editing a chord symbol

I’m new to Dorico and this is my first day entering chord symbols. Overall, the experience has been an improvement over Sibelius, in that Dorico has not forced a convoluted spelling over that which I prefer. I have however, run into a situation, where Dorico has changed a chord I’ve entered into something I don’t want, and I’d like to fix this if I can.

In the following example, Dorico has changed my manual text chord entry of “D7(13)” into “D7(add13)”. This interpretation is completely acceptable, however, I’d prefer this chord to read D7(13), just as I typed it. In other words, in the case of a dominant 7th chords, I would prefer Dorico not add the word “add” onto (9, b9,#9 ,#11,13 or b13) as these are simple and expected additions to dominant 7th chords – similarly to how Dorico handles the D7(#9) in the same screen capture – in that it did not impose the word “add” onto my chord entry. Additionally, Dorico is imposing the word “add” onto stacked tensions as well – i.e. “D7(9,13)” is auto-changed to read “D7(add 9, add 13)” and this is not what I prefer. Alternately, I tried writing this same chord as D9(13) which would be acceptable, but again, Dorico changed this to “D9(add13).”

Any help accomplishing these preferred chord symbol rules would be greatly appreciated.
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There are A LOT of options in Engrave options > Chords to make your chords look like you want. Once you’ve found your setup, you can save your settings as default (the star button)
Happy digging!

Thanks Marc, I looked through this menu quite extensively before posting here, as I could not find a specific option to address my preference. It seems there should be option for this in Dorico, but it is not readily apparent.

The easiest solution to modify an individual chord is to switch to engrave mode and double click on it.

If you want to ask Dorico to permanently remember specific chord formatting that you prefer, open engraving options, chord symbols, and scroll all the way to the bottom. You can set a list of custom commands based on what you enter.

Thanks. Yes, I would like this to be consistent behavior in Dorico i.e. when I type “D7(13)” I would like to see “D7(13)” in the music – not “D7(add13)”. The same rule goes for every lettered dominant 7th chord (A,B,C,etc.) and every possible tension (9,b9,#9,#11,13,b13). I’ve assumed I’ll have to set up as a custom library of chord symbols. I just don’t know how. I see the option for (Edit Project Default Appearances), but I don’t understand how this works. If I click “edit” on this screen, am I then expected to type in each chord symbol I want to add to the library – or the chord symbol I want to replace? How do I tell Dorico “this” replaces “that”? In Sibelius, one could navigate to the chord suffix in the library and change the way it looks. i.e. “(add 9)” could be manually changed to “(9)” etc. and saved as a default. I’m not seeing any suffixes listed here so I’m not sure how to proceed.

Any help accomplishing this would be greatly appreciated.

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Yes I watched this video before posting here - unfortunately my preference (above) effects literally thousands of possible combinations, so teaching them one by one into Dorico would take years. I honestly don’t understand why the simple practice of putting upper structure tensions in parenthesis after 7th chords is NOT considered a standard practice in Dorico. Oddly, Dorico expresses C7(#9) exactly as one would expect. Why follow the convention here, but not all the time?

I was fully expecting to find my preferred convention (detailed above) as the “Boston” style because this is the way Berklee College of Music teaches chord notation. In summary, I was taught, the word “add” is entirely unnecessary with common tensions attached to dominant, major and minor seventh chord symbols. i.e. Cm7(9) is always preferred over Cm7(add9). Likewise “C7(b9,b13)” is always preferred over “C7(add b9,add b13).” the word "add’ is only necessary with triads: C(add9) is preferred over C(9) as not to be confused with C9.

Again, Dorico notates the (#9) and (#11) on dominant 7th chords exactly as I would notate them. So why does Dorico auto-insert the word “add” into the parenthesis of every other situation? It doesn’t make any sense.

In short, Dorico doesn’t notate all tensions on seventh chords in a consistent, industry standard way. This wouldn’t be a problem if there was a way I could globally establish my preference. But because there is no option in Dorico for me to globally remove the word “add” from all seventh chord symbols from here to eternity, I am condemned to manually deleting the word “add” each and every time Dorico auto-inserts it into my chords, for the rest of my days, and that is not the most effective use of my time as an composer/arranger.

I hope the programmers of Dorico consider addressing this preference in a future update, because the chord symbol practice I’ve described is, by all means, an industry standard.

I know Daniel has written that they consulted several “industry standards” to compile the chord symbol options that are already in Dorico.

If (i.e. when!) Daniel gets to read this post, it would be useful if you list some publishers etc who use your standard.

(Note, I don’t have any axes to grind here and I’m not questioning what you say about standards - I never use any chord symbols!)

Bill, I’ve never seen the format you’re describing. But that doesn’t mean anything… I’m the guy who was sure that “Asus7” was a thing. :laughing:

Takeaway: chord symbols are nearly impossible to comprehensively address in a way that satisfies everyone.

Perhaps a better feature would be the ability to customize suffixes for any given root, rather than having to list each root as a custom symbol.

re :laughing:

There’s a difference between “add” and 13th. C13th implies the 9th and the 7th.
That’s why you should use “add” when the lower extensions are not needed.
It’s not a very good practise to use parenthesis when not needed. ex. C9 is better than C7(9)

I believe a chord symbol is most effective when it helps the player to play what the composer intended, in a clear and efficient way. If one desires that an “Ab” be added to the four chord tones of a C7 chord, the resulting structure is commonly notated as C7(b13). This is an industry understood convention. Dorico insists on changing this to “C7(add b13)”, and although this interpretation is still readable, it takes up far more horizontal space than necessary, so it is inefficient and harder to read.

When specific tensions are desired, it is most efficient to list them in parenthesis to the right of the chord symbol. I agree, “C9” is easy to read, but it is a one trick pony. i.e. it doesn’t work for a “b9”. – “Cb9” is not a valid chord symbol. So you’re back to using parenthesis on everything else. And once you get above the “9” and with multiple variant tensions, it becomes far more efficient to list the desired tensions specifically in parenthesis. “Cb13” is not a valid chord symbol. Do you want a dominant 7th chord with a flatted 13th? Am I to include the b9 or the natural 9, or a #11, who the hell knows. C7(b13) tells me a flatted 13th is the only tension to be added to chord. This is simple. Easy to read. I don’t need the word “add”. It is implied.

Tensions (9’s, 11’s, and 13s) are stacked, in parenthesis, just to the right of the chord symbol when desired. But there are rules for tensions! Not all tensions are available on all seventh chords. Some, if added, clearly alter the spelling of the chord, and therefore, must also change the chord symbol.

There’s a great Dorico chord video where Anthony Hughes plays (A,C,E,F) on a MIDI keyboard and Dorico interprets this as Fmaj7/A. This is correct! Yay. But in the video, the player wants to call this combination of notes a “Am(b6)” and this, by anyone’s standards, is incorrect, and as result, very difficult to read.

It’s clear to me that the creators of Dorico understand quite a bit about chord symbols, but they only got “tensions” partly right. They need to make their chord library behave consistently with regard to available tensions on 7th chords, or at least provide a global way to correct it when it fails to do so.

Like I said, they got it right with the D7(#9). This chord symbol is correct. Thousands of jazz musicians would agree. Now Dorico needs to take that same convention and apply it to all common tensions on all 7th chords. They’re so close but they’re not quite there.

I mostly agree but in the case of an added 13th when no 9th is implied, add13 is correct.
Also, a flatten 13th is more than often a bad spelling for #5
Parenthesis are needed only in the case where the first extension is altered.
At least, from what I’ve seen as a pianist for a few decades reading big bang charts and jazz leadsheets at least.
This being said, for triads with an added fourth, wich is quite new in music notation, I think a simple (4) should be the rule (Dorico allows it).

Am(b6) is used by Chick Corea. While taken alone it doesn’t make that much sense, in a context of Am, Am(b6) Am6…the melodic line becomes very clear and it’s clearer to keep the same fundamental rather than switching for slash chord.

Anyways, I understand it’s not the point of your post but I can’t refrain me to discuss about such interesting topics as chord symbols interpretation.
I’m trying to use them in the most universal way possible and I appreciate to get other’s point of view.

I will ask Michael, who implemented all of the logic for the hundreds (if not thousands) of combinations of chord symbols provided by Dorico, to have a think about this in the New Year, and I’ll come back to you once we’ve had a chance to discuss it.

I agree with you.

I agree – a passing “b6” on a minor chord could be used to express a line cliche more clearly. The point I was trying to make is that the clearer the chord symbol, the better. As a rule, I generally don’t write tensions into chord symbols unless they are vital to the arrangement, i.e. sometimes a chord must be voiced in such a way as not to conflict with the melody. Or sometimes, an improviser may benefit from a bit of extra information in the chord symbols, i.e. when an important counter-line is present.

I used C7(13) as an example above, and I agree, it’s rare to hear a (13) in a chord without also hearing some form of (9) in the voicing, but whatever tells the needed information in the shortest, most concise way, is best. For example, C, (G), Bb, E, A, D, from bottom to top, is a C7 with a 9 and 13, (the G is optional.) When it is helpful for the improviser to know that a (9) and (13) are present in the arrangement, one could label this chord “C9(13)” or “C7(9,13)” The 9 and 13 should be smaller in size, and stacked in the latter. Either is acceptable.

My problem is that Dorico automatically respells this to “C9(add13)” or “C7(add 9, add 13)” respectively. Sure, one can edit these chords (and others like them) in the chord editor, but the editing is only necessary because the new chord is harder to read than what is preferred. I’m not editing this because I prefer some oddball way of writing things. I’ve worked as a professional composer/arranger for 30 years. In my opinion, The chord symbol “C9(13)” or “C7(9,13)” is easier to read than “C9(add13)” or “C7( add9, add13).”

If the “A” in the above voicing became an “Ab” in the next beat, it may make sense for the arranger to simply place a (b13) at the point where this occurs for the improvisor, rather than writing a whole new chord symbol (i.e. Caug7). Technically, if the “G” is still present in the voicing rubbing against the Ab, by all accounts, the Ab is a legitimate b13. But, you’re right, the proper use of this interval is misunderstood by most. The rule is, whatever is clearer for the player is what the arranger should use. And of course, this is always up to debate.

There should be little debate however about whether one needs to place the word “add” before every tension in a 7th chord. If the tension is in parenthesis, the word “add” is redundant and cluttering the symbol. i.e D7(#11) is a good chord symbol. Dorico gets this one right. D7(add#11) is non-standard and redundant. Dm7(11) or Dm9(11) are preferred over Dm7(add11) or Dm9(add11). When two or more tensions are desired, they should be stacked vertically without the word “add” in front of each. You could call this methodology the “Boston Style” as Berklee College of Music cranks out thousands of musician each year who preach this stuff.

FYI: I never adopted the ‘minus sign’ for minor chords like they still teach at Berklee, but their philosophy on handling tensions in chord symbols is second to none. It’s a far reaching and accepted practice here in the states, and worthy of inclusion as a chord symbol preference in Dorico.

Thank you Daniel for taking my request seriously.


I’d like this option too.

Am I getting you right on this and do you agree when you write a 9 or a 13 you mean, that the lower numbered tensions are included and that means all of them. With 13 it would be a 7, 9 and 11. So if you want only the 13 then the ‘add’ is in my opinion following the rules because the 9 and 11 are omitted. And reading your comments makes clear with the examples you give, that you want to break some ‘basic’ rules. You say 7(#9) works fine without the ‘add’ sign, but this is obvious because the 9 is the following tension to the 7 and does no need the ‘add’. But as soon as you skip one tension in the row (7,9,11,13) then you have to clarify this omission with the aded ‘add’.
In short: your chord is not clear to the player without the ‘add’:

  • If I read C7(13), I translate that to C13 (with all the tensions lined up).

  • But if you want C/E/G/Bb/A then — by convention — the ‘add’ is really needed

So in my understanding you’re wrong in your following example:

If one desires that an “Ab” be added to the four chord tones of a C7 chord, the resulting structure is commonly notated as C7(b13). This is an industry understood convention. Dorico insists on changing this to “C7(add b13)”, and although this interpretation is still readable, it takes up far more horizontal space than necessary, so it is inefficient and harder to read.

Besides I quickly looked in my Brandt/Roemer and didn’t found your kind of notation. I still think it’s ambiguous and not clear, but Dorico is right and clear.

Actually no, my request is much simpler than this. I’m saying that when a specific NUMBERED TENSION is placed in parentheses following a seventh chord, it is the ONLY tensions to be added. ALWAYS. NO EXCEPTIONS.

D7(#9) means add a #9 only. D7(#11) means add a #11 only. D7(13) means add a natural 13 only. This is consistent.

Once a NUMBER is placed in parentheses after a chord symbol, it is the ONLY tension I am to add.

If I wanted what you’re describing, i.e. (include all tensions below a 13) I would write “E” over “D7” as the E triad would produce a 13, #11, and natural 9 over a D7. Or if I wanted the b9 in there instead, I would write “Abm” over “D7” as the Ab minor triad produces a 13, #11, and b9 over a D7.

In the case of seventh chords, the word “add” need not be used. EVER. “Add” should be implied whenever parentheses are used. The word “add” takes up valuable horizontal space and is redundant.

So why do we have the “add” at all in chord symbols today?

Because we still need the word “add” for triads. Why? This is a long story but I’ll try to spell it out for you,

It’s basically because of the “D9” chord. At some point in history, some idiot decided that “C9” or “Bb9” was a good way to say “play the nine + a dominant 7th chord.” This soon gave way to the Cm9 and Cmaj9. When you see these you are to play the designated seventh chord + a natural nine. Because of these chord symbols, the “natural 9” has special privileges over all other tensions. The nine is treated like a chord tone (on these special chord symbols) and is not placed in parenthesis. No other tension gets this privilege.

Now, as a result, if we want a D to be played with a C triad, we write C(add9). The word “add” is necessary to make it abundantly clear that we do not want a C9. This is the only reason the word “add” exists in the chord symbol vocabulary. Parentheses means “add” this specific thing to the chord. Unfortunately, the word “Add” is here to stay on triads. It doesn’t mean we should propagate the word “add” everywhere else.

Ok, I get it now. But where did you get that from and are you really convinced that all the musicians out there do know what you mean by those parenthesized “one and only” tensions. I own a huge amount of music books and did never ever encounter your way of writing chords so I’m truely interested where that came from. But I still state the fact that 90% of us musicians will get you wrong on those chords.
And besides in your way of thinking about chords I’m hearing a pianist (just a guess :question: ), but me as guitar player I do have a slightly different approach and Brandt/Roemer are writing completely different about parenthesis than you are.
But if you really want to do that, I do agree with you, Dorico should let you do it.