My Foray Into Percussion Mapping

I am a Dorico veteran since it’s inception with plenty of experience (not necessarily expertise) in Expression Mapping. My use case is notation-based composition and playback only.

So far I have managed to avoid tackling the ins and outs of unpitched percussion mapping (let alone drum kits), I am going to embark on taking my first steps in doing so. Reading the manual and watching available videos has not made things clear to me. The videos simply go too fast for me, and pausing does not prove helpful to me. My brain just starts to explode when I try to understand and work with it. Some of the terminology is similar to Expression Maps, but I’m not sure if the interrelationships and functions are the same. I want more than steps, I want to understand why I’m doing what I’m doing and how the system works. I’m hoping this thread will be helpful to me and any others who share my trepidation.

The best way for me to learn is to pick a simple test case and try to implement it. I have picked VSL’s Synchron Tambourine (see Synchron Player screen shot with key map on side.) If I can implement that successfully, I expect to learn the basics of what I need.

Note that there are two keyswitched alternative tambourines for selection. My plan is to set up an Expression Map to switch between them.

But there are also a variety of playing techniques assigned to various keys. I want to set up a Percussion Map infrastructure to notate and play back the following techniques:

  • C3 - Center
  • C#3 - Rim
  • D3 - Center
  • D#3 - Rim
  • C4 - Tremolo (thumb)
  • C#4 - Tremolo (shake)
  • C5 - Tremolo (thumb) Vel XF
  • C#5 - Tremolo (shake) Vel XF

Before I get started I want to clear up several questions:

Am I correct that Expression Maps and Percussion Maps can coexist for the same instrument?

Are the lists of playing and playback techniques accessed for percussion the same lists as those used for Expression Maps, or different lists entirely? Are these related to the Instruments database that is now customizable?

What are the “Instruments” referred to in the dropdown list in the Percussion Map editor? How are they related to the instrument shown in the percussion playing techniques editor accessed through Player Setup?

I apologize in advance that I am sometimes able to respond to help fairly quickly and sometimes not. I also ask for your patience as I work these things out.

I want to add a link to Daniel’s explanation of the process in September, 2019

Here is my Play setup for the instrument in VE Pro

Initial Percussion Map for Tambourine

Tambourine Instrument Playing Techniques

I’m not 100% sure I understand everything about Percussion mapping either, but I’ll take a shot …

Sure! Not only that they can coexist, but really are required if you want dynamics to work properly. That said, most of the instrument technique stuff I set up in the PM and leave the EM fairly simple with dynamic controls, required inits, playback setting overrides, etc.

The PM is just referencing the Playback Techniques, which can of course be triggered by a Playing Technique in the score. I really wish they had made these names a little less similar, but they are what they are. AFAIK, the Playback Technique list is the same as used for EMs.

This one I’m not sure about.

These are the instruments being used in your kit, or as individual instruments in the score. I’m not 100% sure, but think these have to belong to the Orff Instruments or Unpitched Percussion categories in Setup to appear in this list. In D4, when I made custom percussion instruments, I think I had to add an entry in the doricolib file for PercussionInstrumentDataDefinition to get them to appear. I assume that Edit Instruments in D5 takes care of that automatically, although I haven’t tested that.

If you’re using a drum kit made up of multiple instruments, the Instrument selection in the editor specifies which instrument in the kit to use.

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Your Playback Techniques don’t match between the Map and the Instrument here, so I’m assuming these aren’t working, correct? The instrument just has “Natural” and “Rim” techniques defined, but neither of those are defined in your map, which has more complicated techniques defined. If there are 4 different basic sounds you want to define, C3-D#3, then you’ll need an entry for each of those in your instrument, with the Playback Techniques matching those used in the map. This will likely mean notationally using the same type of notehead for multiple techniques, but you can always Alt+arrow through them when inputting to use the one for the playback you want.

You can add the Tremolo techniques in the instrument by clicking that + sign in the lower left, and then assigning the tremolo marking to trigger that technique, which it appears like you still need to set up in your map.


Thanks both,

What I’m running into is that when I try to add a new “note/technique” in the top row of the Percussion Playing Technique editor I cannot enter combo techniques. I can add “Rim,” which you see I have done, but I cannot add “Rim + RH” as in my Percussion Map for D#3.

If I want to trigger a combo technique (since there are two types of rim hits, LH and RH), how might I approach that?

I realize in this particular instance L/R probably contain the same samples, but when it does matter in some other case, how does one create a note head for a combined Perc PT?

Coming up in round two for this simple instrument will be two types of tremolos, tremolo + thumb and tremolo + shake. In this case it WILL matter how I do this.


Regarding the Playback Techniques, if they are the same as used in ExMaps, I will be able to add custom techniques. I’ll have to test that. If able, it provides a mechanism for adding “tremolo thumb” and tremolo shake" as single techniques, which would solve the problem though it isn’t ideal.

You’ll need to create that Playback Technique then so the text matches, otherwise there’s no connection between the instrument and the map for that technique. For example in this map I created, the Snare has a “Center Alt” playback sound in the library, so I created a “Center Alt” playback technique which I can define both in the map …

… and in the instrument:

You’ll notice the warning “the appearance for this playing technique is not unique” appears, which is fine as notationally I don’t really want to show “Center Alt,” I just want a little variance in the snare sound if I input that. I don’t really care if “Center” and “Center Alt” visually look the same to the player here.

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Okay, so thanks Fred, that’s the solution for now.

Create custom Playback Techniques to make normally combined techniques into singular ones. Tested, working. It helped that Daniel reminded me in his article that it is necessary to hit “Y” to enter a note when cycling through options.

Now to figure out the whole notation set thing. Never having been a percussionist, I have no idea how to approach it. But I imagine with some research and thought I can come up with something.

Yeah, I’m not a percussionist either but I have Samuel Z. Solomon’s How to Write for Percussion and would definitely recommend it. I’ve found this little free PDF guide based on Norman Weinberg’s book to be really useful too.


I am not Hispanic, but muchas gracias Fred. You’ve got me over the hump.

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It would be nice if we were able to select percussion glyphs the same way we do ExMap glyphs. I figure there must be complexities and internal reasons the editors are different.

Okay, it turns out that my “glyph” problem can be solved by creating custom notehead sets, at least that’s how I understand the manual. I’m sure it’s a big project, but I can learn how to create a custom set of noteheads for my VSL percussion and I hope apply it uniformly to my VSL instruments.

Dorico Web Help - Custom Notehead Sets

I am re-showing my screenshot of the Percussion Map editor in order to pose some questions.

First, re: the “Key switches” field in the Edit Drum Kit Note section, I’m not sure what it’s function might be in actual use. The manual says, " 1. Optional: If the key switch for this sound requires a MIDI note number, specify it in the Key switches field." I realize it is optional, but how does it work? Does it send a MIDI keyswitch Note different from the Drum Map Note?

Second, what is the difference between this field and the “Add Key Switch Alternative” shown along the bottom of the Drum Kit Note Map? This is not referred to in the online Help.

I ask this because there are a number of Synchron percussion instruments that have alternative forms, like the model and size of cymbal, or what type of mallet to use. I would ordinarily approach this using an expression map because the notes they refer to are intended as key switches rather than playable notes. So they are different than what I was looking at above.

I’m wondering whether this might be of use to eliminate these variant instrument selections from my corresponding Ex Map and relegating them to the Percussion Map. The Ex Map would then be strictly for dynamics and other CC assignments.

Expression maps are a beautifully tough nut to crack.

Couple additions, one I think it’s worth studying a canonical version, namely John Barrons “Simon Phillips Jazz” kit he just posted a few weeks ago. I learned a lot from it, and he’s got an even more comprehensive one coming, but the simpler one is best to study. This is for a Drum Set but it’s instructive.

For large ensemble, really interested if anybody has another opinion on this, but I’ve settled on putting all the unpitched into a single Percussion Kit. Took me a while to wrap my head around this, that the Kit works for everything from orchestral percussion to a pop drum set, basically all unpitched. But collecting all those unpitched to one (or multiple) Percussion Kit players really makes it manageable.

Interesting about subsuming all under one kit. Once I’ve mastered regular percussion maps I might take a look at kits.

Some percussion patches map multiple sounds to the same MIDI pitch, and allow you to access the alternate sounds using a key switch or, sometimes, a MIDI CC value (the latter of which the percussion map does not support). However, this is reasonably rare, and so unless you know that the patch for which you’re building a percussion map uses key switches, you can ignore it.

The Add Key Switch Alternative button allows you to create multiple entries for the same MIDI Note with different key switches, in order to specify which sound will be played if you play, say, MIDI note 60 with key switch 0 or with key switch 1, or whatever.

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Change “might” to “will”, trust me

It may be an obvious point to everybody here, but I kept thinking of kits as sets and the two words as interchangeable. They’re not - I came to see that what they did here was to abstract the concept of a single percussionist who simultaneously holds multiple instruments (non pitched). It’s not an alternate instrument for a player, like the A for the Bb clarinets, it’s different because unlike that a percussionist can play multiple instruments at once.

The simplest version is a drum set player in a band, the more complicated is an orchestral. Good example to think about is this Eotvos piece from a few years ago

How would you write this in Dorico? Three Percussion Kits representing the three players, each one of them with a half dozen instruments, and their three parts. Put in a graphical suggestion how to place the instruments on stage in the score, and that’s how Writing for Percussion recommends it.

Kit/Set is a good name choice that is confusing. I keep getting them mixed up, but if you remember that a Kit is an abstraction of a Set than you’re good.

One thought, how would you handle the same instrument going to another player? I think they do that here, the three are more or less playing all the instruments during the performance, how would this be done in Dorico? Giving the three P-sets (KITS! See its hard to remember which is which) all the insts is clumsy and bloated, but precise. Probably the best way is to put instructions into the score to that affect, and let them sort out the choreography

Anyhow long post but helped me sort out my thoughts on this. Trust me it’s much more manageable to have unpitched Kits when your writing and the score management.

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