understanding enharmonics

Enharmonics have never been my strong point. I’m trying to understand why Dorico has chosen to display the second D natural in bar 2 as an E double flat. To my eye, I would have liked to have seen the D natural again, but I’m sure it’s deciding that based on something I don’t understand. And then in bar 4, it should be identical to bar 2…but Dorico has displayed it differently. I’m having trouble here guys. Please help me understand (at this point I imagine it’s because of the high D flat appearing which forces an E double flat…though this doesn’t explain the end of bar 4…)

Is everyone happy with how this looks?

And I know I can manually respell them, that is not the point of this post. It is to understand enharmonics and Dorico’s choices.

Note that the last note (D natural) has no note after it. My guess is that Dorico (with its algorithm) has decided on the first instance to use e double flat because the note following is a d flat lower (enharmonics are context dependant in Dorico, that’s why you should not correct how it inputs notes while inputting, but only after finishing the input — most of the time, Dorico makes it right). Had it been an upper note or the same, it would probably have used the d (natural). But I perfectly understand why, in this case, you find it funny. I think (and I might as well be wrong in doing it) I would respell the first e double-flat as a d natural.
Edit : after reading mth’s post after mine and re-read the sequence, I must say I totally agree with him. E double-flat makes sense everywhere in a D flat tonal context.

From these notes alone I would interpret both occurrences in bar 2 as a chromatically lowered sus2 so would write both as E𝄫. Measure 4 depends on what comes after it: if followed by an E♭ again, it would be a chromatically raised root (with a pedal point tonic D♭ on the third beat) but otherwise also an E𝄫.

Um…firstly thanks for taking the time to reply…I definitely still don’t get why the same pitch is notated differently in the same bar. Let’s not worry about what note comes next - let’s say it’s a 4 bar piece of music (ok, so you may ask why the 5 flats then…arggh) ok fine. But I can’t work out why the same pitch is notated differently.

Did I mention enharmonics are not my strong point…(dear oh dear)

I think I need leo…

To answer your original question, the example looks perfectly valid to me.

In this case, you don’t want to see a D natural followed by a D flat, or vice versa. So Dorico changes one of them to an Ebb.

But if you haven’t entered anything after it yet, D natural is preferable to Ebb.

But it’s fine on the way up? (first three 8ths of bar 2)?

I guess it depends how much context Dorico takes into account.

The first D natural is fine if you stop at the first Ab in bar 2. It’s probably fine if you stop at the second Ab, with the Db an octave higher.

But having (correctly IMO) spelled the last note in bar 2 as Ebb, maybe it’s too optimistic to expect Dorico to go back four notes and change the first D natural to Ebb.

I must admit, this sort of thing is why I prefer computer keyboard note input for anything “non-trivial”.

This ^^^

It’s fine on the way up, in bar 2, because you read from note to note, rather than taking in a whole bar at a time. I suspect the thing that Dorico’s trying to do is prevent the mere possibility that a semitone interval could look like a unison.

I’m sorry but I am not satisfied with any of the answers here. It appears everyone who has viewed this thread agrees that Dorico’s decision to display the E double flat is acceptable and right. I asked two very good friends who are professional composers. They has very similar responses. Both said that an algorithm should output music that is first and foremost easy to read for a player. Here is one response:

I’d say the algorithm definitely needs tweaking if it comes up like that. Gosh. But these things are to be expected with new software, and part of the reason I’m not on Dorico. yet…

But I don’t like the excuse that you should just wait and correct that in the next stage of editing. Even without knowing the intricacies, it doesn’t feel right. I reckon that Dorico should spell it “wrong” first with D naturals and then those who want to be “correct” can fix that later. But, that’s just me.

As I’m not a Sibelius user, and they have been users for years (and still are), I asked what sibelius came out with. This is what they got

I propose the algorithm is adjusted to output music that is easy to read. I believe what Sibelius outputs is far more legible than my example of what Dorico outputs.

(sigh) and I should probably add something like "I’m not attacking Dorico, I only want it to be …etc…but I have a feeling that won’t really do much.

Melodically speaking, what Dorico does is musically logical, and it does what I would expect. If you want to simplify it for your players, then you’ll need to do it manually for now. It is not as if the Dorico Team is musically ignorant or has no contact with professional composers.

Dorico performs contextual adjustment during step-time input to try to produce appropriate enharmonics as often as possible. This uses a sophisticated algorithm rather than a fixed table of spellings, as most other software does. If you would prefer something a bit closer to what Sibelius produces, using a fixed set of spellings, try switching off ‘Allow spelling of notes to be adjusted retrospectively’ on the MIDI Input page of Note Input Options. That will produce identical results to Sibelius for the passage above, with the exception of the final bar, when Dorico will choose E double flat. I can’t tell you exactly why in that situation it prefers the flattened supertonic rather than the sharpened tonic, but it’s certainly not an unreasonable, unmusical or hard-to-read choice.

In the forthcoming upate you will also have the option of transposing a passage of music by the interval of a unison and choose to “simplify” double accidentals, which would then turn that Ebb into D natural as well. Or, of course, you can exercise your own musical judgement and simply respell notes as you go. Dorico will remember a respelling choice that you make and use the same spelling for the remainder of the bar.

You’ll find plenty of disagreement, criticisms, and healthy discussion here. The operative point in this case is that the example you posted, with consecutive D naturals and D flats, is in fact quite confusing to read (in my opinion). You are welcome disagree, and to change the enharmonics as you wish, but the Ebb has nothing to do with an underdeveloped algorithm.

It reminds me of users objection when they enter a rhythm incorrectly, like three quarter notes in 6/8, and Dorico rebeams or re-notates it as quarter—tied eighths—quarter to reflect the correct meter. The common objection is, “But that’s not what I wrote!” Yeah, but what you wrote was wrong…

I concede this enharmonic scenario is less cut-and-dry, but it reflects Dorico’s philosophy of making what it believes to be the best choice, while still allowing solutions for manual control if the user requires it.

I experienced the same frustration as theduke recently, while composing a piece based on the 8-note so-called “diminished” scale. Lots of accidentals. Many times I was confronted with different spellings for the same note in the same bar, and I also couldn’t understand it. There was no key signature, and for music that doesn’t follow traditional tonality, that is very different from being in C or Am, of course.

Thanks Daniel, for pointing out the ‘Allow spelling of notes to be adjusted retrospectively’ function. Something else I hadn’t realized was there, and that may have helped me.

And to add to this healthy discussion, I have to say that I much prefer the “sibelius-style” rendering above, with no double-flats, simply due to ease of reading. I understand that in the key of Db, an Ebb may be technically correct in many contexts. But to have bars 2 and 4 in the example notated differently seems to me to be inviting confusion, and it is certainly not easy to read, imho.

I sometimes arrange for live-to-air TV bands that typically have minimal rehearsal. In that context, I will always shy away from double-flats or sharps, even if they may be technically correct. That’s another reason why I would prefer the consistent D-naturals.


MVHO is that you should pick one spelling for this and stick to it. If you choose D nat, put a courtesy accidental on the one at the end of the bar.
As for Dorico’s algorithm, it is probably as good as you can get following rules.

Speaking as an ex-session player, played in theatre, orchestras, big bands, TV, etc. I’d say the easiest to read is one or the other, under no circumstances should it be what Dorico wrote. Personally, in the context of D♭, I’d be very happy sight-reading an E♭♭ (it makes sense), but to play it safe I might respell it as D♮, some people react fearfully to double flats/sharps.

Not sure I get exactly what you’re saying. You mean that the same pitch spelled differently in the same bar is something you are unhappy with?

Thank you for adding your thoughts to this thread, especially as a performer.

Yes! Having D♮ followed by E♭♭ in the same bar or even that close to each other, whilst being in the key of D♭ just gives you too much to keep track of… When you are sight-reading one tries to keep track of all the alterations in the hopes of picking up a pattern as you go along. If I’m reading in Db and I encounter an E♭♭ my brain will just go “ah Phrygian!”. If I then encounter D♮ I’ll think “ah modulation…!” The re-encountering E♭♭ will just be confusing, especially if then coming across a D without a courtesy accidental. In a specific musical contest (i.e. a tonal/modal area, a section or a passage) it is better to keep alterations (especially enharmonic ones) consistent.

While I usually like and appreciate Dorico’s algorithms, even those for enharmonisation, for certain types of music I find myself having to do a lot more correcting than I did with Finale’s choices of enharmonics based on ‘spelling tables’. A typical descending chromatic line found, for example, in chaconnes and passacaglias of all eras is most certainly not benefitted from Dorico’s algorithm. When using its spelling tables, Finale would never spell the notes in the key of A minor in this example as A♭ or G♭ .

Well, here’s the ultimate example of how NOT to do it - exactly as written by Beethoven :smiling_imp:

Maybe he was allergic to F double sharps or something.