Virtual Instruments and microtones


I’m for sure doing some mistakes in searching, but I can’t find an answer.

I use quarter-tone accidentals with NotePerformer, and they work great.

I’ve been trying with Kontakt and conTimbre, and they don’t react to accidentals other than flat and sharp.

Is there something I should activate, to use microtonal accidentals in VIs?


No, most virtual instruments don’t support microtonality, I’m afraid. Kontakt certainly does not. I’ve no idea what conTimbre is, but if you’re using it and it’s not producing the expected microtonal pitches, you can assume that it doesn’t. HALion does, NotePerformer does, Pianoteq does, but not many others seem to.

Daniel, thank you very much for your answer.

conTimbre is a library of extended techniques, made for contemporary music, and developed in Max. I’m using it as an AU plugin inside Vienna Ensemble Pro (used as a VST plugin in Dorico). Surprising that it can’t support microtunes, considering the target it is meant for!

Is there something I can try to ask them for a future revision? What type of message does Dorico send to a virtual instrument, to make it play microtones?

EDIT: I could find this message. Is this still valid?


On a second though, I fear that only using VST2 Detune or VST3 Note Expression will limit the usefulness of microtones in Dorico.

  • NI has been asked to implement some type of dynamic microtuning for years, but has never done it.
  • VSL is not likely to further add features to their VI player, that is now considered “mature”.
  • Other players are usually very limited in features, and microtuning is last in the priority list.

So, we are left with Pianoteq (the least useful of all, since dynamic microtones on a piano are quite unlikely), NotePerformer and Halion.

  • NP has its own set of sounds, and until Arne decides to add extended techniques, there is no way to use it for most contemporary music. Then, it is not the ideal sound library to produce the final mockup.
  • Halion is a powerful sampler, with Steinberg’s own beautiful libraries like Iconica, but is not the most common for third party libraries (like the ones from Xsample). So, it will hardly be the ideal platform for contemporary music rendering.

Please note I’m using “contemporary” thinking to academic/post-Darmstadt/spectral/post-Partch music. There are other forms of “contemporary” music, but I’m now referring to this one.

Pitch bend would be universal. It’s how we have always faked microtones. If Dorico could offer an automatic method for sending pitch bend messages from microtonal accidentals, it would become compatible with all libraries in the world.

I know composers using microtones are a niche, but Dorico seems to be also aimed at them with a series of unique features (including the smart way tuning and accidentals are implemented).


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Pitch bend has big disadvantages. When you send a MIDI message to a device (virtual or otherwise) to set the pitch bend range, which is necessary in order to have sufficient resolution within a single byte to specify exactly the right tuning, you have no way of knowing whether it has succeeded, because there is no way for a MIDI device to report whether it supports custom pitch bend ranges. This means that you may well still get completely incomprehensible results. Plus, of course, MIDI pitch bend has the other major disadvantage of being a channel-wide message, so it cannot practically used for any polyphonic instrument.

Daniel, I understand, and I agree that it’s a good thing that Dorico aims at the best solution. The one you have chosen is the one technically sturdier.

Microtones are however only used systematically by the more advanced users, having some ability in setting their system up (or having an assistant doing it for them). So, I would be happy to have it implemented as pitch bends as a hidden feature, activated per-score via an arcane keyboard shortcut only revealed here in the forum.

Microtonal accidentals are used sparsely on non-monophonic instruments, for example in some notes of a prepared piano or in double-stopped solo strings. I would be happy to use a separate track and VI for playback of these detuned notes for these extreme cases – maybe resorting to the condensing feature to make the printed score.


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With the pro version of Pianoteq, you can create instruments that sound nothing like a traditional piano. Modartt itself sells other instruments as well as pianos.

Very nice, but this will not solve any issue with more traditional acoustic instruments. I’m led to believe that most of what is written with a program like Dorico is dedicated to this type of instruments, more than to experimental electronic sounds.


It’s not very ‘user friendly’ and a bit off topic, but a setup with Dorico->Scala->Kontakt all connected via MIDI virtual ports works.

Scala is a formidable program to use/define ALL temperaments: Scala Home Page.

Here a working setup:


If I understand correctly, this solution would allow alternative tuning. What I’m trying to do is a bit different. It happens inside the normal equal tempered space, but not divided into 12 semitones. The scale is divided into 24 quarter tones.

The position of a note altered by a quarter tone doesn’t always happen on the same grade of the scale. Depending on the ‘musical phrase’, it can be on any one of the grades. It is mobile, depending on the development of the music.

If I remember correctly, Kontakt needs a text file generated by Scala to be loaded as a script. I fear this is not a way to trick Kontakt to do dynamic detuning.



…and this is exactly why I wrote a bit off topic :wink:.

Perhaps only as a temporary working solution a tuning like this could be used (file 24-80.scl, but there are many like this):

Regular 705-cent temperament, 24 of 80-tET
  0:          1/1               0.000000 unison, perfect prime
  1:         60.000 cents      60.000000
  2:        135.000 cents     135.000000
  3:        195.000 cents     195.000000
  4:        210.000 cents     210.000000
  5:        270.000 cents     270.000000
  6:        285.000 cents     285.000000
  7:        345.000 cents     345.000000
  8:        420.000 cents     420.000000
  9:        480.000 cents     480.000000
 10:        495.000 cents     495.000000
 11:        555.000 cents     555.000000
 12:        630.000 cents     630.000000
 13:        690.000 cents     690.000000
 14:        705.000 cents     705.000000
 15:        765.000 cents     765.000000
 16:        840.000 cents     840.000000
 17:        900.000 cents     900.000000
 18:        915.000 cents     915.000000
 19:        975.000 cents     975.000000
 20:        990.000 cents     990.000000
 21:       1050.000 cents    1050.000000
 22:       1125.000 cents    1125.000000
 23:       1185.000 cents    1185.000000
 24:          2/1            1200.000000 octave

But I must admit that I’ve no idea how the quarter tone accidentals in Dorico can fit here… :question:


In the setup that I showed this is not necessary: Scala send to Kontakt the right Pitch Bend messages before every note.


Francesco, this is the most interesting part of this tuning set: when no other control is allowed, old trusty pitch bend does the job!


Awesome: you’ve just described what you can already do yourself, right now. Just do that with the old trick of piping detuned notes into a different channel where a second, detuned instance of the VST sits. I mean, I don’t think the condensing feature will do you any good here, but you can mute the detuned notes on the main staff instead. Or you can map a CC to the pitch bend in your VST, hopefully, and change the tuning on the Play mode lanes.

Yes, this will work for the polyphonic instruments. In particular, with a piano, where you usually detune a few notes to avoid piano tuners to kill you before the concert.

I don’t know if it can work as well with monophonic instruments, where there are more notes involved (all the orchestra, instead of a solo instrument). On the contrary, I fear the old trick is exactly the madness I’m hoping to find a solution for.


As an overview of the current situation:

  • Dorico is the only scoring program making the use of microtonal accidentals and alternative scales easy while writing.

  • No such ease is offered by Logic, where microtonal accidentals do not even exist (my solution has always been to add an ‘qu’ or ‘qd’ text marking – for ‘quarter up’ or ‘quarter down’ – over the note). No idea of the other sequencers.

  • Dorico can send microtonal accidentals to NotePerformer, HALion, Pianoteq. It can’t communicate this information to Kontakt or other players.

The only solution for compositing microtonal music including extended techniques, and do it in a scoring program, seems to me, at the moment, this one:

  • Write in Dorico.

  • Use NotePerformer for ordinary techniques.

  • Use any other library for extended techniques. In any case, these techniques are most often of uncertain pitch, so there is no need to use microtones with them.

I’m not totally happy of this solution, since while NP has the advantage of being a great interpreter, I’m not totally convinced of the final sounding result. I would much prefer to work in Dorico with any other sound library, and compose as if I was composing in a DAW. With the added bonus of working in the score.


Dorico can communicate this information to VST3 plugins that support VST Note Expression. It communicates this information to VST2 plugins that support the detune parameter. If you have a plugin that doesn’t support either of these then please write to the developers.

As I said, what I described above is the current situation. I’ve been asking support for microtones to Native Instruments for years, and for a little shorter time to VSL. As of now, no compatibility has been added. If there is no agreement between you, Native Instruments and VSL, the sad truth is that Dorico will not be able to use microtones with the sound libraries based on their players.


VST3 has been available for 12 years already, and NI have chosen to ignore it. Dinosaurs can be pretty successful for a long time, but they don’t survive for ever.

I don’t know if Kontakt is approaching extinction, but at the moment it is the player on which most of Orchestral Tools, Spitfire Audio and others are running.

In any case, I’ve just tried with OT and SFA’s own players (SINE and the SFA player), and they don’t react to microtonal accidentals written in Dorico. I don’t know if there is some preference somewhere, but I’m unable to find it. The same happens with UVI Workstation (running IRCAM Solo Instruments), and sforzando. And with both VSL VI Instruments and Synchron Player.

I’m more led to believe that all these players will survive me, and I will never be able to make my preferred scoring program and sound libraries have a dialogue on such sophisticate issues. But then, I know, music is quickly going to a situation where only white keys are really needed…


This is the future of NI, in its own words: Native Instruments issues official statement regarding the state of its business | NI Community Forum

Firing 20% of the workforce, and planning to launch "“a new platform is currently being developed with the goal of offering new ways of accessing the company’s core products and services” in 2020 doesn’t include anything that looks like technical innovation to me - just looking for a way extract more cash from its old product portfolio.