Horizontal alignment of dynamics

Tom Gerou’s and Linda Lusk’s Essential Dictionary of Music Notation (1996) states that dynamic markings should be placed horizontally slightly before the note they belong to (image 1). Dorico, on the other hand, centers dynamics (image 2), as Daniel also told and showed on one of his great demonstration videos.

I don’t have for example Elaine Gould’s Behind Bars available to check what she says, and I’d like to know what the current standard of aligning dynamics horizontally is (and, if possible, “why and by whom”).

I am busy composing a quite big work for female choir and piano, so this is important to me. Thank you so much. :slight_smile:

Yes, I personally think your Ex.1 is much to be preferred. I have spent a lot of time moving dynamics in Sibelius! I find it a more musical placement and more readable than centering the dynamics on the note. Moreover, this style has been used by many distinguished 20th century publishers, though not in all cases.


Yes and thank you.

Finale and Tom Gerou & Linda Lusk align the centre of a dynamic marking (be it p or ffff) to the left edge of the notehead. Dorico and - no surprise - Sibelius fully center the dynamics. Also I find it a bit hard to like the latter.

Really, lots of work to by hand move every single marking horizontally by hand. But if the standard really has changed, perhaps we then must adapt to it. :wink:

For reference, here is what Gould says (starting with the bottom of p. 102).

Thank you so much. This is exactly what I wanted to know. :slight_smile:

Other opinions/thoughts/arguments? :slight_smile:

My take.

Skärmavbild 2016-11-08 kl. 20.11.05.png

We are dealing with hundreds, if not thousands, of dynamics yearly. Are there really not more opinions and arguments? :astonished: :open_mouth:

Very sorry to disturb you, Daniel, but could you try to find some seconds to only very shortly tell us your thoughts? Thank you so much. :slight_smile:

I have always been a fan of centering the dynamic under the note head.

In regards to Finale, I always thought Finale was close enough to the center of the note head, to be good. While Finale does use a point in the dynamic that seems centered, I always thought the point was a touch to the left of center, then Finale aligned this to the left of the note head. The displacement of the handle to be slightly left of center, gave the dynamic an appearance of being centered. At least to me… Maybe others see it differently.


Thank you, Robby. :slight_smile:

Knowing very well what you mean, and agreeing with you, I would not call it “displacement”. :slight_smile: It is a very precise placement, the “centre to left edge” standard, which has been used all over the western world for a very long time (as also David states above). As I already said: “Finale and Tom Gerou & Linda Lusk align the centre of a dynamic marking (be it p or ffff) to the left edge of the notehead. Dorico and - no surprise - Sibelius fully center the dynamics.” Please see the three attached PNG images (also Finale now included).

I have always liked this centre to left edge standard, and that is why I was actually quite surprised to see that Dorico is a centre to centre guy. And that again made me start this thread. Thank you, Jeffrey, for showing us that Elaine Gould agrees with Dorico. I then must probably get used to it, but I am not sure I like it. :wink: To me, fully centered dynamics look like being there clearly “too late”, probably because the (correct) italics text style, which makes the dynamic “point” to somewhere after the note, not to the centre.

I should perhaps state that my perspective on this, as on most questions of notation, is that of a player and conductor. For me it is not what is supposed to be the “correct” practice that rules, but what makes the score easier to read (particularly to sight-read). For this reason I am not convinced that the tails should always point down in the case of a note on the middle line – some times they look better up in the context, and I find that a dynamic slightly before the note (possibly that means centred on the left edge, as Jode says, but I am not sure) gives a musical flow to the look of the score. The Bärenreiter Neue Mozart Ausgabe, with its unmusical use of roman type for dynamics is not for me easy to read. By comparison, the Peters full score of Figaro has many dynamics ahead of the note and this and the italic font which leans to the right seem totally natural to me.


You can adjust Dorico’s default approach to horizontal positioning of text-based dynamics using the Horizontal Position options on the Dynamics page of Engraving Options.

Dorico certainly does prefer centring dynamics on noteheads by default, and it takes a sophisticated approach to this that uses a carefully-chosen optical centre point for each dynamic. I think this is a good default starting position, though I certainly agree that there are many circumstances in which you might want to alter this default placement, and hopefully through the various controls in Engrave mode – i.e. both the Properties panel and the means of simply dragging or nudging a dynamic to the desired position – we make this reasonably easy.

As stated above, Finale and Tom Gerou & Linda Lusk align the centre of a dynamic marking (be it p or ffff) to the left edge of the notehead – see the attached image. I cannot find a possibility for that in Engraving Options – see the attached image. Only optical centre and left-hand side are available. What am I missing? Thank you.

Sorry if my previous reply misled you: you’re not missing anything. Dorico doesn’t currently provide an option for centring dynamics on the left-hand side of the notehead.

Thank you so much, Daniel. I dare hope that Dorico will support this one day. :slight_smile: Am I too optimistic? :wink:

Yes, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to add an additional alignment option in due course. I can’t promise when we might get to it, however.

I would definitely use such an option. Thanks for considering!

I also agree, using the left edge of a notehead as centre looks best for me and is by all means common practice.

A hint for all users of the S-notation software: There is a plugin called position dynamics, very nice :wink:

I also centre dynamics to the left-edge of the notehead as default, or further left if cramped.

The only problem I have encountered in moving dynamics to the left in Sibelius, apart from the time it takes, is that sometimes such dynamics move to the previous bar after reformatting, and I have even found them in the margin at the end of the previous page!


Dorico_1.2_Version_History.pdf: “Alignment of text dynamics relative to the notehead. The Alignment of text dynamics relative to note option in the Horizontal Position section of the Dynamics page of Engraving Options has a new option: Align optical center with left-hand side of notehead.”

I am glad to see that in Dorico version 1.2, this issue has been addressed (see the attached image). Exactly what I was hoping for when starting this thread Tue 8 Nov 2016. Thank you so much.

Is there a way to have this option as default without a need of setting it every time when starting a new project? :slight_smile: