Beams and stems above or below notes

Yes, that’s what I get by default.



I think the horse you are flogging is now dead.

I find that on marginal cases there is never a correct or incorrect solution. Only what is easiest for the player to interpret (at speed) and is most pleasing to the eye. Both will be influenced by the presence of other markings… dynamics, expression marks, articulations etc.

In these ‘marginal’ cases, if there’s a bunch of verbage above the stave, stems should go down. If there’s only dynamics and perhaps articulations to contend with, stems would go up.

Context is everything.

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The problem with using Context and Up is that also gets you this by default, which is just wrong.

“When there is no clear-cut case for either direction, the convention is to use a down-stem. Some editions use down-stems exclusively.” Gould pg 14

There certainly is no “clear-cut case” for this stem to be up, so it should be down. Virtually every other notation manual simply says it should be down. Context and Up results in this notation error which I find much more noticeable and distracting for a performer.

Please do me a favour:

  1. Start a new project.
  2. Go to Engraving Options.
  3. Hold down the Alt/Option key.
  4. Click the Reset to Factory button in the bottom left corner.
  5. Try all your examples again.

There’s apparently no setting in Dorico to have notes on the middle line be stemmed down and still get correct beaming I guess. I reverted to the factory settings and here’s what I get:

The stemming in the bass clef staff is now correct but the Bbs in the treble are quite distracting IMO. Even Gould hedges and states “some editions use down-stems exclusively,” but everyone else just says this is wrong and it should be down. I haven’t found anyone else saying the Dorico default here in the treble clef could be correct. Can you find another style guide or notation manual saying this stemming is acceptable? I cited Stone and Ross above, but here are the current Schirmer, UE, and Boosey style guide conventions:

Schirmer pg 79:

UE doesn’t address it but gives this example which Dorico cannot do correctly with factory settings:

Boosey pg 27:

I don’t think my above example counts as “extreme duress” in the treble staff, LOL! This error is much more noticeable to me then the beaming errors, so currently the only solutions are flip them all manually or change the stem options to Default direction. As soon as I change from Context to Default, I get this:

The stemming in the treble staff is now correct, but the stemming in the bass clef is not. There are no settings in Dorico to have correct stemming that adheres to any of the current publication standards of the respected publishers I listed above. Dorico really should be able to handle this better. I guess as a feature request, I would like to have a third option, so instead of just Context and Default, there could be an option to do it the way virtually all the modern publishers do it, with always stems down quarters on the middle line and correct stemming with beamed groups.

Gould actually says that the (results given by the) Dorico factory defaults are correct, at the bottom of page 13. The first example here shows that Dorico is “correct”, and the second example shows that your preference is “incorrect”.

The caveat over the page refers to situations that aren’t clear-cut, where within a single bar there are multiple stem directions (for notes that aren’t on the middle line). Your bar 1 is not one of these situations.

I don’t always agree with her; I’ve certainly flipped the odd B stem down, for particularly “traditional” clients, and I do agree with you that Dorico ought to have some combination of settings that results in separate options for beamed and unbeamed notes (as I mentioned in post #16).

I know people consider Behind Bars to be the Bible of music engraving, but I think she’s an outlier here. I suppose Faber must do it her way, but literally no other style guide or notation manual that I can find agrees with her on this, and it looks outdated to my eye anyway. Dorico should have an option to stem the way everyone else does it, including well-respected publishers like Boosey and Schirmer. Right now there are no possible settings in Dorico to do this automatically.

I think we need to be careful with words like “correct” and “incorrect” when it comes to stem directions, as it’s an area where reasonable people can disagree. I am happy to accept, however, that there is certainly a hybrid convention where unbeamed notes on the middle line of the staff are considered to be non-contextually down-stem, while at the same time having being contextual (i.e. neither up- nor down-stem) when in a beamed group, and that Dorico doesn’t currently accommodate this convention. That is something we will address in a future version of the software.

With regard to the example at the start of this thread from @Jeremy_Aknai, if you open the Advanced Options subsection in the Stems section of Engraving Options and reduce the value of Threshold stem length for swapping beam position from the default 2 1/2 spaces to (say) 2 spaces, Dorico will flip the beam for the C5-C5-C5-D4 group above the staff by default. For @Vaughan_Schlepp’s examples in bars 59 and 60, a smaller still value of less than 2 spaces (e.g. 1 3/4 spaces) is needed.

Regarding the rule given in Kurt Stone’s book, where the note furthest from the middle line of the staff governs the stem direction, Dorico doesn’t use that rule. It is governed more by the balance of whether the beam should be above or below based on the number of notes in the beamed group on each side of the middle line of the staff (as Leo has illustrated in this thread). We could perhaps consider adding an option for such a rule in future.


Thanks, great to hear! Now that I understand what is happening, to summarize basically I’d like some combination of settings that can produce this stemming by default, which I believe is the stemming most publishers would expect:

As of now Dorico’s settings can produce this

or this

but not that top example.

Yes, don’t worry, I fully understand what you want to see.


Obviously Daniel has weighed in and this thread is dead, but just out of curiosity I kept searching some of my books to see what support I could find for Gould’s position.

Music Notation and Terminology, Karl W. Gehrkens, 1914, pg 1

System in Musical Notation, H. Elliot Button, 1919, pg 18

A couple of books more focused on hand copying allow it too, like George Heussenstamm’s The Norton Manual of Music Notation (pg 13) and Alan Boustead’s Writing Down Music (not explicitly stated, but examples on pg 19). Read (pg 64) says while it “may go in either direction … the more common practice is to draw it down.” [Italics are his] I’m sure there must be others, but the only two books focusing on music engraving that I could find definitively taking Gould’s side are now over 100 years old. I’m not sure if that supports her view that this is desirable, or supports Ross and Stone’s view that this was an old view that is no longer followed.

As a bonus, here’s Herbert Chlapik’s Die Praxis des Notengraphikers, pg 39. I can’t read German, but according to Google Translate he seems to be in the stems down camp. If there’s some nuance here I’m missing, feel free to give an accurate translation.

I would very much like this as an option. I know some publishers use this rule even if it does contradict Gould.