Metrics and glyph registration for scoring applications

The following guidelines are provided for fonts intended for use in scoring applications:

  • Dividing the em in four provides an analogue for a five-line staff: if a font uses 1000 upm (design units per em), as is conventional for a PostScript font, one staff space is equal to 250 design units; if a font uses 2048 upm, as is conventional for a TrueType font, one staff space is equal to 512 design units.

  • The origin (bottom left corner of the em square, i.e. x = 0 and y = 0 in font design space) therefore represents the middle of the bottom staff line of a nominal five-line staff, and y = 1 em represents the middle of the top staff line of that same five-line staff.

  • All glyphs should be drawn at a scale consistent with the key measurement that one staff space = 0.25 em.

  • Unless otherwise stated, all glyphs shall be horizontally registered so that their leftmost point coincides with x = 0.

  • Unless otherwise stated, all glyphs shall have zero-width side bearings, i.e. no blank space to the left or right of the glyph.

  • Glyphs that apply to a staff as a whole (e.g. barlines) shall be registered such that the font baseline lies at the nominal vertical position of the bottom line of a five-line staff. If the glyph is specific to a staff other than a regular five-line staff, then for registration purposes that staff’s vertical center shall be exactly aligned with the vertical center of a five-line staff.

  • Glyphs for movable notations that apply to some vertical staff position (e.g. noteheads, accidentals) shall be registered such that the font baseline lies exactly at that position. For example, a typical notehead or accidental glyph is registered such that it is vertically centered on the baseline.

  • Clefs should be positioned such that the pitch the clef refers to is on the baseline (e.g. the F clef is placed such that the upper dot is above and the lower dot below the baseline). If a clef does not refer specifically to a pitch, its y=0 should coincide with the center staff line on a five-line staff, or the visual center for staves with more or fewer than five lines (e.g. tablature staves).

  • Noteheads should be positioned as if on the bottom line of the staff (except for complete clusters representing intervals of a second or third, which should be positioned as if in the bottom space of the staff).

  • Pre-composed stems should be positioned as if they are pointing upwards and attached to a notehead on the bottom line of the staff. The center of the stem should be at x=0.

  • Combining glyphs that are designed to be superimposed on stems (stem decorations) should be registered such that the point that should sit in the center of the stem (i.e. typically the visual center of the symbol) should be at x=0 and y=0.

  • Accidentals should be positioned as if they apply to a notehead on the bottom line of the staff.

  • Articulations to be positioned above a note or chord should be positioned such that they sit on the baseline (y=0), while articulations to be positioned below a note or chord should be positioned such that they hang from the baseline.

  • Pre-composed notes should be positioned as if on the bottom line of the staff.

  • Flags are positioned such that y=0 corresponds to the end of a stem of normal length, and such that x=0 corresponds to the left-hand side of the stem.

  • Rests are relative to an imaginary staff position, typographically speaking (usually the center line of a five-line staff in which the rest assumes its default position). The font baseline should represent this staff position, with the exception of the whole note (semibreve) rest, which should hang from the font baseline.

  • Bracket ends are positioned such that the point at which they connect to the top or bottom of a vertical bracket is at y=0.

  • Letters for dynamics (and for D.C./D.S. in the repeats range) should be scaled such that the caps height is around 0.5 em, and the x-height is around 0.25 em. Letters for dynamics should also have non-zero side bearings to achieve good default spacing when set in a single run.

  • Digits for time signatures should be scaled such that each digit is two staff spaces tall, i.e. 0.5 em, and vertically centered on the baseline. Although some glyphs in the time signatures range (such as the large + sign, common and cut time glyphs, etc.) apply to the whole staff, these should likewise be vertically centered on the baseline. Time signature digits should also have non-zero side bearings to achieve good default spacing when set in a single run.

  • Parentheses (for accidentals, time signatures, figured bass, etc.) may have non-zero side bearings, in order to achieve good default spacing when set in a single run with the glyphs they are intended to bracket.

  • Figured bass digits and function theory symbols should have non-zero side bearings to achieve good default spacing when set in a single run.

  • Tessellating glyphs (such as wavy lines, or the component parts of complex trills and mordents) should have negative side bearings, in order to achieve correct tessellation when set in a single run.

Many of these guidelines are based on the conventions established by Adobe’s Sonata font and carried through by most other fonts designed for use in scoring applications, for the sake of making it as easy as possible for font and application developers to transition their existing fonts and software to supporting SMuFL-compliant fonts.