Page 1 of 4

Spacing proportions and settings

Posted: 16 Oct 2015, 14:22
by Fred G. Unn
Vaughan wrote the following in John's "whole measure rest" thread:
Vaughan wrote:it becomes more difficult to read the music if the proportionality is extremely compromised.
I thought it better to just start a new thread instead of derailing that one, but I'm wondering how many of you realized Sibelius has compromised proportionality built in to their default? I even questioned them about it once and got their standard "we've studied all the best scores and this is the best way" canned response. Perhaps they thought it was a little more humanistic, but I much prefer mathematical precision. At least it's easy enough to change.

Here are their default spacing settings:
Sib Spacing.JPG
Sib Spacing.JPG (87.98 KiB) Viewed 12149 times
The ratio of :2 to :3 is 1.3, :3 to :4 is 1.38, :4 to :5 is 1.7, :5 to :6 is 1.38, etc. None of the spacing values (in spaces) are fixed of course as the program scales them to fit the system, as does Finale if you use an allotment library. I do find it interesting that Sibelius does not use a fixed ratio though and the quarter to half ratio is noticeably different than the others. I wonder how many publishers using Sibelius alter these values and how many just use the slightly odd shipping version?

FWIW, I tweaked my Sib settings to use Golden Mean ratios, and I use 1.618 as the "Scaling Factor" in Finale. Does anyone else use a spacing system that is deliberately not exactly proportional like the Sibelius default?

Re: Spacing proportions and settings

Posted: 16 Oct 2015, 19:11
Fred G. Unn wrote:I do find it interesting that Sibelius does not use a fixed ratio though and the quarter to half ratio is noticeably different than the others.
Well, good question! I have never been a big fan of S's spacing, that is the MAIN reason why I have never used it. Is this really the default setting?
When we speak about the horizontal spacing I have some doubts about the computer automation.

Flexible spacing?
  • spacing is never the same in the whole document, it should be varying from measure to measure, dependng of the density (ie BW-balance!);
  • spacing should include also accidentals = more dense music would have another ration for distances between accidentals and notes (this is VERY obvious with multiple accidentals in chords);
  • spacing should also differently affect grace notes in the same manner of flexible spacing;
  • articulation/dynamics affecting spacing: more items around note-head makes it more black; therefore wider spacing should be applied to make a better BW-balance.
These are some thoughts.

Interesting topic!

Re: Spacing proportions and settings

Posted: 16 Oct 2015, 20:04
by John Ruggero
This might or might not be a good point to bring up a subject that greatly concerns me.

So much engraving that I see now looks too spread out on the page. I first saw this during the early 70s in the piano publications of Alfred Music Co. Music that previously occupied two facing pages, was now spread out over three, with disastrous consequences for page turning and for m u s i c a l c o m p r e h e n s i o n.

To me, this trend to spread the music smacks of what is known as "dumbing down", making us all children who need to read in
L A R G E S P A C E D L E T T E R S.

I personally need to see as much music in front of me as possible within the realm of legibility or beauty of the BW balance type. I would actually like to read every piece on a global scale, from 10, 000 feet or whatever was suggested in the thread on BW Balance. (Maybe technology will make that possible some day.) So you can see that I would be peeved about what I see as this new trend, even in the publications of some of the best publishers.

OK, my rant is now over. But does anyone agree with me? And if so, how does this relate to the present discussion of music spacing?

Re: Spacing proportions and settings

Posted: 16 Oct 2015, 20:18
John Ruggero wrote:I personally need to see as much music in front of me as possible within the realm of legibility or beauty of the BW balance type.
I have read someone posting that publishing in the last centuries was much more effective in regard to paper and metal plates, and that it is not relevant today (cheap paper, ink, printers...). I can't agree.
For me as a performer it is important to have very consistent score, and that to much White will make me nervous, I would turn pages more quickly, symbols will be placed more far away.
As in another topic viewtopic.php?f=3&t=22, it is not the smallest problem to read compressed pages.

Therefore I think that the spacing is one of the crucial moments in engraving. To space properly means to put all in balance... And that is hard.

Re: Spacing proportions and settings

Posted: 16 Oct 2015, 20:47
by Fred G. Unn
I'm going to disagree here. Using modern design principles, there have been scientific studies about how white space can increase legibility and comprehension. These have been related to text, but I think are applicable to music as well. Plates were expensive, certainly in comparison to today's methods, so it was in the best interest of the publisher to keep things quite compact to cut down on plate and paper cost.

I think the performance situation is also involved here. A solo piano piece that will be practiced until memorized can be spaced fairly tight. As long as it is legible, spacing isn't much of an issue. Any sort of new music that will at best have 2 rehearsals before a performance, places a huge emphasis on being immediately sight-readable, and deserves the clearest possible notation. To me this means more white space than some historical engravings, certainly more than most prior to mid-20th century or so.

Re: Spacing proportions and settings

Posted: 17 Oct 2015, 19:09
What I have experienced is that when the texture is very dense, I need a dense score.
An example is Bartok's Solo Sonata (violin). It is extremely difficult piece (one I never been able to finish practicing), but I enjoyed the dense outlook of it, since I could grasp more.

Here are two examples of the same score. The new edition by B&H is in my opinion less crowded, but less effective. I really like much more the old version, which is more dense.

Another very practical thing: for me it is easier to remember music if there are less pages. More pages means more mental-visual pictures to remember.

Re: Spacing proportions and settings

Posted: 17 Oct 2015, 19:48
by John Ruggero
Here are three files for the Schubert Bb Sonata for piano solo. B has a modern layout philosphy. C. is extreme in its desire for white space. Please note the number of pages for each.

A Breitkopf und Haertel Schubert Complete Works (1888) 30 pages ... _D_960.pdf

B Creative Commons ed. Karl Paulsson (2011) 51 pages ... _D_960.pdf

C Muzyka (?) 61 pages ... D._960.pdf

In the first line of music, A has 5 measures, B has 4 measures, C has 3 measures.

Despite the fact that A is a library edition, it has 11 good page turns out of the 15 turns. I leave it to the reader to decide about B and C.

The Scherzo, a whirlwind of a piece, is a case in point. A places the entire movement on two facing pages, which makes the da capo work beautifully. B places it on 6 pages, writing out the da capo. C engraves it on 5 pages and does not write out the da capo. Again I leave it to the reader to consider the pages turns in B and C and how this would effect a pianist playing from score.

I think that the fluent reader who reads blocks of music at a time would prefer A. There is enough music to digest at a time and one is does not get lost in endless white space and the many pages of this vast piece. I would have preferred 100% good page turns and a fewer measures on some lines in the first and second movements. However, to me, the third and fourth movements have perfect BW balance.

The journeyman reader might prefer B: the less fluent reader, C.

The fact that B is now the popular choice suggests to me that there is a decline in musical literacy.

I think that the emphasis on memorizing piano music is factor in this decline. We now have conservatory students who know only what they have memorized. I believe it was Charles Rosen who described how by the age of 15 he had explored most of the piano repertoire, how this was now almost unknown among serious piano students and what a devastating effect this had on their musical development. They are not exploring music because they are busy memorizing a few pieces for competitions. Of course, that is a different subject. But at least we can produce editions that foster music exploration, not editions that force students to memorize the music to overcome bad page turns and getting lost in page after page of music.

And bad page turns build in latent weaknesses in the initial learning stages that show up later in memorized performances. These can be interpretative as well as technical.

Re: Spacing proportions and settings

Posted: 17 Oct 2015, 22:18
by erelievonen
I agree with John, especially about the page turns. I could never fathom why is it OK to force pianists to stop playing for page turning, or else omit notes.
It is obvious, though, that B is not a professionally engraved product.
But concerning this particular sonata, there is another winner, IMO. Bärenreiter edition from 1996: 41 pages, and all page turns are good ones! Most of the pages are pleasantly full (for example, the Scherzo is on 2 facing pages), but yes, they had to engrave a couple of quite loosely spaced pages to make those page turns possible. That is a small price to pay for good page turns. In fact I would sacrifice everything else, except of course legibility itself, to have good (read: possible!) page turns.

Re: Spacing proportions and settings

Posted: 17 Oct 2015, 23:23
by John Ruggero
OCTO, it is clear you are acutely sensitive to the "feel" of musical notation. Some of the current engraving practices must drive you crazy.

erelievonen, you and I are kindred sprits on the issue of page turns! Poor edition B was a stand-in for the current editions that are under copyright protection and could not be cited. But I am sure that we have all seen editions like this in terms of spacing.

The Baerenreiter sounds like a winner. I love their Mozart Piano Sonata edition (from the New Mozart Complete Works): great page turns, great layout, great editing. One could actually perform from their edition without a page-turner. My personal edition of the Schubert Sonatas is the Universal (Erwin Ratz, 1953): 31 pages for the Bb Sonata. The layout is excellent. The page turns, not so good: 10 good page turns out of 16.

Absolutely, the first priority should be to create the best possible page turns in piano solo and chamber music, as with instrumental parts. This determines the layout. If it means fewer measure per page, a looser spacing might be used, or fewer systems on the page, or blank pages. I would also would love to see fold-out pages in piano solo and chamber music provided by the publishers.

Re: Spacing proportions and settings

Posted: 18 Oct 2015, 00:15
by Fred G. Unn
Honest question, do pianists not like to turn pages when both hands are resting? I know in orchestra work, it's a terrible idea to have the entire orchestra turning pages during a G.P. as it destroys the effect. Is it a similar thing with piano music? There are so many obvious page turns like that in example A that I would likely heavily weight those when deciding the layout, unless that's a no-no.

Full disclosure, I do almost no historical work. Although I've done many transcriptions/reorchestrations, I'm pretty sure I've done no paid work on anything written/arranged before 1950. While A is the winner here, there are so many issues with beaming, spacing, slurs & ties, etc. that I'm not a good judge of the density. Perhaps it is part of the style as are the other things that while historically accurate, are unacceptable today.

As erelievonen mentioned, B was likely done by a college student who had owned Sibelius for a month or so. I mean they haven't even learned how to properly enter dynamics (which takes 5 seconds of Googling), so it's sort of an unfair comparison. Example C is really odd because they use such a huge distance between the staves. It's almost the same distance as between the systems, like someone took some blank music paper and drew grand staffs on them.