MuseScore first engraving impressions: Part 2
[What's all this about? see @Tantacrul's post from earlier today - also Part 1 (and the bigger overall post that also explains what this is about) will appear at some point, it's in moderation hell]
Continuing the exploration of MuseScore's features, and the current state of its default engraving quality, today I set a page of dense late-Romantic piano music, which highlights different issues from orchestral music (which generally is made of single lines, even if there are a lot of them). I chose a page from the first movement cadenza of Nikolai Medtner's Piano Concerto No 2, which I've been learning recently. Here's the original page, engraved by F. M. Geidel, Leipzig and published by Zimmermann in 1928:
I wasn't trying to match an existing style exactly this time, though I wanted to broadly replicate the details of where the symbols were placed and so on. I changed the music font to Bravura and text to New Century Schoolbook, but otherwise left most of the styles at their defaults.
I noticed that when creating a score, the first system is not indented. This suited me fine here as I was setting a single page from the middle of a piece, but in general I the first system of any piece/movement should be intended even when there are no instrument labels. A small thing, but it would make the default output look more professional.
This is a challenging page from an engraving point of view, in all sorts of ways. Here is my attempt:
And here are some engraving issues I encountered.
This is a big one, and it's bound up with the issue of beam placement which is definitely a major area that needs a lot of attention. If we consider the lower voice here, it's clear that the currently coded rules for stem lengths are creating an erratic result:
Yes, stems should be shortened when they extend outside the stave, but this shortening needs to be limited; it also looks like the presence of flags prevents this shortening from happening.
A beaming issue that's not apparent in the final page, but I noticed during input: where a beam goes over a rest, in general the rest should be vertically displaced rather than the beam. For example:
I think MuseScore's accidental placement is generally pretty good (I've seen much worse), and this page has some nasty challenges in this regard, but there is room for improvement. While I understand the desire to have accidentals an octave apart aligned, this rule can be relaxed where it will prevent large unnecessary spaces between the accidentals and the notes, as in these two examples:
Something I noticed during input is that where there's an accidental on a shared notehead (i.e. a unison between two different voices) the accidental is repeated:
I can fix this by hiding one of the accidentals after it's input, but this seems like a poor implementation to me: if the noteheads overlap then the accidentals should collapse too. This is actually an error, since it looks like a double flat.
Another thing I noticed, which is more of an implementation issue than an engraving one per se, is that accidentals are considered to persist on their pitch (and in the same octave) over clef changes. I noticed this here:
where the A after the treble clef was played back as an A natural. I can see the argument for this, but from a performer's point of view this is horribly ambiguous, and the second A needs an accidental regardless of what the policy is. In some ways this is similar to the issue that arises when an ottava mark begins or ends in the middle of the bar: the question is then, do accidentals apply to the octave where that pitch sounds or the one where it's written (regardless of whether it's within an 8va or not). There's a nasty instance of this in the cadenza to the Rachmaninov 3rd Concerto:
Is the highlighted note A flat or A natural? (the left hand harmony underneath is Bb7, but both options sound totally plausible. For the curious, from looking elsewhere it in the piece it seems that the accidentals apply to the sounding octave, which would make this note A flat. I'm not personally convinced, but in any case it's ambiguous and a courtesy accidental (of whatever type) should be provided.)
It would be good to have an option to place the numeral at the rhythmic centre of a tuplet rather than the graphical centre of the bracket or beam, for example:
In that particular instance the question would be moot if the overall spacing were otherwise improved, but that's a separate (and very big) subject.
For some reason setting the anchor to 'above stave' gives a different result (larger offset) than 'above chord'. Is this by design?
It seems to be impossible (without extensive faking) to have a clef change within a group of grace notes, or indeed between grace notes and the main note. Also, at least as far as I can tell at first, cross-stave grace notes don't put the beam between the staves, even though this is usually going to be more desirable. Furthermore, it doesn't seem to be possible to have items snap to grace notes, but only to main notes (like the pedal marking here for instance; or, the end of the trill in the final bar of this piece). This can be manually adjusted of course, but there's a risk of those changes being undone/things moving apart.
Slurs and ties
I mentioned endpoint positioning last time, but a few more details here. One is that we need to ensure space between a note which has a slur ending on it and another beginning:
and care is needed for ties between inner notes of chords (especially difficult where accidentals are involved, and/or augmentation dots):
Ties from small notes (whether grace notes or cue notes or other small ornamental notes) should, at least optionally, be thinned:
There's also a problem with the right-hand endpoints here. This might seem like an unusual edge case but it comes up surprisingly often in piano music.
It's very nice that pedal lines automatically vertically align over the system. I wonder if this functionality could be leveraged to dynamics and tempo markings, among other things.
I was pleasantly surprised by how painless it was to create the small-note flourish on the fourth system. However, it would be great if the small notes that coincide with full-sized notes in the other voice were properly aligned:
It's already possible to start thinking about how to prioritise some of the engraving issues to tackle. Some things are low-hanging fruit, not necessarily in the sense that they will be easy, but in that they will make a big difference.
Thinking very broadly, it seems to make sense to think first about matters of layout and page formatting first - the things that are obvious when you see a page at first glance, or even at a distance - and then moving inwards from there to ever finer details. In other words, we want to to be difficult for anyone to dismiss a page of MuseScore output as amateurish or unprofessional at first glance. So firstly:
- Brackets and braces and system barlines
- More sophisticated instrument labelling
- Vertical justification of staves
- Indentation of initial systems
- System text
Then moving on to issues which affect the overall appearance of the music on the staves in a significant way:
- Beam placement/slanting; stem lengths
- Endpoint placement of slurs and ties
- A new/improved horizontal spacing algorithm
- Our very own new music font
And then everything else after that - though those two lists are certainly not exhaustive. An assessment of some of the most popular scores on musescore.com might be a good way of refining/solidifying the order of these priorities.
I plan to do one more page, from a different type of score, to complete this first 'pass'; I think the three together will give a fairly rounded view of the strengths and weaknesses. Like yesterday, I feel there's a lot to be impressed by, as well as a lot of potential improvement.