a few thoughts on the new NoteLength automation

There’s some exciting new stuff in Dorico 3.5 but the feature that really caught my attention was the new NoteLength conditions box in the Expression Maps. Have been trying it out and thought I’d just post one or two quick tips for those who are interested in trying it out. A step by step as to how to do it is of course not the purpose here – that’s in the documentation

Start with the new YouTube video on new Expression Map features which gives you the basics. The whole point of this is to allow a score to play back without so many playing technique markings which would often be superfluous for the player. Human musicians will know more or less how to articulate their instruments according to the speed/note length of the music and generally don’t need to be told for standard playing. VST’s, by and large, don’t unless they’re told though some are better than others in providing a degree of automation according to note length and tempi. This is above all a godsend for folk who import a lot of .xml’s which will largely probably be missing the sort of articulations which Dorico needs to choose the right one from the Expression Map.

This feature offers you to define in your EM, five fixed lengths that can be allocated to different articulations. It makes sense that these will be based on the basic, rather than more specialized, ways of playing. Therefore start with your default patch which is mostly sustain or similar and you can later try it with things like mute, legato or whatever. The ideal thing, if your library allows it, would be to allocate all five lengths to different patches. The obvious combination that springs to mind is, staccatissimo (or spiccato in some libraries), staccato, short detache, long detache and finally sustain or the closest equivalents. Unfortunately we run into difficulties here. The current settings – of course this is a great feature in progress and I’m sure its capabilities will be further extended – make the longest articulation only kick in at 1.5 seconds at 120 bpm which means that in most things I’ve tried, your sustain will kick in too late and the slower music or longer note lengths will sound too detached

If you have only a limited choice of articulations, this is all irrelevant but to use the automation to the fullest, I’ve found so far that you need to restrict yourself in most cases to four. Sustain is best programmed for =>long which means one articulation will need to fall out – remember these are fixed steps and there’s no point in trying to programme anything in between them. My decision for the time being is to specifically mark staccato with a dot (which it mostly is anyway) and leave it out of the mapping. In my classically orientated tests, this works pretty well giving you very short = staccatissimo short = short detache medium = long detache as the remainder

Naturally, this is just a tentative basis for starting out and will depend as well to some extent on the specific library. I would be delighted if folk come up with other plans and share them here.