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The adventurous pianist Bruce Brubaker writes about the effect of notation on the performer’s comprehension in his erudite blog PianoMorphosis. Specifically, in his post “Line break,” he looks at where publishers choose to end the staves, and whether the composer’s intentions are well-served. I think about it in my own music, as I engrave (notate, rather: I’m not an engraver, although I am persnickety) most of mine. How passages relate to page and line breaks do concern me, along with details in spacing, and page turns for parts and scores.

One sentence in his post about book typography got me thinking about parallels between music and text reading, and so I sent in a comment, below. Check out his blog when you get a chance. We have his Inner Cities CD at WRTI, by the way, and I’ve broadcast a couple of tracks of him playing John Adams and Alvin Curran on Now is the Time. He’s a wonderful and smart artist and writer!

Re: “A respect for an economy of character spaces led us to discard double spaces following periods in English prose?”

Bruce, I enjoyed this post very much. The single- or double-space after period dilemma has to do, in modern times, with the transition from typewriters to the variable-width fonts available on computers. We used to type two spaces after the period, since one space didn’t set off the sentences clearly enough on a monospace typewriter. An i taking up as much space as an m (or a period!) creates havoc with the recognition of black and white space necessary for quick reading. With variable-width fonts, just one space is fine, as the eye picks up the demarcation between sentences quite nicely (as long as we’re not using Courier).

But I’ve read old books with beautiful (variable-width) typography that do insert two spaces after the period, so it’s not just the typewriter. I’m not sure if it’s more prevalent in British as opposed to American typography (as it is with the issue of enclosing the period within a quote mark), but it certainly all has to do with the friction between two ideals: recognition and flow. Which is the same as with music notation, as you’ve said.

For my own compositions, one thing I’ve picked up from very old notation that has been almost forgotten these days is variation in beaming; that is, I like to beam notes differently to show differences in phrasing. Rather than inconsistency, it’s just another way of transmitting information to the performer. And with you, I believe that the performer picks up on it immediately, and will comprehend six 8ths beamed together in a 3/4 bar differently from the same notes beamed 2+2+2 (or even a momentary 3+3, breaking the rule by not changing to 6/8). Cheers, Kile Smith

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