DJA’s Notes: Left-align chord symbols

Tips

Editor’s note: DJA’s Notes is a series inspired by Darcy James Argue‘s Facebook posts, which offer some quick, basic steps to improve the appearance of notated music, especially from a jazz/big band perspective. Here at Scoring Notes, we’ve replicated the content of Darcy’s posts and have added instructions for how to achieve the desired result in the major commercial desktop notation programs.

Here is a question: in the image below, which beat is each of these chords supposed to land on?

If you answered “The chords all land on beat 1 — it’s just that the composer neglected to turn on ‘Left-Align Chords’ in their notation software” — congratulations, you have obviously seen far too many charts like this, where chord symbol alignment is a complete disaster.

For the record — chord symbols MUST be left-aligned. The left edge of the chord symbol needs to be flush with the beat where you are actually supposed to play that chord.

For unfathomable reasons, Finale, Sibelius, and Dorico have chord symbols centered above their attachment point by default, instead of left-aligned.

YOU. HAVE. TO. CHANGE. THIS. SETTING.

Cheers, and best,

— DJA


Finale

Go to Tools > Chord. From the Chord menu, check Left-Align Chords.

Sibelius

Follow the detailed instructions in this Scoring Notes blog post to change your document settings to make chords left-aligned. You will need to make changes in several places:

  • Text > Styles > Edit Text Styles > Chord symbol > Staff Text Style > Horizontal Posn
  • Appearance > Default Positions > Other objects > Chord Symbol
  • Appearance > Default Positions > Text styles > Chord symbol

Dorico

Go to Engrave mode > Engraving Options…

Select Chord Symbols from the left-hand menu, and scroll through the many options until you find Horizontal Position.

Under Horizontal alignment relative to note, chord or rest, select Left. Optionally, enter a horizontal offset.

Further reading

For further guidance on the appearance of chord symbols, such as font suggestions, vertical spacing, chord spelling, and more, see this document.

Comments

  1. Waldbaer

    Thanks for this post, too. It looks like Sibelius really has a problem of usability here… oO

  2. Tim Whalen

    Amen!

  3. Alexander Plötz

    The reason why center-alignment is the default setting in all programs is perfectly fathomable, I would think. For the large majority of chord symbol users an occasionally added 7 is probably the height of required complexity. And such simple chord symbols are indeed less well readable (and often look just silly) if left-aligned.

    1. Philip Rothman

      That is a fair point. I think left-aligned with an offset of perhaps -0.5 or -1.0 sp (depending on the chord font) is ideal. I was very glad that Dorico added this option.

  4. Bob Zawalich

    The chord document (see this document) was very nice and compact. Did you write it, Philip?

    I personally grew up writing Cmaj7 for a major 7 chord and am likely to disregard that bit of advice, but I agree with most everything else. And it is nice so see such a coherent set of rules. I have looked at a lot of such rules and like these better than most.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Bob. No, Darcy James Argue wrote the document. It is part of his curriculum for a course he teaches. Lucky students!

  5. Andrew Taylor

    I’m a bit surprised that the document lists Gaug in the “do not use column” rather than as an acceptable variant to G+, where (in my experience) the + could be missed or misread as a sharp in the heat of the sight-reading moment. I understand the need to keep the symbols short, but brevity isn’t everything. Similarly, though to a lesser extent, with Go versus Gdim,

  6. mirabilos

    Will you also consider MuseScore as worthy of receiving instructions with your tips?

  7. Dan Gordon

    The problem with the example given is that the chord symbol font is much too big (relative to the width of the bar) to give an accurate rhythmic placement, regardless of how it is aligned. Really wide chord symbols with lots of alterations will always lose rhythmic clarity unless you make the bars correspondingly wide, or the font correspondingly small. If all those chords in the example were left aligned, they’d comfortably cover beats 1 and 2 in each bar, at least. To my eye, having the chord symbol centred above the note or chord slash makes the most visual sense, and the idea that ambiguity is reduced by left-aligning seems like a stretch.

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