Narrow chord font

Does anyone have any recommendations on a narrow-ish chord symbol font?

I’m also struggling when trying to change fonts in that I can change the Chord Symbols Font, but when I change the Chord Symbols Music Text Font a heap of the symbols disappear. I’m new to this!

“Music Text” fonts have to be SMuFL fonts, usually in the ‘text’ version, e.g. Bravura Text, Petaluma Text; because they use the SMuFL characters for things like diminished, augmented, etc.

(Helpfully, the Finale “Text” fonts, e.g. “Broadway Copyist Text” are not SMuFL fonts, but just normal text fonts…)

So, you need to make sure it’s a SMuFL font.

For the Chord Symbol font, that can be a text font, so I’d recommend a Condensed style of something like Avenir, Gill Sans, DIN, Univers.

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Thanks for the advice, Ben.

A good friend of mine (and brilliant composer) is very vocal in the FB MET group that chord symbols should always be sans serif like those named above, but personally I think the accidentals are really the determining factor. Obviously a handwritten accidental style calls for a handwritten text style, but likewise I think accidentals with a strong contrast between thick and thin strokes, calls for a text style with a strong contrast between thick and thin. I’m not opposed to sans chord symbols, but I haven’t really found accidentals that I think pair well with them.

For example, from a font matching perspective, I think this …

looks better than this …

which sort of feels like this to me :joy::

Obviously plenty of publishers use sans for chord symbols though. You definitely want to maintain easy legibility, especially in crummy light, so I wouldn’t go too narrow or too small. If there’s a semi-condensed version of whatever your standard text font is, maybe try that? I think one of the jobs of a good copyist is to minimize distractions, and mixing too many fonts can lead to a distracting appearance IMO, so I would definitely pay attention to how it works in harmony with your other fonts. There are a bunch of Google Fonts with a variable width axis, so you could try playing around with one of those until you find some narrow-ish settings you like too.


In my jazz scores/parts, I use NorB Sans mixed with PetaText for my chord symbols:

The results look like this:

I don’t “love, love, love” their appearance, and I go back and forth on whether to show chord roots as superscripts or not, but I’ve not had players tell me they were tough to read. (As a piano player — if that’s the reason — I like seeing extensions stacked vertically in descending numerical value.)

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That’s a fair point – and admittedly chords aren’t my bag, baby.
I’d agree that a decent Serif face would be preferable, but if Sans is to be used, then those faces mentioned tend to have sufficient variety that something suitable might be found.

But if there really isn’t a set of glyphs that suits sans well, then that’s an interesting gap in the market!

I understand that Berkleee advises against handwritten fonts, which is great news, IMO. The truth will out! It wasn’t really made with a pen!! :rofl:

Years ago I encountered this argument by Tom Bergeron for sans serif fonts for chord symbols, along with a number of thoughts about what makes chord symbols most easily readable.

I’m curious what you all think.

:rofl::rofl::rofl: I’ve done exactly one copying job with Jazz font and it was for the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band in the 90s when it first came out. Obviously these were musicians who had spent their entire lives reading actual hand copied music so I thought they would like it. They hated it! “What the hell is this?!? A computer pretending to be handcopied?!?” Of course Jazz font is particularly illegible and the noteheads are tiny. Jon Faddis said to never use it again for the band so I didn’t. Frank Wess pulled me aside after rehearsal and asked if I would redo his part with the “normal” font as he was having such a hard time reading it, so I did. Thus ended my experiment with handwritten music fonts.


@judddanby “NorB Sans” was my 1st sans font I’ve ever designed. Glad to see that a Dorico user is trying it in his works.

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:joy: too bad…

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@Nordine , as you could tell, I also use it for all of the text elements in my jazz scores. Nice, “crisp” look which even recently earned a compliment from another Steinberg/Dorico forum user in a thread.

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I agree with some of that and disagree with some. He states: "My objection to what has become the most common indicator MA — which seems to have been invented by Chuck Sher — is that it uses two characters when one will do. To make matters worse, the MA convention calls for using MI for minor — again requiring two characters when one will do. The older variant Maj — which calls for its companion min — is no better. "

Bergeron is obviously wrong here as MA and MI nomenclature way predates Chuck Sher as that is the method prescribed by Clinton Roemer in his book:

The thing that everyone misunderstands about Roemer (especially over on MET) is that he … does … not … use … lowercase … letters. Ever. On page 9 he states “Lower case letters should not be used except for dynamic markings.” Lowercase letters have more curves and are harder to draw consistently with a music calligraphy pen. Look at A and a for example. Roemer’s solution was to never use lowercase, not for chord symbols, not for lyrics, not for tempos, etc. His chord symbol nomenclature is well thought out if you limit yourself to all caps, but completely falls apart IMO once you allow that lowercase is acceptable. Obviously in the computer era, lowercase is fine.

I’m mostly aligned with the prescriptions Ken Williams sets out in his book:

The elements I’ve gone back and forth on during my career are whether to superscript or not, whether to use parentheses or not, and whether to use accidentals or + and - for suffix alterations. There are good arguments on both sides of all of those IMO. I agree with Bergeron that parentheses can create visual clutter. The catch is that without them you may have to use + and - with suffix alterations then to avoid ambiguity, or you have to superscript alterations. Take C#9 for example. Is that a C# chord with a 9th, or a C triad with a #9? If you consistently superscript suffixes, then that would be clear, or if you use parentheses such as C(#9). Superscripting lifts the reader’s eye from the level baseline though which slows down reading. Jazz at Lincoln Center keeps a level baseline, uses + and -, and no parentheses in all of their Essentially Ellington publications, and that’s one very consistent style.

The triangle for major is a poor choice as it is hard to discriminate in poor lighting from the o that is often used for diminished. Also, the letter j is the only descender in any chord symbol, making maj instantly recognizable. The eye doesn’t even have to really read it as it sees the descender. The dash for minor is poor because it obviously can’t work with suffix systems that use + and -. “Half-diminished” should be written as m7(b5) or m7-5 as the circle with a slash is also hard to distinguish in poor lighting from the diminished circle.


Thanks for that rich response, @FredGUnn !

I agree that is not a good choice, and I don’t use them. Now you’ve got me reconsidering my use of ø, which I always use thinking it’s less visual information to process than min7♭5— but it really is less information if you can’t read it! And I’m inconsistent in that philosophy, because I always use maj and min (rather than, say mi).

I agree with you that parentheses for altered extensions helps avoid ambiguity. I find Bergeron’s use of different point sizes for the relative importance of chord extensions to be jarring. It seems to my eye that, as you have said, consistency is critical. Obviously computer notation has greatly aided that, but there are still many facets to be considered.

(I don’t know what MET is, btw.)


Any reason not to use just “G” for major and “Gm” for minor…?

When I see a letter name by itself I immediately think pure triad. While these obviously aren’t the default for “regular” jazz chords (with idiomatic extensions), they happen frequently as “special effects” (think Duke’s “Come Sunday”), in “slash chords,” and in triad-pair harmonies. And without maj (or ma), then G7 would result in a dominant 7 chord rather than ma(j)7.


Those are great and what I use. Bergeron is stating there that you can use m instead of mi and triangle instead of maj or ma. Once you have more than a simple major triad you have to pick something though. I prefer maj as the descender makes it instantly recognizable to the eye.


It’s the Music Engraving Tips group over on Facebook. Some very good information by knowledgeable music engravers is available there, but lots of garbage takes too by people who have never done a paid copying job for a client in their life. I rarely bother to check it anymore as people will argue over obvious things just for the sake of arguing.


@benwiggy , I do think that in idiomatically triadic music, like a pop/rock lead sheet/vocal/accomp score, “plain old” G and Gm can work perfectly well because triads (along with dominant 7s) are the norm. But as soon as the harmony in music of any style branches beyond triads and dom7s with regularity, then consistently using ma(j) and mi(n) seem advisable to me.


Maybe the reason why Hal Leonard Inc. adopted their chord system notation which I’ve tried to mimic here 2 years ago.

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If that’s from Hal Leonard, the biggest issue I have with that system of nomenclature is that it’s wildly inconsistent! Or is that just a sample of everything possible? I mean there’s mi (bar 2), m (bar 5), and - (bar 7) all meaning minor and that’s just in the first 2 systems. There’s maj7 (bars 4, 12) and triangle being used (bars 7, 11). Sometimes alterations are parenthesized (7, 12, 15, 31) and sometimes not (6, 9, 10, etc). Chords with the exact same suffix appearing sequentially have different appearances (bars 14-15).

(My old thoughts posted further down in that thread about edits are mostly outdated as they are easier to do with doricolib files instead than a ton of overrides.)

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