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Beaming of notes

Posted: 17 Apr 2011 18:35
by Stephen Trahair
As a choral conductor as well as a singer I find the old-style notation where quavers are only beamed together if the notes are sung to the same word or syllable very tiresome. It can be difficult to distinguish between quavers and crotchets where the print is small, and more crucially prevents easy recognition of the beat. Where notes are properly beamed, it is easy for singers to tell where the beats fall.

The Music Publishers Association of the United States' Standard Music Notation Practice states that "It is now standard practice to notate rhythms in vocal music in the same manner as instrumental music, beaming eighth notes and smaller divisions to clarify the beat. A slur is used to connect those notes which are sung to the same word or syllable."

It would be helpful if those notating music for CPDL were to bear this in mind.

Re: Beaming of notes

Posted: 18 Apr 2011 04:47
by vaarky
Good suggestion! Can you suggest some wording for the beaming item in the following document? ... ayout_tips

Re: Beaming of notes

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 09:59
by RMD
Well, that just shows how diverse opinions can be, even amongst educated musicians. I have long disliked this norm which is being increasingly forced upon us, namely what Stephen and vaarky are advocating. Personally, I find it far clearer to have beaming follow the text underlay, so long as beams are also broken at the main beats in the bar - that, together with slurs, is proper traditional vocal notation. It was the norm for around 200 years during the heyday of Novello, is found in Carus' present-day scores and provides total legibility and elegance. Choral music notation has its own traditions and I prefer to stick to them, although I would fully support anyone else's right to notate as they wish - who wants everybody's scores to look the same? - how dull that would be. So why on earth would anyone wish to follow a set of 'rules' set by a commercial monolith like the MPA of the US?
P.S. I'll also put the composer's name wherever I like, within reason - why shouldn't it be centered under the title, not on the right? Vive la différence!

Re: Beaming of notes

Posted: 28 Apr 2011 15:23
by vaarky
We are probably in agreement, because you said that you're okay with the beaming breaking at the beat, and that's the aspect I most care about. Thank you for suggesting the older Novello and current Carus editions as good examples.

I think it's useful for CPDL to have guidelines because composers setting editions many not understand the range of how people want to use the music (we're not planning to propose them as a requirement). But if is controversial enough, the guidelines doc should indicate it and maybe stay away from it (as is does with bar lines).

Re: Beaming of notes

Posted: 03 May 2011 06:41
by vaarky
I hear Jean-Pierre Coulon is planning to add an entry about this to his guide, which is referenced from CPDL's page on this.

Re: Beaming of notes

Posted: 04 May 2011 05:18
by CHGiffen
In preparing editions of early music, one is faced with choices that may seem at odds with faithfulness to the original and modern practice. These include:

(1) choice of clefs: today's singers are largely only familiar with the treble (second line) G-clef, the(third line) bass F-clef, and the 8vb tenor G-clef. This is an unfortunate "dumbing down" from the former much wider use the G-, C-, and F-clefs on lines that allow a voice part to be presented with few(er), if any, ledger lines above or below the staff. As an early music singer, singing frequently from photocopied sources or older editions, I had to learn to navigate these other clefs, and the experience has been good for me. That aside, scores simply look better when an appropriate clef is chosen for, say, an alto part that descends to low G below middle C and up to C above middle C - a second line C-clef would entail no ledger lines at all, while the contemporary treble clef requires the space note below two ledger lines and usually requires shifting the lyrics down from those of other parts. Similarly high soprano parts are often better when notated with a 1st line G-clef (putting high A on the top line rather than on a ledger line above the staff).

(2) halving or quartering note values: is 2/1 or 2/2 really more intimidating or uncomfortable than 4/4 (or 3/1 or 3/2 than 3/4)? What's wrong with a whole note (semibreve) or half note (minim) being the notated pulse? Frequently these alterations of note values from the original) result in a proliferation of eighth or sixteenth notes that can convey a different (even wrong) sense of the flow of the music.

(3) beaming across sylables: prior practice did not beam together notes articulated on different syllables - with good reason, since beaming was a visual indication of melismatic treatment of the text. Modern practice which allows beaming across syllables can be visually confusing, especially when the lyrics are not well-placed.

In each of these cases, the editor is confronted with different choices, and for the editor of earlier music which had formerly appeared using earlier practice, there are hard decisions to be made - whether to be as faithful as possible to the original or to provide something that less learned singers can follow. My own tendencies have been to keep original note values and to avoid beaming across syllables, but usually caving in to the fact that far too many of today's singers sadly will not take the trouble to learn other clefs.

Re: Beaming of notes

Posted: 04 May 2011 19:20
by anaigeon
I like very much your points 1 and 2 !!
The number 3 is a little more complicated ; text underlay, in early music, is often an editor's (or scribe's) choice.
In some cases I have been modifying some parts of the text underlay ; alas, it would be much more confusing - nearly impossible - to change the beamings.
OTH, I'm also wondering why beaming should show a second time what is already said by a good text underlay (syllabes, hyphens, etc).

As a recorder player, I'm often said we must take text in account for phrasing. *But* I've noticed that this is hardly necessary when playing good music, since phrasing can be found from the music itself, and appears to correspond to (a good) text underlay when you check it afterwards.

Re: Beaming of notes

Posted: 24 Jun 2011 10:53
by D-fished
My decisions of clef choice and beaming style depend on whom I'm preparing the music for. I often find a Renaissance alto part works best in the 8va bassa G2-clef (and in most cases would have been sung by what we might consider a tenor voice anyway). Most female altos I work with are completely flummoxed by this, however.

Beaming is not usually an issue in music prior to the seventeenth century (except in note nere Italian madrigals). If an editor chooses to reduce note values, that is already introducing a huge distortion in the notation. If he/she wants to beam rhythmically rather than textually, so be it. My biggest gripe with reducing note values, especially such barbarisms as employing 1/2 for duple and 1/4 for triple in the same score, is that it makes it very much harder to discern tempo and proportion. (To that I add a curse on editors who fail to tell you what the original proportion signs actually were. :evil: )

Once you get into the settecento, especially in genres like opera and oratorio, beaming is a concern. In recitative and stile concitato passages, it can be very hard to read rhythms accurately if the composer is frequently mixing quavers and semiquavers (eighths and sixteenths). Add in some syncopations along with small print and the added rehearsal time spent sorting out rhythms starts to outweigh the benefits of faithfulness to the source. In other words, I'm okay with rhythm-based beaming for general purpose choral society singers. That said, I will always loathe beaming across barlines and rests.

But then, why stop at keeping original clefs and beamings? In the period we're talking about, scores are archival documents, not performance materials. I recently gave one of my choirs a 6-part Wilbye madrigal in partbook format. I wanted to see if they sang more musically if they had to rely on their ears rather than their eyes to keep their place. The results were mixed. We had too short a rehearsal span for them to get completely comfortable. Still, it was encouraging enough for me to try it again some time.

One other point concerning beaming. Early printing from moveable type does not accommodate the beaming of short note values—even in long melismata. I would still incline to beam the melismata, even if I separated notes assigned to distinct syllables. Manuscript and engraved sources will often have beaming that lacks in typeset scores. Early beaming also shows little or no regard for breaking the beam at major beats. If your melisma is fourteen notes long, all fourteen may well be joined by a single beam. In those cases, I would break the beam on the beats.


Re: Beaming of notes

Posted: 22 Sep 2011 17:52
by Stephen Trahair
As I introduced the subject of beaming, I ought to reply to what has been said in response. I think the answer is that it depends whether you are notating for musicians or for musicologists, in other words whether your edition is intended for study or for performance. I approach the question from the viewpoint of someone who is looking for music which is suitable for the choir which one directs or sings in. This differs from the viewpoint of the student, who wants to see the music in a form as close a possible to the original.

From my perception, the practice of chopping up quavers so that each syllable has an individual note instead of beaming them so that singers can easily and quickly see where they lie in relation to the beat just leads to unnecessary confusion in rehearsal and performance. Some of the responses above betray a lack of either knowledge or interest in the practicalities of choral singing. It is not 'laziness' on the singers' part as is suggested, merely differing levels of talent and expertise. I am not aware that ChoralWiki is intended only for musicologists or professional singers.

As a choir director I try to avoid using editions with what I call (no doubt wrongly) Novello beaming, what ever their other merits may be. Rehearsal time is too precious to waste.