Change the number of staff lines in specific regions of a score

I would like to reduce the number of lines in a staff to 2 in some regions of a composition. I have already found several workarounds here in the forum but have had no success so far. It is a vocal technique without a specific pitch, so at first, I thought of changing the instrument to a percussion kit, but then I couldn’t get glissando lines to appear between the notes (I couldn’t add normal lines either). Also, the bar lines were bit too long. My second attempt was to do an instrument change to a modified tenor, which basically works, but as far as I know, you are not able to change the position of the lines in a staff, so the lines are displayed too close together.

The glissando lines can also be “normal” lines without bends, I would prefer S bends here, but if that is not possible, I can do without them.

I was able to create the notes in the picture within Lilypond. In the worst case, I can engrave the whole project like this, but I really would prefer working with Dorico for the sake of convenience.

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I don’t think there’s an easy or ‘native’ way to get what you’ve drawn here, with ‘outside edge’ staff lines only.

There is a .doricolib file floating around this site for a 0-line staff. You could use that (in an instrument change), and then add horizontal lines with the line tool.

However, I think that an instrument change to a 1-line staff would be just as effective.

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Riffing off of @benwiggy ’s last comment, you could readily show (unpitched) contour by placing notes above and below the 1-line staff (à la Schoenberg, et al.)

the way you notate it looks, as if the noises should stay in the range between e and f’. Is this what is intended? If not, then the suggested notation with just a single (centred) staff line might be more adequate, suggesting noises without specific pitch.

Thank you all for your suggested solutions. I will try the 1-line staff variant, if f I don’t like it I’ll do the notation in Lilypond. The reason for trying to use the two outer staff lines is that I want to suggest a larger ambitus, at least an octave. The exact vocal realization is also explained in a text box at the first occurrence.

If I were the singer, the outer E3 and F4 (sounding) lines might suggest (unpitched) targets to be aimed for with consistency, whereas the somewhat vaguer “above and below” a single line (which could, of course, be visually consistent) would keep my focus instead on traversing distance, which I think is the musical gesture you’re after, @simon.seeberger …?

(Of course, performance notes go a long way to make anything work, but I do like it when non-traditional notation maps nicely as visual metaphor onto the intended sounds/gestures.)

This is as close as I could get to your original image:

I created one player holding a tenor instrument and a percussion kit containing two instruments displayed in grid view with a gap of four spaces between the lines.

Edit: The curved glissando lines can be obtained by using laissez vibrer ties and repositioning them in engrave mode.


I came in my experiments to the same result of @johnkprice :smiley: and experimented further to eliminate the protruding 5 lines (before the bar line at bar 4), and creating the S slurs:

To eliminate the protruding lines (before the barline in bar 4),
CleanShot 2024-06-22 at 01.44.47@2x
I found that setting the following engraving option to 0 solves this:

And the S slurs are possible also with a slur with 2 segments and some manual adjustings [with Global activated in the Properties panel, to make the changes also in the part] (which can be done better probably :smiling_face: ):

Here an example Dorico file:

2 external lines .dorico (916.9 KB)


(sorry for the wrong hyphens…Still learning lyrics input :slight_smile: )


@johnkprice @Christian_R Thank you very much for your efforts, that’s exactly how I want it!


Thanks for sharing files (which allows you to learn something new in a short time)


This solution offers only noteheads on the outer lines, right? No way of putting noteheads freely in between?

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I tried adding a third anvil to @Christian_R 's kit (making it George Antheil’s Triple Concerto…??) and it just messed everything up.

(Interestingly, when I edited the instrument definition from Christian’s 5-line staff to a 2-line, it left the music notation as is but the lyrics moved up slightly.)

I’m curious why you’d prefer that. I found your original bends to be nicely evocative of a non-linear motion up/down (as opposed to @johnkprice 's linear motion).

For a performer, the S-curves might suggest a slight dip below/above (un-)pitch and a slight overreaching before settling on the next. (Let alone the theorist, who might analyze it as an unfolding:smiley:)

Interesting point @klafkid . I experimented more and I found a possibility using custom lines with x notehead as annotation, and invisible line as body.

Dorico file example (I hope the custom x notehead “lines” are saved in the file):
2 external lines- with x notehead lines extension .dorico (938.5 KB)


I created then three lines with this annotation, one centered on the staff, one above with 1/2 offset, and one below with 1/2 offset. So is possible to notate an x “note” for each line (the two external lines with actual rhythmic values, and the three invisible inner lines, with x notepads. (eventually is possible to use other glyphs with stems for the annotations…, or with other rhythmical values…, but I think for such a free representation is enough a x notehead):

1. create the annotation (click on the stars to make them present in all projects)

2. create the three lines (click on the stars to make them present in all projects).
Important is to use Inside Staff for the Placement

apply the custom “lines” (with this x notehead as annotation) as desired. (If you over with the mouse on the different x, it will show the name so to know which is which) :

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Of course, what’s lost here is the precise rhythmic notation @simon.seeberger wants.

I briefly thought about how cumbersome it would be to add an ossia staff above to show the desired rhythm, then remembered that they can’t be added to percussion-kit staves.

Good point, indeed …
I made other experiments (not optimal at all, but a good exercise … :upside_down_face:) :

For whom may be interested:
2 external lines- with x notehead lines extension-rythm test .dorico (925.0 KB)

But also:

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Nice, @Christian_R !

Hi @simon.seeberger and @klafkid for the question :

I came out with another solution (no need of drum kit, or instrument change, and grid lines gaps settings. It is all only one instrument), that makes the rhythmic visualisation very easy. It needs a text with 0% opacity, with avoid collisions deactivated , and erase background activated (with some adjusting of the erasure R and L padding (to be made at the end of layouting, because is sensible to position changes). The lines are glissando lines :slight_smile: :

Dorico example file:
2 lines external for free voice notation.dorico (443.7 KB)


Workflow pictures:

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Yes, you need to activate the erase background and the adjustments to the erasure padding only at the end of note input and layouting. Eventually you need to add more letters “x” to the staff text, or delete some letters “x”, depending on how long the bar measure will be.

padding corrected: :slight_smile: :
2 lines external for free voice notation-corrected padding.dorico (480.7 KB)

(sorry if my hyphenation is not correct…ehmmmm)

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