PLEASE: A simple explanation of voices

Before I start, please know that I have scoured the forum and the manual to try to answer my Voice-related questions, and I still don’t understand how they work.

I have been really confused and frustrated in trying to use voices. I’m doing basic large instrument ensemble music (band, orchestra, jazz band), so 99% of the time, I want all the music in Voice 1, and once in a while I want to show a Full Measure Rest, in a different voice. So if I understand Voices at all, virtually all I ever need are two voices. But I just can’t make it happen.

Here are some basic questions:

  1. When I turned on Voice Colors, I discovered that somehow I have entered music in three different voices, and I finally figured out that the predominant voice is Downstem Voice 1—is that normal/correct? If not, what is the “default voice” and how can I change already-entered music to whatever should be the basic default voice??

  2. Is there any place to see which colors (voice colors) are showing which voice? Can the colors be changed (although that’s the least of my problems)?

  3. Does changing music to, say, Default Stems Down change it’s voice?

  4. Although I understand the words Swap Voice Content and Swap Voice Order, I can’t for the life of me figure out what they actually do in Dorico. Sometimes they seem to do something, other times they don’t.

  5. In Write Mode, I can find no circumstance in which Insert Bar Rest does anything.

  6. (And maybe this should have been #1: Is there a simple, step-by-step explanation of how voices work anyplace?

The first thing to understand is now Dorico names voices. Most notation programs call them Voice 1, 2, 3, etc on each staff with a fixed limit to the number of voices (e.g. 4 per staff).

Dorico has no limit to the number, and distinguished the voices with default stems up and down. So you can have “Upstem voice 1, 2, 3” but just “Downstem voice 1” on a staff, if that’s what you need.

Note, the “upstem” and “downstem” are only meaningful if the music contains more than one voice at any point in the flow. If there is only one voice, Dorico sets the stem directions automatically - even if you have 10 voices on a staff (!!) and the music happens to be in voice 7. Again, this is different from most other notation programs.

For a grand staff instrument (e.g. piano) the voices are different (and shown in different colors) for the two staves. That is useful for keeping track of cross-staff notes (presumably, it’s useful to Dorico itself, as well as to the user!)

The second thing is how to select voices in Dorico. In input mode, pressing V (without the shift key) cycles through the voices that already exist on a stave in a particular flow. If the current voice selection has stem-down (shown by the note at the bottom of the orange cursor) then Shift-V will start a NEW voice with stem-up, and vice versa.

If you accidentally create an unwanted voice, it will “disappear” after you close the score and re-open it, but it will hang around unused until the end of your current work session.

  1. Select the notes, right-click, select Voices, Change Voice, Upstem voice 1.

  2. Select a note and go into input mode. The orange cursor shows a note with its stem up or down, and if there is more than one voice with that stem direction, a number (2, 3, …) beside the note.

  3. No. The voice itself has a default stem direction, but you can override that direction for individual notes. Changing the stem direction doesn’t move the notes to a different voice.

  4. Swap voice content only does something useful if you have notes in two voices on a staff and the voices have stems up and down. Then, it interchanges the notes between the voices which effectively flips all the stem directions.

Swap voice order is for changing the horizontal position of the notes where notes in two voices “collide” - e.g. a dotted half-note in one voice and three quarter-notes in another, and you don’t want the first quarter note pushed a long way to the right by the dot on the half-note, so you want the quarter note to be on left of the dotted half.

  1. Insert bar rest will only do something useful if there are already notes in the bar, and you insert the rest in a different voice. Go into input mode, change to a voice that is not used in that bar (or create a new voice if necessary) and Insert Bar Rest should then work.

  2. I don’t know - I figured out most of this by trial and error in the first version of Dorico, using it to engrave keyboard music which needed several voices per staff!


Rob, you’ve done it again—that’s the perfect explanation.

Thanks so much.

OK, I’ve had a chance to spend some time working on Rob’s suggestions, and I learned some things I’ll share here for other newbies like me who are just starting to understand voices. As is nearly always the case, some (most) of my issues stemmed from not thoroughly understanding how things work.

The context of what I’ve been working on is using voices to do “cues”, in a workaround fashion. So I would enter the “cued” notes in a new voice and change the noteheads to “Diamond” because they’re smaller.

Because I was really wallowing around in a sea of misunderstanding/lack of knowledge, when I turned on Voice Colors (View:Note and Rest Colors), I discovered that through all the experimenting I had done, I had multiple voices and colors going on. Although that’s not a practical issue (just a visual one) the fact that I was finding unwanted bar rests throughout the rest of a given staff certainly WAS a problem, and in trying to solve that, I just created more voices.

For what I was doing, I really only needed two voices: Up-stem Voice 1 and Down-stem Voice 1. Yet when I would select something and look in the Edit:Voices:Change Voice submenu, I would sometimes see as many as 4 or 5 Up-stem or Down-stem voices.

So there I was, with many different-colored voices in a simple brass quintet chart with a few cues. If you end up in a similar situation, here’s how I fixed it.

The key is Rob’s point (above) that voices you accidentally create but end up not using will disappear if you close and re-open the file (you don’t have to Quit Dorico.) I had to get all the various voices I was using down to just one each Up-stem and Down-stem voices, and close/re-open the file. I went through the chart and selected all the “primary” voices (non-cue parts) and switched them to Up-stem Voice one, and all the cue voices to Down-stem Voice 1, closed and re-opened the file.

That at least got all the colors down to two per staff, since I was only using two voices. However, they weren’t the same colors in each staff, which I found visually confusing. Through a lot of experimenting, I discovered that there is apparently an order of color creation, the first two being light blue and red. So in a couple of cases I had to go back into the affected staff, change Up-stem Voice One to New Up-stem Voice two to get a different color, do the close/re-open routine again, until the “right” color (the same light blue Up-stem Voice 1 color that was in all the other staves) came up.

Finally, to get rid of those unwanted bar rests in Up-stem Voice 1 bars that had no second voice in them other than those bar rests, I had to experiment with finding the bars that did in fact have Down-stem cues in them and using the Start or End Voice property on the first or last notes of the cue voice to get those bar rests to disappear from all the other bars.

The bottom line is that I finally got all the staves down to the same two voice colors, which makes the whole thing a LOT easier to visually figure out where I had problems.

As I re-read all that, it looks fairly complicated. I would simplify it if I could, but the fact is I found the subject to be complicated, and I’m still not positive I have a handle on it.

Hope this helps.

I think the different colors for voices in each staff of a grand staff is to help distinguish voices that may cross staves.

That makes sense to me. However, in an instrumental piece with one staff per player, it gets pretty confusing fast as the colors build up…

That may be true, but it would probably be even more confusing if everything was in black and white–at least it would be (has been) for me (before I turn on the colors).

With “one staff per player”, how many voices to you really need? If you really do need 8 voices on a grand staff, you need some way to tell them apart and color seems as good as anything else - but aside from complex polyphonic keyboard music, you aren’t likely to need anything like that number of voices anyway.

Agree, Derrek—I do prefer colors, now that I know how they work. But I don’t want 5 or 6 of them when all I’m using is two.

And yes, Rob, exactly. I never meant to have all those colors/voices—it just happened because I was fumbling around not knowing what I was doing.

If you have 5 or 6 colors when you are only using two, you are doing something wrong.

Probably, you aren’t being careful about reusing voices instead of creating new ones. The V and shift-V commands do different things!

If you created too many voices before you understood what was going on, move the notes into voices 1 and 2. After you close and re-open the score, Dorico will delete the unused voices completely. (Of course if you always leave Dorico open and hibernate your computer when you are not working, this will never happen automatically.)

One thing I missed in the long post above: the choice of voices in Dorico have a much smaller effect on how the notion looks than in other notation programs. The main thing Dorico uses to lay out the notation is just whether the stem directions are up or down. It doesn’t treat “voices 1 and 2” different from “voices 3 and 4”, etc. If you need to override Dorico’s layout, open the control panel (Ctrl-8) and set the “voice column” property for the notes that you want to move horizontally.

Lol — I know Rob! Although I apparently didn’t make it clear, I did in fact manage to “do something wrong” and then figure it out and fix it by doing exactly (or at least approximately) what you suggested.

And thanks as always for your help.

One of the confusing factors - for me, initially - was the difference between shift-v to add a voice, stem up or down, and just plain “v”. The latter was the really helpful one, in that it cycles through the voices one has already invoked; instead, I kept hitting shift-v, and kept adding new voices. I turned on the colors, and it was like a tie-dyed shirt! Now I know how to keep track of of which voice is which (I can always check the color), and the logic makes much more sense.

OK, you’ve all beat me over the head with that whole v/shift-v thing (Rob, u tried like heck to get me to understand!) but this moment is the first time I’ve understood that that’s exactly how I got all those extra voices. Better late than never I guess…

As always, thanks, guys.

Not trying to beat you over the head - just saying it took me a while to grasp it. Once it’s clear, it’s well, clear(er)!

As a visual check, if you start to create a new voice, you get a + next to the note in the orange cursor before you create any notes in it. If you back out at that stage, you don’t create the new voice.

You just have to teach yourself where to look for all the clues :wink:

One of the things that is/was confusing is that if you have one voice, and wish to add another, you still have to select the original one to get to input mode. Then you add the voice. Small things, but they make a difference once you get them right.

Thanks again, guys—the extra tips are spot on.

Another question: in the attached screenie, how do I get the two rests in the DnStem voice to disappear so that only the tied note is visible in the DnStem voice?

There was initially a DnStem half rest following the tied note, but selecting the tied note and clicking End Voice made that go away. However, it won’t let me apply Start Voice to the same tied note, nor does there appear to be a “Hide” property.

And as a followup, I’ve found other examples in which Start Voice isn’t “allowed.” What am I not understanding about that?


I’m not sure why this isn’t working for you - occasionally I run into this, myself. You can simply select the rests, then in the Edit menu select Remove Rests. Redundant, perhaps, but it gets you there.

I’ll try it when I get home—thanks. Never occurred to me to look for Remove Rests. Any more than I’d look for Remove Notes. :slight_smile:

Hi, Similar problem, yet I can’t find an answer to it.
I’ve kept track of my voices as much as I could, yet there are two different ‘Up-stem voice 1’s’ in the same staff of a piano. Notationally it looks weird and I’ve tried everything I could think of (changing the voice manually, trying to delete all unnecessary voices and restarting Dorico, changing voice to next/previous voice on staff) to change the note to the right voice. All without success.

How is this possible? And how do I fix it?

In the screenshot below, the blue notes in the piano staff should be pink.