Finale Tips – Copyism #2: Get Neat

In my previous entry, I mentioned fastness, which is largely a product of practice, repetition, trial and error. Today I’ll be musing on NEATNESS, which mostly comes in the form of preparation, and also… trial and error.

What do I mean by “neat”? I tend to think of neatness hand in hand with “cleanliness”, or unencumbered-ness. Boy, is that actually a word? I don’t think so. Non-cluttered may be a way to put it, too. Bland? That’s a decent place to start.

Lots of good copyists have a “signature” style, but they are defined by shades of bland subtlety. I’d say mine certainly is. An odd, cryptic rule of thumb I heard from an old timer concerning writing as well as copying was “make it look/sound like someone else did it”. In other words, make it vanilla and interchangeable, as if someone fed a hand-written score into a computer and it spit out a generic representation of it: nice, sterile, neat and clean. It’s natural to want to make your copy-work one of personal artistic expression, but that must be resisted at all times; all you are doing is creating a no-BS roadmap that any person would find clear and easy to follow. Your job as a copyist is to faithfully render a composer or arranger’s notes (especially if they’re your OWN!) in a way that will be useful to an instrumentalist or conductor.

Here are some common mistakes:

-using cutesy fonts for titles, lyrics, or other text
-using odd sizings, either too small or too big
-using too many different fonts
-odd placement of expressions or other text (like rehearsal numbers)
-too much or too little space between staves
-uneven spacing of staves
-redundant information

I’ve made 2 copies of the same page of some quick fictitous music for you to compare:

“Ding-a-Ling” – Good
“Ding-a-Ling” – Bad

I got a little ridiculous with the fonts to illustrate that point. Using as few fonts as possible gives a visual cohesiveness to it, like writing it all in the same language. Font choices for text, lyrics and chords are tough ones to make. I recommend talking with vocalists and getting feedback for lyric fonts, and trial an error.

There is some matter of debate over all aspects of “what goes on the page” and what doesn’t. For instance, I don’t put numbers on every measure, but many high-class copy shops will. Some publishers put measure numbers over the staff, I put them under, and under multi-measure rests. None of these ways is wrong; It’s really a matter of personal taste.

I also don’t re-space individual staves, even if it looks like they need it. Uniformity is essential with stave spacing. The eye has enough to do with focusing on little notes, and it doesn’t need to do any extra fine-tuning. The fewer tension headaches the better.

Here is what I use to get my “signature look”:

Maestro – general Music font
(noteheads, stems, dynamics, articulations, etc.)
JazzText – Multi-measure rest #’s
TimesLyrics – Titles, Credits, lyrics
Arial Narrow – chord symbols, Text expressions
ChordSuf – Chord Suffixes (looks almost exactly like Arial Narrow)

I might mix it up with the text fonts, but if I do, I use generic “everyday” fonts. I might also use 1 font for the title, and 1 for everything else. Keep it as simple as possible. Try something, and if it doesn’t work, try something else.

I think the best way to go about it is to look at published parts, hand-copied music, or whatever you can get your hands on. Look at it critically. What do you like? What is distracting? What looks good? What looks jive-assed? What catches your eye? Does anything jump out? Actually, if nothing catches your eye besides the neatness, that should tell you something as well. Don’t be afraid to ask other people, too, especially copyists. Keep in mind that everyone’s got an opinion, and the person you ultimately need to please is the client.

So, to recap:

1. Go for a bland, B-flat appearance
2. Use fonts that are neat & trim
3. Use as few fonts as possible
4. Go for even, consistent spacing
5. Look at music, emulate what you like, discard what you don’t

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