Early noteheads

Sorry, I’m thinking of music before barlines were in common use.

I am fascinated by the look of music notation from several centuries ago but have no experience reading or engraving it and probably never will. Nevertheless, I am curious how Dorico’s strengths and weaknesses in engraving very early music compare with the combination of Finale and Robert Piéchaud’s Medieval 2 which I understand goes beyond being simply an alternative music font. Hopefully somebody with related experience can comment. (I hope this is not too far off topic!)

Hi @eddjcaine , as the OP let me say a few things. Sure you can play off the poor quality scans of the original edition from IMSLP, but I actually do find them unclear and hard to read (my poor eyesight). Also Roberday mentions this can be played with instruments, say a viol consort, and the beauty of Dorico is you get parts for free, which were never published (I suppose this has nothing to do with the diamond noteheads…). Also, personally I love the look and feel of these early notes in early music, it gives it the right sort of feeling. Finally, in this case, I think the original is poorly printed and quite ugly, and the Dorico looks much finer! And it just appeals to me to be able to use a 21c engraving program to produce 17c music! As @benwiggy says also, it’s just enjoyable fun.


KLEMM’s Medieval plug-in for Finale is, by all accounts, very good, but she’s not a cheap date. It’s basically an entire sub-program that replaces all of Finale’s usual functions.

Plainsong is so divorced from the standards and rules of “CMN” (Conventional Music Notation) that everything Dorico (or even Finale!) tries to do to help actually just gets in the way.

There are purpose-built plainsong generators, most of them freely available online, and most liturgical tunes have been coded.

For 16th-century CMN notation or earlier, then the main problems are how to deal with coloration, ligatures, and ‘perfect’ relationships; none of which have modern analogues – and of course the usual method is just to render the music in modern notational rules). Editorial barlines are of course the other issue.

The first use of a tie was in 1523, in Recerchari, motetti, canzoni by Marco Antonio Cavazzoni, you’ll be pleased to know.


Agreed on both counts.

Additionally, at least for some genres, there are nuances in the old-style of notation which are lacking in modern editions. (The prime example of this is gregorian chant, which has different shaped neumes which imply certain emphases.) I sing gregorian chant every week, and while I was overwhelmed by the square note notation in the beginning, I can’t imagine singing everything from modern transcriptions… I even compose new works and notate them in that older-style notation regularly since those ancient implied emphases are useful and wholly lacking in modern stemless notation (which, to be clear, does have its place).

“I mean all this “Ho de ho de ho” stuff is pretty clear. What do you suppose a hoochie coocher is exactly?”

“It is difficult to say, sir. Unless it’s in connection with one of the demotic American words for ardent spirits. I’m thinking of “hooch”, a word of Eskimo origin, I’m informed.”

“You bally well are informed, Jeeves. Do you know everything?”

“I really don’t know, sir.”


For plainchant I’ve had excellent results with the Meinrad font (which I see goes back to 1992). Ben, what do you think of it?

Indeed I am quite pleased to learn that, thank you!

Although Meinrad is designed to be ‘typed’ into a line of text, I used the neums from the Meinrad font in an Illustrator template, so I could just position each glyph on a staff and put lyrics underneath.

But now I mostly use the Gregorio ABC process.

There’s an online renderer of the code:

And loads of plainsong chant has been encoded here:

For quick and dirty GABC, there’s also the editor from Source and Summit which I use quite a bit: Editor | Source & Summit (This is essentially a successor to the illuminare one.)

Thanks, Ben! I have noticed that Medieval 2 is seldom mentioned in discussions of music fonts and often wondered if it involved more than just a different set of characters. This sounds like a fascinating area of musical study but is undoubtedly one I am unlikely to become familiar with during my retirement years!

I pleaded with the developer to port it to Dorico; that was a few years ago. As I (foggily) recall, he was open to the idea but it would require the dev team to open up the scripting / plugin functionality and document it for 3rd party developers. This will undoubtedly be a huge task, so I’m not holding my breath for it to happen any time soon.

Scripting is still a work in progress: it’s limited to sequenced actions, there’s no ability to check for status of things.

Plug-ins are a two-edged sword: they allow for gaps in the functionality to be filled; but then the app developers don’t feel inclined to fix the hole, because there’s already a plug-in. I think Daniel has echoed this sentiment.

Witness Finale, where there are several plug-ins that are considered ‘essential’ (Perfect Layout, TGTools, etc), which have to be purchased for more than the cross-grade price to Dorico.

Until Dorico adds a “Plainchant mode”, I think it’s better to think of it as ‘the wrong tool’ for plainsong.


Yes & No. For modern transcriptions of chant (ie- stemless notes on a modern staff) I’ve yet to find a better tool. Dorico’s in-built support for genuine non-metered work makes such transcriptions a breeze.

That aside, yes, I understand what you mean and agree, which is why I don’t try and force the issue by changing noteheads and whatnot. I just use GABC in one of the free online tools. As you said, most of it is already coded by patient souls, which makes rendering most things a breeze anyway.

I also agree with the sentiment about plugins writ large… I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard someone mention that they are still waiting for either a bug fix or basic in-built functionality from finale after 20 years. That said, medieval notation is such a huge world unto itself, that I doubt (with all due respect) that it will be baked in to Dorico at all.

To me, it’s almost like the arguments that surround specialist guitar software: if you need that much control over guitar-specific notation, then you’re probably better off with those, even if the engraving isn’t quite as good Dorico’s could be. That’s why I’d love to see medieval2 ported, if for no other reason than plainchant is such a world unto itself that I’m not even sure we can reasonably expect Dorico to give it native support—even in the long term. [Dev. team, prove me wrong. I’ll gladly eat my words!] I just know I’d rather have a plugin for Dorico than wait a decade to see the functionality, given the choice. But, as I said, I understand the weariness that affording such an option would entail.

Yes I agree that stemless notes in unmetered bars are a doddle in Dorico.

Fact fans: there was an application for creating and printing plainchant in 1983 on the Apple II, called ‘Gregory’s Scribe’ that preceded any modern notation app on the Mac.

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