In this post, I cover stem thickness and single-note direction.
Thickness: Gould suggests that the stems should be thinner than a stave line, but not too thin. I believe that she is quoting Ted Ross here. However, the examples in Ross' book have (to modern eyes) quite thick stave lines. Perhaps the lines had to be scored thicker or deeper in order to stand up to the punching and smoothing process.
Stephen Powell in Music Engraving Today (Brichtmark, 2007) suggests that both stems and stave lines should be the same thickness, but to increase that thickness slightly as the size of the staff gets smaller. Sibelius puts the default thickness of both stave lines and stems at 0.1 spaces; Finale puts the default thickness of both stave lines and stems at .075 spaces.
Edward Tufte, the information display guru, suggests that stave lines are a form of "chartjunk," clutter that obscures the data in an information graphic. In Envisioning Information (Graphics Press, 1990), he recommends printing stave lines thinner and in gray. This has the effect of popping the notes off the page and making them very clear while maintaining the pitch information.
|Variations in stave line thickness alter readability|
My recommendation is to stick with the middle ground – stems and stave lines should be the same size, or perhaps the stave lines could be a little thinner to push them into the background more. Experimentation will reveal a balance point somewhere, much like choosing lenses at an optometrist's. It's curious to note that Gould's examples all feature stems and stave lines that are exactly the same thickness, contravening her own recommendation.
Direction: For single notes, the standard convention: notes above the middle line have down-stems; below have up-stems. The middle line is where things get interesting.
Gould surprisingly recommends an option for the middle line: the direction of the stem is determined by the surrounding stems. If there's no clear-cut case for either direction, use a down-stem.
A selection of quotes on the matter:
Read (1969): "When the note is centered on the staff, ... the stem may go in either direction, although it is the more common practice to draw it down."
Stone (1980): "The old rule that the stem direction for notes on the middle line of the staff is governed by the majority of the other stems in the measure ... is rarely if ever followed any longer, at least not by today's professional engravers and autographers."
Ross (1987): "Some engravers consider the middle line neutral, and take the option of using either up- or down-stems for notes that fall on it. However, more up-to-date engraving no longer permits an option; now a down-stem is always appropriate"
Chlapik (1991): "Alle Noten, die unter der Mittellinie stehen werden hinauf-, ab dieser und darüber heruntergestrichen."/ "All notes below the middle line will be up-stemmed, on and above the middle line will be down-stemmed."
Powell (2007): "When there is one note and it is on the middle line of the staff or higher, the stem goes down."
So: why does Gould go back to the old style? I expect she feels that it just looks better: stemming the note with its neighbors assists with the flow of reading and maintains smooth phrasing. What prompted the shift away from this practice? Why is it so bad to have an up-stemmed middle line? None of my sources gives an explanation – does anyone know?
Next time: Stem length and tails!