Custom instrument notation


I am currently writing a large orchestral suite and the score needs to call for some rather unusual percussion instruments at times. Specifically, I’d like to add one line staffs for thunder sheet, semantron (or untuned bell plates), church bells, among other things. Unfortunately I have found that this is not possible in Dorico Pro 3.5.

I don’t need playback, I just need to notate them. Please consider adding custom instruments (without playback) in Dorico 4.

Should anyone else be looking for a workaround, what I do right now is:

  1. Pick any random percussion instrument, for example bongo bell
  2. In “Edit percussion kit”, change the visible name of the bongo bell to “Thunder sheet”
  3. Input some notes in write mode, then select them and choose “Suppress playback”

It would be good if Dorico 4 instead supported the following:

  1. An instrument without sound (call it “Silence” or something), for custom percussion lines, so I don’t have to click “Suppress playback” everywhere
  2. Ability to add new instruments
  3. Perhaps far fetched: Option to map a specific sound to the above custom instrument. For example, if I could create a “church bell” percussion instrument mapped to the C#4 tubular bell sound or similar.

Not being able to notate for custom instruments is a major limitation in my opinion. It means you can not write down Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture with the cannons, to give you just one example.

Thanks for your consideration.


Your references to suppress playback for each note and inability to assign custom sounds suggests you are not as familiar as you would like to be with the handling of VST’s in Play mode. You can mute an entire track or voice there or assign any VST sound you have available in your collection to an instrument’s MIDI channel in Play mode.

That said, I completely support your suggestion for Dorico to allow the creation of custom instruments, and I am sure that is in the Dorico Team’s future plans–just not sure when.

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Are you seriously suggesting that Dorico cannot do this…

I know I’m going to get in trouble for saying this, but you really ought to learn the program, and/or ask people here how to do things, before making assertions.

Oh, and presume you have turned off ‘play notes during input and selection’?

Janus, the only assertion I made was that you cannot create custom instruments. I then described my workaround and Derrek very helpfully contributed with his as well. I’m not sure what your screenshot intends to prove, since we know already it can be “hacked”. I do know for sure though that your negative attitude certainly helps nobody.

Not sure what you are getting at with your last suggestion of turning off ‘play notes during input and selection’. Can you clarify?

And that assertion is false. Your so called workaround is the correct way to create custom instruments (except you need to follow through and to connect your new instrument to its correct sounds)

The screenshot is how Tchaikovsky notated his 1812 Cannons. It is certainly not a ‘hack’, though modern notation would probably place it on a one-line staff.

My irritation is caused by posters who, without foundation, make assertions like…


Both of which I interpret as “I’ve not had the patience to read the documentation, nor learn from experts”. It is always better to ask first how something can be achieved before rushing to the conclusion that it cannot. That way, in my experience, you will get prompt and expert support from this dedicated community.

I don’t know… I think it’s a matter of semantics. Technically, it is certainly NOT possible to create custom instruments. That feature is not yet a part of Dorico.

The options are workarounds. Sure, they’re not difficult, but it’s not the “Dorico way.”

I agree. There is no supported way of creating something that Dorico recognises as an instrument that goes beyond its own pre-existing ones. One can only trick it into rendering one of those as something it is not, or one can start messing with the library files.

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Angel-on-a-pin semantics. I agree you cannot add a new instrument to Dorico’s defaults, but for practical purposes you can create any instrument you want that is notated on a staff.

Are you going to suggest that, just because there is no predefined template for a piano quartet, having to create one is somehow a workaround?

It is not a trick. Any more than changing the VST to play a clarinet on a violin track ,is a trick

I’m sorry, this is getting a little silly. Don’t filet a fellow user for semantics, that’s all I’m saying.

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I would never, if I though it were semantics.
(to even consider it semantics would require your own in depth knowledge. As I said I knew I’d get in trouble for this)

I feel like maybe there is another thread (that I just muted, thanks for that suggestion Dan, its the first times I’ve had to consider it) that has things stirred up a bit and is not the norm here.

I suspect custom instruments will be a thing in Dorico, and cool to mention that you have a need for them. I don’t find the workaround onerous, but I do see there would be advantages in saving those that you use a lot, setting its compass correctly, etc.

On the play side, I find it a step saver in general to work saved Endpoint configurations for all kinds of instruments. That would handle the silence issue elegantly and wouldn’t be a work around but normal business.

Other issues aside, are you saying you would not support Dorico’s incorporating an option for users to create and configure custom instruments? I do not think you would, but I don’t pretend to read minds.

I posted a request for a feature that doesn’t exist, that’s it. Nobody asked you to interpret what I wrote any deeper than that, but in doing just so you caused yourself to become irritated and then started polluting this thread with bad tone. Let us end that here and restart with this summary:

  • There is no feature in Dorico to create custom instruments
  • There are workarounds
  • This is a request to add custom instruments as a feature in Dorico

I definitely agree that it would be good to have the ability to create a custom instrument and select the kind of clef and staff it uses. It would also be good to have more flexibility with clefs and staves, like adding custom clefs and changing easily how many lines you have in a clef. The workarounds are not that bad, though.

And I think it’s a reasonable post for the feature-request topic.

This is a long-asked feature request — which does not invalidate its value.

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No, you are right. But as @dankreider says, we are now into the realm of semantics.

Practically (and as practically as those other notation programs do) Dorico’s ability to create a “custom instrument” is on a par.

The only argument here seems to be about whether that instrument appears in the default setup dialogue!

I’ve wanted this a long time too, and have even employed hacks to my instruments.xml file to create instruments and modifications not available within the program but …

Daniel has said previously this is much more complicated than it initially appears. Dorico will need to know what the open strings are for a custom string instrument for example. When non-percussion staves with systems other than 5 lines are allowed natively, there will need to be a way to specify the tonality system or create custom clef configurations to accompany them. Obviously custom transpositions, range, and instrument family will be needed too. Dorico will need a way to specify if the instrument is a rhythm section instrument for chord symbols or a vocal instrument for dynamic placement. Other elements like # of staves, barline span for instruments less than 5 lines, and probably other things would be necessary too.

I’ve griped about this as much as anyone probably LOL, but I understand there is a heck of a lot more involved with wanting custom instruments than changing a name and a VST sample, both are which easily accomplished now. Daniel has said this won’t be forthcoming in 4.0, but hopefully in 4.5 or 5.0 we’ll finally get a completely implemented instrument designer that incorporates all of the elements mentioned above.

I know the work arounds, and agree with OP.

Adding new staff configurations to the global library of ‘instrument choices’ will be a welcome addition.

In the meanwhile, perhaps posting a list of stave builds/instruments you’d like added to the list would be something the dev team could add for the next release. Particularly if there is a suitable associated sound for it already somewhere in the HALion content libraries that come with Dorico.

That sort of request doesn’t involve a ton of coding and testing. It can just be ‘added’ to the existing library.

I suppose they could also add a slate of ‘generic staves’, that don’t have an instrument end point set up out of the gate at all? Maybe just have ‘numbers’ for the instrument names…this way a user could set them aside and call up instrument templates for it without taking up slots for already named instruments.

I sense the ability to do our own is already on the road map for the dev team and coming eventually. We must be patient. Some of the things we request might already be possible if you have the developer tools to cli in the commands. It just takes time for them to get it all right, build a good UI for it, figure out the best place for it in the main GUI/work flow, do user studies and get feedback on UI choices, and make sure it doesn’t break anything else…plus chart out implementations that hopefully avoid some sort of major bottle neck in future development.

In theory, adding a new instrument to the list might be as simple as adding some stuff to an XML file in the right places. In practice, the team has to be extra careful before putting things in a release. It can also open a whole new can of worms, as users quickly demand immediate control to the end point instruments, and when it comes to third party plugins, the info required to get a plugin to open and load stuff can be ‘proprietary’ and not available to end users like us. I.E. If you open the XML that holds that information, there’s a bunch of stuff that gets handed off to HALion to set that plugin up. At this time, there is no obvious way for users (advanced even, let alone the not synth savy user who runs into form entries that can hold these sorts of commands) to get the information to communicate with HALion like this.

All that can also lead to the potential difficulties of linking stuff up with the user instrument templates, which can store a whole plugin state by regular standards, but can’t always talk directly to a plugin like it can with HALion.

I think there may well be a way to store custom staves in Dorico at the global level in some way similar to OP’s request ‘already’ at engine level that that it’s not time to share with end users yet.

When it is ‘ready’…I think it’s something a significant number of Dorico users would quickly take advantage of, and often. I also would be willing to bet the Dorico team has it on the drawing board…just have no idea how many other intermediary steps must be sorted and tested first. My guess is they’re ‘on it’…it’ll simply take some time before it’s safe and effective to give us users a UI to start poking in our own stuff.

It’s a very common sense request really, and something I have little doubt that the dev team wants as badly as we do. In this case, I feel like we’ll get it when it’s ready.

Meanwhile, we use the work-around methods.

Although not collected in one place, I have seen several posts that said they needed not-included instruments, and @dspreadbury asked them to tell him what they felt was needed. So there seems to be some willingness to look into that; I’m just not sure opening a centralized (perhaps overwhelming) wishlist is necessarily the best way. Certainly any instrument mentioned in a post has been noted down by the development team for consideration–not that all would be considered practical or at least practical right away.