Shape Notes?

I’ve been following the Making Notes blog with great interest. As someone who writes hymns for congregational singing, the latest post on how Dorrico will handle lyric spacing has me especially excited.

Speaking of hymns, I belong to a particular Christian religious tradition that uses shape notes in our hymnals. Specifically, we use a seven-shape system where each of the 7 notes in the major scale gets a unique notehead shape (Do = triangle, Re = bowl, Mi = diamond, etc.).

Finale supports scoring music in this particular way (cf., but its handling of the flag shape for “Fa” (scale degree 4), where the flag direction differs depending on the location of the notehead in relation to the stem, has often required manual adjustment to get a pleasing result (cf.

For new hymns or new hymnals, I’d love for us to be able to use Dorrico for the final printed result. Do you have plans to support shape notes in Dorrico?

Yes, we do indeed have plans to support shape note notation in Dorico. It’s partially implemented at present, but needs a bit more work. When it’s finally completed, it will be as simple as specifying in the Engraving Options for your project that you want to use a particular 4- or 7-note shape note scheme, and it will automatically work from there.

I am planning for us to implement the various schemes I identified during my research for SMuFL: this page in the SMuFL specification lists the schemes I expect Dorico will support:

(I apologise that the schemes are not more clearly shown with illustrations – that’s something I plan to improve in future revisions of the SMuFL specification.)

Can you let me know if the scheme you are using differs from the ones shown here?

Hi Daniel,

Fantastic, thank you. We use the 7-shape Aikin scheme. I’ve reviewed the SMuFL glyph descriptions and implementation notes, and the specification’s depiction of the Aikin scheme appears accurate to me.

One additional requirement that may be worth pointing out: it is useful for hymn composers in my circle to visually see these shapes as they are entering notes (as opposed to only applying the shapes for print), since many of us use it to visually understand the chords and progressions as we are writing.

A good example of the kind of output we’re aiming for is in the recently-published “Sumphonia Hymnal”, Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs. I know the editors took great pains with the engraving of this hymnal, both for the printed volume and a separate digital edition (effectively PowerPoint slides of hymns which use a smaller page layout). I will certainly be passing the news about Dorico on to them.

So glad to hear this is not just a planned Dorico feature, but part of the SMuFL spec for Unicode music notation fonts. Thanks for your hard work on both.

If you switched to the appropriate shape note notehead set, then you would indeed see those noteheads while you are inputting, though if you were using the computer keyboard for input, you would still have to input the notes according to their note name, i.e. using the letters A to G.

That’s exactly what I would expect. Thanks much.

Hi Daniel and team,

Congratulations on the release. The demo event was great.

Did the shape note notation feature make the v1 release?

I’m afraid not properly, no, but we will try to get back around to it as soon as possible. It’s halfway there, but needs some more work.

Is there any updated timeline for shape note implementation. I’m loving Dorico, and can’t wait to see all the continued feature development.

We hope to be able to work on this quite soon. Not too many pieces are missing, but the crucial one is establishing the root of the key so that we can choose the correct notehead.

Hi Daniel,

Just checking in for any update on this. Happy to see all the good work going into the Dorico releases.

Sorry, no progress on this front just yet, Adam. Hopefully we won’t keep you waiting too much longer.

In case anyone reaches this post via a search, shape notes have been available in Dorico since 1.2 (released Dec 5, 2017).