Changing the number of lines in a staff

hi dorico team and everyone,
In most of my recent projects, I’ve needed to switch from a 5-line staff to a single-line staff in instances where a player (a string or wind/brass player for example) is playing an unpitched technique–or sometimes multiple unpitched techniques, in which case a 2- or 3- line staff would be helpful.

In order to do this in Dorico, I’ve been using instrument changes, which works ok in many cases, however it also creates some problems:

  1. You can’t currently do instrument changes for section players, which is a case where I often need to switch to a 1, 2, or 3, lined staff.
  2. Secondary instruments currently can’t condense, so if I need a single-line staff for wind and brass players in an orchestra, I need to figure out a way around that.
  3. I don’t need the instrument change labels for this situation, and they can be fussy to get rid of.
  4. The instrument often changes sooner than I want it to (for example, if I have normal pitched notes on a 5-line staff and then 20 bars of rest followed by an unpitched technique on a single-line staff, the instrument will switch to the single-line staff as soon as the 20 bars of rest starts, which makes total sense for an actual instrument change but looks strange and confusing for these purposes.)
  5. It seems that 2- and 3- line staves don’t currently exist in Dorico?

To get around this in the past, I’ve sometimes chosen the middle line of the staff instead of actually switching staves, but I’ve found that often musicians will try to finger that pitch (even when there’s text above stating not to). And the feedback I’ve gotten from the performers is that they prefer to see a non-5-lined staff for unpitched techniques because it’s less confusing.

So I would love to see a way to switch the number of staff lines for these purposes as an actual feature in a future version of Dorico!

(But also please let me know if there are better solutions for any of these things than I’ve currently figured out.)

There are so many reasons I really love Dorcio, so thank you team for all the hard work you’ve put into it!!

  1. Completely agree, and I’ve requested this before too. The way Dorico does it is definitely just considered wrong in some genres like Broadway. Having clef/key/staff changes right at the bar of entrance is another clue to the player that something is different in case they spaced out and missed the “to …” indication.

  2. Well, yes and no. You can take a percussion instrument that has 2 single lines, like Congas or Timbales, and use that, or one that has 3 or more, like Wood Blocks, and edit the Percussion Kit to remove instruments:

It’s unsupported, but you can also hack your instruments.xml file to create any number of staff lines that you want. The easiest way is to just take an instrument you’ll likely never use and edit the “numStaveLines” entry. I have 1-line and 0-line non-percussion staves set up by default as I’ve frequently needed those but you could create whatever # of lines you want. This is assuming playback isn’t important for those staves of course.

Yes you are absolutely right about 5. I shouldn’t have left out that 2- and 3- line staves do exist as percussion grids. (Percussion grids are amazing when used for what they’re built for!! Honestly Dorico has so many fantastic percussion features–Thank you Dorico!) But I wish percussion grids weren’t the only way to do a 2- or 3- line staff. It very much feels like a workaround when the 2 or 3 different pitches on the staff are actually different parts of the same instrument (which can be the case with percussion or non-percussion instruments) and therefore have no reason to be divided up in any other way.

And thank you very much for the instruments.xml file workaround! I saw your post about how to do that in another thread and will try it out!

We know that it is important to be able to change the number of staff lines for a pitched instrument, and that is something we certainly plan to address in a future version of the software (though not, I’m afraid, in the next major version).

Thank you, Daniel! I’m delighted that this is part of your plans for the future! Looking forward to it!!

Agreed! I’m currently struggling with:

  1. You can’t currently do instrument changes for section players, which is a case where I often need to switch to a 1, 2, or 3, lined staff.

Does anyone know if there’s a workaround for this one? Can editing the instruments.xml be useful in this situation even though you can’t do an instrument change for section players?

For section players, depending on the situation, you could have a separate player and just assign them both to the relevant part layout? It wouldn’t allow the staves to change mid-system the way you can with a solo player holding multiple instruments but it’s an option.

Thank you @Lillie_Harris! Do you know how this would work with divisi?

Perhaps in the meantime we could be given a generic section of “instruments we could rename ourselves:
“Generic stave; one line”
“Generic stave; two lines”

Most people wouldn’t mind renaming an instrument if it gave them the number of lines they desired natively without having to import an xml from elsewhere or hack the json files.

I know you don’t like to do half measures, preferring to implement things with a full feature set and scope according to your vision, but perhaps on this particular front a stop-gap option could be implemented.


@Romanos401 My initial instinct was to agree with you, but on second thought I’m actually not sure how much it would help because we can currently do what you suggested in Dorico: We can choose single line percussion instruments or 2-line percussion grids and re-name them. So (unless i misunderstood your suggestion) I don’t think that helps with this issue that Dorico treats going from a 5-line staff to a staff with any other number of lines as an instrument change, which results in a lot of problems that have already been discussed in this thread.

This is basically what I’ve done in with my own instruments.xml. I don’t have two lines set up by default, but I have 0-line and 1-line.

The note positions and editing capabilities of percussion staves are very limited compared to “regular” staves. What Romanos is proposing would allow these staves using systems other than 5 lines to have to the full range of Dorico’s editing capabilities.


This is a less-helpful technique for those who wish to simply display relative pitch for tonal instruments, for example. It would be much simpler to select a single line instrument by default and go from there, rather than having to create a fake kit. @FredGUnn is right: a “normal” instrument (as opposed to a kit) is more flexible in many regards.


Ah yes I see what you both mean now and completely agree!

(I was only thinking about it in terms of changing the number of lines in a staff during a piece, which we need to be able to do in a better way than changing instruments.)

So I completely agree that I would also like to be able to be able to display relative pitch for tonal instruments on a single line staff and to have the full flexibility of “normal” staves in a built-in way rather than just by editing the instruments.xml file.

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Not at my desktop now, but I think you can actually drag a second instrument into a Section Player. Whether that’s wise, in terms of Dorico’s data handling, I don’t know. It’s probably a bug, as I note you can’t do it on the iPad.

dragging a second instrument into a section player doesn’t seem to work for me :frowning:

No, you can’t add extra instruments to section players. Solo (soon to be called single) players can hold multiple instruments, but section players cannot.