Microtonal Support

It’s not possible to combine accidentals in Dorico, either, so for an open JI system one has to build an ever-expanding library of accidentals.

I only now noticed that you discussed this with Daniel as long as three years ago. I was in contact with him, on the subject of microtonal notation, about one year ago. What he wrote indicates that using a JI notation system in Dorico with correct playback will be difficult, and probably impossible in Dorico’s own (still nonexistent) microtonal playback implementation:

“Our plan with support for microtonal accidentals is to allow you to define your own system of accidentals; the only practical restriction is that the system must be expressable as an equal number of divisions of the octave.”
“I’m sorry that we’re unable to accommodate just intonation tuning systems completely correctly in our application. We did talk about it at some length, but [–] the complexity of supporting arbitrary unequal divisions was judged to be too great at this stage.”

At the risk of repeating myself, I just don’t understand the complication. Define the pitch of un-accented notes, provide definable, combinable accidentals.

Indeed! It sounds simple. But I guess there must be some complication in programming that as there has never been any notation software that has all those features.

IIRC the “true” fifths and overtones from every note compound as one goes up the octaves, so the true pitches do not always fall on the same microtonal division of the octave as you move through different octaves and different tonics.

I could imagine a situation where the same combination of accidentals implied a different pitch shift on different notes of the staff - or even on different octaves of the same note of the scale. Once you open Pandora’s box, nothing is off limits any more! Over the last few centuries, composers don’t have a strong track record of being entirely logical about notation.

Derek, can you explain?
For my JI writing, I require octaves of any pitch class (or overtone of it) to be doubling or halving.

I could imagine a situation where the same combination of accidentals implied a different pitch shift on different notes of the staff - or even on different octaves of the same note of the scale.

I’ve never come across an accidental in any system that doesn’t shift by the same amount of cents?

Even within a conventional 12-semitone scale, you can get that with any “well tempered” system with unequal semitones. Take a historical temperament like Werckmeister III:
C - C# is 90 cents
D - D# is 102 cents
F - F# is 90 cents
G - G# is 96 cents
A - A# is 108 cents.

Of course you could set up MIDI playback for a 12-semitone tuning independent of all using the tuning options in Dorico, but suppose you decided to use a 24-note “well temperament” based on a higher number of equal divisions (e.g. 53) but notated with “conventional” quarter tone accidentals for simplicity. Maybe it’s not politically correct to call it “just intonation”, but I don’t see why somebody out there wouldn’t want to try it!

I see what you mean, but this would be solved with fixed pitches such as Scala provides.
This unequalness is a product of the tempering and thus designed to reduce the total pitch classes.
JI is (at least theoretically) happy to have vast numbers of distinct pitch classes arising from consistent accidentals.

Hi nylonius. Dorico does not (since it’s not yet possible due to lack of virtual MIDI ports, actually “would not”) have to send anything but send standard MIDI output when used with microsynth or CSE. That’s the idea. Leave the microtuning to the external apps.

Aaron - how would the external apps be able to interpret the midi output from Dorico correctly if the accidental symbols don’t affect the midi file in any way, such as transposition in midi notes or pitchbend?

Is there any update on microtonal notation?

The notation works fine. I’ve used the extended Helmholtz-Ellis accidentals to good effect. But the playback doesn’t function at all still. You’ll need to build a custom tonality system to make the accidentals work, and it can be tricky for transposing instruments.

Chiming in here because I’m also interesting in using Sagittal. But, I’m more interested in just getting stuff to look right and sound somewhat in the ballpark, being interested in writing specifically for humans and not generating computer performances. Sagittal is designed specifically to be flexible in the number of accidentals applied to its scales, so it’s useful in many temperaments and just intonation systems. I’m wondering what the flexibility is for editing an ‘intonation system’ after it’s started to be used, because in some kinds of just intonation approaches, the number of pitches per octave (and thus the library of accidental symbols to use) can grow unpredictably over the course of creating a composition.


I have been setting up all my microtonal scores to have 12,000 divisions per octave, which basically means I have customize each accidental I create to the 1/10 of a cent. This should be enough for almost any composition or just intonation/microtonal system, so the flexibility is there once the new Tonality System is created. If I make an error, then I only need to correct the single error, and not rethink the entire system (I had that problem early on with using the Tonality System feature). I don’t use sagittal notation, but I imgaine there will be a learning process for getting the accidentals to look correct on the page. It has taken me a couple months to get my workflow smooth and quick; my big challenge was learning the way Dorico attaches glyphs to one another, and how I need to make adjustments based upon that. However, since I’m using the Extended Helmholtz-Ellis accidentals, I need to combine glyphs to form each accidentals. I’m not sure if sagittal glyphs work in the same way.

I’ve been using the Helmholtz-Ellis Just Intonation accidentals, and the playback is fantastic, especially with NotePerformer set to non vibrato. As Jude says, you must combine glyphs for each new accidental, and set its playback pitch accordingly, but then it works great.

For a Ben Johnston piece I’ve been transcribing, I’ve had to make about 100 different accidentals, which gets to be pretty time-consuming. Someday it would be amazing if Dorico could allow for multiple accidentals on a note, and figure out playback pitch automatically. That would be a dream come true, but it’s already amazing to put in music and hear the correct intonation without plugins, pitch bends, etc.

Sounds promising.

I don’t see any reference to being able to backup/import custom tonality systems. Is this a thing?

As far as I know you can’t import or save tonality systems. As a workaround I’m using Save As… to save my file as a new score, then delete the music, add instruments, etc.

You can’t import/export tonality systems, but you can click ‘Save as Default’ in the Edit Tonality System dialog to make that tonality system available in every project you start in future.