How do I specify a key of “F lydian”? Saying “C” isn’t good enough

The key of C major has the notes C-D-E-F-G-A-B, and is notated with no accidentals. In Dorico, I can set the key of C major with Shift-K+“C”. The key of A minor has the notes A-B-C-D-E-F-G and is also notated with no accidentals. In Dorico, I can set the key of A minor with Shift-K+“a”.

The key of F lydian has the notes F-G-A-B-C-D-E, and is notated with no accidentals. How do I set that to be the key in Dorico?

Please don’t suggest that I “cheat” and specify a key of C major or A minor instead, because that doesn’t work. Specifically, if I want to use shaped noteheads that depend on the scale degree, those will be wrong if I cheat and specify a different key that happens to contain the same notes.

I have Dorico 3.1.0. Can it be done in that version? If not, can it be added to Dorico 4?


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This possibly falls under the topic of Creating custom tonality systems. I apologise that I can’t provide any more clues than that, as I have not yet had a need to explore this part of Dorico, but the manual does have a section on Creating/Editing custom key signatures. I’m using version 3.5.12 - I don’t know if it is in earlier versions.


Thank you!

That’s interesting, though when I dig into the “Creating/Editing custom key signatures” part of Dorico it’s clear that it is incomplete:

  • You can create a new custom tonality system, and you can duplicate an existing one, but you cannot delete one. If you create a new tonality system, you’re stuck with it forever.
  • In the “Edit Custom Key Signature” dialog, you can specify a root of A, B, C, D, E, F, or G. You cannot create a key signature for, say, F♭.

However, once I created a custom key signature rooted in F with no accidentals, it did successfully show the correct scale degree noteheads. So… success?

This is one of the most unsatisfying experiences I’ve had with Dorico in years. If I can make suggestions for the development folks:

  • If Dorico, out-of-the-box, can handle 24-EDO microtonals, then surely it should be able to handle the standard seven modes.
  • Can you please fix the tonality system editor? Having been forced to use it, it strikes me as being, at best, unpolished and with too many sharp edges, and at worst, broken.

Thank you again, stevenjones01.

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If you keep checking this forum, there will quite possibly be other users (and perhaps even someone on the development team) who can share some in-depth knowledge on what is and isn’t possible in the current version of Dorico, and maybe suggest helpful ways of tackling the issue. Now that the question has been raised it will, at least, get people’s brains working on it. I personally have found the users on this forum to be very helpful, both with big solutions to big problems and with smaller “tips and tricks” to improve one’s efficiency in using Dorico. Everybody is usually very willing to assist where they can.

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Not true. Just select the one you don’t want and hit the bin icon.

Yes you can. Just remember you cannot specify two different accidentals on the same staff position in the key signature. That would be illogical.

To set up your modes perhaps this might indicate a path? modes experiment.dorico (951.9 KB)

That said, I think you are pushing the limits of reasonableness on what you expect Dorico to do for you.

In this specific case it should be possible: in the Edit Tonality Systems dialog, create a new custom key signature that contains no accidentals but is set to have a Root of F. When you create this in the score, you’ll find that shaped noteheads react as you would expect.


Thank you, @Janus and @dspreadbury.

This is going down a rabbit hole I was not intending, so please let me redirect.

My objection here is that creating and editing tonality systems is a very, very, very advanced feature, while modes other than major/minor are literally a music theory 101 topic.

When a user’s requirement to do a basic task is met with no entries in the help system, and requests on the user forum are met with, “that basic task is not built in, but if you engage with this very complicated, advanced feature, you can accomplish what you want,” that is a failure in software design.

@dspreadbury, here is my feature request: I should be able to set a key of “F lydian” with Shift-K+“Flydian”. I should be able to set a key of “A♭ locrian” with Shift-K+“Ablocrian”. And so on. Dorico should know about modes, a basic musical concept, out of the box, and I should be able to use these modes without being forced to create a custom tonality system.

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Just to be clear: you refer to the modes that are rooted in European church music, which need to be included? Any other modes rooted in other cultures are not so important and users wanting to use them should need to interact with this incredibly advanced tool?


You’re an angry man. You can’t describe scales without talking about modes, sure, but I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that the majority of use cases involve a diatonic mode. Just like everything else in Dorico - if you want anything else outside of normal usage, there are tools for you to do it by customising the particular system.

You might do it a lot, but in the grand scheme of things it’s niche, and Dorico can’t cater for every niche workflow.

It would be cool to be able to specify your own popover text though, just saying

I’m writing a modal suite for non-college players in a Clarinet Choir and have already scored the same piece for pros in a Clarinet Quartet who have rehearsed the draft.
As a retired university theory teacher (PhD) I have come to the conclusion that the whole key signature concept of teaching from the white keys as “relative” modes is a disservice to our ears.
Simple solution: concert pitch with no key signature (we are so conditioned to using “KEYsignature” as a shorthand for major and minor keys. Why use this for transposed modes? Using “accidentals” is visually more effective for the eye/ear connection to the tonality. The transpositions of parts in Dorico will then take care of all the new accidentals by not showing a key signature. When we use old modes in new music with tonal centers, I believe it’s a better solution. Lydian on C has an F#, but the tonality is still C [not G]. Jazz musicians use “modes” to run scales on chords, but that process is separate from defining the overall tonality. With well over 2,000 scale types, why get hung up on forcing key signatures on modes? Terry


…And what exactly would you expect to appear on the score if you did that?

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Your issue just seems to be related to the notehead shapes. Other than that, writing a piece in F Lydian is indeed no different than writing one in A Aeolian or one in C Ionian: “Look Ma, no accidentals…!” :wink:

If you want the advanced feature of shaped noteheads, then I guess you’ll have to use Daniel’s advice.

My 2c,

I’ve always wondered why systems with different shaped noteheads for relative scale degrees were developed at all, TBH. Millions of people can read regular oval blobs from a 5-line staff, and make sense of it. If people can even learn to spell English, they can learn ordinary music notation.
The shaped notehead systems I’ve seen are based on relative intervals. The intervals mi-fa and ti-do are semitones by definition. In a non-major church mode the mi-fa would fall on different scale degrees, and therefore also the tonic would need to have a different shape. In Phrygian it would be a mi, for example. It contradicts the OP’s desire to have Dorico be aware of the tonic and represent it by the ‘do’ or ‘fa’ shape (depending on system) because of that. The system is simply not suited for it.

But it would be nice if I could enter a tonality of g dorian and get only one flat in the key signature, as is very common in baroque music. It always feels a bit odd to specify d minor in such cases. It might even affect Dorico’s enharmonisation algorithms.


Would it help you to know that you don’t have to put “d” into the popover in Dorico to get “d minor”?
Just specify “1f”, which will give you “1 flat”. Same result, but probably more aligned with your mindset :wink:

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Thanks, I fotgot about that! i wonder if it has consequences for enharmonisations.

Specifying a number of sharps or flats in the key signatures popover assumes the major equivalent key signature, rather than the minor. This might well impact note spelling considerations, so just fyi.


Hi Lillie,

Something that has always bothered me about key signatures in Dorico is the panel that shows key signatures currently used in any particular flow. There seems to be no distinction between what is a Major or minor key signature. Consider this screenshot – how am I to know what is Major and what is minor in this panel? In the long run, it doesn’t really matter because I use the popover almost exclusively to change/add key signatures. But it does make me wonder about the usefulness of this particular part of Dorico.

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Personally, I just use the standard major key signature for major modes (Ionian/Lydian/Mixolydian) and standard minor key signature for minor modes (Dorian/Phrygian/Aeolian/Locrian). The accidentals that pop up in the score will signal to the player that that part of the piece is in a certain mode.

For example, if a piece is in F Lydian (or D Dorian), I’ll write a key signature with one flat (indicating F major or D minor) and then raise all the B-flats to B-natural with accidentals. If the piece were in G Mixolydian (or E Phrygian), I’d write a key signature with one sharp (indicating G major or E minor) and lower all F-sharps to F-natural.

I wouldn’t notate any of the above with a C major (or A minor) key signature, unless I was foregoing a key signature entirely.


Definitely +1 to this for me. Or open key as @Terry_Zipay suggested. Key signatures are not a way to minimize accidentals (IMO) but rather a way to indicate a tonal center to the performer. Performers hate non-standard key signatures. Sure, they may have historical importance and may need to be used for that reason, but unless your name is György or Béla please don’t use them.

As a jazz musician, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to read an arrangement of an F blues (mixolydian) with 2 flats in the key signature. There are reading mistakes every time. Just use a key that indicates an F tonal center or open key in that case. Please.