[Notation rules] Voltas vertical order

• Aug 7, 2016 - 10:05

Hopefully you notation lovers can help me with this notation problem.

Which one is right?


For a piano score.
Notes are random.

I especially want to know if there's something that you really must not do. Then, we can certainly discuss on what is better/worst.

Put into words: should voltas stay on top of everything or on direct contact with the measure lines, or doesn't matter, or there's a preferred order with 8vas, etc.?


C. 8va: 0,5 sp above any symbol, or so it seems to me.
If the measures are many the dotted line is omitted, after the number insert the word 'Sempre' or 'loco'.

I just had the idea of checking how LilyPond does it.

It does like this:


Which is exactly like I thought it should be.

Still open to other opinions though.

E) None of the above. Actually, I'd vote for A but prefer a slight space between the two voltas - the end of the first should stop just at the thin line of the repeat barline or at the left side of the thick line and the beginning of the second should be at the right-most edge of the thick part of the barline. B isn't wrong, just not necessary in your example. In some situations B is better.

Attachment Size
Volta Ottava.mscx 73.5 KB

The goal is to make the performers's lives as easy as possible; so when you're editing a score, think like a performer and try to figure out which way will convey the needed information with the least possibility of confusion.

From a purely graphic standpoint, 'C' looks best because the shorter elements are contained under the longer one. And in this particular case it's also the clearest way to show the composer's intent to the performer, since the ottava starts first* and music-reading is a sequential exercise. You don't want to make the performer's eyes jump up and down or back and forth. Upper left to lower right is standard reading order in this hemisphere and most of the rest of the world.

* If the first volta started before the ottava, I would invert the stacking order. It is not what the element is so much as when it occurs that is determinant.

In reply to by Recorder485

I disagree.
Your initial statement is obviously correct (thinking like the performer, etc.), but this upper-left-to-lower-right doesn't make sense to me. An 8va line appearing at a certain point is by itself something appearing in the upper-right.

My current idea is towards A, as it's also getting most of the votes (considering LilyPond as one vote). IMHO you should place the elements basing on their importance. For example, a tempo marking is always above everything because one of the first things you want to know about is how quickly you have to play. Here, the ottava line is related to the notes in the first staff (right hand), while the voltas are something that relates to the whole measure, containing the entire grand staff. And the tempo marking (e.g. the "Allegretto" in my second image) is even "more important" than the other elements, because "it's the first thing you want to know" and therefore "to read".

So, in order of importance, I would say it's:
* tempo markings ←what's the tempo of the piece?
* voltas ←repetitions ←where should I read?
* ottava lines ←where in the keyboard the notes have to be played?
* notes←ok, let's read the actual notes

In reply to by 255

@255--Sorry I wasn't clearer in my earlier post; it appears you misunderstood what I was trying to say so let me try again in a bit more detail.

First of all: 'Upper-left to lower-right' refers to the learned reading pattern for people who did not grow up with an RTL language (such as Hebrew) or a vertical one (such as many traditional Asian languages). That means that people are so used to sequencing elements in the particular way they were taught from early childhood that any collection of visual signs which is ordered differently requires an extra mental effort on their part to understand. Think about reading 'mirror writing' or something upside down, such as your spouse's newspaper at the breakfast table. Yes, you can train yourself to do it--one can even learn to write backwards or upside down--but it's not the learned skill that has become 'natural' to your brain, so it slows you down and limits your ability to comprehend complex things without careful study.

Quick now--no slowing down: What does this say?

(And please don't tell me you didn't have to work at that a bit; I knew what it said and even I had to look slowly to see it after I created that graphic.)

As it applies to performing, music notation is very much a sequentially-ordered language; it is not a prioritised ranking of elements (and if you tried to get every musician to agree on any one ranking, you could easily spend the rest of your life arguing!). Sure, if you are studying a score, you look it over calmly and flip back and forth through it making pencilled notes of the various elements and difficulties and how they apply to the overall piece...but when you are sitting in on a recording session or sight-reading a new piece in a conservatory classroom, you don't have that luxury. When that baton drops, the music starts flowing past you, inexorably, at speed, and in the order it's printed. It's your job to stay with it, and you will curse the editor who put something you need to know where your eyes have to go looking for it. What you want to see is each element as it needs to be played: You see an ottava; your mind registers that and files it, then it moves on to the next thing. If that next thing isn't below or to the right of the start of that ottava line, your eyes will have to jump somewhere they don't expect to go. And this all has to happen in fractions of a second.

That is what I meant by 'think like a performer.' Imaging yourself playing the parts and scores you are creating, not just studying them in the static environment of your music library.

In reply to by Recorder485


No, I didn't misunderstood. I had perfectly understood your point, and I strongly disagree.
Your example is out of place, because reading something "at the top" is not like reading backwards. You just have a quick look glancing at the top of an element while still reading towards the same direction (towards right). Following your idea, one could not ever write a note with a higher pitch than the previous one. Or, a "8va" line extending for some measures should abruptly stop/break just because a new tempo marking appeared. That would be nonsense.
Also, pianists go up and down with their eyes all the time to read both staves "at the same time".

About the "order of importance", it may be better explained in the following way. The "8va" is strictly connected with the notes it has below. You would never place an articulation (staccato, tenuto, etc.) up above a volta or up above a slur: you want the articulation symbol very near to the note that it's linked to, generally the note head.
So it's not a subjective ranking given by musicians (everyone with his/her own opinion), but it's a fact: a "staccato" dot is more important to a given note than a tempo marking is, because a tempo marking is something general that absorb more notes, more elements, while the "staccato" symbol has a unique relation with that particular note.

This is why "c)", the option that you chose, is wrong: the voltas are getting in the way between the "8va" line and the notes it refers to. It's like a slur that gets in the way between a "staccato" marking and the note it refers to (and I'm 100% sure this is wrong practice).

In reply to by Shoichi

Thank you for your contribution.
(there's a typo in your second to last line, you swapped voltas and 8va)

Yes, this solution is probably even better than the "d)" one, afterall there's no reason to break the line when you encounter the first repeat.

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