Beam slants

The slant of a beam controls how steeply the beam deviates from horizontal, according to the pitches of the notes within the beamed group.

  • When the last note of the phrase is higher than the first, the beam slants upwards.

  • When the last note of the phrase is lower than the first, the beam slants downwards.

  • If the group makes a concave shape, where inner notes are closer to the beam than the outer ones at either end of the beam, then the beaming is horizontal by default.

    Beams are also horizontal if all the pitches are the same, or for certain patterns of repeated pitches.

When a beam is drawn inside the staff, each end of the beam, meaning the end of the stem of the note at either end of the beam, must be snapped to a staff line position. A beam line may sit on a staff line, be centered on a staff line, or hang from a staff line. Ted Ross describes these three positions as “sit”, “straddle”, and “hang” respectively in “Teach Yourself the Art and Practice of Music Engraving”.

Figure 1. A phrase containing multiple different beam slants and directions

The amount by which a beam slants is typically determined by the interval between the first and last note in the beamed group, provided the pattern of notes in the beam does not dictate a horizontal beam instead. Smaller intervals require a shallower slant and larger intervals require a steeper one.

However, the desired amount of slant is not the only factor that must be considered. The innermost beam line should not come too close to the innermost notehead, and the beam itself, if possible, should be positioned relative to the staff lines such that it does not form a wedge. A wedge is a tiny triangle formed by the horizontal staff line, the vertical stem, and the angled line of the slanted beam, which can be visually confusing.

Determination of the amount of slant for a beam is therefore a balancing act that must weigh up several factors: the desired amount of slant, valid snapping positions for each end of the beam, ensuring a minimum distance between the note closest to the beam and the innermost beam line, and avoiding wedges where possible.

  • You can set ideal beam slants in various contexts on the Beams page in Engraving Options.

  • You can specify the minimum stem length for notes of different durations in the Stems section of the Notes page in Engraving Options.

  • You can change the beam slants of individual beams.