Best practice for indicating which string to use (violin/viola/cello/bass)

What’s the best practice in Dorico for specifying which string a violin/viola/cello/bass passage should be played on? I’m engraving this excerpt from a historical score:

I did click on Properties > Notes and Rests > String and specified the fourth string, however, this doesn’t seem to show anything in the score, and I’m not sure why (or if there is an option for this).

i personally would use note names
on violin IV=G, III=D, II=A, I=E
viola ,cello IV=C etc…

…and just use system text? Or another type?

The “String” control in the properties panel is there to provide extra context for things like harmonics and position shift indications (part of the fingering feature). It doesn’t directly affect the score except in the case of guitar tablature.


On bowed string instruments, Roman numerals are perfectly fine to indicate the string. Adding ‘sul’ to a Roman numeral is not wrong, but it’s unnecessary.
OTOH, there is a subtle distinction: the Roman numerals are more of a technical indication, like fingering, whereas sul G/sul C also means the passage has a special colour, a bit of a dark, rough tone quality, and therefore it’s also an expression, not just technique. And sul G is mostly understood to last for a certain passage, where IV can be used for a single note. If IV lasts for a whole passage, you might add a horizontal bracket, or a dashed line. The end result (the special tone quality) will be the same.


It’d be great if there was something similar to the guitar string indicators, for the usual string section!

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As a string player I can tell you that the sul IV or III… are not always a technical necessity, sometimes it is just a suggestion. That is, why System/Staff Text is the best choice in Dorico (because that is the element that Dorico uses for display only).

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System-attached text is for indications that should appear in all parts, but only at specific positions in the score, similar to tempo marks, rehearsal marks etc.

Staff-attached text is for indications that only one part should have.

You can also create playing techniques for other notation symbols you want to use.


@user450 , in consultation with the bassist in the ensemble playing a recent piece, I made string indications as playing techniques with (dashed-line-and-hook) continuation lines:

I used these settings order to have the dashed line align with the bottom of the roman numerals:

Thanks. Also a string player, was hoping for easy string labelling for scordatura purposes …

out of interest, is it your own compositions or are you taking existing pieces to notate in scordatura?
During the centuries there were different, but very effective ways of notating these pieces. I wonder which way you would like to take?

  • Scordatura=a different from standard tuning of the open strings

It’s for a new piece of mine…

Using “Sul IV” as in the original post’s example (mixing Sul with roman numerals) seems confusing.

In Text, I used “Sul G” for phrases and for notes I used roman numerals like "0 III ", etc. The score was successfully performed although I wasn’t able to discuss with the performers later whether or not they preferred my way, or an alternate way, for these indications. If you use “Sul G” then be aware you may want to later cancel it with “ord.” for clarity.

You can watch the score playback here:


Screenshot 2024-07-10 at 10.49.40 AM

Screenshot 2024-07-10 at 10.49.52 AM

Screenshot 2024-07-10 at 10.52.27 AM

I have often been advised not to include these types of indications in my compositions. I have even been firmly told that “it would be insulting to the performers” to add such indications (under the premise that they are the best experts themselves in figuring out which string to play notes on, or what position, etc). Obviously I add these anyway because I consider such advice to be invalid in some cases. If I want my notes to be specifically played on an open string, or etc, then it needs to be notated as such. In the future I would also consider adding a tablature to the staff if it made my intention easier to notate.

For unusual notations or extended techniques, I have always included a Performance Note at the beginning of the score; I used a screenshot of an example measure and used Dorico to place the image onto the page; or, I described what the notation is supposed to mean, in text.

The biggest consideration for including these is whether or not you expect your composition to be sight-readable and by what skill level of performer. Since these notations are unusual, it will cause confusion and misinterpretation, so be prepared to get questions on it, and have ready answers. If the performers will have multiple rehearsals then there shouldn’t be any problem with learning these, but without a rehearsal, they may cause mistakes or, at best, may just be ignored.

Another consideration is geography… my notations were written in California for performers in California. Various places in Europe might have different standards… i.e. maybe there is no best practice, across the globe.

I would definitely use roman numerals with continuation line for scordatura. SulG would make no sense if the G had (say) been tuned up to A!

The strings do not change “name” simply because tuning changed. Regularly on guitar the strings are still called by their standard-tuning names even though the tuning may have changed. “Sul G” is still appropriate even if the string is tuned to “A”. To do otherwise would add yet another layer of reading confusion. Performers will have muscle-memorized “Sul G” to always be “the string typically referred to as the G string”.

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If you really think a low G on a violin should be marked explicitly as an open string, yes: that’s an insult to your players, unless they’re 4 years old and just had their first violin lesson. It’s like saying to a pianist: lift the lid of your piano first. There’s no other way you could play such a note. Also indicating III for the octave G4 above it is ridiculous. No one would play it anywhere else.

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I agree with @PjotrB that you’re really insulting the intelligence of your players with these notations. His comments on your third example are spot on. The glissando example also contains needless notation. Any competent player would use a single string for the entire glissando in your example. The Sul. G & Sul. D text simply isn’t needed.

On the contrary. String players are more familiar with numerals to designate strings. There is no confusion. Just look at the likes of Paganini, Popper or Ysaye…