Microtonal notation

It is great that Dorico supports microtonal notation out of the box. However, I ran into a few difficulties. The Dorico team made it clear that it only supports equal temperaments, and likely only equal divisions of the octave. That is fine in principle (it causes some difficulties for the large just-intonation community, but their are workarounds to a certain degree by mapping JI intervals to a suitable/sufficiently high subdivision of the octave.

However, for many accidental systems that are already included in the Bravura font, it is vital that multiple accidentals can be combined for a single note. I am able to enter accidentals of a user-defined Tonality System (using Dorico parlance) after I entered an open key (Shift+K and then typing “open”), but always only one at a time. How can I enter multiple accidentals assigned to a single note? See the attachment for an example in the 2nd staff.
Also, the Dorico interface for creating new Tonality Systems makes the impression it may be limited to an equal subdivision of the standard 12-tone equal temperament (i.e., not arbitrary subdivisions of the octave). When setting the division, instead of specifying simply how many tones there are per octave with a single integer, a user is supposed to specify the division between standard nominals (A, B, C…), which are presumably tuned in standard 12-tone equal temperament. Does this arrangement really allow for specifying, say, an equal temperament of 19, 22, 31, 41, or 53 tones per octave? These are all particularly interesting and commonly used temperaments. If so, then at least the interface is a bit confusing, because it is possible to enter inconsistent input. For example what is the resulting tuning if a user enters that there should be, say, 53 tones between A and B, but none between all the other nominals. Will that really result in 53-equal temperament, as claimed by the interface?

Anyway, it is great that Dorico offers some built-in support for microtonal music!


Sorry to take a few days to reply to your thoughtful post, Torsten.

When you need an accidental consisting of more than one symbol, you should define a new accidental that consists of both glyphs, with the appropriate overall pitch delta for the combined symbol.

As for your second point, concerning the way the EDOs need to be specified, if you manage to enter inconsistent data that doesn’t add up properly, when you OK the dialog, Dorico will do its best to correct the definition to at least make it consistent, but of course you should really check what you have written. Our assumption is that the level of knowledge of microtonality of the users who choose to use this feature will know what they’re doing and hence will understand that the sensible behaviour of the tonality system relies on sensible data being entered here – a case of “garbage in, garbage out”.

By way of an example, here are the values you might use for a 53-EDO “Makam Nihavend” tuning system for Turkish music:

A to B: 9
B to C: 4
C to D: 9
D to E: 9
E to F: 4
F to G: 9
G to A: 9

I’d like to ask about the unfortunate decision of limiting Dorico to equal temperaments. It is indeed possible, as Torsten writes above, to map JI intervals to a large EDO for playback but how large an EDO will Dorico allow? Many hardware and software synths allow much more precise microtuning than cents, using pitch bend or MTS etc. When I write music in JI using Finale, my playback is more accurate than 1 cent. But 1 cent is fine by me. So, will it be possible to use 1200-EDO as a tuning in Dorico? Or at least something like 381-EDO or 205-EDO, both good tunings for JI?

It is certainly theoretically possible to use 1200-EDO in Dorico. Exactly how this will behave in playback remains to be seen (neither my arithmetic nor my knowledge of the resolution of pitch bend possible in VST Note Expression is sufficient for me to work out whether or not you will reliably be able to differentiate at the cent level).

It’s not only the resolution possible with VST Note Expression, but also the resolution implemented by the instrument for pitch shifting.

Even in General MIDI you can specify pitch bends to 1/8192 of a semitone, i.e. 0.012 cents (!!) but few if any GM synths will take any notice if you do that. (Whether your ears would take any notice even if the synth did do something is another question, of course.)

a) When microtonal playback is introduced, will this result in playback as 53-EDO, or as the values input between the note names? Because there is a difference (e.g. E to F is 100 cents, but 4 equal tempered steps in 53-EDO is approximately 91 cents).

b) Similarly, what about tunings that can’t be expressed as identical numbers of steps between all 12-EDO whole tones? For instance, 21-EDO. Is that just a matter of finding the smallest common factor of 21 and 12 (in this case I think 252), putting A to B as 42, B to C as 21, etc, and then just assigning accidentals a pitch delta of 12 or 24 or whatever? That seems a bit more complicated than just editing the field that says “number of divisions per octave” itself, which is currently un-editable.

c) Since microtonal playback is a long ways off anyway, a more germane question I guess: is it possible to reassign keyboard shortcuts for “normal” accidentals to microtonal accidentals on the basis of individual projects? Creating microtonal accidentals with the mouse only is somewhat awkward since I’m so used to keyboard input, but I don’t want to create a bunch of keyboard shortcuts that then have to be reset every time I want to switch to a 12-EDO project.

d) When working in a microtonal project and trying to transpose by number of divisions, the intervals don’t reflect notes that are available in a particular microtonal tuning (e.g. no option to transpose up by 57/1200 or whatever, which is one of the accidentals I created), and when trying to “calculate interval” the apply button is greyed out. What am I doing wrong?

a. Until we implement microtonal playback, I can’t say.

b. Yes, you should in theory be able to find the common factor and specify the divisions in those terms. The reason you can’t edit the “number of divisions per octave” field directly is because there is no guarantee that the number of divisions will be the same between each note name.

c. Unfortunately not at the moment, but I hope we will be able to find a good solution for this soon. It’s complicated by the fact that the accidentals vary by tonality system, and the tonality system might not be present in all projects, and hence the key commands, which are currently global, could not easily apply. However, you should find Shift+Alt+up/down arrow (which moves by chromatic step in 12-EDO) raises and lowers by the next closest delta.

d. When transposing a passage including microtonal intervals, only intervals that will guarantee that the notes can still be notated with valid accidentals will be allowed in the dialog. For many kinds of microtonal music, this will often result in only allowing transposition by whole steps.

Daniel, I don’t understand your reply “a. Until we implement microtonal playback, I can’t say.”. The common 53-EDO nomenclature you suggested above specifies the whole-tone as 9 steps in 53EDO (ca. 204 cents), and the diatonic semitone as 4 steps (ca. 91 cents). Consequently, the chromatic semitone, and thus the effect of flats and sharps, is 5 steps (ca. 113 steps). Double sharps and flats would sharpen or flatten by 226 cents. This defines the notation of 53-EDO: the tuning of the “white notes”, and the effect of the accidentals (special microtonal accidentals for one 53-EDO step could be added). Surely this should result in the correct playback, without any reference to 12EDO? This is how an EDO notation-cum-playback is defined in Finale and Mus2. The latter you should really look into for an ideal system of defining the tuning of microtonal scales and accidentals.

I created a new Helmholtz Microtonal System within Dorico.
When I’m now inputting music with the keyboard, Dorico chooses (in my opinion) randomly accidentals for the notes. For example: I play a Db (or C#) and Dorico writes a
Bildschirmfoto 2019-08-04 um 09.56.49.png
why is that?
can I avoid it, cause I nearly have to respell every note?
Thanx a lot

If you mean that you’re inputting via the MIDI keyboard, then there is no way to influence the accidental that is chosen; Dorico will choose the closest pitch to the key you played.

ok. thanx Daniel.

When I use a midi keyboard to input microtonal pitches in Helmholtz-Ellis JI, I play everything as white keys, then change the accidental.

very good advice, too. Thanx !