Voices or layers

I’m curious what terminology Dorico will adopt when distinguishing between the different parts of a musical texture written on a single or on multiple stems on the same staff.

I’m not a native english speaker, so excuse me if I have misunderstood how these terms are used in English. My understanding, though, is that most who have studied harmony are accustomed to the term voice describing each melodic line that makes up a multi-part texture or chord progression. be it monophonic or polyphonic, on a single or on multiple stems. AFAIK, there is no well-established term referring specifically to each single or multi-part texture written on opposite stems, which has led to different nomenclature in different applications.

Sibelius uses the term voice in referring to parts written on opposite stems, which is confusing whenever each stem carries more than one note (considering each of the lines on each stem is what usually constitutes a voice). In tern, the application references each individual harmony part written on the same stem simply as notes, a term which seems to disregard the melodic and harmonic context entirely.

Finale, on the other hand, (usually) uses the term layer to describe the same thing as voices in Sibelius, which is a unique and descriptive term that doesn’t disrupt the traditional musical terminology.

From what I’ve heard and read, Sibelius’s terminology has been adopted in Dorico, which I think is unfortunate, and I would hope there’s still time to reconsider.

Dorico does indeed use the term “voice” to refer to a distinct stream of notes, and which have a nominal default stem direction in the event that multiple streams of notes are active on the same stave at the same time.

I personally don’t think “layer” is a very helpful term (and of course Finale also uses “voice”, since each layer can have two voices…) precisely because it doesn’t have anything to do with the musical concept of a voice.

Gould talks about “double-stemmed writing” (e.g. pages 52 ff.) but even this term isn’t quite right (it doesn’t account, for example, for there being more than two stems). I guess we could have chosen to talk about “new stems” rather than “new voices” but it seems a little perverse.

AFAIK ‘layers’ in Finale was introduced later than the voices function in Speedy Entry. There is, however, no way to access Finale’s ‘voices’ in the main entry tool Simple Entry.

‘Layers’ may imply more of a 3rd dimension than vertical layering. In lack of an even more unambiguous term in current use, it nevertheless seems very helpful in that it eliminates any confusion with other well-established analytical terms. The fact that ‘layers’ has nothing to do with the concept of a voice, seems to me to be it’s strong point, since it describes an entirely independent entity, and can inhabit both a single or multiple voices. In this sense, the use of ‘voices’ to describe the same thing is problematic.

Gould’s terminology is, as you point out, too limited, while ‘new stems’ refers only to a single graphical component in the same way as a notehead would.

BTW, this has been discussed briefly in this thread on the notat.io forum:

I agree that “voices” is probably the most straightforward terminology. True, the human voice can only sing one note at a time (unless you are Tibetan monk or similar). But it already is a metaphor when applied to keyboard or fingerboard music. “Voice” is still probably the best term for a group of notes sharing stems and rhythms on a single staff.

You could get cute and coin “stream,” or something like that, but that will just leave musicians scratching their heads, like “flow” is already doing, sorry to say. What is a flow? Well, may I introduce Auntie Flo? :^)

In traditional music theory, though, the term is used for all instruments to describe a single line in the harmony Common terms like ‘voice leading’ and ‘chord voicing’ are clearly derived from this definition, and make no sense with regard to how the term is used in Sibelius and other scoring applications.

There’s no need to coin a new term as long as one ('layers) already established in one of the leading scoring applications.

In traditional music, there is both strict and free texture. In the former, the voices are clear cut and a single line. In the latter, what constitutes a voice is less clear and the number of notes in chords can vary. It’s the free texture situation that really concerns us. I’d say that it is clear to musicians that what a notation program calls a “voice” can have a variable number of simultaneous notes, even though that may not exactly be what a voice is called in traditional music theory. (Some music theorists might refer to free texture as having a constantly changing number of voices.)

“Layers” is a term that has a front to back, three dimensional connotation. There could be an implication that the frontmost or rearmost layer has priority of importance. These properties of the term are not appropriate for how music is stemmed on a single staff. To me a layer is a better description for a Schenkerian type reduction of a melodic line.

The bottom line is: what is the best way to communicate? In my view, “voice” is the best term and will most readily connect with the musician/user.

We’re used to musical terms sometimes having numerous meanings. For example, “inversion.” I think we can be okay with slightly different uses of the word “voice.”

In my mind, whether the texture is free or strict has no influence on the definition of the term voices. In free texture, a voice may split into two or more new voices or vice versa, but the singular ‘voice’ will always refer to a single monophonic line or chord note, regardless of such textural variations.

You may very well be right that most musicians will understand what is meant by voices in Dorico, but I suspect this has more to do with it’s widespread use in scoring software up to this point than any genuine usefulness this definition provides. Certainly, all Finale users will feel more at home with the term layers, simply because this is how the phenomenon is most frequently defined in that application.

And as I implied in an earlier post, ‘layers’ may indeed have a three dimensional connotation, but it doesn’t have to. I don’t know exactly how a rainbow best could be described in english, but I would imagine that ‘layers of different colours’ is as good a description as any. It is quite easy to think of things where layers could easily be used without necessarily evoking any three dimensional connotations, be it cakes, plywood or fabric.

BTW, as for a completely new descriptive term for this phenomenon, a good one might be ‘plane’, but I honestly see no real benefit of this compared to ‘layers’.

I only have used Sibelius which only uses voices. What can I do with layers that I can’t do in Sibelius?

Nothing. The terms are synonymous.

Sibelius was invented by two singers. QED.

If you want a new name, you could try a “strand” of music or a “string” of notes, but personally I’m not really bothered what it’s called. Anybody who is familiar with music notation knows what it looks like. And complete beginners don’t have any preconceived ideas about the meaning of the name, whatever it is.

If Program A wants to call it a voice, Program B a layer, and program C thinks that “\oneVoice” and “\voiceOne” mean two completely different things so far as the formatting of the music is concerned, my reaction is pretty much “yawn - so what?”

That’s not quite true, because a single “layer” in Finale can split itself into two “voices” with independent rhythms and stem directions, and the splitting and recombining can happen at any position in a bar (and several times within a single bar), not just at bar lines. In other words, “Finale voices” don’t involve hiding or deleting unwanted rests, like “Finale layers” and “Sibelius voices” do.

There is another big difference: different Finale layers (but not Finale voices) on a single staff have completely independent playback, so they can be assigned to different instruments, etc. But this thread seems to be about notation not playback.


Fair enough.

While I personally think that an application’s nomenclature isn’t a trivial matter, and that striving for clarity and unambiguity is a goal in this case, I’m obviously of the minority opinion based on the responses in this thread.

I whole-heartedly agree with Knut.

Basic musical terms like “voice” should not be redefined for the convenience of computer software programs. Now one can’t be sure what the term means to others when using it.

I point to three voices stemmed together as three-note chords and say: “the top voice is moving in thirds with the middle voice”, but the listener is confused, because they may see only one "voice”. How do I convey that there are three? What term do I use now use for a single melodic line without a laborious explanation? We have lost a unambiguous term for a basic musical concept.

I also think that it reinforces a mistaken view of music as merely a series of chords, rather than an assemblage of independent melodies producing harmony as they move against each other.

The advantage of the term “layer” is that it has never been used with a single exact meaning in music, so that it is open to new meanings, and it has often been used in computer applications for multi-level situations. But if someone can come up with a superior term, so much the better.

One would think that Dorico would uphold the highest standards in its terminology as well as in its engraving practices.

When playback does become a reality, I think many users will be pleased if a stave (or grand stave in particular) could contain several instrumental “layers”, each with their own sound, and if each layer was polyphonic.

Other users, more concerned with getting “difficult” notation onto paper, might find independent layers very useful. They could even open the door to true polyrthmic notation ( though in this case, the layers probably won’t share a stave). Maybe this is what streams in Dorico are all about. I’ll be fascinated to get hands-on and find out.

In Finale layers were introduced to give users the ability to assign different instruments to one staff which didn’t work with their voices. Since then one can assign up to 4 dif. “sounds” to the 4 layers plus the chord layer.

But honestly I do not care that much how things are actually labeled. I am more interested in who it works in my daily work. :slight_smile:

That’s what I said. :wink:

While I appreciate the feedback and discussion on this point, I can’t see us changing the term from “voice” at this stage, though I will suggest to our documentation team that we cross-reference voices from “layers”.

We are using the shortcut Shift-V to start a new voice or layer, and V on its own to switch between existing voices or layers in the given instrument. We’re already using Shift-L for lyrics, and would rather not have to completely reorganise all of our key commands at this stage.

Thanks, Daniel, that’s good to know.
I suspected that it might be a futile attempt. I am, however, glad you’re at least making the documentation more accessible for Finale users.

Knut, English may not be your native language but your command of it is outstanding, including subtle shades of meaning. I wish I spoke a second language as well as you do English.

I agree with you that naming things well, both for users and programmers, is very important in software development. We just have a difference of opinion on this particular term.