"Rit," "Rall," and "a tempo" below the staff

There is almost nothing I disagree with in Elaine Gould’s book. I think it is a brilliant work in just about every respect.

But there is this one nagging item. She categorically says that all tempo information always goes above the staff. That is certainly not the convention I am most familiar with. Without a doubt, style information, metric equations and absolute meter marks always go above the staff. But in most music I am familiar with, gradual tempo changes are indicated below the staff more often than not. This is particularly true of jazz charts where the space above the staff is often filled with chord names.

It is not only jazz pieces. I just pulled 20 classical pieces out of my files at random. In the great majority of cases “rit” and “rall” are below the staff. “a tempo” is about 50/50. “Meno mosso” “stringendo” (and similar) are usually above – those aren’t usually gradual changes. With apologies to Ms. Gould, I think she is just plain wrong on this one, and Dorico has it wrong to follow her lead on this. Immediate tempo changes are above the staff. Gradual tempo changes are below the staff most often, and “a tempo” is a coin flip. Personally I prefer “a tempo” below the staff if it is reversing a nearby “rit” or “rall”. It it is being used as “tempo primo”, then it makes sense above the staff.

I realize that I can make this happen by individually editing every part in engrave mode, but I really do think that Dorico should provide an engraving setting that allows the user to put gradual tempo changes (in parts only) under the staff by default.

Just wondering if others have a completely different experience.

I do agree that here is room for improvement.
Also rit., rall., a tempo below the staff might need a different formatting by default (=italic?)

Yes, I usually see those items italicized. And that is another case where “a tempo” seems to have two different usages. When it is to reverse a nearby gradual tempo change (usually rit or rall,) it has the same formatting as the rit or rall. But if “a tempo” is indicating a particular tempo (often a substitute for “Tempo primo”, then it tends to be formatted like any other discrete tempo parking (i.e. above the staff without italics.)

It’s not that she’s wrong, per se, it’s that Behind Bars aims to be a best practices manual instead of an historical overview of notational practices.

I’d argue that gradual tempo modifications once appeared below the staff (or in the middle of staves) when that device was new and before its conventions crystallized in a consistent manner. It would often appear in the same position as dynamics, because the device was not properly differentiated; there was no need to distinguish what would be seen, at the time, as comparable gradual changes to the material. (I’d also say that this is only the case in solo music, or in parts; it would be impractical to show it at the position in question in music scored for larger forces) From that origin, the practice stuck, but you can see that it quickly started appearing below the staff only when it pertained to local fluctuations and to matters of interpretation — again, where you can draw a simile with expression markings —, with more structural changes always stated above. A combination of these two aspects explains Ms Gould’s suggestion.

That being said: yes, I agree this is a requirement for people engraving older music. (I’ll gladly go with Gould for music written today, but if you want to keep observing the old practice, especially when attending to the logic of my second point above, knock yourself out.) Expression text could stand to be more flexible and differentiated from dynamics anyway, so some work in the area would be welcome.

I don’t think that is the best practice. I think the best practice is to put gradual tempo changes below the staff. That’s where musicians look for it. That’s where it usually is. I don’t see any reason to change that. I think she is simply wrong on this particular point and I hope engravers don’t start going that direction. I don’t think it is an “old practice.” I would agree with you that if you look at experimental music coming from universities, they will do it as you say. But most music that is played in the real world is not following that convention, as far as I can tell.

I view the stuff above the staff as being “helpful” courtesy information. I view the stuff below the staff (dynamics, rit etc) as being mandatory, top priority stuff for the musician.

I’m sorry, but I don’t agree with that. Gradual tempo changes may be below the staff sometimes, and some musicians might look for them there, but it’s simply not true to assert that it’s the standard.

I agree that it would be useful to have the option to have gradual tempo changes be below the staff (or between the staves of a grand staff), but I absolutely disagree with the following quote:

I view the stuff above the staff as being “helpful” courtesy information. I view the stuff below the staff (dynamics, rit etc) as being mandatory, top priority stuff for the musician.

In fact I think you have it exactly backward. “Allegro” is helpful but “rallentando” is mandatory? Really? I think most musicians will disagree with you. If anything is truly mandatory (arguable point), I think it’s tempo markings above the staff. And dynamics can hardly be mandatory when they are as imprecise as they are.

As usual, I’m pro-choice here…


This shows that music per se is not always a structured beast. There is a grand palette :art: of “colouring it in” by adding expression marks, tempo changes, fixed tempos, gradual changes, but also things like con sentimento, con passione etc.
Some of these “colours” can not be categorised at all.

+1: choosing a default format would be welcome

It’s certainly not an unreasonable request for Dorico to support this, though I think it is considered a little archaic these days, and I would anticipate us adding it in a future version. (It was something we discussed when we first implemented tempo, but we didn’t have time to finish it off at that point and we’ve not yet had a chance to return to it.)

It certainly is considered archaic in some circles, particularly universities, where they seem to entertain themselves by inventing new notation practices all the time, where none are needed. If a musician plays mainly music coming from that environment, then they will probably find the “above” placement natural. Musicians who have spent decades sight-reading a broader base of music might find it awkward or just plain goofy. I do, but maybe that means I am archaic. Certainly a possibility, but I’m not likely to change at this stage. :slight_smile:

I appreciate this probably shouldn’t be a top priority. I do think when the time comes to offer some engraving rules, it will be helpful to consider the gradual changes separately from the other tempo-related items, as these are the ones that are most at issue, IMHO.

Ah yes, the shady “university” music lobby must be afoot, as one can easily see by the rest of Dorico’s feature set — as well as by Elaine Gould’s recommendation and from the feedback of pretty much everyone else in this thread. My friend, it seems I was actually the closest one to agree with you on this point, so please don’t take to heart the suggestion that your incredulity could stand to be revised.

Things have certainly moved on since the days when text markings like “dim. e rit.” were common in scores. As LSalgueiro said, the basic semantic model for music notation has changed.

If the 19th century was generally reckoned to be the high point of plate engraving, the general principle often seemed to be “put as many notes on the page as you can, and then put the text anywhere there is some white space left,” or even on top of the staff lines, if there was nowhere else available.

When editions of piano music sometimes had tempo marks below the bottom staff, pedal marks between the staves, and “una corda” above the top staff, it’s time to give up looking for a logical system there IMO.

“Die Praxis des Notengraphikers” from Herbert Chaplik (Doblinger, 1985) makes a distinction between “Haupttempi”, which should be bold and “Nebentempi”, which should be set in italics. But all of these tempo markings should be placed above the staff. cparmerlee, I don’t think that Gould is “plain wrong” here. If you look through hundreds of orchestral scores and parts of symphonies on IMSLP, you will nearly always find Tempo markings of all kinds above the staves. You are true, that markings like rit. and rall. can be written below the staff in modern publications as well. I have some Big Band Charts, which are written this way. I think it’s more or less a question of the music genre you are used to read.
I would be glad, if Dorico would give us a bit more options for the placement and the formatting of tempo markings.

I think that’s a vote in support of artistic license, which broadly means “you can do whatever you want, but you take the praise or heat for whatever the result may be.”

In that sense it is like the freedom airplane pilots have to break any rule or law to protect the passengers and plane. But with that comes the responsibility for whatever results, which is why in almost every crash, one of the reasons–along with everything else-- is “pilot error.”

All of those are what I would consider static style or tempo marks, and I don’t dispute that at all. It has always been the convention for that to be above the staff.

Yes, it seems the great majority of big band charts written before modern notation programs forced a different default have those gradual tempo changes below the staff. Those (rit, rall, a tempo etc.) are really the only items I’m commenting about / objecting to. And I don’t really object to “a tempo” being above the staff. If the performer observes the rit/rall correctly, then the “a tempo” is obvious, regardless where it is placed.

My motivation is to have music performed as well as possible on first reading. IMHO, this aim is better met by placing those particular items below the staff which has been a rather solid convention for a long time. But I am also one who will almost always replace gratuitous scattered 16th notes with staccato 8th notes to make them easier to read and therefore more likely to achieve the musical intent on the first reading. I think there is often a struggle between the composer’s concept of elegance versus the performer’s need for pragmatics. It is like re-spelling double-sharps and double-flats. Purists will object, and players will thank you.

On scenario that bugs me is SATB + accompaniment. When you add these items they appear at the top (good) but I think it prudent to also appear above the accompaniment as the pianist might not be always able to read 4 full staves (plus text in-between) above. I’d like the option to at least allow these things to appear automatically above each bracketed group.

What, like this?

You can do this already: Layout options --> staves and systems. There you can choose, where system object are placed.

(o.k., Pianoleo was first ------- like most of the time.)