Notes point up, notes point down

Discussion in 'Music Theory [DB]' started by JohnBarr, Oct 11, 2004.

  1. JohnBarr


    Mar 19, 2004
    Central NY
    Hope this doesn't sound too dumb, but . . .

    Reading a score, following the notes across the bar: on the printed notes, sometimes the tails point up, sometimes down.

    What is the convention for which direction the notes point?
    I can't puzzel out any common ground for when they point one way or another. Is it a type setting convention of some kind? Musical orthography?

    And is there a proper term for that part of the printed note? the tail?


  2. The dumb questions are those which are not asked…

    For notes above the middle line, the tails tend to go down, for those below the middle line, the tails tend to go up. For those notes on the middle line, the tails can go either way, depending on the tails of any adjacent notes, or notes which might share the same beam. Multi-part lines of music (e.g. lines of a fugue) might deviate from this rule in order to make it easier to read.

    - Wil
  3. JohnBarr


    Mar 19, 2004
    Central NY
    Thanks Wil.
    That makes sense, since, as the notes rise or fall, if they go beyond the bar lines they would run into the stave of the next line. So they must point down as they go up, or up as they go down.

    But it sure seems the convention is much ignored for the notes inbetween. For example:
    This is more typical of what I see and it looks completely random.

    Not picking on anyone here. Just wondering if I could rely on the direction of the tails for an additional que for how to play the note. But it seems not.

    If anything (aside from the type setting problem) I suspect the changes serve only to break up the visual monotony so you don't get lost as easily. If that is the reason, then random may be good.


  4. hdiddy

    hdiddy Official Forum Flunkee Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2004
    San Francisco, CA
    Hrm... I studied piano (lots of reading) for years as a kid and I've never heard anything about the tails pointing one way or it giving you any cues to anything. As far as I know it's just purely cosmetic so that the tails don't get into other staves to confuse you (i.e. a low note points up so that it doesn't confuse you with a high note that points down on a staff below). It's just whatever direction so that it's all easy to read.

    As a rule you just have the note pointing the same way if it's the last note on a bar, and the next note of the next bar is the same note. Just repeated so it's easy to read.
  5. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    As usual, WILL DURANT hit the note on the head with his post. There are several excellent books on notational convention, one by Gardner Read, another one by _______Stone (my CRS is acting up today) for modern conventions, and an older text by Anthony Donato called "Preparing Music Manuscript", which may well be out of print by now. I always liked that one because it's very to-the-point. The "tiebreaking rules" on stem direction for notes under extended stems (16th, 32nd, etc.) in the Read book are actually pretty comical for how complicated they can get...reminds me of NFL playoff wildcard tiebreakers. :D
  6. Contra|Brett|


    Oct 6, 2004
    Tails attatched to other tails with a beam follow the direction of the tail of the note that is furthest away from the middle line. (Generally, i'm not sure if this is a convention or not)