Orchestral parts - any tips?

I shall shortly be embarking on the preparation of orchestral parts for my present project (15 flows, about 2,000 bars).

Because of a punishing deadline, and the fact that it took me a looooooong time to sort out the staff spacing in my vocal score, I need to ensure that I’ll get things right regarding the parts preparation.

The client specifies B4 paper for the parts, with a staff size of 7.5mm, so that’s no problem, but no staff spacing has been specified. As all the instruments in this score are single-stave ones, are the default staff spacing settings for the parts layout likely to be suitable?

Apart from the standard visual checks, which will be the same as I’ve done for years with Sibelius, I’ll need to hit Shift+F on a good number of right-hand pages to create page turns. Is it important to do this in strictly start-to-end order? If I miss one, and have to insert it later, might that case problems further down the line? (I got caught out with this in my vocal score.)

I have yet to use the part formatting propagation feature – is this something that’s considered a routine part and parcel of part preparation, and what advice is suggested for its use?

Any hints, tips and warnings will be gratefully accepted.

B4’s so much more comfortable than A4 - you’re lucky!

In no particular order:
Yes, I think the default vertical spacing options are generally okay; it’s worth experimenting with one part and then rolling out those changes en masse.

I do make a point of working through part layouts from front to back, because the Frame Break function is just that - it doesn’t differentiate between left pages and right pages. If you go back and add an extra Frame Break early in the layout, it’s possible for all of your beautifully planned page turns to end up between a left and right rather than between a right and a left! So keep an eye on the page numbers. I tend to keep a spreadsheet that keeps track of the bar number of each page turn in each part, in order to ensure that 79 people aren’t all turning their page while a single bassoon is playing a solo (he said, giving away one too many secrets)

I have a blank master page (no music frame, but a text frame with “page intentionally left blank to facilitate page turns”) in my Parts Master Page Set. Generally this only gets used between flows, in situations where it’s too much of a compromise to stretch or cram the previous flow.

If you’re building a contents page or a cover page, either do that first - or at least put in placeholder custom master pages at the front of each part - or commit to doing that job in a word processor or other third-party application. If you insert pages at the beginning, later, you’re likely to lose any changes that are tied to individual pages: staff spacing’s the obvious one (and it’s rare you should need to tweak that manually, but even so).

If you’ve got a situation where you need to squeeze a few extra bars onto a page, it’s often quickest to use a Note Spacing Change (Engrave menu) that reduces the default space for a crotchet, followed by another Note Spacing Change that resets, at the top of the next page. This achieves the same result as the Make Into System/Frame functionality (which is a pair of Breaks where the first is set to wait for next) but you don’t have to think about where the spacing could be squeezed - Dorico can do the thinking for you.

The one situation where it’s not so great is if you have a tempo change (or other System Text) at the end of a system - the text will often hang over into the right margin. Either through time pressures or laziness, I tend to shunt that bar down to the next system.

If vertical spacing is lumpy, it’s often down to text that’s creating extra space above the staff. With the “set local properties locally/globally” switch set to “locally”, try overriding the Avoids Collisions property for those text items. You may have some manual Engrave mode dragging to do (again, with that switch set to Locally) but that’s generally easier than fiddling with the staff spacing tool.

Talking of that switch: I’m hoping you were working with it set to Globally when getting everything into the score. Either way, you should do a cross-check of at least one busy part layout - check that all the hairpins are hairpins and all the *cresc.*s are text, for instance.

If not, you’ll want to go to the score layout, in Write mode, select the first bar of the flow (top to bottom), then Ctrl-click the staves that appear in the vocal score (to exclude them). Then go Edit > Select to End of Flow. Then Edit > Propagate Properties. This will replace any inconsistent Write mode properties (in the parts) with the score’s properties.

Once you’re adjusting things manually in the parts - which hopefully you won’t need to do much of - you want that switch set to Locally or it’ll simultaneously be moving the same things behind the scenes in the score.

The other option you have for lumpy vertical spacing is that you can turn off collision avoidance between systems, within Layout Options > Vertical Spacing. I tend not to, but the option’s there if you need it.

Cues are best input in the score, where you can see what’s going on. Don’t overlook the “suggest” options in the cues section of the right panel. You can always lengthen or shorten cues from within the part layout. Oh, and cues can be copied and pasted (and duplicated to staff above/below), whether the actual cue or just the signpost. I tend to cue up everybody in one session before I start laying out the parts. And if there are particular conventions regarding what you want to see within cues, or which clef they should appear in, make those changes in Engraving Options rather than in the properties panel.

I think I’d better stop for brunch…


Oh. Propagate Part Formatting: the top option is a quick way of rolling out Layout Options from one part to many. Fine! The bottom option: no, I don’t like it. Or at least I don’t find it’s often suitable for this sort of music.

For a chart where the horns are playing homophonically throughout, and the thing’s phrased in systems (or systemed in phrases?) it’s presumably a great timesaver. For a 15 flow opera or other classical work, it’s going to create more problems than it solves - because it doesn’t just copy the explicit system breaks and frame breaks you added, it treats all of the automatic implicit breaks as gospel, and tells them all to wait for each other.

If you want to copy all the explicit breaks from one part to others, you could do that yourself, a flow at a time. In one part layout, select the first frame or system break, identify and memorise its location - and type Ctrl/Cmd-Shift-A a few times to select all the breaks. Then copy. Then switch to whichever other part layout, select something at the same first position, and paste. You’d need to do these a layout and a flow at a time, but I guess it may save you some time.


Leo, you are my hero! I can’t overstate how much I appreciate the time you’ve put in to reply so comprehensively, or how incomparably useful your advice will be. Quite apart from anything else, I would have blithely continued to ignore the importance of the global/local switch had you not alerted me to it. Many, many thanks.


In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have “typed” it on an iPhone.


:joy: That must have been a marathon!

I think the second of these two methods is the one for me, as I haven’t yet fully got to grips with the ways that items are interlinked within Dorico and between its layouts. So for the time being I’m holding off using the ‘Globally’ switch in Write mode, as it affects (as I understand it) all layouts, including the vocal score, which I want to remain untouched.

And I’ve only recently noticed the following: if I copy and paste material into orchestral staves from the piano (vocal score) staff – or, to be exact, from the duplicate of it that I created as the source staff - and then make changes to, or delete, slurs or dynamics, those changes get reflected back into the vocal score piano staff. So what I now do, for each flow, is filter for all slurs and dynamics in the source staff and the vocal score piano staff and click ‘unlink’ (and, for good measure as regards dynamics, ‘remove from group’) before I start.

pianoleo, how is your strategy for a viola playing a solo? It might be helpful for the musician to know, that all his colleagues are busy with page turns :wink:

There are a few different behaviours at play, here.

When you set a property, you’re generally overriding a default, which is determined in Engraving/Layout/Notation Options. Some properties are global - they will always be the same across all layouts - and other properties are local, meaning they can be set differently in different layouts.

Separately to that, dynamics can be grouped (horizontally) or linked (vertically). Slurs can also be linked vertically. If you find the linking unnerving you can prevent Dorico from automatically linking dynamics and slurs from Preferences - see Disabling automatic linking of dynamics and slurs when pasting
This won’t work retrospectively, though, so for your current project you would indeed need to unlink and ungroup as you’re currently doing.

I’d never resort to viola jokes; my dad learned the viola at school. (Not that he admits to it :wink:)

Despite of my :wink: it wasn’t intended to be a joke.
The bassoonist is probably glad if the pond life in front of him isn’t rattling with their papers during his or her solo - but the viola soloist might be relieved.

Thanks once again, Leo. I wouldn’t want to disable automatic linking now that I’ve realised its significant advantages when working with multiple staves, though I’m not yet up to speed with the way it deals with intensity markings linked to hairpins - I seem to find myself creating extra dynamics when pasting. I think it has something to do with the way that the markings at the end of hairpins stay to the left of a barline until a note is placed on the other side. Once I get that into my head I’ll be breezing through the process.

I’m afraid I can’t get this to work. If I unlink slurs and dynamics in the grand staff of the vocal score piano - and its duplicate - throughout the flow, any slur or dynamic that I then copy from either of the staves to another instrument is still linked to its source staff, so that any changes I then make to it in the orchestral staff is still reflected in the vocal score. It’s as if the ‘unlinked’ slur/dynamic is nonetheless linked to its pasted clone. Ideally, I’d like to be able to explode, for example, a series of chords linked by a slur from the vocal score to multiple staves in the orchestra, which would be linked to each other but not to the source. Does this mean that what I really need to do in these circumstances is to unlink the source dynamic/slur individually, after the explode operation?

When you copy and paste slurs or dynamics to the same rhythmic position as existing slurs and dynamics with the same duration, Dorico will re-link them on paste, unless you switch off Link dynamics and slurs to existing items when pasting on the Note Input and Editing page of Preferences.

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Ah - I hadn’t discovered that option! That makes it so much easier. Many thanks, Daniel.

(It was the option that Leo linked to in an earlier comment)

Oh, gosh, I see now. I hadn’t followed that up because I hoped there was a method to explode unlinked slurs/dynamics so that the destination ones would be linked together, but on the whole I’ll find it safer to choose that option, which I have now done.

I do have just more question, though - what is happening here?

The mf is ‘brand new’ and not copied from another, but lots of other mfs appear when I create it. What should I be doing so that this doesn’t happen?

It’s automatically grouping with the previous hairpin, and said hairpin is linked to the hairpins above and below.

Unlink the flute(?) hairpin before you add the mf.

Got it. Thanks.