MuseScore first engraving impressions: Part 3
Today's engraving challenge is a page from near the end of Strauss' opera Daphne, published in 1938:
MuseScore maybe isn't used predominantly for this kind of big orchestral music, but there's no reason why it can't do it. This is a different challenge from the previous two pages I've done. There are lots of staves, and the page is rather dense, though the music on each stave isn't very complex. One thing MuseScore does lack is sophisticated handling of instrument labels, so I've approximated those here. Here's my rough attempt:
My thoughts this time are a bit more general than last time.
Firstly, I used, again, Bravura and New Century Schoolbook. I think this is the single best thing that can be done already to make scores looks better. Emmentaler is not hideous - and actually comes across better at small stave sizes like here, I think - but there are some pretty questionable things in it (like the weird natural sign), and I think it lacks a bit of weight. FreeSerif is also too light, and the letterspacing is dodgy. (I use New Century Schoolbook as I'm used to it from Boosey & Hawkes, but it's actually an excellent font to use with music notation. Other decent fonts are available!)
There are other style defaults that could be changed which would give better looking scores with next to no effort. (I'm aware that style is all a matter of opinion; but by 'better' I mean not just what I like, but also what is much more common in printed music.) For example, I think the vertical offsets of dynamics are too big - excessive space around things is basically a hallmark of poor-quality engraving - and some text style choices are a little odd, e.g. bar numbers not being italic. I have not done a comprehensive survey of all the options yet, though.
Here are some things I noticed this time: some big, some small. In no particular order:
I find the distance between accidentals slightly too small. Not the end of the world, but I also couldn't find any way to modify this. The problem is worse with Emmentaler which has a chunkier sharp glyph.
There are different opinions over what to do with notes which have an accidental and are tied over to a new system. I'm a firm believer in the policy of the accidental appearing on the note at the start of the new system (even though it's tied), and definitely not bracketed (which is meaningless graphical noise and causes difficulties with tie placement and spacing). This can be applied manually, as I've done here, but it might be nice if MuseScore implemented this behaviour by default.
One possible argument against this is that, where there is only a tie and not a slur (i.e. not like here) it might be ambiguous whether the pitch changes on the downbeat or not, i.e. if the tie is interpreted as a slur. I feel the benefits outweigh that risk here, but regardless of that, where it is a slur to a new pitch on the downbeat of a new system, the slur should not be flat, to be unambiguous:
Trills and grace notes
I don't see any way to add accidentals to trills, nor auxiliary notes; the workaround I've seen described is gruesome. I'd consider this a fairly important feature to add for any serious work. (The method used in the original score of the Strauss, with the accidentals in the stave at the relevant position, is pretty unusual! I've only seen it in this and a few of the other Strauss operas. Normally one expects an accidental above/after the tr symbol, or a bracketed notehead.)
Not being able to attach items to grace notes seems an oversight; in particular, I wanted to make sure the ends of trill wiggles could attach so that it would end in the right place. I couldn't see an option to add/remove a slash from a grace note after it was input; and slurs need to be able to automatically clear grace notes:
When converting a pair of quavers to a tremolo, the stem direction of the pair that the original beam determined was seemingly forgotten, and in one case this caused the notes to have different stem directions, resulting in this mess:
Manually fixable, but it shouldn't need to be. Tremolos should determine the stem direction of notes they are attached to in the same way as normal beams.
In my opinion the thickness and spacing of two-note tremolo beams should match that of normal beams; but that's part of a larger discussion on beam style.
It's very nice being able to justify text items left/centre/right. For text items which are attached to a note (or indeed most other types of item on a stave) I'd argue that centering should really centre it on the middle of the item, not on the x-origin. This is basically the same as how lyrics work - and furthermore, optically it looks best if punctuation at the end is ignored in the calculation, just as already (happily) happens with lyrics in MuseScore. Maybe there could be options for both 'centre on origin' and 'centre on notehead'. Here's a normally-centred 'pizz.' with a lyric 'pizz.' underneath for comparison:
Gradual dynamics (cresc. and dim. followed by a dotted line here, though it also applies to hairpins) which have an end dynamic on a downbeat should stop before the barline:
An exception could be made for where there is a large distance before the furst note in the bar (if there is a group of grace notes, or a key signature change or similar).
The dash space needs to have a higher upper limit - I have it at 20 here but would like it even larger. It is also problematic that this cannot be set as a style for all such lines - I had to change it for all cresc. lines on this page, which is fine, but unmanageable for a large project. However, a better solution might be to take a cue from lyrics again and have the dashes justified between the start and endpoints. An ideal distance between dashes could be set as well as an acceptable tolerance either side. Since the code for this already exists (at least in part) somewhere, this shoudn't be too difficult.
An important point that's relevant to dynamics here, but more generally to items of all sorts: it is inhibiting for serious engraving to not be able to attach items to any rhythmic position, even when there are no notes or rests there. This is difficult even in SCORE, but there is at least the advantage there that major reformatting/respacing is less likely to happen and therefore items are less likely to end up moving around. In my setting of the Strauss I left out the crescendi in e.g. the bassoons for this reason. Having this same functionality would also be useful for correct positioning of tuplet brackets where the last unit is not physically present (for instance a quaver-crotchet triplet)., and for many other things. Dynamics are maybe the most common.
This music highlights some of the deficiencies in the current spacing algorithm. Space required for items on one stave should not affect items on another unless necessary, but we can see (for example) that the septuplet in the second bar in Flute III is distorted by notes on the second quaver of the bar (in Cl. I etc) and on the fourth semiquaver (in Fl. 1 etc). Here's an example of the spacing from SCORE of a skeleton version of these bars (notes only, from 5 wind instruments and viola):
Many of the points discussed in previous days still apply here - slur and tie andpoints is a big one, for instance; I'm also realising that many of the engraving requests I have now are effectively larger feature requests, or require extra functionality underpinning them. This particular exercise did highlight some new issues, but mostly reinforced the impressions previously gained. My rough prioritisation of issues from yesterday remains the same, though different types of score will suffer from certain issues than others. Thus it is worth thinking about what scores already exist on musescore.com, as well the kinds of scores we might hope people will be making in the future.
Comments welcome, as always!