Mini-article: Configuring Beams, Slurs (and hyphens)

Further to other discussions here and elsewhere (mostly with @FredGUnn ), I thought I would post a project file that has factory defaults, except for changes to Engraving Options for Slurs, Beams Note > Stems and Lyric hyphens.

I set out to match a page of a Mozart piano Sonata, engraved by Henle, getting as close as possible just with Engraving Options alone, and this is the result.

Using the new Library Manager, it should be a doddle to incorporate these settings into existing documents, without affecting any other changes to anything else that you might have made. Alternatively, it can be used to see what particular settings yield the most fruitful results, for anyone who wants to adjust things to their own tastes.

Dorico Slurs and Beams.dorico (1.5 MB)

First of all: Why?

There’s an old joke that notation software defaults are always wrong, no matter what they are. There’s some truth in that, as if everyone agreed on what the ‘correct’ settings were, you wouldn’t need options at all. Different styles of music, different countries, different publishers all do things differently.

Dorico does have ‘quite a few’ options, and some are more significant than others: in terms of ‘things you are likely to want to change’. So I’m highlighting the more potent options, and explaining what effect they have.


Dorico’s slurs are pretty good: improvement lies mostly in adjustments to the ‘shoulders’, the thickness, and the position.


Changing this setting (and the one for long slurs) from 1/3 to 1/2 seems to bring a more ‘engraved’ style. Thickness is more a matter of taste, but easily adjusted. I’ve bumped it up a little.

The other significant area is the endpoint positioning. As ever, descriptive text in the Options panel should be noted:

Changing the specific values at the beginning of this section won’t do anything if “Minimum gap inside slur to avoid collisions” is larger.
I’ve also brought the slurs slightly closer, which seems to seat them a little better. YMMV.


Beaming involves two Engraving Option areas: Beams, and Notes > Stems. Trying to match stem lengths with complementary beam angles can be an endless task of trial of error, if you’re not careful.

I’ve favoured reasonably shallow angles, though not the utter avoidance of beams across a space which seems to be in vogue.

I have found that some music may benefit from slightly different settings. These stem lengths could do with increasing by one click to 2 and 5/8th and 2 and 3/8ths respectively:


Increasing the stem Shortening rules to -1 and 5 is also an option.

To clarify: for stems that point upward, they are shortened to the shortened stem length (as set in the options above this bit) at staff position number 4; and from -2 upwards, their stems are graded between full length and short length.
The same is done for downward-pointing stems, but flipped, obvs.

These settings, combined with the stem lengths, and the beam angle distances in Options > Beams work together (or antagonistically!).

The other Beam option that’s worth having a look at is the length of partial beams. The partial beam length is traditionally the width of the notehead. Bravura’s noteheads are quite wide, and so this length can look too long if you’re using a different font. There’s also an optical effect of a blocky rectangle looking wider than a tapered ellipse.

Lyric Hyphens

The settings for lyric hyphens can have a huge effect on the spacing of vocal music. There are four.
The first one, “Minimum GAP between hyphen and lyric” is the distance to the first hyphen in a string of hyphens. If there’s only one hyphen, then it will be centred.

The second option: “Minimum SPACE to allow for a hyphen” is actually a ‘padding’ value. Dorico’s default of 1 space pushes syllables (and therefore the notes they are attached to) away from each other by that amount. I’ve reduced that to 1/4 space, and you’ll find that changing this value can massively effect the amount of music you can get on a page.

The third option is simply how frequently they repeat. The last option allows Dorico some ‘wiggle room’ in its calculations, smoothing the threshold between adding another hyphen or not. I’ve bumped it up a bit.

To sum up

Well, here it is. I’m sure that keener eyes will dispute any of the values I’ve used; and one size rarely fits all. But Beaming and slurs are perhaps two of the most critical (in both senses of the word!) areas of engraving. If you don’t like the values I’ve used, you can of course change them for your own.

And the beauty of the Library Manager is in comparing options between documents, and then honing your own ‘perfect’ settings.


Oh, and here’s the result.

… and here’s the Henle page. (It’s a sample page from their own website, and I trust that for the purposes of criticism, review, education, etc. it’s use is OK.)

There are some differences, but I found that changing settings to match one beam would change others that already matched. It’s fair to say that some manual work is always going to be required for this standard of engraving. I’ve not added the fingering either, which may affect the slurs in places.


Marvelous run down, Ben, and very helpful too!

This is really educational. Thank you, Ben!

Great post Ben! Even that Henle page has some issues IMO. Looking at the last 2 bars …

… the beam that connects to the last eighth note in the right hand in both bars really should never be allowed to hang there. Looking at the Ted Ross prescriptions they are all straddle or sit in this situation, never hang:

The way Henle leaves the beam hanging into the space looks pretty strange to me. I like the way Dorico is doing it here (straddle) much better than the Henle version.

Yes: I think you’ll need a larger Beam interval for 6ths than I’ve given – more than 1 space. That seems to knock a few other beams off, and so it’s a game of Whack-a-mole!