Phrase marks vs slurs

Idle curiosity. Is there any clever way to make the distinction between phrase marks and slurs?

I am currently inputting phrase marks as if they were slurs and then flipping them to always be above the notes. (Just like in other programs.) This works fine, but it occurred to me — since Dorico is generally so hot on the semantics of the music — that this could be regarded technically as a cheat, and that there might be, or there might be planned for the future, a more literal way of doing this.

We don’t have anything planned in this area at the moment, though it is something that has been suggested before.

I’m not sure how a distinction could be made. The same symbol serves two different functions: it tells the performer the length of a musical idea, or the appropriate grouping of an idea, while it also is a specific playing technique for certain instruments. It’s for this reason that some classical guitar editions in recent years have adopted the standard slur as phrase indication, and use a dotted slur for the playing technique. Happily it is easy to do this in Dorico, and there is no possibility of a tie being used as a slur, in that with Dorico the slur will find its paired pitch - and it could be some distance away! In Sibelius this was a constant refrain from new users when notes would not cut-off in playback; this was normally down to the fact that a tie had been used in place of a slur. Good times, eh Daniel?

Yep, I’ve seen that convention. Though personally I’m more used to dotted slurs meaning ‘this slur is editorial’, so I always have to do a double-take when I see this alternative.

Dorico is careful to make distinctions between different meanings of similar symbols in other contexts, so I wondered if any thought had been given to this one.

I guess in practice it’s rare for there to be any risk of confusion between slurs and phrase marks, because it’s rare to have a slur so long it could impersonate a phrase mark, or a phrase so short it could pass as a slur. Maybe the only risky situation is vocal music with long melismas. But then the boundaries arguably become blurred anyway. And the way the two are notated is so similar that it probably wouldn’t be worth the overhead in complexity to try to draw a distinction.

As I said… just idle curiosity.

I think the problem with marking some kind of distinction is that it would actually entail a new symbol/marking. Not that it’s a bad idea - one of the problems with notation is that it/we are so married to traditions, improvements can be hard to implement. And, we are actively engraving older works - do we use our “new” differentiation for those, as well?

Please don’t read this as an attack - it’s not. It’s just that your question raises so many other questions; and, once the mind gets to examining it, many ifs/ands/buts arise!

Nah, I wasn’t proposing a new symbol, just musing on the possibility for Dorico to understand the difference between two different uses of the same old symbol.

For analogy, conventional notation uses curved lines for both ties and slurs. But Dorico knows the difference, and treats them differently.

It seems to me that it is possible to over-think things. As I see it, they are not two different concepts. Perhaps if you are trying to indicate how a computer synthesizer should play something, you might need separate instructions. But we really should give musicians a little credit. I don’t need to have two different markings, one for phrasing and one for articulation. A slur tells me how to play the passage in both respects. In the end, the exact performance will be adjusted to how the conductor is indicating and how the ensemble is treating the music. Keep it simple. Musicians have enough to concern themselves without having to read superfluous markings.

I agree. Other than the playback implications, the only difference in notation between the two that I can think of is that phrase marks always go above the staff, and slurs can go either side. And as I mentioned, this is easy enough to achieve without overloading Dorico with a new concept.

The most common use I see of the dotted slur is to indicate no breath BETWEEN phrases. That is, the normal slur indicates the phrase and a dotted slur connects two adjacent phrases. That may sound contradictory, but it makes perfect sense to wind players. It is common that music may have very strong, clearly defined, obvious phrases. And it can be a powerful variation to connect two phrases that everyone expects to be separated. And it is so against the instincts of the musician that the dotted slur marking serves a strong purpose. This is quite useful in chorales.

Do phrase marks always go above the staff?

Gould says “The slur has a number of different meanings relating to articulation, in addition to its general use as a phrase mark.”
Ted Ross stresses that slurs and phrase-marks have different functions, but that they are created in the same way.

Neither makes an indication that phrase marks need to be above the notes.

However, to save some work, you could enter all the phrase marks, Select and filter Slurs, and then flip them all. Then enter other slurs if needed.

If there is such a distinction, I have never noticed it in reading hundreds of thousands of pieces of music.

This strikes me as over-thinking it. Trust the musicians to have some musical sense. Give them the information they need, and no more.

That’s interesting. I was always taught that they were different, but it seems there is some disagreement (by which I mean “I just googled it and people are arguing about it”). e.g. :smiley:

Anyway, this is a long way from my original question. I didn’t intend to suggest that Dorico should mark the difference – in fact I think it’s likely to be unnecessary. I merely wanted to ask whether it did, to which Daniel gave a suitably definitive reply!

I’ve run into an issue in how slurs work compared to phrase markings. Since slurs are attached to notes, if I want to put phrase markings over slashed notation, the slashes hide the notes, and slurs. It really doesn’t allow me to mark where phrases should be, when allowing the player to just have a chart.
(It’s also harder to assign hairpin dynamics, since you have to write in parts behind the music, just to attach it to the correct beat…)

Anton, if you upload a small project (or even just a screenshot) I’m 95% sure I can come up with a viable workaround.

Sure. Here is a screen shot. I “drew” in an example I would want. 2 bar phrases over the slash notation of the guitar and bass, etc.

The easy method is to use stemless slashed notes rather than a slash region, as follows:

You could alternatively do something clever with notes that are hidden, as follows:

Thanks. I’m sure I can make those work for me… now teaching my client, that may be a different story… lol


Gould says that “The tie extends from notehead to notehead: if one or both ends point to a stem, the arc becomes a slur”. Maybe it’s a slightly confused version of that people are citing as a distinction between above or below the note.

Gould also says that "The tie should almost touch each notehead. An arc further away from the notehead may be taken for a slur. And sure enough (just tried it!) Dorico’s default placement of a tie is almost touching the notehead, and of a slur is further away.

So the answer to “Is there any clever way to make the distinction between phrase marks and slurs?” is “Yes, and Dorico does it automatically.”

The passages you quote from Gould distinguish a TIE from a SLUR, not a slur from a phrase-mark.

If there was a distinction in entering phrase marks and slurs into Dorico, this could usefully affect playback.