Microtonal Support

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.

Daniel, when you “save as default”, does it still make the standard (12 & 24 EDO) tonality systems available, or will those need to be manually re-added?

Those will still be available in new projects as well.

Ah, that’s good to know. Just as a thought: the “save as default” combined with separate score files for different tonality systems may allow for tonality systems to be shared: just have a bunch of files with different tonality systems, open one of them, do the “save as default” and then other new scores will have that system available.

Still, that would be a feature request, I suppose: implement more formal import/export of tonality systems so that more than 12ET, 24ET and one custom one (that has already been created) can be referenced in a score if needed.

It’s tempting to think about some other things like separating the written notes on a staff from the scale period, where the scale pattern repeats (to get playback of non-perfect-octave temperaments or to change how many notes are represented by staffs) but in terms of just getting microtonal notation, there aren’t too many reasons I can think of why that would be all that useful. Dorico’s system seems pretty good.

Also: along the same lines, I request a feature request in the same vein for chord symbols: in addition to the “save as default” be able to import and export custom chord symbol info. Microtonal chord symbols aren’t as well-known as accidentals, but they are out there.

This seems like the sort of thing where a macro facility would give a pretty good solution, in the situation where there are probably as many different use cases as there are people wanting to make heavy use of microtones.

If you could record the process of creating a tonality system, save the macro file, and replay it into a new project (presumably, at very high speed compared with doing the operations manually) everyone could then organize their own preferred way of having a “library” of components to build the score from.

A comment above is one of the few I’ve seen referring to multiple accidentals on one note. For an advanced just intonation score, that is pretty much essential—because creating combination glyphs means 100 or 200 of them in some cases, there being theoretically no enharmonically equivalent notes where the prime numbers don’t mix. Even if there are practical equivalents (especially in the 12,000 EDO possibility), notating equivalents won’t likely make sense.

The old notation program Lime supported multiple accidentals. It doesn’t seem like a difficult concept: you add/subtract the pitch offsets for each accidental. That is my big request, which I hope makes good sense to Steinberg.

Meanwhile, Dorico has enabled me to write (and hear) music in EDOs that I’ve been unable to produce for quite a while.