Addressing engraving criticisms from Orchestration Challenge 2020

• Jul 6, 2020 - 13:25

[Corrected the post and upload to correct mistakes @SteveBlower observed]

As per @Marc Sabatella's suggestion here (, I'm starting a new thread around improving the look of my orchestral score for Orchestration Challenge 2020, using what exists in MuseScore 3.4.1.

I made the changes below to address concerns Thomas Goss raised (linked in the other thread). I used Justin Tokke's score (linked in other thread) to eyeball some of the spacing values. To match Justin's page layout, in my revision, I have broken the pages at the same place as Justin--that's just a choice and was not raised as an engraving concern.

My engraving changes:
1. Connected barlines in sections
2. Bracketed staves in sections
3. Music symbol font: Bravura
4. Music text font: Bravura text [I'm not sure where this gets used, actually]
5. Font for all but one text style: Century Schoolbook. I left Roman Numeral Analysis as is.
6. Instrument Name: Offset X: 1.00 sp.
7. Shared staves named like Flute 1, 2 instead of 2 Flutes, replicating Justin's layout.
8. Separate instruments for Horn 1, 2; Horn 3, 4 replicating Justin's layout.
9. Dynamics Y offset: 2.50sp
10. Hairpin Y offsets 2.50 and -2.50
11. Expression Text offset 2.50. [Bug? They still come in at 3.50]
12. Staff text Y Offset: -1.00sp
13. Slurs/Ties, Line thickness middle: .25sp
14. Defined User Style "Tempo 2" with same font and offsets as Tempo
15. Added duplicate tempo indications above the string section, using my Tempo 2 style. [This feels like a hack.]
16. For the peculiarities of this layout, I increased the point size of these styles: Title, Composer, Footer

The layout is peculiar in that it is sized to be rendered in a 1920x1080 video. Having no px option for the page size, I set it to 1920x1080 mm. This seems to be what everybody does in these challenges, whatever tool they use.

I've attached my revised score. It looks better to my eyes than the original, which you see in the video I linked to the other thread. I have attempted to make these changes primarily with styles and minimum local overrides.

I did do local overrides on expression text. I moved the Y offset of all expression text manually to 2.50sp since the setting in Format Styles had no effect. I also adjusted the X offset for expression text attached to the same note as dynamics. Rather than having them stack vertically to avoid collision, I pushed the expression to the right. I'm not sure if that's a proper call but it looks better to me.

I have reached the limit of my own taste and education on these matters. What else needs to be done with engraving standards to convey a professional look to this score?


A really useful exercise, for you and for me!

I'm opening this in the 3.5 beta, which hopefully doesn't cause any significant differences in terms of how things are displayed. I think the score looks really great now. Addressing a couple of points:

2: The bracketing is great except here the thin [ bracket on the horns was inside the thick brass bracket, rather than outside (easily fixed with the Column setting in the inspector). Also you could add the thin [ brackets to the individual families in the woodwind (Piccolo+Flutes, Oboes+E.H. etc) as Justin did. (Also to the Trombones.) Some people prefer to only join instruments which are literally the same type though, in which case your score is fine as it is.
14/15: Definitely an unpleasant hack - it should absolutely happen automatically. The rehearsal numbers should be duplicated above the strings too. This is high priority to fix.

Some of the remaining infelicities should not really be your responsibility to fix: there are some unpleasantnesses with spacing and beam placement at times. It seems particularly troublesome with grace notes. These things are being worked on!

I offer a non-exhaustive list of recommendations for notation improvements generally (I could find more if I really started nit-picking but these are the main things):

a) it's probably not necessary to display the bar numbers at the start of each system as well as the rehearsal marks (which in this case are bar numbers)
b) half-note rests shouldn't be used in 3/4 (see the harp/cello at the beginning, for example, but generally)
c) clef changes should be smaller, and where they apply from the start of the bar should appear before the barline
d) your approach to expression text - vertically aligned with and to the right of dynamics - is definitely the right call. I'd like that to be automatic actually. I spot a few non-italic 'fluide's, though! Also the cresc. - - and dim. - - text is still in FreeSerif. This can be changed in the Inspector and then applied as a style for all such lines.
e) where you have a fermata (b31) it should appear on all staves. I'd like that to happen automatically too.
f) text that crosses a barline (e.g. the en dehors, mais doux in the horn at the end) should blank out the bits of the barlines it crosses. I don't know if this is possible in MuseScore currently.

In reply to by oktophonie

When I open this in 3.4.2 or 3.5.0 beta the contrabass gets cut off on page 2. I also noted that rather than the page size being 1920x780 mm, it seems to be 1920 x 1080 mm. Am I looking at the correct score?

Assuming that I am looking at the correct score, setting the scaling to 4.0 rather than 4.2 puts the cb fully back on the page. However, it leaves a gap at the foot of page 1. That can be fixed by adding spacers to increase the distance between ww and brass and between harp and strings and has the advantage of making those spaces more consistent with page 2.

In reply to by SteveBlower

Right score, wrong numbers in my original post. And you're right about the CB on the second page! At the very last minute I tried to steal a bit more of page 1 in the scaling and didn't notice that it ruined page 2. I've corrected my original post and upload, without going to the spacer solution you suggest. It's good to know as a workaround, thanks!

In reply to by splainer975

Actually, in general a better solution to provide extra space between instrument groups is probably to add "Extra distance above stave" from the stave properties dialogue for the top staves in the brass, harp and strings groups. This solution applies throughout the score whereas a spacer applies only to a single page. The "Extra space" method makes it easier to get consistent spacing throughout the score, whereas the spacer allows you to tweak an individual page or two where score elements "protrude" in specific spots. And sometimes a combination of the two is needed. Horses for courses.

In reply to by oktophonie


d) We don't have a way to force this to happen right now - automatic placement is pretty much exclusively about vertical adjustments. What we usually recommend for these this specific case is to simply edit the dynamic text itself, and we'd set the dynamic text style to italic specifically for this reason. Unfortunately, since dynamics are centered by default, you also need to change that to left, and possibly adjust manually. Anyhow, a solution where attaching an expression text to the same note would automatically slide it to the right would require some new stuff in our algorithms, but we could steal code from hairpins that do this already. And maybe eventually make it more general so other element types could potentially allow for this.

f) You can get this effect by defining a "frame" around the text, thickness 0, opaque white background. A more direct way would be nice indeed, shouldn't be hard.

In reply to by splainer975

When applying a clef change to a measure as a whole, it will by default appear before the barline. If you apply to a specific note they apply to that specific note. In either case, the clef is made small by default.

Normally if the change occurs at the start of a measure, then you would use the first form - change before barline. But the change after the barline is sometimes used as well - especially at the very start of a piece or after a repeat barline. It should still be small in these case, and is when you first apply it. But there has been a recurring bug where sometimes a clef change applied to the first note of a measure gets converted to a full size clef on save/reload. See for example #46036: Clef on first note of system becomes header clef after save and reload. We keep fixing some variation of this bug only to see it reappear in another form. Looks like there is yet another pending fix.

Thanks for starting this thread, I hope it will prove helpful to both you and to us!

Sounds like you've figured out a lot on your own. I'm hardly an engraving expert so I don't have much to say about style choices, but if there are things you'd like to make happen but aren't sure how, I'm your guy for sure!

I have a few random comments here, some for your benefit, some for the benefit of Simon and anyone else trying to sort through any of this.

3) Note that setting the music font also normally updates the text font and some other style settings automatically, as each font records information about things like preferred stem width etc.

4) The musical text font isn't used a whole lot, but it's used for dynamics, maybe things like the numerals in ottavas depending on some other setting.

5) For the record, RNA needs to stay Campania it's to work as expected - all the magic of formatting happens within it. Well, there are other fonts that people have created over the years, but the point is, MuseScore doesn't actually do the formatting, the font does.

7-8) To me, this remains the biggest issue with getting the desired look. While doing the brackets and barlines oneself never struck me personally as a big hardship, getting the instrument names to layout as desired for things like this requires much hackery. That is, if you wanted just "Horns" centered then "1 3" on the top staff and "2 4" on the bottom, good luck... (hmm, btw, I see you have them combined as 1 & 2 top and 3 & 4 bottom, but isn't 1 & 3 top and 2 & 4 more standard?)

9) This I think is one of the holdovers from the pre-MuseScore-3 days, before autoplace, where we kind of deliberately chose an offset too far from the staff to reduce the likelihood of things colliding with them. But, also, I think it may have been chosen to more or less center between the staves of a grand staff. Here is another case where per-staff defaults would be a godsend.

11) Expression text is kind of funny, it's actually Staff Text but with a special text style. It's one of the few places were this (another is RNA, which is actually a chord symbol but with a special text style). So some do things work a bit differently than expected, and there have been out and out bugs with this. I know I fixed some "recently" and can't remember if those fixes were in 3.4.2 or only in 3.5, but I do think things are basically OK now. Could you try the 3.5 Beta and let us know if it works more as you expect? When I load your score into 3.5 Beta, I see the default for expression text at 2.5 and if I add a new expression text, that's exactly where it comes in (measuring from the baseline to the bottom of the staff). I think that's what you are wanting?

15) Yes, it's a hack, but it works and is the standard workaround - except you probably didn't need step 14, simply using the existing Tempo Text should have worked? FWIW, allowing tempo text and other system elements to be repeated on other staves was I think one of my very earliest feature requests here, probably one of the few not yet implemented.

I don't know anything about the context of this, and if the person who gave the feedback would be at all interested in joining the conversation (and I'm not suggesting we ask, unless Simon or Martin thinks it advisable). But I do wonder to what extent these relatively small changes would have made the difference for him.

To my own eyes - it looks very good - and sounds great (!). One small thing I notice is your cresc / dim lines aren't aligned with the rest of the dynamics. They have their own style setting that I don't think is exposed in the Styles dialog, only via the "Set as style" button in the Inspector. Hmm, I guess the arpeggios feel kind of far from the notes; that's a default setting that maybe could be looked at, but I'm not saying with any authority here, just a gut feel.

Oh, and lots of ties colliding with dotted chords. This was something Simon pointed out as well, it's long been on my list of known issues that I'd like to see us solve but is a bit easier said than done or I'd have fixed it already. Meanwhile, unfortunately that's a bunch of manual edits.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Re: Step 14. I first tried adding staff text above the Violin, styled it as Tempo, and watched that text fly up above the tempo already the top of the system! At least that's what I thought I had done. I just tried to replicate that behavior, and MuseScore mocked me by doing the right thing. :-)

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