Correct notation vs 'Readability'

• Jul 14, 2022 - 15:54

I have a piece for solo piano where for most of the piece the right hand plays a melody using the little finger and the one or two next to it, while a rhythmic accompaniment is added using the thumb and second finger. The left hand is playing a standard Alberti bass. It was written mainly as a bit of an exercise but turned out to be rather fun to play! Although it is in common (4/4) time the notes are mostly semiquavers and the melody is not always on the downbeat but occurs on the offbeat instead.

The attachment shows two bars of notation as an example. The first bar is as I had written it, which to me clearly shows the melody as best as I could manage. Since I was unsure whether this was notationally correct I contacted an old friend who is much more knowledgable than I am, who pointed me at a website (…) where I found an explanation showed that I 'ought' to have written it as in the second bar of the example since it provides a better reference for a conductor as to where the downbeats occur. When I showed my example this to another friend who is a good sight reader, she said she preferred my original version.

So, what do you think about this? I can of course update all of the bars to be correct notation but if I do this it will (at least to me) look more 'cluttered' and because of this more difficult to read. It's a piano piece and will never have a conductor within a thousand miles of it, and actually it's really easy to tape your foot to on the downbeat anyway. I'm in a quandry - and I want to upload it but not if it's 'wrong'. Help!

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The whole point of the conventional rules is to make things more readable. So there should almost never be a conflict between these two goals.

In your example, really neither of the notations is as clear as it could be. Better would be to notate the entire RH arpeggio in voice two, with voice one doubling the melody notes if you think that will help. That way you don't have those rests that just confuse things.

But if you take away the confusion of the second voice, there is absolutely no doubt that the way the voice 1 rhythm is written in the second measure is both more correct and more readable in general. Random individual musicians might say they they prefer the first, but most likely, put to the test, they'd actually play more accurately with the second, just like the rest of the population would. But again, with the second voice in there, that does change things a bit, so if that were notated better, it might clarify things.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Marc - thanks for this - clearly it's obvious I am a novice when it comes to accurate notation having only had a few theory lessons when I was 8 (62 years ago)! The original input was a recorded midi file - played live with post-recording correction made for alignment and to fix my wrong notes (original recording was in 1990). Attached is one of the bars as it was originally displayed immediately after initial loading into Musescore - see Example 1. Interestingly, For the right hand, Musescore ascribed voice 1 to the first E and every other note in voice 2 - I have tried making that first note voice 1 and it won't do it. If I change it to a semiquaver it will - see the attached example 2. Note also that both show rests (as I thought) appropriately. This initial rendering which I thought did not truly reflect what I played, or indicate there was a melody to be brought out, was what set me off on the track to try to make it clear from the notation itself that there was actually a melody to play.

If all notes are in one voice then they all have to be semiquavers (don't they?) and that was not how I played it. The melody notes are actually held as the thumb and second finger play the lower rhythmical part. Do you think you could illustrate what you mean with an example so that I can better understand it as I can't glean that from your description (while understanding that it may be perfectly obvious to those who know all this better than I). Otherwise, what method should I use in notation terms to indicate the notes that make up the melody. I did think of adding accents but that just made the score look cluttered.

Many thanks for taking the time. I am just trying to learn how to do this right!

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In reply to by creativetp

See Jm6stringer's example - that's what I mean. Voice 2 shows the full arpeggiation, voice 1 shows how the melody is emphasized. Under normal circumstances, the notation of the rhythm in voice 1 should be correct to the tied version, but I think a reasonable case can be made that's not advantageous here because the of the steady stream of sixteenth in voice 2 that clarify the rhythm. Without that, you definitely would need to fix the voice 1 rhythms to use the ties.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Ah - I didn't know your could do this - and now it makes perfect sense, as does everthing you said earlier. I'll use the manual reference to work out how to do this and update the score to reflect this new-found knowledge. Thanks so much to all who contributed and provided another string to my notational bow! All the best - John.

In reply to by Jm6stringer

This is exactly what I have been trying to achieve and I had no idea that you could do this, even less that it was a possibility having never seen anything like it in printed sheet music (while accepting there must be thousands of examples of exactly this). On the page it looks exactly like what I was playing (or at least trying to - the midi did need a little editing after recording!) all those years ago, it brings out that there is a melody there and that those notes are held and emphasised while the 'lower' notes are not. Also, it shows the original Alberti bass as played, unlike the other example below which doesn't really reflect the way it was played. Thanks very much for this, it is really appreciated - also for providing the attachment which will prove valuable when I come to update what I have already done! It will be interesting to hear how it souds when I'm done. All the best - John.

In reply to by Jm6stringer

Hello - as you will have seen from other postings, this was the example I needed to push me in the right direction and I have made the changes along these lines, however (always one of those!), there are three small segments where I am not certain that I have done as much as I can to 'bring out the melody' yet still stay within the bounds of correct notation (or at least what would generally be regarded as such... I still feel there is some room for manoeuvre here). I've attached a sample score showing the three original bar sets followed by the bars with the changes made along the lines of your example as far as I could go.

I have been concious throughout this process of Marc Sabatella's comment 'That way you don't have those rests that just confuse things.' and the changes do make many rests disappear. Are there not circumstances under which this is not possible though - such as when the 'melody' note does not fall on the first beat of the bar which surely must require a rest while the accompaniment (which does start on beat 1) goes on 'underneath'. If you get a moment I would be interested to know whether there is something more I can do to improve these segments. Thanks in advance for your time - John

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In reply to by creativetp

Indeed, rests are inherently bad - often they are absolutely musically necessary. But not in your original example. The rests just obscure the even flow of the arpeggio.

In your example that you just posted here, the rest that is absolutely necessary is the voice 1 rest at the start of bar 14, for exactly the reason you state: it's needed to show the melody doesn't start on beat 1.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Hello Marc - yes, I was struggling with those bars but have finally finished the score as best I can. Took a while! I have (wherever I could anyway) incorporated your advice and helped by the example from jm6stringer ended up with the attached score. Is there any more I could have done? I think this is a big improvement on the original and is notationally as correct as I can make it now. Thanks for all - John

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In reply to by bobjp

That was my thought too, but I think the various comments made by Marc and others make it apparent that as far as notation goes this is not a good solution. I've just about finished working on this piece (thank goodness; it's taken some considerable time since I am a beginner as far as both notation and Musescore are concerned) and will post it when it's complete so that others more knowledgeable than I am can comment one way or the other.

In reply to by creativetp

I wouldn't go that far. Sometimes accent marks are the simplest way of conveying this. They are clear, and take less space than multiple voices, so I'm not sure why you'd consider them cluttered. It's more a subjective question of whether that conveys the degree of "lyricism" you wish, or whether it might be meant to sound more "percussive". You could also try using tenuto markings. I definitely recommend looking at Romantic-era sheet music - Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Debussy, etc - to get a better sense of how others have handled this. That then tells you what pianists are used to seeing.

For instance, here's a Schumman piece that came to mind (and not just because of the similar title!):

Look in particular at the melody starting at the end of the third system where it modulates to Db major for an example of the multiple voice approach, but then also on the second page for plain arpeggios with articulations telling the story.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

As I said earlier, I did try this approach as it was by far the easiest and quickest, but in my specific case where the entire piece would have had between 3 and 6 accented notes in pretty much every bar, it just looked inelegant. The Db section in the Schumann piece is notated in the way I chose (and even then uses the odd accented note in the melody line) and I'm very content with the way mine has turned out. As long as it is notationally correct, I'm happy.

In reply to by creativetp

It seems to me that the purpose of notation is to convey to the player what to play and, as much as is practical, how to play it. Period. If a score looks "elegant" but doesn't tell the musician what they need to know, then that score is useless. Sure, cluttered or hard to read, can be a problem. Sometimes it's a tradeoff. But always in favor of telling the musician what he needs to know. Correct notation is a goal, but also a matter of opinion, sometimes. A score is meant to be pleasing to listen to someone perform it. Not look at.

In reply to by creativetp

Solutions I'm considering:

As jm6stringer has already shown, you can use a notation where two voices are combined (It is common in guitar works).

Or you can show the melody by adding an additional (small) staff at the top. (You can write something like "To show the melody line" at the beginning of this staff.) And you can mute this staff in Mixer so that the sounds don't overlap.

In order not to complicate an easy task, the second (unconventional) solution is the simplest.

The first solution looks nice but is difficult to implement. You have to remove the play ticks for the notes in the 1st voice and you will also toggle the visibility of the overlapping notes in the 2nd voice.
Still, if you're on the last step (you won't be editing the melody anymore; you're just going to score it) it's worth the effort.

In reply to by Ziya Mete Demircan

Hi Ziya, I have implemented the first solution as, complicated though it may seem, once you have figured it out it's just a matter of repeating the same principle throughout. Working on my three final examples posted yesterday you will find that using this method throws up some interesting effects:

Updated Bar2.png

Having used method one the melody line is clear, but using two voices correctly shows rests where the 'timing gaps' appear. I could make the rest before the starting melody note invisible which would make it tidier but this would not be notationally correct.

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In reply to by creativetp

Some rhythms are clear at first sight as they are used more frequently (for example, the Tresillo rhythm you use in the melody: 3+3+2). And even if it is not considered correct in notation, its use is generally not objected to.
But no one is familiar with the rhythm you show above. We are musicians, not decryption machines.
In the example you show, a 7/8 melodic structure in 8/8 using timeshift. This creates a polyrhythm effect. And unfortunately in this case the first option, which I call "nice", gets you in trouble.

I think it's better to forgo the two separate voice options and use straight 16th times. And perhaps annotating the melody with an additional staff, as in the second option, is not as bad an idea as it seems.

The tresillo rhythm (dotted eighth - dotted eighth - eighth, or the same pattern of another duration) is often treated as an exception to rhythmic notation principles because it's so common. In your example especially, I prefer the first way because it makes it obvious where the note attacks fall in relation to each other.

My first suggestion is to expand the note length values by 2x.
My second suggestion is to emphasize the melody by doubling the octave, since melody and arpeggio sounds are close to each other.
Thus, I think it will improve both in terms of readability and hearing.

In the screenshot below, I show the expanded version of the original riff in the first two measures, and the emphasized version of the riff doubled from the octave in the following measures: (score is also attached.)

And yes, there will be little difficulty playing due to the octaves, but if you are familiar with Latin rhythms it will be very easy to get used to. //This riff looks like a ballroom-rumba accompaniment.

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In reply to by Ziya Mete Demircan

This is certainly a bit of a left-field suggestion, and I would never have thought of doing anything like this. In the sequencer products I have used over the years (original recording in Voyetra Sequencer Plus, then Cakewalk, Sonar, and now Reaper mainly but a little Cakewalk) the notation view always displayed in semiquavers which was why I chose that route - I did use a metronome when I did the original recording and it was played pretty quickly (I was more nimble on the keys back then) so I believed that I should use the same when moving across to Musescore to produce the notation. So while this is and interesting view I have to say that (a) I didn't play it like that and (b) I think the earlier example is the right representation of what I actually played. Thanks for adding these interesting thoughts though, very useful as it clearly demonstrates what I suspected all through this particular 'journey' - there are rules but personal choice can play a part as long as the notation does follow the rules and the music can be accurately interpreted by a player coming to it having never heard it before. All the best - John

In reply to by creativetp

Sequencers will display notes based on the metronome you had running when you recorded. If your metronome was running at 80 and you played that passage, it would notate as sixteenth. But if you had the metronoe running at 160 and played the exact same thing, it would notate as eighths. So it's not that sequences magically decide to always notate as sixteenths. It's totally dependent on the metronome tempo you choose. Sounds like you are in the habit of choosing relatively slow metronome tempos. That doesn't make that notation more correct or appropriate than the alternative.

To be though - there is no difference whatsoever between eighth notes at 160 and sixteenth at 80. They sound exactly the same. So if you played sixteenths at 80, you also played eighths at 160 - they are mathematically equivalent. But, depending on the context, the eighths at 160 might indeed be easier to read. We'd need to know much more about the piece to say for sure.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Hello Marc - yes absolutely, I do understand that. I chose a tempo of 98 when it was originally recorded and left it as that when I imported it into Musescore. I have found I can play the original recording (as an MP3) synchronised with the Musescore version and they pretty much match up exactly (the issue being a slight timing drift which may well be due to the ancient hardware and software I used back in the original 1990 recording). For me the melody patterns seem to make more sense as they are - there'd be a lot more bar lines if it were at the higher tempo written in quavers etc. too. Personal choice again?

I have attached the Musescore file as it currently is so you can see what I have thus far - not made the updates covered in this thread yet... but I will soonest. All the best - John

In reply to by creativetp

Looking at your arrangement, it seems to be a different style. But when I follow the melody, I hear it like MP3 I attached in my mind :) //For demonstration purposes, I quickly created it with an accompaniment software.
These can also be considered as two different styles and versions. But the melodic structure pushes me to think in this direction.
I didn't rewrite the Leadsheet with Musescore as I created it quickly. You already know the main idea.

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In reply to by Ziya Mete Demircan

Good Morning Ziya (hope that's correct)! What a wondrous thing music is. Very interesting to hear what you have made of this ancient melody - slower, missing so many notes and with a completely different rhythm and feel - 'latinesque'? I shall keep your contribution to hand to remind me that whatever is written can be re-interpreted with a fresh pair of ears and eyes, Also of course this perfectly demonstrates the importance of getting the notation correct. Wonderful stuff. Just to round off this discussion I have attached an MP3 of the original recording - done using the 12-string voice on the original Korg M1R box - where you will see what a difference there is between the two. All the best - John

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Well this initial question really threw up some interesting comments but I found the first couple the most useful as they gave me a solution which has led to a very neat and tidy score which is correct, easily readable, very few rests and no additional line to show the melody as it is self-evident in the treble clef. Futhermore, it plays exactly as it should sound (and as it sounded in the original) - a pretty good test.

When looking into this technique, as someone remarked below, it is more common than you might think. I found a perfect example in Debussy's Clair De Lune. See below:


This was one of about six different ways I found of representing that one bar - I attached a few more below (__2, _3 and _4).

Since my starting point was a question about whether there was a 'correct' way of doing this I seem to have inadvertently demonstrated that there is no definitive 'correct' way and by inference no 'wrong' way either (provided it's accurate as far as the notes, timing, articulations and so on are correct of course).

It's been an interesting journey so thanks to all those that made a positive contribution to enhancing my notation knowledge. The completed score is also attached for anyone who is interested. John.

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In reply to by creativetp

Hey, I know you have found a solution you like. Great. Just for the fun of it I reproduced a bit of your score and placed accents over the melody notes. Playback in MuseScore is the same as your 2 voice solution. My suggestion would be to ask some piano players what they would rather see. It is possible that you have over marked the pedal usage. Piano players know how to use the pedals. Well except MuseScore needs them. Which is a week point of the .com.

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