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Re: Fixed Measure Widths

From: D Josiah Boothby
Subject: Re: Fixed Measure Widths
Date: Mon, 13 Sep 2004 12:39:59 -0700 (PDT)

I think that the problem of mainstream jazz notation cannot be resolved simply answering that it's bad tipography: is simply a kind of notation that needs some different layout according to a precise musical practice: if one has to play in a gig lots of compositions that are based on 8+8, 4+4 or 16+16 melodic/harmonic structures, and play them immediatly, maybe only looking at the chord changes, this specific layout is really useful, based on the music.

Yes and no. It is bad typography, but it is also great copyediting. The convention of fixed measure widths is one which is a product of having
inexpensive printing capabilities but having to edit and copy by manually
cutting and pasting. When copying by hand, it is much easier to just set up a
straightedge and draw measure lines once than it is to do it for every measure
that comes up. Similarly, if corrections have to be made to the score or
parts, the editors don't have to find the exact lengths of the measures in the
score and parts: they can just draw up a measure of the length that all of the
measures share, and apply the correction to all of the places that need
correcting with minimal time and effort.

Copyediting and engraving are no longer separated by technology. Programs like lilypond and finale allow us to make corrections easily and for little or no expense. Printing is generally not an issue (eg, almost anyone can print for little or no expense). So in a sense, we no longer have to choose between having the constraints of copyediting and the elegance of professional quality engraving -- at least for technological reasons. Instead, we have the option of engraving/copyediting the way we want to see the music set on the page. Do you use a calligraphy pen (hand-engraving) or a typewriter (copyediting), or do you use a computer program that attempts to mimic the two?

The workaround Graham pointed out shows that with lilypond, the task of imitating a convention which seems to be fairly straightforward shows itself to be fairly difficult to implement. The easiest way to get around this is to accept fluid measure lengths, with breaks every four measures -- keeping the phrase structure intact. Solo sections will have the same measure lengths as long as all that exist in the measures are chord slashes and chord symbols.

By the way, jazz tunes written with Finale are not particulary nice...

Just last week, I had a job with a local jazz ensemble (I'm a (french) horn player, so this is pretty uncommon) and had to transpose a couple parts, so since I was already punching out parts with lilypond, I copied one piece that was so badly done in finale that I could barely read it. I got compliments for all of the parts that I did.


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