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Page layout, spacing, and more

Started by Latios212, May 27, 2021, 08:21:41 PM

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What is this about?

This is a guide about how to judiciously use the space on the page to make a sheet look nice. It'll cover things like:
- Measures per system
- Systems per page
- Space between staves
- Placement of articulations, dynamics, performance directions, etc.

This guide is fully focused on presentation and won't actually deal with:
- The specifics of how to adjust the sheet in a certain notation software
- Choosing what notes to write or how to notate them on the staff (i.e. the arrangement itself)

The information presented here corresponds to a workshop given by myself and mastersuperfan on 5/22/21. You can find the slides here: [SLIDES]

Why does this matter?

You can have a great arrangement, but a sheet that is unsightly and difficult to read. Taking the time to polish up the visual presentation after you finish arranging and writing can really help your sheet shine and look professional.

To illustrate this point, take a look at this sheet snippet here:


The arrangement itself is great, but a number of things stand out when trying to read this:
- The last measure takes up an entire system and the notes are super stretched out, whereas the previous system has notes cramped in three measures
- Symbols are not given enough space to be read easily, like the finger numbers and triplet number in the measure in the middle
- There's not much space around the header but the last measure has a relatively large amount of white space above it

Compare this to something like:
- The sheet gets a consistent number of measures per system, with notes evenly spaced throughout its various measures
- Sufficient space for dynamics and slurs
- Section breaks that line up with system breaks

Making your sheet look nice will make both you and the people reading your sheet happier about how clear the music is to read and how nice the sheet looks overall.

To be continued...
My arrangements and YouTube channel!

Quote from: Dudeman on February 22, 2016, 10:16:37 AM
who needs education when you can have WAIFUS!!!!!




Measures per System

Some guidelines to keep in mind when organizing the measure distribution:
- Note density: Make sure the notes have a comfortable amount of space. The notes should be far enough apart that they don't touch each other and the rhythm is easily readable. At the same time, make sure that the notes don't look too stretched apart. Usually, 2-3 measures per system is good for denser measures, 4 measures per system is good for less dense ones, and more than 4 measures per system can work if the rhythms are sparse (for example, mostly whole or half notes).
- Hypermeter: If note density permits, the organization of measures into systems should line up into phrases. For example, if the phrases are four measures long, then it would be ideal for the first, second, etc. measure of each system to correspond to the first, second, etc. measure of each phrase. However, sometimes note density precludes this from being an appealing option, in which case it's often better to go with note density and forgo hypermeter.
- Section breaks: If the note density isn't right for hypermeter, it's still good to try to start on a new system when transitioning from one section of the track to the next.
- Consistency between similar sections: If a section is written with a particular measure distribution, and the section repeats later on (e.g. a reprise), it's good to write the reprise with the same measure distribution for visible consistency, if possible.

Examples of good measure distribution:
- - The number of measures per system changes throughout the sheet according to the hypermeter and the note density (first 3 measures/system, then 4, then 2).
- - Also varies the measure distribution according to the sheet's needs. m9-17, which are dense with notes and accidentals, are given three measures per system. m34-38 is written as a five-measure system where the note density is sparser in order to the restore the hypermeter on page 4 later on.
- - If the notes are too stretched at two measures/system and too crowded at four, using three measures per system throughout can be fine!

System Spacing and Distribution

- Systems per page, space between systems: This varies with the vertical space that the systems occupy. Typically, four systems on the first page and five systems per subsequent page is a good rule of thumb. However, if the systems take up a lot of vertical space (e.g. with 8va's, pedal markings, ledger lines high above or below the staff, or if the space between the staves needs to be expanded), you may have to reduce it to four systems per page and expand the space between systems.
- Space between RH and LH staves: If there's a lot going on between the staves (ledger lines, stems and articulations for layers, dynamics and crescendos), and things are colliding or close to colliding with each other between the staves, then it's good to increase the space between the RH and LH for some more breathing room.
- Header/footer spacing: Give the header (mini-title) or footer (copyright) ample room on each page! Make sure the systems don't get uncomfortably close to them.
- Similar formatting on each page: (except page 1) If you have five systems per page from page 2 onwards, it's ideal to space the systems out similarly on each page so that the formatting is visually consistent throughout. (e.g. If you spread the five systems out evenly on one page, do the same on the next page instead of leaving blank space at the bottom.)
- Try not to have only one system on the last page! It leaves a lot of empty space and doesn't look good. See if you can condense the sheet such that you can move the system up to the previous page, or if that doesn't work, consider reducing the number of systems per page so that the last page is filled more.
- Page breaks: You might also consider adjusting the organization of systems such that new sections start on new pages and page turns aren't excessively inconvenient (i.e. requiring back-and-forth page turns due to a repeat, if avoidable).

Examples of good system spacing:
- - The systems are spread out to fill two pages.  The wide system spacing gives room for the ossia in m5. Additionally, in the third system, the distance between the RH and LH staves is expanded to accommodate the crescendo and decrescendo.
- - Where necessary (m11-14, m56-63), the space between the staves is expanded to accommodate dynamics and stem-side articulations on layers. In other places where the staves are less crowded, the space between them is normal.


See the slides (linked in the above post) for image examples of each of these.

- Should be centered with the noteheads on the corresponding beat.
- Should be approximately centered between the staves, if modifying both hands.
- Should be either above the RH staff (if modifying RH only) or below the LH staff (if modifying LH only).
- Should be vertically aligned with other dynamics and crescendos in the same system, if possible.
- Crescendos should NOT start or end directly on a barline.
- Crescendos can be angled/tilted in exceptional cases where vertically aligning crescendos with preceding/following dynamics is not possible otherwise.

Ottava (8va):
- The "8" should be positioned just left of the first notehead (Finale's default positioning is too far right!).
- The line should terminate immediately after the last notehead it modifies, even if the note is held until the end of the measure.

For repeat endings: The number should be approximately aligned with the left side of the notehead (Finale's default positioning is too far right!), unless the note has accidentals associated with it (in which case the number should be left of the notehead).

For segno and coda: The segno and coda symbols should be centered over the barline (unless they appear at the beginning of a system).

For tempo and performance directions:
- If there is a time signature shown in the measure, the left side of the tempo marking or performance direction should be aligned with the left side of the time signature.
- Otherwise, the left side of the tempo marking or performance direction should be aligned with the left side of the leftmost accidental on the corresponding note, or if there are no accidentals, with the left side of the notehead.


A good example of all of these practices:
- 8va's, repeat ending numbers, and tempo markings/directions are properly aligned.
- Dynamics are centered with noteheads and vertically aligned with each other in places like m10-17.
- The space between the systems is expanded in m10-17 to accommodate the dynamics in between.
- The hypermeter is typically four measures per system but is sometimes expanded to five measures per system (m5-9, m46-50) to accommodate the extra measure introduced by the second repeat ending.
- The systems comfortably fill the space on each page, with four on the first page and five on each of the second and third.

All of these tips and strategies will help you make your sheets clean, organized, and easily readable. If you're interested in further reading, we recommend the book Behind Bars: The Definitive Guide to Music Notation by Elaine Gould.
Quote from: NocturneOfShadow on February 11, 2016, 03:00:36 PMthere's also a huge difference in quality between 2000 songs and 2010 songs
Quote from: Latios212 on February 11, 2016, 03:29:24 PMThe difference between 2000 songs and 2010 songs is 10 songs.


An Example

That's a lot of info - let's go through an example to see how these things come into practice! I'm going to be going through Sea of Clouds from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 since it contains a variety of parts that demand poking and prodding (and it's also in submissions right now and needs to be formatted :P). Keep in mind this is just one way of doing things - other distributions may work nicely too. And I'll be using Finale, but you should be able to make the equivalent adjustments to the distribution and spacing in MuseScore or other notation programs as well.

Here's what it looks like to start, inserted right inside the template - 4 measures per system, with consistent staff and system margins. Even spacing for all measures and systems won't exactly work nicely...


What are some things that need adjusting right off the bat? Let's start with the measure distribution which is currently sitting at 4 measures per system. The measures in the lower half of page 1 don't have to sit at 4 measures per system; they can take on more if needed because they're relatively empty. By contrast, the tuplets on the second system on page 1 as well as the runs on the last page clearly demand more space. With that in mind, let's move some measures up and down systems...


Now the system distribution - let's bump a system down from page 2 to page 3 since there's extra space on page 3.


Back to the measure distribution - the last system is a bit cramped with 2.5 measures worth of those tuplet runs. Let's free up some space by bumping some measures back a bit. Since there are some 4-measures systems at the beginning of page 2 we should have some room...


We could move a system off of page 1, but there won't be enough room on pages 2 and 3. There's actually quite a bit of space between systems on the first page (if you ignore the hidden pedal marks) so let's try moving them up closer together a bit...


The second and third systems need a little more space in between the LH/RH staves so the diminuendos aren't crushed...


Now without going into too much detail for the smaller dynamic/articulation/margin adjustments or really looking at the notes at all, we've got the sheet looking in decent shape and any further adjustments can be made without triggering any global changes in the layout (barring any critical mistakes in the arrangement). We end up with something looking like this...


From here on, it should be mostly tweaking values and spacing - won't go too much into detail since this is explained thoroughly in the system spacing and alignment sections in the above post. Here's the file in the above picture.

Hope this was a helpful example and feel free to reach out if you ever need any help or advice!
My arrangements and YouTube channel!

Quote from: Dudeman on February 22, 2016, 10:16:37 AM
who needs education when you can have WAIFUS!!!!!