocal score, held in the hand. Too large a gauge for the purpose leads to too much white space on the page (a ‘slack’ layout) and an excessive number of pages; too small a gauge leads to illegibility.
- Inconsistent spacing on multi-staff systems
On each system, horizontal distance travelled is proportional to time. It is confusing to have notes of the most frequent value, or small note values, such as quavers, with wildly varying spaces following them on the same system.
- Symbols colliding
Page elements should never collide ("crash") with one another.
- Bad beam angles
Avoid white triangles, caused by the interference of staff lines, note stems and beam slopes. The starts and ends of primary beams should sit on, hang under, or straddle staff lines.
- Poor line breaks and page turns
Try to place page turns where instrumentalists have rests; avoid page turns in the middle of awkward passages. Unless at the very start of a work or section, forward repeat marks should not be at the start of a system.
- Music not ending at end of final page; fewer measures in final system than in others
The true skill of the engraver is seen in laying the music out evenly, so that the piece ends at the right hand margin of the bottom system of the last page – whilst avoiding too few or too many measures in the final system.
- Lack of space between note and barline
There should be the same amount of space between a note and the barline as there is after the same note value anywhere else in the measure.
- Allowing unnecessary extra space for accidentals
No extra space should be added between notes to accommodate accidentals, if possible. Accidentals have no durational value, so command no space. In tight layouts with small note values, this is very difficult to achieve, but the distraction of ‘gaps’ should be noted as an unhappy necessity.
- Barlines running across choral parts
In vocal music, barlines should not run across all the staves. This interferes with reading the lyrics. The exception is for Mensurstriche in early music.
- Word extension lines over-running
Word extensions should run from the final syllable of a word and stop at a point aligning with the right hand edge of the last note to which that syllable is sung. They should go no further, nor should they be used between syllables of the same word. (Use hyphens.)
- Poor lyric hyphenation
Lyric hyphenation should NOT show the singer where consonants are to be sounded. The purpose of hyphenation is to allow the correct identification of the word as easily as possible. It should therefore conform to literary hyphenation practices for the appropriate language.
- Times New Roman!
Times New Roman was designed by Stanley Morison in the 1930s for newstype. It has precious little business on a page of music. Its metrics are unsuited to its use as a font for lyrics, as it has a great tendency to displace the spacing of the music. It is often a ‘digital default’, and so is frequently used as the choice of least resistance, when no thought has been given to its suitability for the task in hand.
Fonts with metrics similar to those traditionally used for the setting of lyrics include Century, Garamond Narrow, Palatino and many others. These fonts can be used at larger point sizes with less risk of disturbing the music spacing.
Bold weights should NOT be used for lyrics. Semibold or Demi weights can be acceptable if they are not too heavy. However, greater legibility is achieved by using a Roman weight at a larger point size than by merely emboldening the type.
Other useful fonts for music are Monotype Modern, Bauer Bodoni and ITC New Baskerville — good 18th century faces, which have often been used in music engraving for other text elements, such as tempi instructions and titling. Text items found in music fonts, such as dynamics and time signature figures, have their origin in typefaces similar to these. Quality fonts may be purchased from Linotype.
- Font comparison sheets
Here's the first in an occasional series of PDFs that will compare different fonts for use as dynamics in music notation. Other comparisons for different purposes will follow!
Books on Notation and Engraving standards:
Gould, Elaine: Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation, Faber Music
Powell, Steven: Music Engraving Today, Brichtmark
Read, Gardner: Music Notation, Crescendo/Taplinger
Ross, Ted: The Art of Music Notation, Hansen Books (available on CD-ROM from NPC Imaging)
Other music engraving links:
Music Printing History is a website with lots of resources on the subject.
The word 'engraving' comes from the same Old English root as the word 'grave', both related to making a hole. The term 'score' for a piece of music is a metonym for the 'scoring' into the metal plate on which the music was engraved.
Here's a YouTube video showing Herr Hans Kühner, a master engraver at work. (There may be an advert at the start.)