Playing techniques position

I’d like to make a request about the position of playing techniques (I’m hoping someone from the Dorico team reads this post). Right now playing techniques can be placed above or below the staff but there’s a very common practice of placing them before the left barline (above, of course); in other words, in the previous bar, close to its right barline. I wonder if this could be automated too.

I know I can put them in the previous bar and then offset their position but am I right to assume this works only for the score and not the parts?


You are right to assume that the offset you specify in Engrave mode applies only to the current layout, so you would have to make the same adjustment in both the score layout and the parts.

I would need to see some examples of your preferred placement to be able to assess the likelihood of us tackling this at some point in the future. Could you attach a picture or two?

I thought so. But thanks for clarifying it.

Sure! I’ve attached three examples. The first one is from the second page of Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun (published by Fromont). The other two are from Mahler’s 6th symphony (published by Kahnt).

Screenshot 2017-07-13 12.27.27.png
Screenshot 2017-07-13 12.26.19.png
Now, I haven’t been able to pinpoint a rule about the placement of playing technique text. I have several scores at home and in all of them I can find examples of every position imaginable. The most common is, of course, above, followed by above and to the left (i.e. not centered), then above and in the previous bar (most commonly next to the barline but sometimes centered if the bar is empty) and finally below. There doesn’t seem to be any consistency of choice. One could think that it would be determined by the available vertical space but I have been able to find occurrences where there’s enough vertical space and still the text is placed in the previous bar.

One related thing: there are still quite a few playing techniques missing. The “Div.” from your first example, for instance, will have to be done as a text object for now. (Hopefully more playing techniques and expressions are coming!)

Yes, that’s true. Good point. However, I don’t think we can expect the Dorico team to create virtually every technique in the book, in all possible languages. I think it would be even better if we, the users, were given the option of creating our own playing techniques. In fact, user-defined symbols, techniques and lines would be most welcome. I’m sure the team has already thought about all these and they have plans to include them in future releases.

This opens a can of worms. In all three cases, the reason for putting the instruction in the previous bar is because there is not enough room above the note. Despite this, it is still readable and perfectly obvious to what the instruction refers. However, modern computer music setting prefers to avoid doing this, and consequently uses more space in ensuring that nothing overlaps. Many modern editions of Classical and Romantic scores have less bars per page than older ones for this reason, and the conductor has to turn over pages more often. The Mahler scores are a good example. The latest edition of the Fifth Symphony score takes 333 pages, versus 244 of the earlier scores, and the Sixth Symphony takes 346 versus 261 pages. I personally find them less legible and prefer to use the earlier scores, which are beautifully engraved, while breaking the computer setting rules of placement of text, slurs, hairpins. Like many composers’ manuscripts, which also break the rules they are perfectly legible to a performing musician.

One might hope for an option to be established such that such preferred placements as you have mentioned are applied to both score and parts in certain cases. I add this caveat because there may on occasion actually be room in the part for the text to fit in the normal place, although there was not in the score, and one would also want on occasion to avoid the splitting of a multirest to provide an empty bar for the placement of text.

It is not a simple matter to apply artificial intelligence to music setting that has profited over the years from intelligent modifications of the rules, guided by human intervention.