Accidental spelling - Why does Dorico do this?

Hello community and Devs, I mostly write polytonal or highly chromatic tonal music and I’ve always found Dorico to be the worst of all notation programs when it comes to logical spelling. See this example below:

If I was a pianist reading this I would be annoyed at the composer. I’ve tried several different ways to avoid so many of these, e.g. giving it a key signature that approximates the majority of accidentals used, or using the ‘atonal’ key signature, but nothing works. I’ve also tried using the respell automatically tool, but this doesn’t seem to change anything.

The issue, of course, is how painfully slow the proofreading process goes. Even on a relative short 8 minute composition like this, I have 157 bars, 4505 notes to check, because nearly every bar has odd combinations of sharps and flats. Do we, perhaps, need another Tonality System for Dorico? Or a different algorithm?

I don’t understand why Dorico is worse than others when it comes to this. Any solutions, suggestions or advice would be highly appreciated!

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Dorico’s choices here on the whole seem pretty reasonable, I think. The notes that stick out to me are the G#2 in the LH staff at the end of bar 8, which looks like it would make more sense as Ab given what’s going on in the RH staff, and the G#3 in the LH staff in bar 9, which again looks like perhaps an Ab would have been a better choice. Otherwise, it reads to me as Em, B7/D#, E7/D, Ab/C, Ab, C#maj7, E7/G#, Fm, etc.

Did you input these notes using step-time input, or real-time recording? You’ll get different results using these two methods: with real-time recording, Dorico looks at everything you recorded and applies some sophisticated algorithms to try to identify tonal centres and spell according to those. When you use step-time, on the other hand, Dorico has the flexibility to go backwards a little way to retrospectively change the spelling of earlier notes, but it isn’t going to make wholesale changes or consider the way the tonal centre might be shifting in the future, because it doesn’t use the whole context of every note you’ve input to make its decisions.


Hi Daniel, always step-time input with a MIDI keyboard.

Perhaps the issue is that Dorico is thinking like you and trying to analyse it using jazz chords. This completely inappropriate for this type of music. This is more like polytonal counterpoint. It is not necessary for the performer to understand the intricacies of what’s going on harmonically, but rather to make it easier to read. Maybe 2 bars is not enough to gather the context of how difficult Dorico spells in general, but as a musician I would hate having a G# in my left hand whilst having an Ab on my right…

Again, perhaps we need more tonality systems for Dorico.

Agreed, but folks will likely differ on which note to change, and if people differ, how much harder must it be for an algorithm.

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Surely you’re joking, if the rest of the bar (and the one before and many after) have G#, why suddenly have an Ab? It’s very obvious, even for an algorithm, to know which one to change.

Here’s another example of the same piece:

Why on earth would it notate B#, C double sharp, D double sharp in a passage clearly in E? Then the next bar it spells the more sensible C-B… Go figure :man_shrugging:

And another terrible example:

I mean… Come on.

I suppose I would like the possibility of turning the algorithm off and just have it spell depending on whatever came before. 4 hours of proofreading and I’ve only done 3 instruments… What’s more puzzling is that I have double sharps and flats turned off in the input settings.

Are these examples where this instrument is playing solo, or are the other instruments as well?

With other instruments, but this is the only section where they all play in the same key(ish)… Again, unnecessary over-meddling by Dorico…


No I don’t think @derrek is joking: I agree that there are many points of view on how to interpret and wishes on how a spelling is notated.

Well personally as a performer I need to understand the harmony intricacies, and exactly this let me read faster and play better.

It seems a little strange/unusual that in your two last examples there are only sharp and double sharp notes… Did you changed/transposed something after the step input? And as @DanielMuzMurray points out: the music in other staves can influence what you have in one staff. This can also be the consequence of transposing instruments/layouts.

I imagine you are familiar with the numerous customisable settings in Note Input Options/Midi Input/Note Spelling (1)? Can you share the picture of the full score (or better the cut-down Dorico file) for these bars?

(Also I think to remember that is suggested to do the respelling in the full score, so that the parts will reflect the changes automatically.)


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For me the Dorico choices in your first example look quite reasonable. I would manually notate it in the same way. There are underlying harmonic progressions, even if not intentional, which are easier to follow if notated this way. It might not look logical, but if you take a bit of a distance from the pure note to note progression, it will show a different picture.

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Surely if I repeat the same E major chord 2nd inversion 20 times and then there’s one single chord of Ab major on first inversion, why notate Ab instead of G# either then? That’s just bad reasoning.
You have 2 choices, either give harmony priority, or give melody priority. Given the first example, most sane people will choose the former. I agree with Daniel on the notes that seem odd at the moment.
Anyway, nothing replaces the good old fashioned proofreading.

I just tried inputting this and got the same as you for the first two bars, but then Dorico switched over to flats in bar 81. Is this a transposing part? Did you enter multiple instruments at once by extending the caret? Like @Christian_R, I’d be curious to see what your Note Input settings are that are getting these results.

OK, there are a lot of comments here today, I hope I address all of them:

  • Each line is inputted individually, in step-input.
  • None of the instruments transpose
  • Understanding the harmony would require a postgraduate thesis. It’s a system invented by me and even I can’t analyse it after I’ve been away from it for months.
  • I have input setting to allow remote accidentals, but not double sharps/flats. I tend to do the later manually when for example you have a pivoting G# and a G.
  • Yes, I am aware of the note input settings, I have experimented with them extensively.
  • Violin 1 playing in E major, should have no effect on violin 2 playing in C or Ab. They are reading different parts which do different things.

I suppose my conclusion is that Dorico is trying to be too clever and gets in the way. When I write tonal (and to a lesser extent atonal) it does a pretty good job and it needs only a reasonable amount of correction. When trying to write more complex music (e.g. polytonal or intertwining atonal with chromatic tonality) it just falls apart.

Consequentially, what would be ideal (@dspreadbury) would be a setting that permits me to correct only one note (say an Ab to a G#) and then Dorico will continue to spell the G# as such until I manually change it again. In other words, to keep spelling the way it was done earlier, irrespective of other staves.

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There is a function to do this “after the fact” (maybe can be helpful):
menu Write>Transform>Pitches>Map Pitches…


I love this feature and been using it exensively since I 've learned it (thanks @pianoleo !)


Nice, but not what I need, since my pitches will change over the course of a piece multiple times.

Just to clarify: the Map Pitches applies only to the selected passage/notes, so it is very flexible.

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this is the crux of the problem with Dorico’s spelling algorithm – most people just want music which is easy to read and not which follows certain enharmonic rules (and even then it’s not invariably correct).

What I’d like to see is different global spelling options as I can quite understand there are indeed those who appreciate the fact that Dorico does at least try to produce “correct” notation. But as one who always inputs music exactly the same way as @Bollen via step input, I find it frustrating to have to make so many corrections - or rather find it frustrating that others complain they have problems reading the score because of the accidentals choices Dorico makes.

As @Bollen says, there are a number of different ways of trying to persuade Dorico to spell in a less arcane way but I’ve yet to find one which is ideal. The worst thing is when you transpose up or down using SHIFT+ALT+UP or DOWN arrow key. There is no surer way to get a forest of accidentals. Of course poor Dorico doesn’t have a key reference in this situation but that’s not the point – we need defaults available which eliminates all this at source without having to spend endless time trying to correct after the event. I know of people who are interested in Dorico but won’t switch from Sibelius until there are better options for accidentals spelling, however much I might try to point out all the other wonderful things they are missing…

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Can you show an example of this?

When I input a note and I see the wrong enharmonic, I change it before continuing. The respelling commands work on the currently selected note even with the caret active, and then I find that Dorico stays with the way I changed it. Are others getting different results?