Percussion maps, beaters, techniques or instruments


I’ve this unresolved question while building my percussion presets for VSL instruments. How to solve it is strictly tied to how I will use in Dorico. Are beaters techniques or entirely different instruments?

  • First of all: how I build presets of pitched instruments.

With my custom VSL pitched instruments (including timpani), I create presets made of “matrices”, that are groups of similar techniques. For example, I can have a matrix for sustains, one for legatos, one for repetitions, one for dynamic arcs. With timpani, I can have single hits, rolls, glissando, repetition, dynamic arcs.

Each matrix include the individual techniques, with all their nuances. An expression map selects a matrix, then a technique in the matrix.

  • Then: non-pitched instruments.

With non-pitched percussions it is different: mostly you have a drum kit including all the techniques. Single hits, rolls. Everything is under a percussion map, with no need for further subdivisions.

However, there are also things that I don’t know if are to be considered additional techniques, or totally different instruments. Bowed cymbals, brush vs. stick, different brands of timpani or cymbals, snare on vs. snare off, different mallets.

My preference would be to consider each of them a separate instrument/preset. An Instrument Change in Dorico would switch to that instrument/technique.

But is it correct? When invoking a different type of mallet, switch the snare wires off, taking a bow to play a cymbal, am I invoking an instrument change, or just a different technique?

I’m really confused on the boundary between the two methods. And this makes very hard to find a general method in building my presets. How would you do it?


Still thinking: maybe I don’t need to build standard VSL presets. The available instruments, and the possible combinations, are too many. What I would need, is just to work with single patches/kits.

  1. Create a new VI preset based on the default one.
  2. Drag the needed patch in the only cell.
  3. Use a separate track to drive that patch/kit.

When a particular size of cymbal or drum, a particul beater, or a particular technique (stick, brush, bowed, scraped…) is called, just create a new single-patch preset, and assign it to a new track of the DAW. In Dorico, assign it to a VST Instrument, and add the corresponding instrument to a percussion kit.


The biggest limitation you will encounter in trying to treat each one of these instruments played with different beaters as different instruments is that you cannot define your own percussion instruments, so for that practical reason alone, you’ll have more success defining beaters as playing techniques.

Thank you Daniel, this is a decisive argument.

I think I will end up, as I did with pitched instruments, with a schema that will fit all percussive instruments. In the rows, there will be a first matrix including all hits (the most common technique), then one with rolls, then one with prerecorded dynamic arcs, and then all the more exoteric ones.

Columns will be reserved to beaters (including brush and fingers). I have 12-column matrices, so I can reserve a couple columns to each beater. Something like this:


Daniel, I’m back at the drawing table. Keeping everything in the same preset and expression map may be overwhelming and redundant. Techniques are somewhat recursive, and I’m not convinced I’m doing the right thing in replicating them. I don’t like the idea of having to write separate techniques for ‘soft sticks > hit’ and ‘medium stick > hit’.

A premise: do percussionists use different beaters at the same time? If they do it sometimes for special effects, isn’t it better to even write different beaters in different staves, to help the player understand where one is at that moment?

If different beaters are not used at the same time, shouldn’t they be considered as different instruments played by the same player? As a consequence, one can change instrument on the same stave, and use the same expression map to select articulations.

For sure, I’m again overlooking at something…


EDIT: Another idea is to organize things in a different way in the preset. Beaters will be separated into matrices (rows). So, a hidden Program Change message could select the row(s) corresponding to a beater, and the same expression map selecting the columns will remain in use even with beater changes.

This is how the general preset would look, and the techniques that the general Percussion expression map should select:


Before I start creating a map, I would like to check it you my fellow doricians.

I’m looking for a way to organize and select VSL’s VI huge assortment of percussions. At first, I was thinking to make of each instrument a separate preset. After careful consideration, I think the way VSL sort them is probably working as well as any other method.

What they did was to make presets, each one including different matrices including separate types of instrument. The “Cymbals” presets included matrices/instruments for “Piatti all”, “Cymbal-A all”, “Cymbal-B all”, and so on.

Each matrices includes the individual instruments or beaters for that category. For example, “Cymbal-B all” includes percussion kits of cymbals played with drumsticks, wool mallets, metal rods, brushes. “Piatti all” includes different sizes of piatti.

Each matrix is selected by a keyswitch. Individual instruments, beaters, or snare on/off, are selected with a combination of keyswitches and CC (1 by default, 3 by my choice).

My idea is to create an expression map including each of these instruments/beater. When an entry in the xmap is selected, that instrument/beater will be selected, and continue to play until a different entry is sent to the VI.

Xmap entries (instruments/beaters) will be linked to playing/playback techniques calling their name. When I need a “cymbal B” played with a “wool beater”, I can enter the “cymbal B” and the “wool beater” playing techniques at the same point.

In the expression map, “cymbal B” + “wool beater” will correspond to the messages needed to select the right matrix and cell in the assigned percussion preset.

Maybe this can work?


In the end, I should probably make it much simpler.

There is no need to create a command bundle to select an unpitched percussion instrument. I can simply select it in the VI, and assign it to a Dorico instrument in the score.

So, I will start from VSL’s own presets, and just customize some controls.

When I need an instrument in Dorico, I manually recall the preset containing that category of instruments (drums, cymbals, bells…), then the matrix containing the subcategory (suspended cymbals, piatti…), then the cell with the instrument I want.

I will need only a couple generic playing/playback techniques in Dorico, to select rows and columns in the matrix when needed. For example, many drums include a first column with hits, a second one with hits crescendo. In some case, a first row will contain snare on, a second one snare off.

In other case, like the bells, a first row will contain hits, a second one rolls, a third one rolls crescendo. In other presets the X and Y axis are reverted. Each instrument has its own mapping, depending on the particular way to play them. Generalizing percussions is not the easiest task.

I could make a huge map including all these situations, but having a generic set of controls (r1, r2, c1, c2…) could be enough. Depending on the instrument, I can add these special techniques in the score, to remotely control the selection of articulations in the current matrix.

Not elegant, but I hope smart enough to be effective.


I joined two of my threads, since they are closely related. My idea of keeping all the beaters and timbral alternative in the same matrix, and use generic selectors, should also solve Daniel’s hint to keep all the beaters in the same instrument.

When I need a different beater, I can enter the relevant icon in the score. This would however not have any xmap entry, and will send no MIDI data. It will just be a graphical element.

At the same time, a bundle of techniques (to be hidden from the printed score) will select the cell corresponding to the desired beater. Just a quick check to the preset, and I’ll have the correct sequence to enter in the score. No proliferation of techniques in Dorico. Not difficult to manage in the score, since these are very simple presets with just a bunch of patches (it not just one).


With Timpani, I choose a slightly different route.

All the techniques of a beater are in a matrix. This will allow for manual selection when assigning the instrument to a score. But it will also allow for remote selection, by sending the right PC message to select the beater with the matrix.

Inside a matrix, I’m adopting a symmetric schema. All the beaters share the same rows and columns. Unavailable techniques are left blank. My Timpani xmap will select the right technique for all beaters (if available).

If I can find a generalization for the unpitched instruments, I will probably extend this rationale to them.