Layout collisions by default?

I am having a devil of a time getting Dorico to avoid collisions in the string quartet I’ve been composing. Whenever I make any changes that add text, or other changes that vertically expand the staves, Dorico seems to not know about these when deciding how many staves should exist per page. This plus the fact that dynamics are not aligned vertically by default is taking a huge amount of time. Today, I tried to start fixing these, and the dynamics re-laid themselves out across every layout when I adjusted the length of a whole note to add a 16th note to the end of it. I’m going to lose what hair I have left :slight_smile:

I’d also like to request that if anyone feels the need to respond with anything other than a suggestion for a solution, to refrain. Dorico employees have been helpful, it’s mostly outside contributors. I’ve had a number of bad experiences on the forums over the past year, and I’d like this time to be different, please. I’ve used Dorico since version 1.0, it’s serious, I mostly know what to do to solve layout issues, and I only post when I am stumped.

The workarounds I’ve used here are to force frame breaks, system breaks, but with the latest change, I had to remove all of them and start from scratch, which is why I am posting.

I am still on Dorico, I plan to upgrade to 5 when I’m done with the editing of this quartet.

Here’s an example of what I’m up against:

When all text and dynamics are removed, and it is just notes, there are no collisions. I have not made any changes beyond the default settings that text has (I have not disabled “avoid collisions”) or defaults that dynamics have.

Thank you,

You are fighting the wrong way, I think.

For starters, you very likely are asking dorico to put too much on a page, relative to your rastral size. There should only be two staves on this page, not three.

But even keeping it to three, it could be remedied, to some degree, but decreasing the spacing values for dynamics, as well as the ideal gaps between staves.

Sharing a file, if even privately, would help us show you which values could be tweaked to get a better default result, which is definitely possible.

1 Like

Thank you for the reply. I want to be crystal clear here: I didn’t do anything - this is default Dorico. What I have been doing is manually going through and forcing it to do 2 staves per page. But when I make a minor change, suddenly it reflows, and I end up with a page with only 1 stave. Then, I have to delete all the frame breaks and start from the beginning of the movement again. It’s infuriating. And when I finish, the dynamics that were so cleanly laid out next to one another start doing these shenanigans again:


here is the result when I tried to “Align Dynamics” for the viola and cello here:


The current file is available at

Under Casting Off (a Layout option) one can specify two systems per page.

One can also reduce the staff space size. Not knowing what size paper you are using or what rastral size you are currently using, I cannot say. If this were earlier in the evening, I would open the file sample you just sent.

1 Like

I don’t really want to cast off at 2 systems per page - 3 is fine for most of the piece, it’s only on complex staves that it becomes an issue. I changed the paper size to be larger, but didn’t touch rastral size. I saw the same default behavior with the default score size though, I don’t think it’s related to that.

I guess what I’m asking is: what is it about a string quartet that causes Dorico’s usually perfect layout algorithms to completely fail? It’s worked great in piano pieces I’ve written, songs, a full orchestra+choir, etc. etc.

What is it about a string quartet that breaks Dorico?

I don’t really understand the issue, Dorico isn’t going to produce a perfectly engraved score by default - SOME work will need to be done on your part.

I downloaded your file, deleted all of your frame breaks, and took a look. It took me all of 2 minutes to add the frame breaks necessary to space things out nicely vertically.

Obviously, since you’ve also already done the work on the dynamics, I can’t test that out so easily, but I just made a key command for “Align Dynamics” as well as commands for “Group”, “Remove from Group”, “Link” and Unlink" dynamics, and it’s pretty quick work to go through selecting sections and applying those functions as needed.

When I tried copy pasting your music into a new default document on my system, it looks reasonably good right away - though I’ve spent a fair amount of time tweaking my defaults to be how I like them. If you’ve been using Dorico since V1, I strongly recommend you take advantage of one of the many super powerful capabilities that Dorico has - the incredible detail in the Options to tweak to your liking, and save them as defaults so everything looks the way you like going forward. It results in extremely little time spent tweaking things. And then, make key commands for all the functions you use frequently, or Script macros for the common sets of functions used frequently in a specific order (for example, creating harmonics). It makes the tweaking part of the work incredibly fast.

I will admit, I do find it curious that you’re getting all those collisions though. I suspect it has something to do with the wide double stops in all the instruments at the same time, forcing the inter-stave spacing to be extra wide, and somehow the inter-system spacing isn’t catching it. My understanding is that Dorico determines the number of systems on a page by calculating the ideal gaps first, and then it applies minimum spacing after that (because if they did it based on minimum spacing initially, everything would always be packed in at the minimum definitions and you’d never have anything spaced ideally). It appears to me here that it’s calculated on the ideal gaps that it should fit 3 systems, and then the minimum gaps are pushing things so extensively that it’s causing collisions because it’s not re-calculating the system count after that.

So, as an experiment, I timed myself. Took your file, deleted all frame breaks, “removed from group” all dynamics, reset position for all items. From there I then went and added frame breaks for when it needed 2 staves instead of 3, and selected phrases to group dynamics (which would then align them). It took me 10 minutes to get to this:

You won’t agree with everything I did (I’d probably do some things different too, like I was tempted to have the cello go to tenor clef in some spots), but my point is that 10 minutes to do all the engraving for a piece this busy is pretty insignificant.

1 Like

Thanks for the comprehensive work. The score looks great. I noticed that the dynamic groupings don’t translate to the other layouts. One of the problems I had was getting the dynamics to work in a part layout would change the full score layout. Do you have suggestions for how to do that tweaking without disrupting the full score? The dynamics have already been grouped, so is “Align dynamics” the appropriate choice for the parts? Or should I just go into Engrave and drag them up and down until they fit?

Make sure the properties panel is set to “Local” rather than “global” when working on parts, so changes made there don’t affect other layout (like the score).

And yeah, grouping is going to be global by nature (they’re either part of a set, or they’re not). Align Dynamics appears to me to basically be a shortcut function that’s the same as manually moving dynamics in Engrave Mode (it’s only available in Engrave Mode), so if you’re wanting to straighten things out in a part but not in the score, I’d use Align for that.

I’ll also note that the input process makes a difference. Things that go in simultaneously get grouped together. I noticed a lot of your dynamics in the first half worked in tandem - violins had the same dynamics, and viola/cello had the same dynamics. In that situation, I’d recommend using the carat, and extending it over both staves (so, do both violins simultaneously, and do the viola/cello simultaneously, total of 2 passes of dynamic input). Doing it this way will result in them automatically grouping and linking, and they’ll already be aligned. The only reason in mine that I manually went through and selected and grouped things was because I wanted to test how “bad” it could start from, and by forcing everything to be ungrouped and unlinked to start with, I could reproduce the “crooked” dynamics you had in your screen shot. But you wouldn’t need to do all that if you had them grouping during dynamic input to begin with.

I also just tried another experiment. Again, I took your original file, and deleted all frame breaks (I didn’t mess with dynamics at all this time). The ONLY change I made to your document from there, is I made the Inter-System Gap 18 rather than the default 10.

This changes it so many pages still fit 3 staves (when they don’t go far outside the staff), but the busy pages spread out to 2 staves automatically. At 18, there’s still some crowding on pages 10 and 19, and some of the later pages seem to have gone to 2 staves when the ideal would be 3, but this would be a process that works more on the “rules” system rather than tweaking it as much manually with frame breaks.

I also tried it set to 16, which resulted in a few more pages being crowded, but pretty much got all of the pages that SHOULD have 3 staves to still have 3 staves.

This is where it becomes apparent that the rules can only account for so much. While the 16 spacing is probably the better starting point, you will still inevitably have to make some use of frame breaks to get it right. What Dorico can do is truly impressive, and maybe it’s possible to tweak all the rules just such that it would produce a perfectly spaced out score automatically with this - but generally, some amount of manual intervention is just going to be necessary. Especially with a score like this, which has all those feathered, cross-bar, quadruple stops elements complicating matters.

P.S. I just double checked and the groupings did transfer to all the layouts when I looked here. Groupings are global, so when something is grouped in the score, they’ll still be grouped in the part. You’ll see this when you select 1 dynamic (yellow) and you’ll see the hairpin and maybe some other written dynamics highlight blue. Those are all a group.

1 Like

thanks again. I tried the interspace gap of 16, and I also tried ungrouping all the dynamics, and then manually re-grouping them. I was at what I was sure was the finish line, when I noticed 1 dynamic that was in the group, but misaligned. I deleted the dynamic and saw what has to be the strangest thing yet. When I deleted the dynamic, 4 staves collapsed on to each other. I manually added one back, and they reflowed correctly. Then, I noticed another anomaly: some of the dynamics had been duplicated on top of each other. I deleted a couple and realized it was all over the place. I’ve spent an hour and a half so far whacking moles.


deleted a “pp”

deleted a hairpin

deleted ANOTHER hairpin

I feel like this has got to be a bug, no??

Grouping dynamics across staves is what is causing this, I think. Do I need to only group within a single part at a time? Either way, I’m closer and further at the same time.

further update: on the feathered beams, there are 5 hidden duplicates of the hairpins and the pp/ff markings. I’m deleting them by clicking, hitting delete, waiting 3-4 seconds for Dorico to be ready (the watch mouse pointer appears, it’s so slow)

this one just un-hid itself so you can see it

I selected the gaggle of “pp” and hit “delete” - it took almost 2 minutes for the program to un-freeze.

OK, I selected the whole first movement, filtered to all dynamics, and selected “Ungroup dynamics” to start again, and it erased all the dynamics.

I think I’m done. I am going to contact Dorico support

I’ve seen this sort of problem before, and it’s both the user’s fault and a bit of Dorico oddness.

If dynamics are input correctly, they’ll work. I never have these sorts of problems with dynamics, but I get these issues with client files pretty regularly.

For starters, don’t link dynamics. Grouping is fine. And make sure immediate dynamics don’t mess up hairpins (that is, get placed before a hairpin ending).

This problem arises from a conflict between linking and grouping. The first thing I tell new users in tutorial sessions is to turn off linking.

And PS: this is Dorico support. Not me, but this forum. It’s the best place to get answers.

1 Like

thanks. I ended up solving it by pretending I was using Finale, and manually moving every dynamic in every part in Engrave mode. The score is fine with grouping.

I love Dorico, but I sure hope 5.0.11 removes linking for dynamics until they can figure out how to make it work.