Just Intonation

Can I get Dorico to play back a composition using just intonation?

As a wind instrument player and a piano tuner, I am intimately familiar with equal temperament and just intonation. When I tune pianos, I set each note according to equal temperament, but when I play the bari sax and I’m playing any note other than tonic in a chord, I try to adjust that note to make the interval pure sounding, i.e. if I’m playing the major third, I lower it significantly. I have been composing using Finale, but its playback only uses equal temperament to play back all sounds, quarter steps being the exception. This is fine for getting a feel as to how my composition will sound, but I am wanting to create music in which the playback of my composition from the computer is part of the performance with my wind instrument. Equal temperament across the piece, then, would be unacceptable.

As I was looking through the Dorico manual and reading other posts here, it felt to me that I could get Dorico to do what I want, but I’m writing here to get some feedback before I make the purchase of Dorico. Specifically, it appears that I can define an octave with any number of divisions I desire, not just the 12 we are mostly familiar with. So, if I set the EDO to 144, for instance, and assign some kind of symbol to each of these, would I be able to use the appropriate subdivision to get a major third to play at a lower pitch against the tonic than it would under equal temperament?

I want to create compositions using sine waves, but I want to have complete control over the intonation.

Hi !
I know Dorico can trigger VSTi that do have different temperament possiblities (I use Pianoteq, for instance), regardless of the notation. That’s one road, but probably not the one you’re asking for.

The microtonal possibilities with Dorico require the VST3 norm, and you should perfectly be able with such VST3 instrument to write and hear what you need. I’d suggest you use the 30 day trial to test it yourself before you buy it. Beware, this is a deep and complex program, and the area you’re looking for is not the most intuitive. I suggest you read the manual carefully about microtonal intervals, and search the forum. Maybe someone with more experience than me on this topic will chime in and help you, should you need it!

I second Marc’s remarks and can recommend Dorico highly, even though its indeed a deep and complex program.

For what it’s worth, Finale’s playback is by no means limited to equal temperament and, if you use the included Aria Player, it can play back in 16 available temperaments. The linked file is in E-flat and used ¼ comma meantone with the Scala Center being B-flat.


I appreciate the feedback.

After looking through the Aria Player manual, I discovered what you are talking about, and I was about to get really excited. However, it appears that the Just Intonation scala file will really only work if I compose a piece in one key with very few notes. You have to choose the tonic (Scala Center). What if my music changes chords? What if I want that scala center to now be the major third of a chord?

It seems that with Dorico, I could create an EDO with how many ever notes I wanted (enough to give me the precision for just intonation I desire), have a user defined accidental for a note being any part of the chord other than tonic, and put that accidental in front of the note according to its role in the present chord. Does this sound right?

But I will take Marc’s advice and download the trial version to see! Thank you!

Off topic, but I wanted to mention that Cubase includes a function called Hermode Tuning, which works with all the Halion synths/samplers which adjusts intonation on the fly to achieve this.


The integrated Halion microtonality support and the Aria scala files work quite differently. Dorico will not work with Scala files.
For what you want, if the Halion Sounds are ok for you to compose, Dorico microtonality playback is exactly what you need! Give it a go if you have time with the 30 day trial period. I think there’s a video in youtube explaining the microtonality aspect in quite great detail, if I recall correctly.

EDIT: See clarification below!

Lucas, are you saying that Aria Scala files do not work (at all) in Dorico, which seems unlikely; or are you only saying that Aria Scala files will not produce the results desired by JustIntonationFreak?

I was going to edit my comment, and then I saw your reply! You’re right. What I wanted to say is they’re different from the native microtonality system of Dorico. My bad!

Scala files work with VST players that support them. Dorico itself doesn’t do anything with them.

The full version of Halion supports Scala files but the version bundled with Dorico does not. They work fine with other VSTs in Dorico, e.g. Pianoteq.

A German organ builder has even built a real pipe organ with computer-controlled tuning adjustments on every pipe, to implement this. See about 57 seconds here (commentary in German).
I wonder if this also compensates for tuning changes with temperature. But if you compensate for everything, the end result may be a bit too sterile in the long run. What sounds nice for a couple of minutes might get boring after a couple of hours.

Dorico has excellent support for the Helmholtz Ellis just intonation accidentals, which I’ve found to be a terrific way to implement JI in Dorico. You can download the font and an example template here: marcsabat.com/HE-fonts-2019.zip

More info at plainsound.org, as well.

Using a just intonation scala file will result (say in C major) will result in only a tiny subset of chords being tuned justly. For example the fifth D to A will be not be a 3/2 fifth.
Kontakt has the ability to dynamically tune justly with quite good results. I’ve used this playing for MT string replacement with violins above and cellos below. Not perfect but…

Stephen, do you use the accidentals in combination with a scala file?

No Scala files - you just put in the accidental and it sounds right!

I should add, if you’re using lots of accidentals together - like, say, the 11th overtone of the 7th undertone of a syntonic comma sharp - then you have to put the glyphs together in the editor, and calculate how many cents the result is. But once you’ve done that you can use it wherever you want.

The accidentals calculate from equal temperament? Surely that would require relative effects to be different depending on scale degree?

The accidentals calculate from Pythagorean fifths (3:2) in HEJI, so in 12000 divisions per octave, whole steps (A-B, C-D, D-E, F-G, G-A) are 2040 divisions, and halfsteps (B-C, E-F) are 900 divisions. Notes without accidentals are not in 12TET, which can be confusing, at least for me.

Flats and sharps alter a pitch by 1137 divisions; syntonic comma is 215 divisions, etc. I haven’t actually tried using scala with Dorico, just HEJI, but it works really well for me.

Thanks for the explanation. It works differently to how I’d thought. Sadly not had a JI project in Dorico yet, nor time to play. I’m used to non-accidentaled pitches being 1/1, 9/8, 5/4, 4/3, 3/2, 5/3, 15/8 from the key pitch.

You define the “white note” pitches in terms of the number of divisions per octave, and the accidentals then add or subtract from those pitches.

For example in 53-EDO (which isn’t JI, of course) a perfect fifth is 31 divisions, and a chain of 5ths gives 9 steps between C-D-E and F-G-A-B, and 4 steps between E-F and B-C. The accidentals are +5 and -5 steps for sharps and flats, and +10 and -10 for double sharps and flats. So C# is 5 steps higher than C, compared with Db which is 5 lower than D, or 9-5=4 higher than C, etc.

This all works out nicely, and the notation looks exactly the same as conventional 12-EDO for “tonal” music.

If you want C-C# to be a different interval from D-D#, you have to define two different accidentals. Dorico will then let you apply either of the accidentals to both C and D, even if musically you don’t want to use all those pitches.

I use either Johnston’s JI accidentals, which apply to non-equal ‘white’ notes. I’ve not tried this in Dorico yet, but hope that I can use a scala file then accidentals that adjust by fixed cents. The only ET I use is 19, which I can play quite efficiently in on a standard 88-key piano.