Staff styles

Hi Forum,
Is it possible in the actual version of Dorico (or is it planned for the future) to change the number of staff lines of one instrument during the same piece?
For example, in contemporary music for voice (Berio and others), but also for other instruments, it is current to change from 5-line staff to 3-line staff (or 1 or 0) just in some passages, then coming back 5-line staff.
In Finale this is realized via something called “staff styles” and it can be applied to entire or partial measures. I think it could be useful to incorporate this function in Dorico.
Many compliments for the brand new 2.2 version!

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Hi Lorenzo!
It’s not possible yet, as far as I know…

No, it’s not possible. If a 1 line staff just indicates rhythm, you can add a 1 line percussion instrument and use instrument changes to switch. There are XML hacks that can change the number of staff lines, but there is no effective way to control the tuning.

Welcome to the forum, Lorenzo. I’d be interested to see some of these Berio examples, if you have the wherewithal to post a picture or two, so that I can gain a better understanding of what’s really going on in these kinds of passages. Thanks!

Berio Sequenza III:

Not at all my style, but apparently it’s a pretty seminal composition.

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Thanks, Dan. I’m not sure how to think of those changing staff groupings in a semantic sense: I suppose they indicate how definite the proscribed pitches are.

Yes, it’s just the general/relative contour of the melody (if you can call that a melody…).

A word of warning: Dorico’s semantic approach is great for a lot of things, but, as contemporary composition moved beyond the note as its basic unit, some things stopped being collapsable to a MIDI event. This absolutely has to be supported – graphically. Another seminal piece of Berio’s, in this regard, is Gesti.

If you’re going to tackle guitar tab, which needs a different kind of staff, I would dearly ask you to consider giving us the ability to customize staff types in general.

Luis, there’s a huge difference between implementing tablature and implementing a fully generalisable means of representing staves. I can say with certainty that the work we will shortly be doing on guitar tab will not move us any closer to having a fully generic way of drawing any old graphic notation you care to mention.

If such notation were to be undertaken, would its proponents then expect semi-aleatoric playback to follow?

Eventually one has to ask how far down this road Dorico should go or whether a different, more graphically oriented program would be better for these composers and engravers. One program, no matter how advanced, cannot be all things to all people.

How many other composers follow Berio’s model, and how many may do something similar but not follow Berio as a convention?

I imagine the cost-to-benefit ratio for developing such graphically-oriented notation would be low. Modern compositional techniques have largely (though not entirely) returned to the conventional notation of the past 800 years or so. It’s a niche within a niche.

And I admit I’m speaking from a personal prejudice against Berio and his compatriots anyways. Sorry. :unamused:


Derek’s point is valid, but I wouldn’t put this Berio too far in the graphic scores basket. Doing this stuff, you expect to bend the software and finish it in a graphic’s app, but I don’t see why Dorico shouldn’t get close to the stuff like Seq III - it’s not a million miles from it.

I trust Daniel’s good judgment and I’ll take his turn of phrase as flair and a product of his usual good humor, because I absolutely did not request the ability to draw “any old graphic notation [ I ] care to mention”. In fact – not that it matters in the larger scale of things –, there’s a record of me, in this forum, advocating precisely for multi-pronged workflows and for the “right tool for the job”. I’ve also often chimed in to try and extricate the situatedness of some suggestions by fellow forum users and counterpropose general, abstract mechanisms that would cover the situation in many different practices and traditions as opposed to just the specific one that was being requested. As a composer as well as a professional engraver – whose work and experience actually leans somewhat heavily on the field of contemporary music, in its marked, stylistic sense of the word – I navigate these questions daily and I already do this sort of work. I also intimately know the needs, aesthetic grounding and technical apparatus of the practitioners, as well as what they expect from the tools. If “Modern compositional techniques [had] largely (…) returned to the conventional notation of the past 800 years or so”, as Dan claims, I could recommend Dorico to all my composer colleagues easily and with a light conscience; alas, I can’t, because there are still quite a few blind spots to be covered. And we’re not talking about too specific notational practices, either. I’ve been using Dorico since day one because, as I’ve made clear, I fell in love with the project and because I’m stubborn; many others would (and were) discouraged to work their way around the limitations in place.

To see the suggestion discarded as a whim is unfair. Especially since this is something that we can accomplish in Products B and C. We’re talking about the implementation of a general, abstract notational principle that has been made available by prior software, to serve music that definitely exists, and has for quite some time (made by people that actually care a lot about scores and work them in detail, which is, funnily enough, a relatively small percentage of users of notation software). As Steve said, Sequenza III isn’t even a far-out case. I could also point out, when you seem puzzled about a “graphics-oriented program”, that for many people Score is still the gold-standard, but, again, B and C do this thing. I get it, you have to expand the user base as fast as you can, and you have a whole lot of catching up to do. But I’m telling you: this is a need that exists and is unfulfilled. To find it a whim is to misunderstand that, as well as to impose an aesthetic matrix on the software’s output.

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I think the optimal solution would be to implement a dedicated Graphics Mode to cover for notation that’s not obtainable in Write Mode. This would be any kind of experimental non-standard notation as well as semantic notation not yet implemented in Write Mode. Realistically, it wouldn’t affect playback - since it’s not semantic - but it would allow to get almost anything (depending on how advanced this Mode would be) on paper without leaving Dorico. It would be to Illustrator what Engrave Mode is to InDesign. And even though it would be the place to go for certain workarounds, it would never be obsolete no matter how refined Write Mode gets in the future, since the needs in music notation are so far-reaching that Write Mode could never cover everything.
This might bring a good part of composers and engravers of advanced contemporary music on board with Dorico. I suppose it would be a huge endeavor for the dev team, but it could also be another great breakthrough for Dorico.

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But that’s the thing: I never, ever suggested anything close to that. I request a specific, rather contained, abstract general notational principle. In my recent thread requesting lines, some people requested things that amounted to an actual Pen tool, and I argued against that, not because it didn’t fit me specifically – which it kinda would, actually – but because I considered it outside the scope of Dorico. I don’t want it to cover “any kind of experimental non-standard notation” or any kind of blanket statement. I’m telling you what the people who do this kind of thing need, and why – and it’s not a fabulous Graphics Mode, because they’re obviously doing this without Dorico.

I was the guy with the pen tool… Luis, I’m certainly not as experienced as you are in the field of contemporary notation, and your reasoning makes sense to me.

Still I can’t help wondering if the developers would deem advanced graphical notation outside the scope of Dorico. Aren’t they advertising that Dorico’s page layout tools make workflows without actual DTP software possible? So we can make do without InDesign (if not now then perhaps in a few years), we might not need Illustrator one day either. Of course this is all talking about some remote ideal future…

Your specific requests are probably a more pressing matter though because they might help Steinberg broaden their user base.

Commercially, that would mean that the (vast majority, I suspect) of Dorico users who would never use such notation would be subsidising the minority.

If composers who want this notation had to pay the market price for it (let’s guess 10 times the current cost of Dorico, as a minimum) would they still “want” it?

I don’t know how many professional engravers of such scores there are world wide, but I would guess fewer than 1,000. That’s of the order of 1% (or less) of the total market size that Dorico is probably aiming at (note, I don’t have any inside information here!)

I remember, Florian, and I respect your opinion (in fact, I immediately conceded that I have a myriad of uses for a pen tool, but I do them outside of Dorico). But I’m referring to the actual workflow in place for these kinds of things, and, more importantly, I’m talking baby steps. As Arthur Clarke said, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The solutions that seem to spring up in conversation amount to long-term, comprehensive visions with all the bells and whistles, and seem to come from people who don’t actually perform the tasks at hand with any significant regularity (while replying to an original poster who requested them because, go figure, actually does!), while at the same time showing themselves to be opposed to small, incremental steps that would actually allow the tasks at hand to be performed. (To be absolutely clear, this is not your case, Florian.) So, all magic, and condemned to remain magic, not technology.

Only the team can interpret what Dorico should or should not do. They can, at best, be influenced, and they’ve shown an earnestness and openness that is commendable. On top of that, you have to deal with time and resources. Sure. But Rob’s reasoning is a dead end, I’m sorry to say. I suppose that means that figured bass is a non-starter as well? Perhaps Dorico should be the exclusive province of Hollywood composers? And again, Rob: this is music that already exists, and has for decades. You’re right: composers wouldn’t want that hypothetical software. They’d want the implementations that already exist. Easy as that.

Daniel’s answer was perfectly reasonable. Drawing four, five, six or seven lines is most likely trivial; the challenge is in the specific representation of the underlying data structure, and, from that perspective, implementing tablature is a whole other set of challenges. But simply letting us create different kinds of staves and attach objects at specific rhythmic positions was the whole request.

Don’t misunderstand me: I am certainly not saying that we will not provide a means to draw staves with variable numbers of lines in the future. My question to Lorenzo asking for more information about his request surely shows that we’re interested in finding an appropriate semantic way to express this, which surely I wouldn’t ask if we weren’t interested in accommodating this kind of notation.

In the case of “Sequenza”, it seems to me that ideally you wouldn’t need to have multiple “instruments” to achieve this, because all of the notation is intended for a singer, with varying degree of specificity in terms of pitch, which suggests that some means of changing the number of staff lines as the piece goes along would be necessary.

As I said earlier in this thread, the fact that we’re going to be focusing on guitar notation in the immediate future doesn’t have any bearing on this issue: I don’t think there’s any overlap between implementing support for tablature and making it easier to reproduce “Sequenza” in Dorico. But that certainly doesn’t mean that we’re not interested in making it easier to reproduce “Sequenza” and other pieces like it in future.

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Hi Daniel,
Thank you for your welcome.
Sorry for not answering yet. I did’t receive a notification of all the answer.

Generally, in contemporary music a lot of situations ask for a dynamic change in staff lines number in one instrument staff. For example changing from a “pitched behavior” to an “unhitched behavior”. Or to play in a specific range giving the shape of the gesture (because in these cases it’s simply useless to indicate pitches).
Some examples: in strings you can use a 5 lines staff to write ordinary notes, then you can use a 1-line staff for other playing techniques like playing on the bridge, or other kind of noisy techniques.
Contemporary music players are used to these changes (at least in Europe) and I find them “functional” because they help instrumentalist when the music asks for noisy techniques or to change their normal attitude.
Lachenmann in several occasions draws two widely spaced lines to indicate a zone of the instrument or a register; then he writes what to do inside this register.
I’m convinced, also, that for percussion music this function could help.

In the case of Berio’s Sequenza III, but also for many other works for voice (nowadays classics of vocal literature: Sinfonia, Laborintus II, etc) the number of lines are interpreted like that:

  • 1 line when the singer has to speak;
  • 3 lines when the singer has to sing following an intonation profile but notes can be approximate (the three lines indicate three registers);
  • 5 lines when the singer has to sing with precise intervallar relations.
    (I attach the instructions from the score of Berio)

There are other composers using similar techniques, Ligeti in Aventures and Nouvelles adventures, etc. and not only in vocal music.
I don’t want to make a list of all that, but I can send you some material, explaining or discussing some functionalities.

I saw that now In Dorico you can easily hide staves (also in partial measures), changing the number of staff lines could be something similar.

Of course, these changes would create a problem for playback. In general, I think that you have two kind of composers: some using Dorico mainly as a notation program and others using it to listen to everything.
Perhaps, the ones desiring listening to all would like to have the possibility to edit the playback of these “different staff styles”.

I appreciate so much the overall organization of Dorico and how you designed it. It’s really functional. On the other hand, it’s very difficult to incorporate in one notation software all the desiderata of the musical community. As always in these cases there isn’t an unique way to do things.
You’ve done a huge step forward in Dorico personalization, so that every user can format a score following his/her personal writing techniques.
I think that if Dorico will add more personalization functions like that, it would be really THE notation software of nowadays.

Thank for your time