Early Music Struggles

Hi everyone, happy Sunday!

I’ve been working on some Renaissance music, and the edge cases I’ve run into have illuminated some situations that I believe Dorico doesn’t handle very elegantly yet. I just wanted to lay out some of the things I ran into in the hopes that folks can suggest better approaches, or the development team might be able to investigate in the future.

One huge hurdle is creating the incipit. Below is a beautiful example from a published score (sepia) of what I’m trying to recreate, and then my best attempt in Dorico of a different piece (white).

I ended up using a separate flow for the incipit and placing it in a very narrow music frame that overlaps with the larger music frame of the score. I then just moved the left edge of the system with the bracket to the correct place in Engrave Mode. I couldn’t find a way to show staff labels on the incipt but not at the start of the modern score, so I ended up placing custom text objects where they should be and moving the incipit music frame in from the left margin.

The ambitus was easy once I realized I could put it in as a pickup bar.

Challenges include…

  • Notating a key signature with the same accidental in multiple octaves (the B-flats in the bass). I can’t find an elegant way to do this in Dorico––the Custom Key Signature feature seems like it can do anything except this. The best I came up with is to add a flat ficta playing technique to a note in the incipit then place it in the key signature in engrave mode. Not ideal.
  • The Notehead Editor makes it easy enough to create a set of White Notation noteheads for the incipit (I love that SMuFL supports so many archaic glyphs!), but I couldn’t figure out how to input Renaissance rests. I expected there would be a way to edit rests in the Notehead Editor, but I don’t think there is, and I haven’t been able to find any other way to input them as actual musical values. Maybe this is a better job for a graphic editing program since the semantic meaning of these rests isn’t terribly important here, but it would be great to be able to put them in in Dorico.
  • Unfortunately “Note Spacing” is under Layout Options instead of Notation Options, which means that there’s no way to set different note spacing rules for my incipit flow and the rest of the piece, since the spacing rules are applied to the whole layout. I wish I could set note spacing to be extremely narrow on the incipit but normal for the rest of the piece, but instead all of those symbols would need to be moved manually.
  • I can’t find a way to show the incipit as disconnected staves with no barlines. Dorico wants to draw a barline or brace connecting all of them at the start, but ideally they would be free-floating like in the first example.
  • I find it frustrating that I have to totally replace clefs and time signatures in all situations that they appear when I want to use a custom glyph in one place. I wish I could define new ones the way I can with Playing Techniques and Notehead Sets. One obvious example, the mensural G clef (SMuFL U+E901) is semantically identical to a modern treble clef, and I want to use both in the same layout. Why do I need to replace an ottava treble clef, C clef, or some other unused clef to get that glyph to appear in the score? It feels awkward, and it means that I have to input notes at a transposed pitch level to make them appear correctly. This issue is particularly messy with time signatures, since the numerator and denominator can be edited separately. It makes for really awkward workarounds like the one from this Scoring Notes article in which the author has to plan out which time signatures they have to replace to get the correct glyphs to appear, even though they are not the best signatures to actually notate the music.

Some smaller issues that arose during the process:

  • Mensurstriche is pretty easy to do with the 1:1 tuplet trick, but that really feels like a strange workaround and it would be lovely if someday Dorico could handle it natively. The biggest issue with the tuplet trick is that it requires me to manually click on every single tied note in the piece (I don’t think there’s any way to do something like Cmd A, Filter > Tied Notes, right?). The best workflow I’ve found is to click each tie to change each to a 1:1 tuplet, then once all are tuplets go Cmd A, Filter > Tuplets, Spans Barline to Yes and hide number. Even if there was a way to select all tied notes en masse, I don’t think I can change them to tuplets in bulk, so there’s just no fast way to do it. Would really add up doing a full mass or long motet.
  • Is there a way to make lyrics automatically avoid barlines between systems? It usually doesn’t come up since there aren’t usually barlines between systems for vocal staves, but with Mensurstriche every so often I had to manually move a syllable to the side to avoid the barline. Again, this would really add up in a longer piece. Just another thing that would be great to have automated.
  • If all accidentals had an “Is ficta” property that I could just set to Yes, that would be great. Needing to add and hide an accidental (for playback purposes) then also add the custom playing technique adds another second or two every single time.

I think that’s all I have to say! The score itself is wonderfully clear and will be easy to sing from, and all of my complaints are nitpicks. I would love to hear if anyone has any better ideas for handling these issues, and eventually I hope to see Dorico have more robust support for choral music in a variety of contexts (also struggling with choral divisi/condensing in other projects).


Hi !
I read the beginning of your thread (sorry, no time to go through everything). If you want to change the rests, it’s not the notehead editor you need, but the Music Symbol editor (Engrave menu). Hope it helps.

You can set whether Staff Labels show with a System Break’s Properties.

You can change Note Spacing with Note Spacing Change in Engrave menu.

I agree that it would be nice to add clefs and other symbols. It is possible to create some XML that will add extra clefs, but not easy.

Of course, incipits are a lot of work to produce a graphical equivalent of the sentence “Music is presented at original pitch with note values halved”. :grin:

Found it, thanks for that tip. And it’s really easy to position them on the same lines as in the manuscript using the Rest pos. property! Unfortunately, this leaves me with the same issue that I had with substituting clefs and meters, which is that I don’t think I can use two different glyphs that have the same semantic meaning in the same project, and ideally I would use one set of symbols for rests in the incipit and another set for the same values in the piece. I could substitute 256th and 512th rests with the Renaissance breve and semibreve rests, but that’s obviously not an elegant solution. I wish I change Music Symbols on a per-flow basis, or even on individual instances of each symbol. The flexibility that would allow for would be incredible.

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Oh wow, I somehow have missed that you can set labels on a per-system basis like that! That’s so helpful. And of course I could use a Note Spacing Change, I totally forgot about that feature.

Your comment about incipits made me laugh out loud, it really is a lot of trouble to go. As a conductor I also appreciate seeing the original clefs because it informs my choice of transposition, but yeah it sure would be easier just to include some system text!

Thanks for the feedback on the use of Dorico in early music. I would love for Dorico to have proper features for incipits, custos, Renaissance time signatures, and so on, and hopefully as the program continues to mature we will be able to implement good solutions for all of the special lacunae of these kinds of scores.