Figured bass spacing issue

I’ve just updated to Dorico 3.5, hoping that finally I’ll be able to use a native figured bass input method for my work instead of the (otherwise very sophisticated) Figurato font. However, the current vertical spacing of accidentals is quite poor (which is a well-known problem with figured bass fonts btw, as accidentals are likely to collide if you set the leading between the rows in such a way that it looks natural otherwise).

Florian did a very nice job adjusting the vertical and horizontal spacing of all possible combinations of accidentals in Figurato, imitating the beautiful hand-engraved scores (see the example below) and I hope that the Dorico team will shortly fix this too. In the meantime, unfortunately I have to continue using Figurato, as the native figured bass - however truly amazing in every other respects - cannot be used in professional editions yet. sigh

It doesn’t look to me, Augustin, as you’re using the latest versions of the Bravura font (version 1.37), which feature redesigned accidentals for figured bass that allow them to occupy less vertical space. Dorico does perform sophisticated vertical kerning for stacks of figures across the whole width of the system in order to produce results that are as compact as possible. However, it does not move individual figures or accidentals left or right, which I cannot say I have seen in any of the editions we have been looking at as we’ve been working on developing the figured bass feature over the past several months. (Which is not to say that it is not done, of course, only that it is not something we have encountered.)

Hi Daniel,

Thank you so much for your reply! It well can be that I’ve used an older version of Bravura, I’ll check that! (Normally I use fonts from the MTF for my work but for the above example I’ve started a new project with “factory” settings.)

However, I’m not sure that smaller accidentals would entirely solve the problem, as accidentals in figured bass normally occupy considerably more vertical space than the figures themselves actually, in order to facilitate recognizing them while playing. Another problem is that increasing the vertical space between the rows of figures in order to give enough space for the accidentals attached to them would cause unnecessary extra space between all other figures without accidentals in the same system.

I’ve just searched for similar places in a volume from the famous Neue Bach Ausgabe and I’ve found two elegant examples for handling this particular problem: the accidentals are much bigger than the figures and yet they are stacked nicely - as it would have been before the notes of a chord inside the staff.

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To my untrained eye, Dorico’s new output actually looks neater than the one with Figurato. Could you explain why I am wrong in preferring this?

The symbols are actually neater indeed (and they can be edited in Dorico anyway), the problem is with the positioning as now there is too much vertical space between the figures (note that the same amount of space would have been between all the other figures in that system, even between those without any accidentals).

However, as Daniel pointed out, it can be that I’ve accidentally used an older version of the Bravura font - but even if I would have used the latest version, the problem would be the same, though wouldn’t be so obvious.

The horizontal overlapping accidentals in the Figurato version look strange. I don’t recall seeing that myself.

But the font in the Dorico version is definitely not the same as in my V3.5. This is what I get from Dorico.
Figured bass.png

I get this:

[attachment=0]Screen Shot 2020-05-20 at 6.38.15 PM.png[/attachment]
Screen Shot 2020-05-20 at 6.38.15 PM.png

It might look strange for you, but that’s how it looks in the highest-quality hand-engravings of the famous New Bach Edition (Barenreiter/Deutscher Verlag für Musik) - please see my previous attachments. As a harpsichordist I can assure you that it works just fine: you really need considerably bigger accidentals than the figures themselves so to be able to see them easily during a performance or even when sight reading, but on the other hand you don’t want to mess up the vertical spacing between the rows.

I’ve just updated my Bravura font and the spacing looks considerably better indeed! However a more sophisticated way would be for Dorico to enable the accidentals to move horizontally to avoid collisions instead (just like before the notes of a chord inside the staff) because reducing their size really doesn’t help readability - conductors and keyboardists (the main end-users of figured bass notation) normally look at the score (of smaller rastral size than the orchestral parts of course) from a distance. That’s why the old hand-engraved editions used quite big accidentals in figured bass to facilitate readability and that’s what performers still prefer.

Is Bravura font included in Dorico 3.5, or does it have to be purchased separately?


Bravura is of course included with Dorico 3.5: it’s Dorico’s default music font.

Then why would Augustin not automatically have aquired v.1.37 in upgrading to Dorico 3.5 (as I am doing as I write this)?


The short answer is, I don’t know. There’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip.

We can only guess from the (lack of) information here. If you don’t change the way the operating system deals with font files, it should “just work,” but some people use font manager apps and configure them to do something different, or install fonts manually in non-standard locations in the file system, etc.

The NBA was indeed my main source when I designed Figurato – I haven’t seen many engravings of equal quality with equally sophisticated and beautiful figures otherwise.

I could have saved myself a LOT of work if I just made the accidentals smaller, but from my own (limited, but still…) experience as a continuo player I knew that larger accidentals usually improve legibility a lot. This is why I’m only 99% happy with Dorico’s output now.

But Daniel is certainly right in that you hardly ever see such “overlapping” accidentals, so I’m ready to accept it as an idiosyncrasy of the NBA that never became common practice.

It would be interesting to get feedback from other continuo players about this.

Well, the NBA is only relevant if you play Bach from the NBA editions. Other composers (and editions) are available :slight_smile:

FWIW some of Barenreiter’s other typographical designs (e.g. the editorial dynamics in the NMA) are just unspeakably ugly IMO.

What? Other composers? Where?!

I’m not saying the NBA is more “relevant” than anything else (although in my experience it is by far the most used Bach edition in Germany now). Only that I very much value its overall engraving quality.

FWIW some of Barenreiter’s other typographical designs (e.g. the editorial dynamics in the NMA) are just unspeakably ugly IMO.

Yes indeed. It’s quite sad.

Oh, so Bach’s music isn’t so important when designing a figured bass font?? :laughing: Of course there are other composers…

Actually, I was quite surprised that the Dorico team didn’t take a look into the Neue Bach Ausgabe as Johann Sebastian Bach is the most famous composer of the baroque era and the NBA editions became the gold-standard for generations and even today it’s the most widely used critical edition of Bach’s music. The only possible alternative could be Carus Verlag (for vocal music) but for this discussion that’s not relevant as it has a quite poor computer engraved style.

We can say of course that Dorico’s figured bass shouldn’t mimic the appearance of the NBA, but when creating such a specialist font as the figured bass, it would have been logical to look for the highest quality examples for inspiration - as Florian has done -, for it’s safe to say that the NBA’s figured bass font is the most sophisticated (and easy-to-read!) ever created up to now and I can assure that among continuo players, nobody would go for the smaller accidentals…

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Contemporary publishers had the right idea: make the figures BIG. Putting them in nice need lines wasn’t so important.
VIvaldi FB.jpg

Rob, what a beautiful(!)—and interesting—example.

I don’t play continuo (I’m abysmal, sadly) however the method book I trained on did not have nestled accidentals. It was very akin to Dorico’s new defaults. I don’t have any skin in this game and I see the merits of both approaches; but I thought I’d share just the same. To my own eye, I actually prefer the better-regulated manner of Dorico’s approach. It “normalizes” the figures to a certain extent, which makes them easier to parse out. (Again, this just the personal opinion of someone who doesn’t actively attempt to play this music anymore, so make of that what you will.)