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Tips on creating a professional engraving?

Posted: 09 Feb 2018, 13:22
by ruaraidh
Hi all! This is my first post here, and I'd like to start saying that this forum is awesome. :)

I'm a music student (pianist) who also studies composition and likes to arrange songs. I have been using Finale for nearly 9 years now, however I feel that no matter how I try, I can't seem to be completely satisfied with the engraving output I get.

So I recently interested myself fully in studying professional engraving techniques and recommendations. I've read here and there in this forum, however I wasn't able to find a clear list of, say, guidelines to implement in order to improve the looks of a sheet.

I'm referring to things like margins, lengths, general aesthetic, layout, fonts etc. The problem I have very often is that I hesitate when I try to make a sheet look good. "Should I make this margin bigger, how about the noteheads, is the text well aligned, and what about spacing??" I think, so I never really settle on a particular style.

I really like the Wiener Urtext engraving, I own two volumes of Haydn sonatas which in my opinion look superb. Thing is I don't know how to translate that to Finale.

As a side note, I never really payed attention to fonts per se, I just use Maestro, the Finale default. However, now I think it could be very important.


Long story short, could you guys give me some advice on improving general engraving and making it look less "Finale-y", please? Thanks!

Re: Tips on creating a professional engraving?

Posted: 09 Feb 2018, 14:19
by Schonbergian
Maestro is not fundamentally poorly designed -- it's just extremely light and angular (and also looks extremely generic at this point)

The two biggest problems I see with modern scores are inappropriate text fonts (TNR is far too high-contrast and light to work as a music font) and careless slurs (far too tapered, far too bowed, not even coming close to the noteheads)

Re: Tips on creating a professional engraving?

Posted: 09 Feb 2018, 19:27
by Knut
Fonts are important to get to a certain aesthetic, but when it comes to learning engraving, any decent font will do, and as Schoenbergian says, Maestro is just fine as a music font.

I would recommend that you start copying scores that you like (e.g., the Wiener Urtext editions you mentioned) in Finale. Focus on every little detail, use a ruler to measure page margins, staff sizes, etc., and try an get as close as you possibly can to the original. This exercise will eventually give you a good feel for what constitutes a well engraved score.

You should also study (and copy) scores from different publishers to find out what works and what doesn't, what you like and don't like.

There are a number of books on the subject of engraving and music notation out there which are invaluable reference texts to make sure you get a sense of what constitutes standard practice. Elaine Gould's book Behind Bars is a fairly recent addition which has become a new bible of sorts for those dealing with music notation. The site has many other good titles for sale as well.

If you want feedback on some of your work, don't be afraid to post it here.

Welcome to the forum!

Re: Tips on creating a professional engraving?

Posted: 09 Feb 2018, 19:53
As previous members stated, fonts can make a visual improvement but will not change the quality of engraving.
I have seen recently two scores (famous composers, privately shared) one is done in Finale/Maestro, another in Finale/Engraver. The quality was astonishing. Utilisation of space, good BW balance, perfectly positioned items and all lines and curves carefully edited/enhanced - is what makes a score looking good.
Our forum member John is also a pianist - he could help you with just piano related engraving.
ruaraidh wrote:
09 Feb 2018, 13:22
I wasn't able to find a clear list of, say, guidelines to implement in order to improve the looks of a sheet.
It is called a "house style". Every publishing house (should) have one in order to have a consistency in all prints. So, there is no one universal house style - you have to make it yourself, or to copy from someone else (and improve it).

Re: Tips on creating a professional engraving?

Posted: 09 Feb 2018, 20:16
by John Ruggero
I agree completely with the excellent advice given by Schonbergian, Knut and OCTO.

A little more: I don't know how you work as a composer; many now do it all on a computer. If this is your case, do some hand music copying of music by other composers. As musicians, we look at and understand music notation without really seeing it. Having to create the symbols and place them on the page with your own hand may cause you to see music notation from a new standpoint. It is also excellent training for a composer: i.e. young J. S. Bach sneaking downstairs at night and copying that book of music forbidden to him by his uncle, for example.

Re: Tips on creating a professional engraving?

Posted: 09 Feb 2018, 20:27
by Schonbergian
I would suggest re-engraving an example you find particularly attractive, or even merely a page of one. Then print it out and compare the two side-by-side, comparing every detail you dislike about yours with whichever you prefer in the reference edition.

The goal is not to slavishly copy every nuance of a plate, but to understand why you find it more attractive so you can make similar efforts on your own plates.

With regard to Wiener Urtext, I would argue that the defining feature of what makes their computer engraving so comparatively attractive is the slurring, which is always perfectly tapered, close to the noteheads, and generally looks like the finest hand-engraving in that regard.

Re: Tips on creating a professional engraving?

Posted: 10 Feb 2018, 13:23
by ruaraidh
Nice to meet you everyone and thank you for all the advice! It's really appreciated!

I see! I'll totally do that, re-engraving a fragment and comparing, seems like a very good exercise, as well as copying it by hand. I will also keep using Maestro for now and maybe change the text font to other than TNR. Thanks Knut for the info! I'll check Behind Bars out.

Well, I do compose on paper sometimes, but most of the time I do it directly in Finale because I end up transcribing it there anyways. I don't want to fool anyone though, I'm a rookie composer! Right now I'm in the middle of my Bachelor of Music degree of piano performance, but I want to dedicate myself to composition more in depth in the future too. I'd love feedback though! ;)

Thank you all again for the kind replies, I will come back when I have something to share.