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Stem Direction Rules


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#1 Ligneo Fistula

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Posted 14 February 2019 - 00:21

Unless I'm mistaken, I can't find anything in The AB Guide to Music Theory or First Steps in Music Theory: Grades 1 to 5 which defines the stem direction rules for chords and groups of beamed/grouped notes. The only information these ABRSM publications give is for single notes.
 
I did a grade 5 practice paper this evening and the model answer for a horn-in-F transposition question gives a group of 4 semiquavers with a different stem direction to mine.  I'm worried about this for the real exam as the ABRSM marking criteria explicitly mentions correct positions of note stem directions.
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From what I can tell, American publications seem to use the rule that if the average note position is below the middle line then the stems should go up, and vice versa.  Does anyone know if ABRSM adopt this convention too, or indeed what is the rule they apply when marking theory papers?

 

Thanks in advance.


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#2 Hildegard

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Posted 14 February 2019 - 08:47

The normal rule is that when there are an unequal number of notes either side of the middle line, the stems should go in the correct direction for the majority of notes (*). That's true generally, not just in America. Thus, your answer is correct and the ABRSM answer is incorrect. But the fact that they are willing to publish such an answer is indication that they are not going to worry about something as borderline as this. In fact, like many "rules" in music engraving, exceptions to standard practice are not uncommon.

 

(*) An exception is made if some notes are so far from the middle line that most stems in the beamed group would be ridiculously long: in such cases the beam goes the other side in order to keep the majority of stems a reasonable length.

 

The only thing to check is that the original horn part is not written with all stems down because it is a second horn part (with a first horn part on the same stave having all stems up, so the parts are clearly differentiated.)


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#3 vron

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Posted 14 February 2019 - 10:07

I thought that B was taken as the dividing point and as 3 of the notes are on or below this ( as opposed to just one above) this the stems should go down as in ABRSM example.??
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#4 Maizie

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Posted 14 February 2019 - 11:02

The notes which are below B, their stems would go up.  This took me an age to get my head round when first learning theory - not how to draw them (which I could do fine) but explaining the rule 'lower goes up, higher goes down' rule, because it simply wouldn't make sense - because low = down, high = up being too instinctive for me to ignore.

If you wrote these notes as four crotchets, the stems would be up, up, up or down, and down.  So overall the 'average' is up smile.png


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#5 zwhe

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Posted 14 February 2019 - 11:51

The general rule is take the average, but there is some flexibility as the most important thing is keeping the score clear to read, so they may go a different way if they would be close to stems on another stave, or if there is lots of writing. In an exam, I would go with the 'me' example; in actual music, the 'ABRSM' one would be more likely as there is writing above the stave, so the stems are kept out the way.


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#6 Ligneo Fistula

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Posted 14 February 2019 - 23:48

Thank you, everyone, for your input on this.  Normally, I wouldn't worry as I've always worked towards the what-is-clearest approach in my manuscripts, however I don't particularly want to fall foul of an exam marker who 'got out of the wrong side of bed' that day and decides to be endlessly pedantic and picky about the smallest detail, regardless of ABRSM's apparent looseness with the 'rules' in their model answers.

 

For example, in another practice paper question they have used "tied notes" (plural) and "tied note" (singular) in an inconsistent manner when describing equivalent written symbols in a question where counting notes was critical.  Most annoying!


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#7 vron

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 12:04

Maizie - good idea to just think of crotchets and then it is quite apparent which way they would go mostly.
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#8 Maizie

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 13:29

I do agree with LF's way as I said, but to play devil's advocate...imagine these as four crotchets again.  It wouldn't be wrong to write them as up, up, down, down.  At which point you it's a two-all draw, and your group of semi-quavers can therefore go down or up.  So perhaps neither way is wrong in this case.

There's three way of looking at this one, I think:

 

These notes as crotchets would go: up up up down -> 3-1, so beam the semiquavers above

These notes as crotchets would go: up up doesn't-matter down -> 2-1, so beam the semiquavers above

These notes as crotchets would go: up up down down -> 2-2, so the beam can go either way.

 

So I think that the specific notes given could be argued to be right either way.  Which means this isn't a good question for testing this, bad examiners ;)


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#9 Hildegard

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 16:12

I do agree with LF's way as I said, but to play devil's advocate...imagine these as four crotchets again.  It wouldn't be wrong to write them as up, up, down, down.  At which point you it's a two-all draw, and your group of semi-quavers can therefore go down or up.

 

So I think that the specific notes given could be argued to be right either way.  Which means this isn't a good question for testing this, bad examiners wink.png

 

When there are an equal number of notes either side of the middle line, the normal convention is that the note furthest from the centre of the stave dictates the overall stem direction. In this case, that is the note E on the bottom line. Its stem goes up, so all four stems should go up. That still makes the AB answer 'unconventional' (not wrong).

 

However, the test is not about stem directions, it is a transposition test, so I really don't think it would matter which side the beam is drawn. All that matters is whether the notes have been transposed correctly and whether they have been written neatly enough to avoid any ambiguity.


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#10 Ligneo Fistula

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 16:39

Out of interest, do candidates ever get marked papers back or at least a by-question breakdown of performance on theory papers so they know where improvement is needed?


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#11 elemimele

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 16:48

... in the past, when musicians actually needed to make the decision, it might have mattered. Nowadays, although it's jolly helpful to have legible manuscript skills, anyone producing sheet music for general consumption will almost certainly use software to do it - and software excels at applying conventions precisely and consistently.

In an ideal world, ABRSM shouldn't care tuppence which way the stems go, particularly in the case that it doesn't really affect readability.


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#12 Hildegard

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 16:54

software excels at applying conventions precisely and consistently.

 

I was just about to write "good point" when it occured to me that the error in the AB's answer probably came about because their setter just moved the notes down four steps and forgot to change the beam direction, instead of using the transpose facility.

In other words, you have to know what you are doing, otherwise the technology can make you look incompetent !


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#13 Hildegard

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 16:57

Out of interest, do candidates ever get marked papers back or at least a by-question breakdown of performance on theory papers so they know where improvement is needed?

 

The marksheet gives a breakdown of marks awarded for each question. Exam papers are not returned.


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#14 Ligneo Fistula

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Posted 15 February 2019 - 16:57

 

Out of interest, do candidates ever get marked papers back or at least a by-question breakdown of performance on theory papers so they know where improvement is needed?

 

The marksheet gives a breakdown of marks  awarded for each question. Exam papers are not returned.

 

Thank you.


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