Centered dynamics between staves on braced grand staff instruments

Q: I can never get the placement of dynamics to align nicely to the middle of the grand staff in piano parts. Because they are connected to the treble or bass clef stave, they tend to move towards that stave. But it would be nice to have them in the middle, centered between the 2 staves. I can’t find an option in to automate this.  What’s the best way to center these dynamics?

A: I’ve found that consistently attaching dynamics below the treble clef staff really helps with dynamics text / hairpin positioning on a braced (grand staff) instrument. Both Finale and Sibelius offer a mechanism to center dynamics between grand staves as a group, but in order to move as a group, they have to be attached consistently to the same staff.

Generally, dynamics should be placed as close as possible to the notes they refer to. However, in keyboard music, a convention is to center the dynamics between the staves, as the dynamics most typically refer to both the left and right hand. As with parts on one staff, keep dynamics on the same horizontal plane where possible.

The following techniques can also be helpful when entering music in a dense score for an instrument with ledger lines. 

There are times when separate dynamics for treble and bass clef staves are required, and in these cases, you will (most typically) show individual dynamics under the bass and treble staves independently. In extreme cases, dynamics can even be located above and below both staves! (e.g. inside voices softer than the outside voices). But typically, even when there are only notes in the bass clef staff at that location (e.g. right hand is resting), the dynamics should still appear centered between the grand staff, attached below the treble staff, wherever space allows for this.

It’s OK if barlines go through the center of hairpins on a braced (grand staff) instrument.


DYNAMICS ENTRY


FINALE : As you enter the dynamics in Finale, the cursor changes to an arrow to show you which staff the dynamic text or hairpin will be attached to, depending on how close you are to that staff. If the arrow on the cursor is pointing up, enter the dynamic marking, which will apply to the staff above the cursor. If the arrow is pointing down, you’ll know that the dynamic text or hairpin will be attached to the staff below the cursor, not the staff above it:

 

 

Dynamics positioning defaults in Finale are set in Document > Category Designer, and are set in relation to a single staff. Depending on the distance between staves on a braced (grand staff) instrument, they may not (yet) appear centered, but don’t worry about that yet.


SIBELIUS : In Sibelius, the Text Style you use and its associated key shortcut help to insure that dynamics text and hairpins appear properly below the treble clef staff. Select a note or bar in the treble clef staff, and type CNTRL-E (Windows) or CMND-E (Mac). The flashing cursor will appear below the treble staff, and you can type in the dynamic. Likewise for hairpins. If you select a note or region and then type H or SHIFT-H, the hairpin will appear in the proper location, under the selected note or region.

Dynamics positioning in Sibelius is preset in Default Positions, and are set in relation to a single staff. Depending on the distance between staves on a braced (grand staff) instrument, your dynamics text and hairpins may not (yet) appear centered, but don’t worry about that yet.


Finale & Sibelius Tip : to make sure dynamics you’ve already entered are correctly attached to the staff above, temporarily spread the staves apart in Panorama (Sibelius) or Scroll View (Finale). The extra clearance between staves will quickly show you dynamics not attached to the correct staves. Sibelius users can also use the Check Attachments plugin for this purpose, found in the proofreading category.

In both Finale and Sibelius,  once you have all of the dynamics attached to the proper staff, it’s a simple matter to center them between the staves. You’ll typically have a few places where ledger lines or other objects within the staff force you to move the dynamic from the center point, but generally, you can align all the dynamics with a couple of steps.


CENTER DYNAMICS BETWEEN STAVES AFTER ENTRY


SIBELIUS : In the score, globally select the top staff of the treble staff by triple clicking it. Now Filter for Dynamics. In Sibelius 7, this is found in Home > Select > Filters > Dynamics. In Sibelius 6, Edit > Filter > Dynamics. You can also use the keyboard shortcut to filter for dynamics.

If you feel like a lot of the dynamics are out of alignment, you can use Reset Positioning, otherwise, with the dynamics text and hairpins selected for the entire score, you can simply use the up arrow or down arrow to move them vertically as a group until they appear centered between the grand staff. In the part, if the distance between staves is different, you can use the same technique again without changing the positioning in the score.

You can then go through the score and adjust the few places that you need to move higher or lower using the same method on a per system basis. For similar items such as all hairpins or all expressive text which don’t appear along the same baseline, Align in a Row followed by arrow up / down is a quick way to move things into center position. For mixed items such as expressive text mixed with hairpins, Reset Position for a small selected region can work very well.

You will find that there are always a few dynamics which are not possible to center between the grand staff as part of a global edit due to ledger lines and other considerations. Move these individual dynamics or hairpins as the final phase of this type of layout. Working “top down” can save you a lot of time.


FINALE : There are a couple of different approaches you can use for centering dynamics between a grand staff; Baseline Adjustment and the Align / Move plugin:

Baseline Adjustment : If you are in a part, and all of your dynamics are correctly entered under the treble staff, and all are set to their default locations, you can simply make a global Baseline Adjustment. First, select the Expression Tool. Go to the Expression Menu and make sure that “Adjust Below Staff Baseline” is checked. Now, click in the treble clef staff, then right click on the left most triangle for the baseline adjustment, and if it isn’t already grayed out, make sure that you’ve unlinked this adjustment from the score. You can now simply drag the dynamics globally so they are centered between the staves. If you need to fine tune for specific systems, use the second arrow from the right to make an adjustment for that system only.

TGTools : This method works well for both score and parts, particularly if the vertical positioning of your entries aren’t consistent. With the Mass Edit tool, select the entire treble clef staff from beginning to end (click to the left of the treble clef staff at the start). Now, choose the TGTOOLS > Align / Move Dynamics plugin.

When the dialog first comes up, defaults should be to align to average distance, and all options checked, with “move vertically” set to zero. Run the plugin and note how far from center the dynamics now appear in your score. If any dynamics were moved vertically after entry, the average vertical location will appear higher or lower than the default. Now, using the Move Vertically option, type in an offset distance you think is close to getting the dynamics all to center. Once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll get it on the first try. You can then go through the score and adjust the few places that you need to move higher or lower using the same method on a per system basis.

Owners of the Full Version of TGTOOLS can simply use the key shortcuts to move the dynamics in the selected area up or down.

You will find that there are always a few dynamics which are not possible to center between the grand staff as part of a global edit due to ledger lines and other considerations. Move these individual dynamics or hairpins as the final phase of this type of layout. Working “top down” can save you a lot of time.


That’s it! That’s all there is to it.

~ robert

for André van Haren

8 Replies to “Centered dynamics between staves on braced grand staff instruments”


  1. I just subscribed to your blog. Great information here! I didn’t know that about controlling the distance with tg tools.


  2. Hi, Robert, thanks for this tutorial. I tried it but have one question. Do I need to turn off the magnetic layout in Sibelius for the dynamics in general for this to work properly? Because when on, all dynamics are trying to line up together with the result that they are jumping under and over the staves.

    thanks!
    André

    1. Hi André,

      As mentioned in the article, there will be situations where it won’t be possible to have the dynamics aligned along the same baseline, but you should be able to align a good percentage of the dynamics as a general rule using the above techniques.

      Typically, you’ll want to examine page layout issues “top down”. For example, in Sibelius, Magnetic Layout is triggered by proximity. You wouldn’t categorically turn off Magnetic Layout for this situation, because typically, there should be enough space between the grand staff. If a lot of dynamics in a typical piece of piano music are actually popping *over* the staves, it’s likely that the vertical spacing between the staves of the braced instrument is much too tight for that particular system.

      Regardless of whether I am working in Finale or Sibelius, depending on the situation, I might have anywhere from 10.5 to 12 or more spaces between the staves of a braced instrument. If there is a section with lots of ledger lines, there is less available space between the staves for the dynamics because of the notes, and so the first thing to review is whether adding extra space between these staves will give you enough space for the dynamics to line up along the same baseline.

      Page > System > Staff > Notes : e.g. “Top Down”. After you’ve done the “larger” adjustment of setting the distance between the grand staff, and have reached the point where increasing the distance between the staves any further would simply look wrong, it may or may not be possible to align these dynamics along the same baseline, and this is something you will have to assess on a case by case basis.

      ~robert


  3. Thanks again, Robert.

    A very basic question maybe, but I can’t find a way to really set the space between the staves of a braced instrument, only the % amount that it should justify them in Engraving Rules/Staves/Justification. The other option in Layout on this same dialog only gives the space amount setting between staves in general.


    1. In Finale, staff distance can be set numerically from the Staff Tool : Staff > Respace Staves. Any selected staff will have the space above it adjusted, which means you can control the spacing between all staves, or for a single staff.

      In Sibelius, staff distance can be set numerically from the Engraving Rules > Staves. The Spaces Between Staves, set in the Layout section of the dialog will apply globally to all staves of a score, but you can make sure that distance between staves of a braced staff remain constant by unchecking “Justify both staves of grand staff instruments”. Any changes you make to Engraving Rules > Staves in a part do not apply to the score, so you can make sure justification is off between staves, while allowing it for each system, and furthermore, in a part, you can change the spaces between staves globally for the part.

      In Finale, space between staves can be changed between any two specific staves globally for the piece or on a per system basis by dragging. First, select the Staff tool, then in the Staff menu, make sure “Show Staff Spacing while dragging” is checked. Now, click to the left of the first measure in front of the bass clef staff, and with the entire bass clef staff selected, drag to change the staff spacing between the braced staff globally. Use the numeric readout to help get consistent results. To change the spacing for a single system, simply click and drag the selection handle for that system. You can also select several systems and drag their staves closer or farther apart as a group.

      In Sibelius, space between staves can be changed between any two specific staves globally for the piece or on a per system basis by dragging. Triple click in the the bass clef staff, and with the entire bass clef staff selected, drag to change the staff spacing between the braced staff globally. If View Staff Rulers is checked, you can use the numeric readout to help get consistent results. To change the spacing for a single system, simply click in the system and drag. You can also select several systems and drag their staves closer or farther apart as a group.

      ~robert


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