Fun with fonts

• Jan 8, 2021 - 03:10

Purely to slake my own curiosity, night before last I dashed off a quick piece--a one-page, 20-measure, oktophonic waltz, scored for viola and piano, and dedicated to two of our indefatigable development directors. Although brief, I tried to include as many musical glyphs as possible, but in a semantically cohesive context--a musical pangram, as it were (although the double-sharps in m. 14 is a bit of a stretch.) I then set it in Bravura, Emmentaler, and Gonville, to see what the difference would be; then, after downloading the RC of 3.6, I did a version in Leland/Edwin, as well as another in Emmentaler--using Edwin text--as I understand the accidentals will be slightly different.

I did the initial note entry and page layout in Emmentaler, using the default text font (Freeserif--which I often don't use in my own scores) and font sizes. I also left the positioning of most of the elements as is--about the only things I can remember tweaking were moving the trills and the harmonics circle in m. 7 closer to the noteheads, and adjusting the tuplet bar in m. 14.

I saved multiple copies of the file, and edited each to appear in a different font. I didn't do any addtional clean-up to the copies, although some--especially Gonville--could use it. Anyway, here they are--I know which I prefer, and why--what about you?: MuseWaltz_(B).png MuseWaltz_(E3.5).png MuseWaltz_(G).png MuseWaltz_(L).png MuseWaltz_(E3.6).png

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MuseWaltz (B).mscz 33.99 KB
MuseWaltz (E3.5).mscz 35.99 KB
MuseWaltz (E3.6).mscz 35.61 KB
MuseWaltz (G).mscz 33.72 KB
MuseWaltz (L).mscz 33.3 KB


I can hardly judge the differences... for this I am very curious to learn from people with more experience in engraving and fonts... what pros/cons they might see in each sample.
Starting from you, since you say "you know which one you prefer and why".
Thank you!

In reply to by pbalducci

I have no professional experience in engraving, and my opinions are just that --personal opinions.

I will, however, point out the most striking differences between the fonts are in the clefs--especially the treble clefs--and the rests--especially the quarter-rests. Also the size of the accidentals relative to the noteheads, which matters a great deal for legibility's sake: it's easy to tell that it's a quarter-note on the third line of the staff, but is it a B-sharp or a B-natural? There's also a huge difference between the trill symbols and wavy lines (compare Gonville and Emmentaler) and Pedal markings (compare Gonville and Leland.); but these are glyphs that you might use less frequently--you'll be using clefs, rests, and accidentals all the time.

As I pointed out in your original post (, it boils down to a personal, subjective preference. You want to create a score which is elegant yet legible, but it depends on what your definitions of "elegance" and "legibilty" are.

I loved Emmentaler cuz the treble clef is really special. Yet they changed the accidentals to something literally unusable and I guess I have to take the chance to embrace Leland.

In reply to by Flora Canou

These things are subjective of course, but I'm curious what you find "unusable" about the new accidentals? They are taken from another font and are generally seen by most experts to be a significant improvement, that's why the change was made.

I guess you are referring to the discussion in, but I think the comments there explain pretty well why the change was made and why it's considered a good thing by most.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Yep, I've elaborated there, but my latest thoughts follow.

First, I still absolutely dislike the bowl of the flat accidental despite that they found sources to back it up and that I've been seeing it for months. Probably because of the high contrast, and if the vertical stroke was thicker, that would be much relieved.

On vertical stroke thickness though, I don't see it clearly explained. I pointed out the old strokes were significantly thicker than the note stem, and the new ones are about equal. So it's ever thinner than before and doesn't read so well on the page. They first denied, claiming the new accidentals were wider and the old were thinner, which, if interpretted in average width, was obviously false. Then they said they were not talking about average width, that they "enhanced" it so it was not a "boring uniform stroke", and that it "[did] look more professional", which was a non sequitur. Finally they measured it and concluded the stroke was as thin as the note stem. And you know, professional font designers don't measure things; they look at things. If the stroke measures equal to the note stem, it looks thinner than the note stem.

Well they said they might further hack on it (which doesn't happen), so I didn't continue to reach for them even more.

On a side note, what I don't like about Leland is the whole note is a little bit small. Otherwise pretty decent choice overall.

In reply to by Flora Canou

Well, the Feta font is the font of the Lilypond project, and was thus designed to look like the old engraved scores, compared to the more typical modern computer score style. As we can also see from Leland, this is actually not what the MuseScore project wants, MuseScore seems to rather go into the direction of a modern computer score aesthetics, similar to score, finale, sibelius, and the lot.
It is a bit sad though that MuseScore still calls the font Emmentaler in the Interface, since it is just based on Emmentaler.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

I’m not entirely sure why this is relevant. Leland is of course not older than Feta, that’s nonsense. With that logic you could say: Parmiggiano has glyphs that are over 1000 years old, so Emmentaler is even older then square notation.
And then, why does it matter which one is older? My point is that Lilypond tries to reproduce the aesthetics of the old engraved scores, that is lines are carved into a plate of pewter and symbols are hammered in with certain stencils (by the way: Dorico/Bravura is going for the same, traditional thing). MuseScore doesn’t seem to like this and seems to prefer a more modern computer score like aesthetics, as can be seen from the changes to Emmentaler and the new font Leland.

In reply to by pulltheo

You wrote
Feta font is the font of the Lilypond project, and was thus designed to look like the old engraved scores, compared to the more typical modern computer score style

No idea what fonts Bärenreiter use, nor what font Feta or Emmentaler might be based on, @oktophonie might know

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Ah, you’re missunderstanding me. I was talking about engraved scores, i.e. pewter plate printing. SCORE is not engraved anymore, but computer based (it basically "draws" the score in PostScript). Also Bärenreiter did not use fonts at that time, engravers had sets of stencils that were hammered into the pewter plate. Each publisher would have had his own sets of stencils, giving every publisher a distinct look. (They also had different sets of stencils for different score sizes. Feta actually does the same thing and comes in different optical sizes for 8 different rastral heights between 3.9mm and 8.9mm. For example here you can see the accidentals in Feta in different sizes, and as well the largest size scaled down:
sadly MuseScore uses only one of these sizes (I think it is rastral height 7), and so far Lilypond is the only notation program that has such a feature (this makes grace notes much more beautiful!). Bravura does have I think 2 alternative optical sizes, but Dorico does not use them (yet). Actually SCORE had somewhat similar thing to some extent, because the symbols were all directly drawn in PostScript. So when scaling certain glyphs the linesize would not scale. But this not really optimal. If you look a Feta, you’ll that not only the weight of the glyphs changes, but also some proportions and things such as the slant of the natural accidental (and other things such as note heads getting rounder))

Anyway. I do not like the new accidentals that MuseScore merged into their Emmentaler derivate. They just do not match the rest of the aesthetics of Feta. It would have been better to just leave the old Emmentaler accidentals alone, because with Leland we’ll get a font that fits the type of aesthetics the new accidentals go for, but still feels consistent, while this current MuseScore Emmantaler thing just looks odd.

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Did I ever dispute that? I said that feta tries to mimic the aesthetics of an old engraved score, not that it intends to be used in such a way. Somehow I’m getting the feeling that you’re doing this deliberately.

I mean, why are you always debating irrelevant points I did not say? First I say that Feta tries goes for the aesthetics of old engraved scores, then you say that SCORE is old. Thus I explain to you that SCORE is not engraved, and you say that Feta is not either. I just don’t get it.

And regarding accidentals: I do not really care, because I’m not at the stage anymore where I’d publish anything that needs to look good in MuseScore, I use MuseScore mainly as a composing tool. And your argument would work if the reason for the whole problem would not have been someone saying: I don’t like the accidentals of Emmentaler, so let’s just replace them with something I like better. The whole issue is a matter of taste, so you cannot say that it is not valid to talk about not liking the new accidental if it was apparently totally fine to talk about non liking the old ones.

In reply to by pulltheo

It's true that Leland is trying rather deliberately to reproduce various aspects of Score. Note to mimic it exactly, but to shoot for a similar aesthetic. But, it's not really accurate to refer to "score, finale, sibelius, and the lot", since most experts would say the results produced by Score are pretty qualitatively different from more modern font-based programs, and that includes programs using Feta or Emmentaler. I would also suggest there is nothing objectively better about the particular compromises that had to be made when designing type for hand-engraving versus the sorts of things that are made possible by modern technology, it's more a matter of subjective preference. But what's why it's good to provide options - to have Emmentaler as well as Bravura as well as Leland, and others as well. No doubt over time even more options will be created and provided.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Yes, you’re right. But I’m not talking about the exact design, but about the general aesthetics. And there we have the modern approach employed by most big programs, and the approach that tries to go for a traditional feel, such as Feta or Bravura do. And I was not talking about better, I was talking about that MuseScore does seem to prefer the modern aesthetics, resulting in the new Accidentals and the Leland font. And I was talking about how I prefer the original accidentals, because I feel they do not really blend with the rest of the font.
In my personal opinion this leaves MuseScore with basically Bravura for the time being, until Leland reaches Production quality (which surely will happen in time), because Emmentaler feels slightly weird now, Gonville never really reached production quality and MuseJazz is the same abomination as every Jazz notation font (the reasoning seems to be that since Jazz musicians improvise everything anyway they do not need readable scores ...). I thing the way to go would be to allow MuseScore to override Specific glyph groups with different fonts. I.e. instead of replacing accidentals because some people do not like Feta’s accidentals, one should simply have a font containing the new accidentals and should be able to change the font for the group of accidentals.

In reply to by pulltheo

"and MuseJazz is the same abomination as every Jazz notation font (the reasoning seems to be that since Jazz musicians improvise everything anyway they do not need readable scores ...)"

Well them there's fightin' words! Hardly an abomination, although the lack of the more obscure Classical-specific glyphs means I doubt I'll ever use it. But have wondered what it is about fonts which emulate hand notation which is particularly attractive to Jazz musicians--can anyone enlighten me?

FWIW, when choosing a font, I look to the one that has the fewest glyphs I find ugly or irritating--a rather negative viewpoint I fear--and (sorry guys) I expect I will stick with Emmenthaler as my default. (I may go back and retrofit some older scores with Edwin text, where appropriate, though.)

"I thing the way to go would be to allow MuseScore to override Specific glyph groups with different fonts." I would be surprised if this was even feasible, in any broad sense. It might be good, though, to be able to toggle between to whole-note glyphs in Leland, perhaps.

In reply to by wfazekas1

I have no particular love for MuseJazz or Petaluma or any other handwritten music notation font, but as I've observed elsewhere, I don't consider them "abominations" either, and contrary to what people who aren't full-time jazz musicians might assume, they really do have a positive impact on readability in general in the specific conditions under which jazz charts are typically read.

For me personally, the main advantage of well-designed handwritten fonts is in how they work for chord symbols - the best will allow chords to be written in a way that makes them very clearly visible and stand out from everything else on the page, without actually requiring a lot of space horizontally for the vertical size. For the notation, a similar aesthetic should prevail - the idea that what's crucially important to see when sight-reading in a dimly lit bar - especially after having partaken in a drink or two! - is what should dominate on the page. This can affect the relative weight of noteheads versus stems versus staff lines versus barlines versus clefs etc. You don't need a handwritten font to get that, but you might need to play with various style settings to get pleasing results.

Anyhow, regarding the ability to override the font used for specific glyphs, to say you want accidentals from one font but noteheads from another etc - actually in theory, this shouldn't be all that difficult. If appropriate style settings were added it should really only a few places in the code where we'd need to check them. And I could even imagine a whole editor that showed each and every symbol and allowed you to choose which font to use. Not saying it would really be wroth the effort it took to design, but anyhow, implementation-wise I don't think it would hard.

For now, if you really want, you could always make a given symbol invisible then add directly on top of it the corresponding symbol from another font using the Symbols palette. A ton of work and I can't imagine anyone actually doing that on a regular basis, but anyhow, currently that's a (laborious) workaround.

Bravura was always my choice in 3.5, but Leland is such a gorgeous font that I use that invariably now. I do have some issues with it though. For one, in the 3/4 time time signature, the middle line of the three does not perfectly line up with the second staff line down from the top, and that almost drives me insane. The other issue is that the whole notes look absurd--hard to even recognize as whole notes if sight-reading. Since the above piece is in 3/4, none are present--see the screenshot attached, then compare to the same note in Bravura. Overall, Leland is a beautiful font, and aside from those issues, nearly perfect.

A. R. Forrest

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leland.png 85.42 KB
bravura.png 86.69 KB

In reply to by BlueFalcon5433

For what it's worth, the issue you have with the 3 is also deliberate, so that the middle bar of the 3 remains at least a bit distinct even when the stave lines may be quite thick. If you look closely at Emmentaler and Bravura, you'll see they do the same! (admittedly it's very slight in Bravura's case)

In reply to by oktophonie

I can understand that, but it doesn't look right to me. Seriously, what could the three be mistaken for besides an E? Personally, if you are having problems reading your time signature, distinguishing a three from anything else, you either have eye issues or not enough light. I suppose the same could be said for the small whole notes, though. Basically, most of this all comes down to personal preference. We can debate all day about what is practically better, but most of us still have our preferences in most aesthetic areas. Thanks guys!

In reply to by BlueFalcon5433

Actually, there are whole notes in my piece--in mm. 15-16; I wrote those two measures as 2/2 specifically so as to include a semibreve glyph, as well as a cut-time glyph (assuming that the common-time glyph is pretty much the same, without the line.)

I agree about Leland's whole note, though.

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