Inconsistent beam angles

Fingers crossed Daniel won’t mind me sharing an excerpt of an email he wrote me earlier this week. The example I’d shared with him wasn’t identical to yours, but pretty similar:

Demi-semiquaver and shorter beams are tricky because there aren’t many options for placements and slants that satisfactorily avoid wedges. Inside the staff you pretty much are limited to slants of a whole space. Outside the staff of course there’s more flexibility, but inside the staff there’s not a lot you can do. Dorico will basically never produce a flat beam for this kind of unambiguous rising or falling figure (if it’s concave, then things are different of course), and I’m not sure what kind of setting we could or should introduce that would provide a different result in this case.

There are very few bits of Dorico that we consider to be fully “done”, and we’ll certainly be doing more work on beam slants in future versions – but I wouldn’t be holding my breath for a Brodhead-style beam slant table feature any time soon.

Thanks, Leo. I’m glad there are more users who aren’t completely satisfied with these functions. However, my puzzlement actually comes from the different way Dorico handles two practically identical situations. I’m happy with the eighths in bar 2 and with the 32nds in bar 1. Why the inconsistency? Dorico does fine with the 32nds ‘inside the staff’ in bar 1 but not in bar 2, and it avoids the 8th beam wedge well in bar 2 but not in bar 1. I’d almost feel better if Dorico performed consistently badly (then I’d experiment some more with the settings) than when it performs badly in one instance and well in a practically identical one.

I don’t have any more answers than I’ve already given, I’m afraid.

I know. I hope someone from the team chimes in about this particularly curious behaviour. A request for consistency in a case like this one is a far cry from requesting a Brodhead-style beam slant table!

I’m guessing you don’t have Notes/Stems/Stem shortening for beamed groups selected. (It’s not by default.) That should fix the 8ths. No idea about the 32nds. In fact mine are consistent, but both consistently poor as in your second measure.

Another consideration: beam appearance can differ between Galley View and Page View.

Regarding the demisemiquavers, the sharp in the second group is fractionally wider than the natural in the first group – that tiny increase in space may be enough for the beam ends to snap to different positions, according to Dorico’s necessarily complex set of rules. But I suspect the main reason is that the primary beam of the first group is outside the staff which enables the ends of the two inner beams to sit/straddle/hang from the staff lines at the desired 1/4 space slant. Demis within the staff are often a problem – I’ve noticed plate engravers of the past in this situation usually make a very tiny slant – just enough to give the impression of the beam mirroring the rise or fall in pitch. Sibelius has had this feature ever since its beams were overhauled many years ago and it does a reasonable job, though I still tend to fiddle about with them a bit.

I don’t think we can reasonably expect this to ever be perfect – there are too many factors at work. In any case, the day Dorico does everything perfectly will be the day I’m out of a job, so Daniel please don’t hurry too much.



You’re right, I don’t have it selected, as I usually don’t like the results, for example, two a’ 8ths in treble clef having shorter stems than the quarter note following it. I tried selecting it but it didn’t improve the wedge or the consistency. Interestingly, changing the setting only seemed to change flat beams, not slanted ones.

Jeremy, I tried every permutation and combination of accidentals, including no accidentals at all, and the results remained the same.

Interesting. Here’s what I get with my default settings:

The two 8th note beams match the Ted Ross beaming patterns exactly as he has them on pages 105 and 107. The 32nd note beam angles are consistent for me, but certainly more unappealing than what you get in your first measure.

That’s very interesting, Fred. I’d be curious to know which combination of the hundreds of possible settings is responsible for this difference in results. I tried changing several settings but was unable to reproduce your results for the eighths (or the 32nds, for that matter). I didn’t change my beam angles, though, which start at ⅛ space for 2nds and go up in ⅛ increments. I believe that my stem length settings are the original Dorico defaults.

Ok, diving into this a bit further …

I think it is fair to say the 32nd note beaming looks particularly odd in my example and in your second measure because Dorico is slanting the beams one space, for an interval comprising a half space. Normal Ted Ross beaming for this interval at these staff positions with one or two beams should be straddle-hang for 1/4 space and look like this as shown on pages 105 and 107, which is in fact what I’m getting in Dorico with my defaults:

So far, so good. With the addition of a third beam, the rules change a bit and everything gets more complicated. Gould’s own advice is a bit contradictory here as well. On page 21 she states, “With the addition of a third beam, the beams must slant a whole stave-space.” Previously on page 18 she states the outer beam must hang for upstems and sit for downstems. I think this is what Dorico is doing in my example anyway. Outermost beams hang (even though first isn’t really visible without a ledger line), and a slant of one space. She doesn’t address the issue of what to do when the interval between the notes is less than one space as we have here, but she does go on to say on page 21, “In the past, to ensure both ends of all beams are attached to stave-lines, some editions have slightly widened the distance between beams to allow for an angle of less that a stave-space. This is a good compromise: [example follows]” The example she gives then shows hang-sit for a beam angle of a half space, so clearly her decree that the beams “must slant a whole stave-space” isn’t set in stone and in fact isn’t even the preferred outcome when adjusting the spacing between staves is possible.

Moving on to Ross …

On page 125 where he discusses Triple Beams, Ross says, “If the beam slant calls for less than a one space slant, normal spacing between the beams in no longer used since this would not permit the ends of the beams to hang, sit or straddle the staff lines … Beam cannot start or end in a space … The spaces between beams are opened and altered in such a manner that the ends of each beam make contact with a staff line. (When at least one of the beams is outside the staff lines normal spacing is used.)” The beam slant in Vaughn’s example here does in fact call for a slant less than one space so the widening principle should apply here according to both Ross and Gould’s compromise solution. I didn’t have Engraving Options/Beams/32nd note beams/Widen gap between beams turned on because I didn’t really like the look of it, but if I turn that on here’s what I get:

I think widening them that much looks a little goofy, but it definitely looks strange immediately following the first which is not widened. I assume the first isn’t widened because Ross’s rule if “one of the beams is outside the staff lines normal spacing is used,” has been applied here, but the as “whole stave-space” rule seems to override the normal angle, the contrast is pretty noticeable. There’s no manual control over beam spacing in Properties, correct? This would be a nice feature to have in this situation, as widening the beam distance would probably make the contrast not quite so jarring. Being able to tweak the positioning of the inner beams would definitely be desirable as there isn’t any way to override the defaults (I think). Dorico generally does a better job than the default version of Finale with all things related to beaming, but the Patterson Beams plug-in is really excellent and I’ve used it on every file for years. I think the Finale example with Patterson Beams applied below is much preferable to Dorico’s solution using Vaughn’s example.

With the beam spacing slightly widened and an slant of 1/4 space, there are no wedges created. The outermost beams straddle-hang, the innermost sit-straddle, and the middle beams have a somewhat odd partial straddle configuration, but I think the overall result is more preferable, at least to my eye. I’m not exactly sure what rules Robert Patterson is applying here, but it does follow the Ross rule that “the ends of each beam make contact with a staff line” and the end result is a consistent clean look. Maybe someone will change my mind, but I would like to see an option to do something like this within Dorico. (There’s no way to exactly replicate this beaming in Dorico now, correct?)

Back to Vaughn’s original example, maybe Dorico is applying the when “one of the beams is outside the staff lines normal spacing is used” rule, and that is what is causing the inconsistency? I’m not sure what setting I have that would prevent me from getting the same result though.

Hi Fred

I agree the Patterson Beams is a very elegant solution and it would be nice to have an option in Dorico to increase the space between beams on an individual basis (to have this automated would be even better, but I won’t get greedy). The other solution, as I mentioned, is to do a very small slant so that the beam ends are still just in contact with the same staff lines.

We can do a small 1/4 slant as the beam extends past the staff as in the first bar, but I don’t think we can in the 2nd bar for the reasons Gould and Ross explained. Here’s a small slant in the first and flat in the second, which might be the best we can do with Dorico’s current beam capabilities.

Do you have a better looking solution? Just curious what other possible options are available.

That’s perhaps one of the few things I miss about Finale (ironically, it’s not even part of the core program): Patterson Beams. With good settings it always produces excellent results, without wedges or other inconsistencies like in my example. At the moment, I still have to do a lot of beam tweaking in Dorico, regardless of the settings. Your example using Patterson Beams is indeed much preferable and I really hope that Dorico will be able to produce results like this sometime soon.

Here’s what I mean about using a tiny slant - less than 1/4 space. The beam ends just about cling onto the staff lines, providing the staff lines are reasonably thick and the staff size is not too big so you don’t see any gaps. Plenty of plate-engraved editions of the past did this, though I think I prefer the Patterson Beams solution.
Demis beam.PNG

Agreed. Patterson Beams algorithm works consistently every time.

When I tried to ‘tidy up’ the 32nds in the second bar of my example, I realised why Dorico had to increase the beam angle: it’s impossible for the beams to avoid wedges or avoid almost touching the staff lines without increasing the distance between the beams. As Fred pointed out, Dorico does have an setting for this but it’s far too crude, producing ‘goofy’ and inconsistent results. All I can say is, if Patterson can make a plugin which produces consistently good results, it shouldn’t be impossible to achieve these results in Dorico.

Yep, that’s why the programming for this is much more complicated with the addition of the third beam. I really do like the Patterson Beams solution here. Also, I just realized I misspelled your name multiple times in the long post above, sorry!!!

You don’t need to apologise for misspelling my name! You can’t imagine what’s been done to that name of mine over the years…