Music Engraving

Music Engraving

Personal computers and music notation applications enable us to write a decent sheet music quite easily. I enjoy writing sheet music on my computer. However, the more I learn about it, the more I realise how amazing and wonderful the art of craftsmanship is (was).

Today, I'm talking about music engraving.


[Music Engraving]

The term "music engraving" derives mainly from the traditional process of high quality music printing method called "Plate engraving". This traditional method became obsolete just two decades ago (G. Henle Verlag continued until 2000) and was replaced by "computer engraving". 

The elegant and beautiful end result of sheet music was only achieved by highly skilled and experienced master of the plate engraving who had completed around 10 years of practice. 


Vídeo:[Music Engraving on Metal Plates]

Music Engraving on Metal Plates


[Comparison: The difference between traditional and computer engraving]

I often feast my eyes on the score for a while because it's so elegant and artistic! I have always wondered why the traditionally engraved sheet music is so beautiful and easy to read. Assuming that you agree with me, I made a comparison of both engraving methods bellow.


The image on the left is an excerpt from Fernando Sor's Fantasia Op.59.

No.1 is the traditional printed music (plate engraving) published in 1908. There is one mistake but the overall impresion is very nice.

No.2 was engraved by myself using a well known commercial engraving software on my computer. I just inserted the notes and let the software arrange the layout automatically. Many computer engraving softwares tend to generate this type of spacious layout, giving a very loose and unnatural feeling. Also the lines of the stave (staff) and stems are too thin that it's very uncomfortable to read. You'll notice a huge difference when you sight-read complex music.

No.3 is the same one as No.2 but I tweaked to imitate the aesthetic of No.1, based on my theory that the proper spacing makes the score more pleasant. I moved the bass A (on the first beat of the bar 1), I narrowed the width of the bars, and I corrected the position of the rests and dynamic marks (forte and piano). Do you think it's a bit better now?

No. 4 was also engraved by me using another programme. I'm quite happy with the result. What do you think?



Here is another attempt. This is an excerpt from the second movement of "Sonatina" by Moreno Torroba. 

No.1 is the original printed music (plate engraving) published in 1966, and No.2 and 3 were engraved by me using two different engraving softwares as before. 

I adjusted heavily the spacing of notes and bar width for No.3. I'm quite happy with the result of No.2 though No.3 isn't so bad either.

Would you like to know what software I used for these two examples? You'll find it out at the end of this article!



The secret of the art of engraving is having a good judgement of the spacing and the contrast between black & white. Also the engraver's comprehension of music and love to music are the key factors in resulting a musician-friendly and beautiful sheet music. 

Today's computer engraving is still not as beautiful as the traditional plate engraving but if the engraver is skilled enough to make some suitable adjustments, it can get quite closer.

In the end, plates, hammers and computers are all tools. The most important part might always rely on human's good judgement and taste.

  • Sor's Fantasia Op.59:
  • Torroba's Sonatina:
    • 2: Lilypond
    • 3: Finale 


Very nice post about music engraving. Thanks for share.

I'm glad you found this post interesting!