Percussion feature request (I think)

This may not be the experience of other users here, but the vast majority of the time I don’t care about playback of percussion staves. If I do, it’s easy to set up an additional staff for playback, and then make the main drum or percussion staves in the parts and score display properly for a professional musician to perform. As I usually only care about proper notation and not playback, I really want the full editing capabilities that normal staves have. Is there a way currently to redefine a percussion staff as a “normal” staff? I’ve usually been using “Timpani, No key sig” for a normal 5-line drum part, which works pretty well as I have the full editing capability and no key signature. Are there any 3-line or 1-line percussion staves that can be set up as normal staves, and not a percussion staves? If not, I would like to request some more percussion setup options that don’t actually define these various staves as a percussion staves.

In a semi-related request, is there a way currently to set up an undefined treble clef staff? Often, I’ll basically want to make a simple concert lead sheet in treble, but setting up a staff as “treble” or “lead” obviously sets it up as a vocal staff so all the dynamics go above which is usually not what I actually want. Just using Violin or something and changing the name would fix this, but the ability to add an undefined treble or bass staff would be quite useful too IMO.


I think that your percussion request is basis for a discussion on what Dorico wants to be.

On one hand, as you say, you might want to cut corners to achieve notation as you’re used to coming from other notation applications.
But on the other hand, I think that it doesn’t fit the design philosphy after Dorico (as how I understood it after 2 years of using it): to become a notation application with which you can notate classic or modern music (in all their forms) in a semantically correct way (i.e. based on rulebooks like Gould) without the need for cutting corners or work-arounds.

I might be wrong of course, because I can only interpret the intention of the development team based on the videos and forum posts.

My guess is also that many don’t care about percussion playback because it has always been either correct playback (individual lines) or correct notation (5-line), but not both.
Perhaps, because of the philosophy to do it right without cutting corners, it might be possible to achieve both with Dorico (now or in the future based on your needs).

Anyway, it’s not a response on your reaction, but I think it’s an interesting discussion topic.

I think a large part of my percussion requests are more related to the level of performer that I am usually writing or copying for rather than habits from other software. When writing for an orchestra or a high school level jazz band, sure, having it display correctly and play back correctly is a very desirable thing. High school students generally need to have everything notated. When writing for professional level drummers in jazz or Latin genres it’s really impossible to give them the information that they need to see in a way that also will play back correctly.

For example, I’m not going to insult a professional Latin percussionist by writing out a generic pattern in their part. For a bongo player I might just have a 1, 2 or 3-line staff with slashes and write “Martillo 3-2.” This communicates the desired rhythmic pattern to the performer more quickly than making him read a generic version of this pattern fully written out. It also indicates that he can put his own take on it and be creative, rather than be locked into playing exactly what I wrote. There is obviously no way this will ever play back correctly in any notation software. Sometimes I will want to indicate certain accents that the rest of the band is doing so I can simply write those rhythms with slashes, or with normal notes above slashes. This is usually more clear to the performer than burying the hits inside a generic written out pattern. On the other hand, there will also usually be sections with very specific rhythmic figures that I will fully notate. It’s great if this plays back correctly … or not, I generally don’t really care.

My point is that I would like for Dorico to be able to accommodate this type of notation. As of now, there are editing limitations to what can be accomplished in percussion staves, especially concerning positioning and hiding rests. As the visual notation of percussion and drum parts is usually far more important to me than any playback, I would like the ability to use and/or configure percussion staves with the full range of editing that is available in other staves. If that can be accomplished already for a 1 or 3-line staff for example, then great! I just haven’t figured out how to do it.

For what it’s worth, you can get generic 1-line or 3-line staves into Dorico via musicxml import. I have never used that workaround myself though, so I don’t know what obstacles you might hit later on.

As another example, here are the first few systems of a Drum part I wrote for a jazz big band last month:

There’s nothing terribly original or unusual about the notation here. This piece is in Db major but obviously the drummer doesn’t need the key sig. There is a mix of actually notated music, like the cymbal at the beginning, rhythmic cues as to what the ensemble is playing above the staff which he could choose to play as he wishes, and some more important hits notated with a rhythmic slash in the staff like the break in bar 16. The drummer sightread it perfectly at soundcheck and we performed it at Dizzy’s (jazz club at Lincoln Center) that night.

Obviously no notation software is going to play this back correctly the way a professional drummer will. Actually notating the implied brush swirls on the snare at A or B will not add anything to the clarity of the notation, and a professional isn’t going to want to read that anyway. Fortunately there are options to do this with a standard 5-line staff, but I haven’t figured out how to do notation like this on a 1, 2, or 3-line staff as they all set up as percussion staves. For music like this, I don’t think there will ever be any sort of solution that will both clearly display the information the performer needs, and play back correctly, so I would like to see an option to set up these other staves as regular staves so I can notate music in the clearest manner for the performer.

Ah, thanks! I hadn’t thought of going that route. Good idea!

Having recently had a fight with percussion import via MusicXML (not a standard drum kit, but groups of 2 or 3 instruments originally displayed on 2 or 3 line staves) I eventually figured out if you just want to import a generic staff with a custom number of lines from MusicXML, then don’t put a percussion staff on it, since that seems to be what triggers Dorico trying to make sense of it as a percussion kit when doing the import. Put a G or F clef on one of the lines instead.

Hmm, I just tried importing a custom 3-line staff with a treble clef that was created in Finale, and Dorico imported it as a 5-line staff. When I re-imported the XML back into Finale it correctly remained a 3-line staff, so I’m assuming that Finale is exporting the XML data correctly. Did you get it to work with a Finale XML file? Or with Sibelius, MuseScore, etc? I’ll give it a try another way …

Just tried to import a 3-line staff from a Sibelius XML file and it imported into Dorico as a 1-line. Strange. I’ll keep experimenting and see if there’s some combination that works for me.

Try this - originally from a Sibelius XML file, but with (nearly) all the fluff deleted:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding='UTF-8' standalone='no' ?>
<!DOCTYPE score-partwise PUBLIC "-//Recordare//DTD MusicXML 3.0 Partwise//EN" "">
<score-partwise version="3.0">
  <score-part id="P01">
   <part-name>3 line staff</part-name>
   <score-instrument id="P01-I1">
 <part id="P01">
  <!--============== Part: P27, Measure: 1 ==============-->
  <measure number="1">
    <rest />
    <instrument id="P01-I1" />

That still imports as a 1-line staff for me anyway.

Try opening the file rather than importing it into your existing project. I get this:

Interesting! Yes, if I open it directly, I do get a 3-line staff as well. If I then import it again into another flow in the same project I get a 1-line staff. Any idea why Dorico treats this differently depending on whether it is imported into an existing file, or just opened on its own?

I’ve noticed this behaviour too in similar XML hacks. I suspect it is because these modifications are at the document level, not the flow level, so importing a document as a flow maintains the receiving document’s data. When you Open an XML file, you’re creating a new document with the data in the XML.

Presumably you can import the existing score into the new document.

I admit I didn’t know that “open MusicXML” and “import MusicXML” did different things here.

While there’s no direct user control of the instruments within Dorico, I just realized that you can hack the instruments.xml file to modify the instrument definitions as well. Obviously make a backup of it first, but any existing instrument can be edited to remove the fact that it defaults to a percussion setup, and you can alter the number of staff lines. I’m sure this is not going to be the Steinberg approved way, but it does work:

I seem to remember that the files inside the application folder must be in their original state for software updates to work properly. So don’t forget to replace the modified file with the original before you upgrade Dorico 3!

Nice work! Maybe you can even add new instruments?

Dorico 2 was a separate app to Dorico 1, I remember.

You can add and modify instruments slightly more safely using a .doricolib file. Or adding the relevant XML to your userlibrary.xml file.

I’m trying to figure that out. I even found this thread about it, but it doesn’t seem to be working for me.

I’ve only used .doricolib files to create expression maps, how do you use it to add an instrument?

I haven’t manually edited my userlibrary.xml file before either. Do you just copy all the instrument data that you are basing the new instrument on from the instruments.xml file, paste it under the instruments heading in userlibrary.xml, and then make edits?