Thursday, February 2, 2012

Optimal Horizontal Dynamics Placement

Basic horizontal dynamic placement tends to lack nuance in current practice. The various software packages simply define a default position for a given text style and leave it to the user to do any manual changes. In practice, this often means that basic dynamic positions are simply left as is with little thought to historical convention or good aesthetics. They tend to get adjusted in awkward situations, but rarely otherwise.

Standard dynamic placement isn't treated with much depth in the major texts, but two main objectives are evident:

Gould: "Centre the dynamic on the notehead" (p. 102)
Ross: "A multiple mark straddles the stem of the notehead which it is beneath" (p. 186)

The following chart proposes default positions for the major dynamics; offsets are given in spaces from Sibelius defaults. Finale treats dynamic placement differently, but the idea is the same.

Optimal Dynamic Placement
(Click for larger version)

In a score system, I will take the leftmost dynamic on a given beat and align all the others to it. It's more important in that situation to have a unified line of dynamics so the conductor can quickly grasp the change. These positions are for isolated dynamics and to establish baseline left side positions.

I will be interested to hear your thoughts! It would be very nice if the software packages were able to make these adjustments automatically, but that's why I stay in business.


Jeremy Hughes suggests that my positions are a little bit further to the right than he would like. I agree with him. Instead of centering the cleft of the p and the crossbar of the f, I am now centering the bowl of the p and the upper curve of the f. Here's a revised chart with a couple of extra dynamics:
Revised dynamic placements
(Click for larger version)
Let me know what you all think in the comments!


Anonymous said...

For my money, your first version was perfect with two exceptions: p and f in second row (stemmed-down half notes). Centering on the stem—-as I believe you've done--is too far to the left. Centering with the note's center would likely be too far to the right. Middle ground?

Robert Puff said...

Matthew -

Your proposed offsets for these dynamics look very good. In fact, both your original chart and your revised chart based on Jeremy's suggestion look better than anything out of the box from either Finale or Sibelius.

Responding to your comment "It would be very nice if the software packages were able to make these adjustments automatically":

Totally true for Sibelius, which has a one size fits all approach to the positioning for each text style. Finale, at least allows different default positions for each dynamic (override the master settings in the Category Designer on a case by case basis). An individual dynamic can follow either one of the two main objectives. However, ideally, in order to meet both the Gould and Ross requirements in Finale, the closest automated approximations can only be reached by creating a stems up and stems down version of each dynamic. Still cumbersome, but perhaps not as much as adjusting every dynamic manually.

Finale could solve this by making the current set of controls for horizontal placement available for both the case of stems down notes and also for stems up notes.

For Sibelius, a plugin that could center dynamics text either to notehead or stem depending on stem direction would be very helpful.

Thanks for a great resource for the music engraving community!


Matthew Maslanka said...

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your thoughts. I'm actually in the process of working with Bob Zawalich and Jeremy Hughes on just such a plugin. It's pretty close to done, but I imagine your feedback would be very helpful. Let me know if you'd be interested in checking it out and I'll run it past the guys.



Robert Puff said...

Very cool. Would love to see what you guys are working on, although I'd imagine that with you and Jeremy and Bob already putting your combined energies into it, the Sibelius community will wind up with something extremely useful.

In thinking more about what Finale would need to make their feature work properly: Instead of a single "additional horizontal offset" for all cases, there probably should be several horizontal offset controls. The offsets could address stem direction and also the unique widths specific note shapes / durations.

I would guess that the unique offsets required for whole notes and breves would apply to a Sibelius plugin as well.

I'd be willing to bet that this type of thing could be done as a plugin in Finale, too, if someone had the chops to tackle it.

Anyway, very interesting post, and it's great to learn that there is a Sibelius plugin in the works to help properly automate dynamics placement!