IMSLP:Typesetting Guidelines

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IMSLP Music Typesetting Guidelines

The purpose of this document is to promote a minimum set of quality guidelines for newly typeset works posted to IMSLP.

Where IMSLP has more than one edition posted of a work, the quality guidelines will be applied more rigorously than if there is only one edition posted. The rationale behind this is that having one edition is better than having none, but where we do have more than one, a typeset with major flaws that could cause potential problems in rehearsals and/or performances should be fixed or deleted.

However, a typeset work that falls short of the guidelines will not automatically be deleted. IMSLP will first contact the uploader and explain what the shortfalls are, and ask that they be fixed.

Producing good typesets

There are two aspects to producing a good typeset: one is learning what constitutes good notation, and the other is learning the finer points of whatever music notation package you use, so that you can do the more complicated typesetting.

One good resource would be Music Notation: A Manual of Modern Practice by Gardner Read. There are also smaller resources available on the web:

Reading these will be a good start on basics. Other resources will be the forums for whatever package you use, whether it is Finale, Sibelius, or some other package. There is always someone available who can give advice on how to solve the unusual typesetting problems.

In order to understand the seeming pickiness of these rules, it might help to understand what sorts of problems badly typeset music cause for the performing musician. An article in the IMSLP journal that discusses the problems can be found here.

The fact is that if music is extremely complex – but accurate, clear, large enough, adequately spaced, with proportional rhythmic spacing, good page turns and adequate cues, musicians can sightread fairly accurately, which means less rehearsal time wasted on correcting and adding things to the part that should have been there to start with.

Finally, while we acknowledge that some of the manuscript editions at IMSLP make for very bad reading as well, they have a very valuable place in the collection, especially autograph manuscripts from which one gleans the composer’s original intentions. First editions have similar high musicological value. Ideally, we want a combination of musicologically valuable editions, even if they are not necessarily usable in performance, combined with modern typesets that make rehearsals and performances easy – in other words, we want the best of both worlds.

The guidelines

  • State the source of your score. This has a two-fold purpose: 1) so that people can check the original source if they have a question about something, and 2) so that the public domain status of your typeset can be determined.
  • General accuracy. This applies to notes, rhythms, articulations, dynamics, tempo changes, and everything else that is a part of the music.
  • General visual appearance. Music size should be large enough to read easily (bear in mind that some instrumentalists cannot sit very close to their stands, for example, trombonists, harpists, double bass players. On the other hand, the music should not be so large, or widely spaced, as to waste paper or cause unnecessary extra page turns.
  • Avoid collisions between elements:
Staves must be adequately spaced so that low notes from a stave do not collide with high notes from the stave immediately below it.
Similarly, stave spacing must make room vertically for dynamics, tempo changes, or other symbols.
There must be no collisions of any elements (accidentals, dynamics, etc.) in the horizontal plane.
Vertical bar lines drawn between staves should not cause collisions with lyrics in vocal parts or other written text.
  • Rhythms must be visually spaced proportionally to those rhythms.
The following items apply particularly to individual parts extracted from scores
  • Multi-movement or multi-sectional pieces should be combined into a single file for any given part. For example, the classic parts we have available for well-known symphonies like those of Beethoven and Brahms have all of the movements - not four different Violins I, Bassoon 1, etc. The only time a separate section should be extracted is if it is intended to be performed as a stand-alone piece, or is famous as a stand-alone piece (like the famous Canon from Canon and Gigue in D major by Johann Pachelbel). For new arrangements for large groups such as orchestra or band of excerpts from very high-traffic works such as like Handel's Messiah, all the parts should be merged into a single PDF file.
  • Adequate page turns, especially for instruments that are “one-on-a-part” (for example, woodwinds, brass, percussion, harp). Page turns in string parts should take into account where it is not feasible to lose half the section sound while inner desk string players stop playing to turn the page.
  • Repeats should not cause backward page turns.
  • Use courtesy accidentals in reverting to diatonic notes, and other appropriate places. Typesetting programs do not automatically do this, especially if the music is entered by playing it in. Courtesy accidentals must be added manually.
  • Use correct symbols. Tildes (”~ ~ ~ ~ ~”) are not acceptable as a substitute for the traditional trill squiggle, and neither are “MIDI-dump” equivalents. (A MIDI dump is where the typesetting program automatically typesets from a sound file or recording. In a MIDI dump, trills are inevitably written out as many demi-semiquavers or hemi-demi-semiquavers (32nd or 64th notes). Apart from taking up an awful lot of space horizontally (as well as ink), it is impossible to see at a glance how long the trill is.)
  • Where there are repetitive patterns, indicate how many times the repetition happens. There are various ways to do this; use an incrementing number over the beginning of each repetition, or indicate “x6” over the first repetition, or use the symbol Repeatsign.jpg combined with numbers.
  • Do not leave multiple-bar rests as individual bars. Group them in the traditional way – according to phrases, e.g. –4– –8– –12–, where each of those groups is an audible phrase.
  • Musicians with many bars rest must have adequate cues toward the end of the rests:
Cues must be wisely chosen; use something distinctive and audible to the person playing the part.
Cues are to be labelled with the instrument playing them.
  • Cues and grace notes must not be entered as full-size notes. Some variance with individual typesetting packages might be necessary, but 70% for cues should give a note that cannot be mistaken for a note to be played, and 60% for grace notes should be readable without being mistaken as adding to the base rhythm in the bar.
  • Be clear as to where slurs and ties stop and start. If they do not start from the exact centre of the note, they should start close enough to the centre as to be clearly from that note.
  • Clef changes should be put in rests, not in the middle of a played passage. If this is not possible, for example, in a very long run, at least choose a diatonic note that is at the beginning of a beat, and preferably at an octave or some other landmark place within the run. Do not put the clef change in front of a note with an accidental. Also check the part extraction, because in some cases, the computer program puts the part entirely in whatever clef the part starts in, with no changes afterward, i.e. your score will be correct, but the part extracted from it will have many leger lines. Proofreading is essential.
  • Number the pages. If you are doing separate movements as separate files, make sure movement 2 is consecutively numbered after the last page number of movement 1, etc.
  • Make sure all elements from a score that are printed once only at the top of the score come through to individual parts in an automated part extraction. Proofreading is essential here.
  • Indications for use of mutes must include both the “with” (con sordino) and “without” (senza sordino) markings. The same applies to any other similar indication, for example, bells up (schalltrichter auf) and the una corda marking for pianists; indicate where the bells come down again, or where the soft pedal should stop. Solo or soli passages that stop at a certain point should also include the tutti marking.
  • Clarinets, saxophones, horns, and trumpets are transposing instruments. Regardless of whether your score uses written pitch or concert pitch throughout, the extracted parts for those instruments must be transposed to the pitches the musicians will read. The common transpositions are B or A for clarinets (with the proviso that A clarinet is never used in a wind band setting), B for soprano and tenor saxophones, E for alto and baritone saxophones, B for trumpets, and F for horns. There a few others that apply to instruments used less frequently, e.g. E for piccolo clarinet, or D for piccolo trumpet.
Check all automated transpositions. B Major concert should become D-flat major for a B-flat clarinettist, not C-sharp major. If your program won’t do this in the score, make the key signature independent and change it manually.
  • Bars should be numbered, but in such a way that they do not clutter the page. Do not put them on every bar. A standard place to put them is at the beginning of every system, in a readable but unobtrusive font.
  • (This is a point that not everyone might agree with.) It became the fashion at one point to number bars in increments of 10, but phrases rarely start every 10 bars, and this type of numbering is a nuisance when there is a multi-bar rest. Many performing musicians would rather see a barline where the phrase starts, because it gives a visual landmark on the page for an aural landmark that is easy to hear. Take the trouble to go through the score and mark where the multi-bar rests should divide, rather than letting the computer do an arbitrary division based on a number that has never been a common phrase length.

Lastly, proofreading cannot be emphasized enough

Everyone should proofread thoroughly, but especially those that get typesets from recognition software or use MIDI dumps from sound files. Although these technologies can save some time, they are simply not advanced enough yet to give foolproof typesets.

Ultimately, careful proofreading is for the benefit of those performing the works you write and edit, and that, in turn, benefits you.

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