On Location : Vertical Placement of Bar Numbers

I recently had a discussion about measure number placement with a colleague. For film scores, game scores and other commercial recording sessions, bar numbers are most typically shown on every bar.  Although my colleague is a Finale user, this discussion is relevant to both Finale or Sibelius users.

Measure numbers: Let’s say I want the bar numbers in my flute parts to appear below the staff, but the bar numbers on my bassoon parts to appear above the staff. Am I correct that there is no good way to do this automatically in Finale?

Yes, that is correct. Location can be different between score and parts, but is global for all parts in Finale.

Finale uses a paradigm of linear Regions. The region design allows you to have extensive control over the numbering of bars; for instance, an insert or intro with bars A, B, C, D and then a new region with a second set of bar numbers; 1, 2, 3, 4 (or 15, 16, 17, 18). You could then even have an 18a, 18b, 18c…

Regardless of which notation program you are using, while you might want the *frequency* of the bar number display to be different between the inserted A, B, C, D bars and the region starting at bar 1, you wouldn’t generally want these regions to be at different vertical positions relative to the staff; they are the same type of object.

The determination of vertical location and frequency of bar numbers is a house style choice; once made, you want your bar numbers to remain in a consistent vertical spot.

Typically, you *do* want the bar number size and location (and sometimes, frequency) to be different between the score and parts, and both Finale and Sibelius allow for that. Finale specifically addresses this by providing a “score” and “parts” setting for each region. This allows the flexibility of different bar numbering in the score and parts, but as stated above, the Parts setting is global to all parts.

I understand from your blog that in Sibelius you can set which staves each measure number region appears on… It seems like this is a big oversight with Finale, given that it already has the capability to do that with Score Lists and the Expression Tool.

Not necessarily. Common practice is for specific classes or types of text and line objects to appear consistently placed relative to the music. e.g. you’ll want to use a location setting that (generally) works equally well for all parts. I might investigate ways to offset the bar numbers or even the music itself slightly horizontally (or vertically on a system by system basis) to clear ledger lines etc before I would flip the vertical location of the bar numbers globally. Within the same cue (or overarching publication, film or game score), you want to the bar numbers to appear consistently, where the musicians will easily identify them; whether every bar, every 10 bars or every system.

The determination of where the bar numbers should appear vertically relative to the staff, and their frequency is a House Style decision. Once this decision has been made, common practice is to follow the House Style “rule” you’ve created.

Robert, in that same blog article you write “In commercial music, it is standard practice to show bar numbers under bottom staff on every bar.” Are there in fact instances where you would put them above, as in my bassoon example?

Probably not in the same cue, unless there was some particularly extreme case. For commercial music copying, some houses center the bar numbers under the bars, some align with the left bar line under the bar (my personal preference, using a san-serif font like Helvetica or Arial) but as far as I’m aware,  with the exception of master piano / conductor parts for Broadway musicals, pro music copying houses don’t generally put bar numbers on every bar over the staff in parts – although I’m sure you can find a case where someone has done this.

With bar numbers under every bar, multi-rest ranges should match vertical placement of the bar numbers themselves. With bar numbers at the start of each system only, there is more flexibility; bar numbers can appear either over or under the staff (multi-rest numbers should always appear under the staff, or between a grand staff, if your notation program allows this).

…My reasoning is that some instruments will naturally be more busy above or below the staff, so it makes sense to declutter that area. Another example might be choral parts, where you are also dealing with lyrics underneath the staff…

It’s a valid point, but good commercial music prep is about consistency and accuracy. So where do you draw the line with vertical location changes? Dynamics? Tempo Markings? Rehearsal marks? Pedal Markings? The music actually will look *less* cluttered if the musician can count on specific types of information in the same vertical location always.

For choral music, it is most common to have an SATB score, either as 4 or 2 bracketed staves with the lyrics between, so even with the dynamics above as is common practice, the bar numbers below the bass staff are not in the way typically, and can be moved on a system by system case basis if there is some issue.

On a combined Violin I/II part, would you draw barlines between the staves, or only on each staff?

Bar lines should join bracketed or braced grand staves. Only on choral music is it common to brace or bracket the grand staff, but not have bar lines between. This convention was adopted in order to leave the lyrics clear of any bar lines.

Also, where would you put the measure numbers on these parts… Only below the 2nd violins, or on both staves?

With bar numbers on every bar, as in commercial film or game scores, a common house style rule is: measure numbers always appear below the lowest staff of whatever the grouping is (e.g percussion, harp, piano, choir etc)

Ok. Coffee break.


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2 Replies to “On Location : Vertical Placement of Bar Numbers”

  1. Hi Robert,

    I’m a frequent reader of your blog, and have found it an invaluable resource. Thanks for everything you do!

    As a Sibelius and Finale copyist, I will say that the inability to set separate measure number styles for separate parts in Finale is one my biggest frustrations with the program. Here is the case that I deal with most frequently; I wonder if you’d care to weigh in:

    When preparing a musical theater orchestration, one of the “parts” I want to extract is actually a Piano/Vocal score, which has the piano staff and all the vocal staves. Copying standards in the musical theater world generally call for bar numbers to be on the top staff for these Piano/Vocal scores, but on the bottom of the staff for orchestra parts. Any thoughts on how you’d approach that particular conundrum?

    Thanks again for your wonderful blog!

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