How does manual note spacing really work?

I’ve done a lot of this kind of work, as well, and I always made extensive use of Finale’s ability to nudge notes individually or as a group (using Shift), including the ability to add or remove space in bars anywhere I needed it. I recently tried this in Dorico and discovered that for the tight spacing required for hymnals I had to reduce the settings for distances between lyrics, hyphens, etc. considerably, almost to zero. In this regard I find Dorico’s defaults overly generous, even for other vocal scores. In any case, changing those settings did help a lot, although I did miss Finale’s flexibility.

Can we get an “Amen!”?

Is there anyone doing church music who is never called upon to whip something up at the last minute for the bulletin due to some change, mistake or oversight or___? Tell the truth… let’s not always see the same hands… (anyone doubt I went to Catholic school?)

Not only must it be done quickly but legibility is paramount. For most of us, it also has to be reduced to fit a certain space by someone else after we email it in or drop a copy into the secretary’s In Box (which means it gets photocopied first). This intensifies any element that doesn’t look right.

No set of algorithms is better than the human eye and brain attached to it. The ability to override and nudge individual notes and syllables quickly and easily is not desire here—it is a need.

Yes, other apps do this as has been mentioned which means it is not the end of the world that Dorico can’t. If, however, you aim to be the best, this functionality must be incorporated. Someday… I can wait.

I think you’re totally misunderstanding what I meant. La machine est bête. It does what it is told. What might happen is that the end user miscommunicates with it. It can’t really read minds or grasp context. You can’t expect the defaults, which are thought to handle other kinds of necessities, to automagically work for all cases. As Vaughan Schlepp said, you obviously need to tweak the values Dorico is working with. Though, again, I have to disagree: I can’t imagine any case, as far as horizontal spacing is concerned, where Dorico lacks flexibility.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s perfectly achievable to get very close to the “Ah, Holy Jesus” example posted by Dan in #8 without needing to make any edits to the rhythmic spacing at all. The attached project doesn’t have any manual spacing adjustments applied, nor any system breaks or otherwise forced formatting. The only manual adjustment I have made is to make the first word/syllable in the first three verses left-aligned rather than centre-aligned so that I can reproduce the (IMO rather unsightly) left alignment of those lyrics with the centre-aligned syllable that begins verse 4.

This picture shows the result after tweaking the lyrics as described at the starts of lines 1, 2 and 3:

I didn’t keep a precise log of the changes I made to Dorico’s defaults, but the most significant ones were to reduce the ideal spacing value for a quarter note to 2 3/4 spaces (4 by default), to change the minimum gap between lyric and hyphen to 1 space (2 by default), and change the minimum gap between lyrics to 1/2 space (1 by default). I changed the fonts to use Minion Pro to match Dan’s original picture. I enlarged the lyrics font style to 13pt staff-relative (from 11pt by default) which obviously increases the impact lyrics will have on rhythmic spacing. The spacing is obviously not precisely the same as the original picture, but it’s jolly close and in my view it would be more than acceptable. The first system is 90.5% full, and the second 83.7% full. The only area of noticeable rhythmic distortion is in the second bar, caused by “brought” on the second beat. Replicating the adjustments shown in the original hymnal, i.e. moving “Who” to the left and then tightening the gap between the first and second beats, then loosening the gap between the third and fourth beats, is the work of a couple of moments if desired.

The project file is attached so that you can experiment with the settings yourself. Note that if you don’t have the Minion Pro fonts installed on your computer, the project will inevitably look significantly different to the pictures, and the spacing will be significantly different.



ah-holy-jesus.dorico.zip (226 KB)

Wow. Many thanks for taking the time, Daniel. I will certainly take a look at this first thing tomorrow.

Thank you, Daniel, for taking the trouble to reproduce this. The lyrics settings are close to what I’d arrived at for these kinds of tight spacing requirements. The note spacing of quarter = 2¾ spaces is a useful tip.

Another suggestion to Dan, especially since you’re using Minion Pro, as I do: try using Minion Pro Condensed for lyrics; it’s no less readable and it makes a pretty big difference when space is at a premium. Four of the typefaces (regular, italic, bold, bold italic) used to be included free with Adobe Reader but the condensed version needs to be purchased separately. I can vouch for its being one of my better investments!

If you’ve ever bought a version of Creative Suite, I think you get a bunch of Minion with that. I would also recommend the Caption “optical size” of Minion Pro Condensed. Caption fonts are designed to be most legible at small font sizes, so work particularly well for lyrics in the 9-11pt range.

Thanks. But when I tried a side-by-side comparison, the effect seemed really minimal. I’ll take a look again.

Here’s a size comparison of the different condensed typefaces. I couldn’t superimpose the regular typeface, as I don’t have the entire condensed family.
Sorry I didn’t place the image in the body of the post but I didn’t want to reduce it to fit.
The condensed version is smaller than the regular but, as you can see, the ‘subhead’ is even narrower and the ‘display’ is the narrowest.
BTW, is that what Ben was referring to as the Caption Optical Size?

Very interesting thread, thank you all!

Adobe’s “Pro” fonts come with ‘optical sizes’. So for each Style and Weight (Condensed, Semibold, Italic, Black, etc), there are also Caption, Display, Subhead (and possibly other) variants. Each one is designed for a particular range of point sizes, so that the same glyph is not just scaled up and down.

Display: Large sizes, typically 19–72 point
Subhead: Large text, typically about 14–18 point
(Regular): Usually left unnamed, typically about 10–13 point
Small Text (SmText): Typically about 8–10 point
Caption: Very small, typically about 6–8 point

I find for lyrics, Caption optical sizes give the best clarity, because they’re designed to be sharper and more legible in small sizes. (If there isn’t a SmallText size, then Caption is probably designed up to 10pt or so.

Minion Pro is indeed not only gorgeous but also brilliantly designed. It’s always been a favorite of mine. Both Durand and Ricordi have taken it up as their main font in the last years, as well.

Totally agree. I’m no font expert, but when I was preparing the first hymnal project for our church, I spent literally six months choosing a font. I’ve never regretted choosing Minion Pro.

When I started doing this in the early 90’s I used Stempel Garamond because I found it strong but elegantly beautiful. I only switched to Minion a few years ago because I wanted something similar but slightly more modern. The only problem was that Minion has a considerably higher baseline than Garamond as well as a greater total height so converting my old files from G to M can be a bit of a chore.

I’ve been using manual note spacing quite a bit for several months now and loving it more and more. Just wanted to re-open this thread hoping Daniel (or other gurus) could give a few more specifics.

  1. I see Ctrl-Alt-arrow is equivalent to Alt-arrow x 8. But sometimes the resultant change is larger than other times. How is that bit calculated?

  2. What are the values underneath the percentage in the right-side box?

  3. When I make a spacing change at one location, where in the system is Dorico pulling from? Is it proportionately from all other spacing locations? Or does it affect other columns more or less depending on their distance from the column being modified?

  4. When I modify a column, turning its handle red, and then modify another column, how is that first column modified differently than before? Is it still proportionately added to or subtracted from?

Hopefully those questions make sense. Thanks. Just trying to better understand manual note spacing. It constitutes about 50% of my time right now in Dorico.

  1. Documentation for it is here, it’s known as the “system fullness indicator”. (See also frame fullness indicator)

The documentation doesn’t actually explain what “the numbers under the percentage” are, though. I’m extrapolating that it’s the number of used spaces divided by the number of used spaces (because that calculation results in the percentage above, and because the number of available spaces looks about right for an A4 page at 1.5mm space size). I think Daniel’s implied question was “how is the number of used spaces defined”. My guess is:

horizontal space taken up by notes/accidentals/arpeggio lines + default horizontal space defined by Engraving Options and Note Spacing rules at either side of notes/accidentals/arpeggio lines + or - horizontal space manually added/removed in Note Spacing mode = number of spaces used.

Again, I don’t know whether this ought to be explained in the documentation, but the documentation doesn’t currently answer the question.

Ah, well that is a different question to the one I read :wink: I’ll discuss this with Daniel when I’m back in and off “holiday”.

Ctrl+Alt+arrow always moves the selected handle by one space, but because horizontal justification across the whole width of the system is always playing its part, depending on how you expand the size of one column, the effect of justification on other columns may cause a gap to appear larger or smaller.

They are spaces. The denominator of the fraction is the total number of spaces from the beginning of “rhythmic space”, i.e. immediately to the right of whatever is the rightmost item in the preamble (normally the key signature), to the right-hand end of the system. The numerator of the fraction is the number of “occupied” spaces, i.e. the solid space for each column, which takes into account any adjustment you have made to the square handles (this gets added on to the solid space for the column). The difference between the two is the amount of space that is justified out across the whole system to make the music reach the right-hand side of the frame.

When you make a column wider, you are changing the overall amount of “solid” space in the system, i.e. you are changing the numerator of the fraction that appears in the system fullness indicator. You are therefore reducing the amount of justified space, so you are effectively taking the space away from all other columns in the system. You can indirectly return the space back to the pool to be used for justification by making corresponding opposite adjustments to other columns, i.e. reducing the overall amount of “solid” space.

Adjustments made to each column are completely independent. Changing the solid space for one column does not cause the solid space required for any other column to change. All columns are justified in the same way, regardless of whether they have been edited. (What I cannot remember off the top of my head is whether or not justification takes into account the rhythmic length for each column in order to allocate more space to longer durations; certainly this was what we planned, but since it’s been a few years since we actually implemented it, I cannot remember.)

Thanks for the detailed explanation Daniel!