Slurs and Legato

Observations for consideration:
• Many advise against using slurs too much in string parts, since string players or concert masters prefer to mark their own bowing.
• I have discovered, however, that NotePerformer plays back string parts without slurs in a very detached manner that is somewhere between detaché and staccato.
• Marking a part legato using Dorico’s articulation menu solves this in many cases, but some phrases still require slurs to sound smooth.

This is by no means a complaint against NotePerformer or Dorico. The software is very complex and can’t read the composer’s mind (yet). :nerd_face:

I am always working to find better ways to produce a clean, musician-friendly score that produces great audio.


You can either modify Noteperformer’s Expression map, so that the Natural expression is Legato (CC19 = 1); or use Legato Playing Techniques, which you can Hide in the Properties panel, if you don’t want it to appear in the score.

I think a legato technique should be indistinguishable from a slur: essentially, a slur just triggers a legato technique. It’s possible that the timings are different.


Excellent, sir. Thank you.

Ben, how would you cancel that PT, if a legato section was to be followed by a detached section?

I’ve always noticed the same thing about NP and have always used slurs only for the purpose of playback, but I’d much rather use a hidden playing technique.

You can use the Legato PT as “start” marker, that will continually indefinitely – if it has no length. You can then use a “Natural” PT to cancel it.

Or, select a region and apply the Legato PT to it. It will then revert to Natural after the region.

NB: If you use PTs for other things, like individual fermatas, or music ficta (!) - make sure that you create a “None” PlayBACK Technique for them to use. Otherwise, they’ll trigger Natural in the middle of a Legato phrase!


As a string player, I’d like to advise you to add slurs anyway (and, eventually, to learn how to apply them idiomatically), even if the players can be expected to change them to their own taste. That is not considered a problem.
It’s even better to mark long legato phrases with (unplayable) long slurs than to omit them entirely, although it will slightly annoy the average string player to see that a composer apparently didn’t bother to think about it.
Omitting slurs is the instruction to separate all bowings. Adding legato will not make it actually legato (at least for a human player).
(Edit to add: use slurs wherever you like, but try to refrain from upbow/downbow markings, unless it’s a special effect like repeated marcato downbows.)


Thank you, @PjotrB! That is much appreciated.

I usually ask my Symphony friends to review my work. (And, of course, I am always ready to pay a consulting fee, although they usually decline.) In addition to string parts, I’ve recently asked a harpist and timpanist for advice, and I regularly hire an editor.

Your comments are very helpful. Maybe the best practice is to put your vision on paper and trust professional musicians and conductors to interpret it in the best way.

A conductor recently asked me to change some percussion parts so the work could be performed in some smaller venues with fewer players. That didn’t bother me at all! Any time a major conductor doesn’t throw my score in the trash, I consider it an honor. :sunglasses:


Thanks Pjotr for the insight. of a real player.

Question: I see a lot of scores where the slurs are (probably ) meant to show phrasing structure rather than a strict legato requirement. How do you interpret the difference between a legato slur and a phrasing slur?

In Dorico these slurs often lead to an undesired dynamic playback if you have slurred and non slurred section sequences. It needs a lot of manual adjustment of the velocity of individual notes.

Unfortunately many libraries at the same velocity have legato sounding significantly softer than long and short notes and it is challenging to tweek this by default in the library plugins.

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This is directed to konradh’s first point, “Many advise against using slurs too much in string parts, since string players or concert masters prefer to mark their own bowing.”

As a concertmaster / leader of several community, pit, or pick-up orchestras over the years, I have always looked at the slurs in string parts as phrasing, not bowing instructions, unless marked so with additional detail. (Sometimes this detail implies or necessitates certain bowing methods, and is needed for the gesture to be conveyed correctly or convincingly. If this additional detail is just the upbow or downbow mark, however, it is often superfluous or unworkable, and just has to be crossed out (wasting precious page space) to make way for more effective markings.)

Sometimes I work from the score, or with all the separate string parts in front of me. This allows me to see the consequences of the bowing of a pattern in one part when applied to the same or similar patterns in other parts. The bowing has to not only work well mechanically in all parts, but also present the same, recognizable gesture to the audience.

In desperate cases, bowings can be “divisi,” in that one set of bowings is applied to the odd numbered stands / desks, and another, different, set applied to the even numbered stands / desks. You do not want to preclude this.

Bowings have to be designed or derived or calculated, based on the musical objectives, the technical and acoustical problems that have to be solved, the number and skill level of the players, the venue, and the conductor. Granted, there are some things you might want to avoid, such as the bar 10 problem with the slurred repeated notes pointed out by Sergei_Mozart in konradh’s piece posted in “A New Composition for Orchestra,” and which would be a problem for any other instrumentalist as well. Nonetheless, at least for slurs, you should focus on finding and notating the right gesture and sound. It is my job to figure out how to realize it.


Excellent, @Sitka . Thank you for this valuable advice.