Swing playback revisited - suggested rules for short note durations

After my posting earlier on swing playback and note duration alterations especially for earlier-era music such as my Duke Ellington transcriptions, I’ve got some suggestions that I hope the Dorico team might consider. I’ve emailed this separately to Daniel. I might separate this into several topics for the different aspects.

With regards to short notes, I think there are several different styles of writing jazz scores:

  1. Some write quavers for short notes, whether on the beat or off. Or they write crotchets where rhythmically sensible but put staccato marks or ^ accents to indicate shortening -most note end up with articulation marks of one sort or another and everything is specific. These people probably do not need Dorico to systematically alter the duration of vast numbers of crotchets because they use articulation marks all the time.
  2. Others (eg David Berger) write crotchets on the beat and also off-beat after the 1st or the 3rd beat, but would mostly write a quaver after the 2nd beat and 4th beat. However, they might write a crotchet crossing the centre of the bar if there is a symmetric rhythm (quaver, crotchet, crotchet, crotchet, quaver). All unadorned, unslurred crotchets are short notes.
  3. The earlier era standard I employ, as written by Duke Ellington, can notate short off-beat notes as pairs of tied quavers over the centre of the bar and over a barline. Or they can be a quaver tied to a crotchet over the centre of a bar or a barline (depending on what follows). The rule is “an off-beat note always includes the beat it anticipates, even though it is played as a short note. Furthermore, if you can extend it to the end of that beat, do so!”

There are therefore several degrees of note-duration shortenings according to style. Could this all be accommdated by future Dorico enhancements? Perhaps yes.

Imagine a new section in Playback Options ->Timing. It would have four settings:

  1. Default - don’t alter the duration of any written crotchets
  2. Shorten all written crotchets (on or off the beat)
  3. Shorten all written crotchets and also pairs of tied quavers
  4. Shorten all written crotchets, all pairs of tied quavers and also off-beat quavers which are tied to crotchets (off-beat of 2 or 4)

Options 2,3,4 should not affect any written note durations other than those specified. A note written as a dotted crotchet is NOT to shortened by any of these options. These rules would also work for 3/4 swing.
[Edit: that’s wrong. A written dotted crotchet off the beat is often shortened, but only by a bit as it is not a percussive short note, and it’s more context-dependent. I might expect to do that manually. For example, imagine a couple of bars with the repeated pattern: quaver rest, dotted crotchet note. Those off-beat notes would typically be shortened by a quaver’s worth]

Other options for the treatment of long notes (anything longer than a dotted crotchet) can be treated, I think, separately. Indeed I have two different suggestions for that.

Manual override: note that any need to override the duration of a short note when employing the above proposed rules project-wide must work properly for swing. There would need to be an override as a simple switch in the note properties. It would act to give the note its written duration and also obey the project-wide swing setting for notes that end off the beat, something that currently is a bit messy. Currently the Playback End Offset doesn’t work well: the End Offset is specific to the swing (light/medium) and this value is essentially invisible to the user. If you set it to zero then you could be 70 or 80 ticks short. if you set it too long, repeated notes won’t sound properly.


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Here is an example of Duke Ellington’s notation from 1936. All of the off-beat notes whether written as a crotchet, two tied quavers, or a quaver tied to a crotchet, are short notes. The minim is shortened by a quaver or so. The dotted crotchet that follows it might be shortened, sometimes not - that’s a little less systematic.

In this example many of the on-beat quavers are shortened too when they are followed by more than one off-beat not. Eg. n the “tickets please” rhythm (quaver-crotchet-quaver, three punctuated notes) in the second half of the second bar of H. Also the very first note of H is short. But the quaver on beat 3 of bar 63 is long - that quaver is part of a couplet. The same with the on-beat quavers in bar 65. The shortening of quavers is far more context-dependent than for the crotchet-equivalents so I wouldn’t expect Dorico to try to facilitate that in playback!

However, the rules I suggested above would work for all of the written crotchets, pairs of tied quavers and the quavers tied to crotchets over a barline or over the centre of the bar.

This all sounds good to me! I personally would probably choose option #3 as a default when working with music from this era. In addition to the manual override, I would suggest options not to shorten any notes with a tenuto, nor any notes under a slur as well.

If you set the Playback Options → Timing → Default Notes option to something like 10% to make crotchets and quavers sound ridiculously short, it is already the case that Dorico ignores that setting for all notes under a slur except for the last note. I’m coming on to slurs in a minute or two.

Tenutos override the Default Note length setting too.That is what one would expect, I hope, with phrasing and articulation marks taking precedence of any “strange” project-wide alterations to note durations.

I have also observed that setting a Playback End Offest will override the presence of a tenuto.