Wind and brass in orchestral scores

Most of the work I have done in Sibelius up to now involves scores for large orchestra. I have been asked by a client to trial Dorico, to see whether it will be suitable for a relatively long project we are planning. So far during the trial I have been very impressed by the sofware, and particularly value the separation of Write and Engrave modes.

However, when exploring Setup, and learning that Dorico works with players, each of whom may be “holding” more than one instrument, I became fairly certain that it cannot at the moment cater for the typical situation in woodwind and brass, where the staves contain the music for two players. Let’s take the instance with four horns, with two players on each of two staves.

I can, of course, enter two voices on each stave. But I don’t seem to be able to achieve the correct staff labellings. Dorico generates the numbering automatically, so it still appears as though I have two horns in the score. In addition, the fact that parts are not extractable means that I cannot produce parts for the individual players.

There may be elaborate workarounds for this situation, but it is so common, and so easy to do in SIbelius, that for orchestral scores I would rather stick with Sibelius. I imagine that this is no small change and wonder if it has been scheduled for development. I really would like to move to Dorico wholesale for a number of reasons. For instance, the handling of tuplets in Sibelius is awful and there seems to be no attempt to tackle bugs that have existed for a decade or more. I can already see that tuplet handling is immeasurably better in Dorico.

Knowing that Dorico has been largely developed by the former Sibelius team, that was so poorly treated by Avid, makes me even more keen to support it. If I knew that the feature I describe was around the corner, I would eagerly convert my trial of Dorico into a proper purchase.

Thanks for any insight you can give

Mike Crump

As for elaborate workarounds, I really don’t think Dorico’s any worse than Sibelius in this regard. Here’s how I’d go about achieving 4 Horns in F, for example:

I’m working with the “Concert Orchestra” template, which automatically comes with four separate Horn in F staves.

  1. Go to Setup mode. Shift-click the four horn players in the left panel. Then untick the Full Score layout in the right panel. You should see that (though they still exist) they’ve now disappeared from the main score layout.

  1. Add a new section player holding a Horn in F. It will appear at the bottom of the player list (left panel). Drag it to the correct location.

  2. If you want “Horn” to display as “Horns” then click the dropdown next to the new Horn in F player, then right-click the Horn in F instrument and click Edit Names. Type the s into the appropriate text box as so, and click OK.

Now is not a bad time to investigate the instrument name transposition settings. You can override them in the Edit Names window, but it’s much easier to set them globally from Layout Options > Staves & Systems > Staff Labels.

  1. Switch to Write mode, select the rest at the beginning of your Horn stave, right-click and go Staff > Change Divisi…
    This is too fussy to explain in text, so here’s a GIF:

If you don’t want the 1.3 and 2.4 to show above each stave (and you probably don’t!) then refer back to Layout Options > Staves & Systems > Staff Labels - the options you want are just above the ones I highlighted in green after step 3.

What you have, now, is two correctly labelled Horn staves in the score and four separate horn parts. These are NOT dynamically linked - you need to copy and paste between them.

Typically I create a second score layout that contains all staves. I can then copy and paste from the condensed staves to the individual staves on one screen. Note that there are useful “Paste Special” commands on the context menu, including Explode and Reduce. It should be obvious from their location that you need to have copied something before you can Explode or Reduce it, but people have questioned this before so I’m mentioning it again.

You’ll need to deal with divisi text instructions (a2, 1.3 etc.) manually, and there’s sometimes a little bit of manually tidying up voices necessary, but I’m not convinced that it’s any harder in Dorico than in Sibelius.

That’s sweet pianoleo. That will be extremely helpful for me.

No problem, DaddyO.

One more thing for the OP: Condensing is definitely on the roadmap (and high up the list, by the sounds of things), but:


I wrote a blog post on this for scoring notes. Should be out in a couple days…

Looks like basically the same advice that Leo gave.

Edit: actually I do it differently. I don’t use divisi.

Kudos, Dan. As we speak I am beginning to experiment with settiing up a template using this method. I’ll definitely consult your blog post.

Since playback is an important part of composition process, on first glance wouldn’t it seem that you want solo players for each of the parts instead of section players? Or am I misunderstanding something?

If I want to show two Horn staves, each one with two solo divisi players, I can set them up as Divisi 1 = Horns 1.3 and Divisi 2 = Horns 2.4. Each individual player has it’s own note in it’s staff, and each plays back as one horn. If I were to use section players, wouldn’t I end up with four players each playing back as a horn section, thus resulting in a four-section sound?

In general, I always use solo players for winds and brass. And I don’t use divisi for a solution to condensing. That’s just me.

Thanks Dan, but if I were to use divisi as a workaround for condensing (that’s what my experiment is about), how best to go about it is unclear to me as yet.

I’m now wondering if I should set it up this way:

  • Section Player, unison (edited to add: on further reflection there may be no need for this, since I can stop Divisi when the instruments are played in unison)
  • Solo Player 1.3, written in two voices.
  • Solo Player 2.4, written in two voices.

That way I have all possibilities covered in one divisi staff setup.

I won’t have a chance to really work with this until next week, but it sounds interesting. Of course, the real solution is a working combination of explode/collapse, which we know is coming at some point.

An initial reading of the new manual (thanks Lillie!) seems to indicate that the approach I am considering will work. Again, I’ll get into it more next week.

Sorry, I should have said: accuracy of playback instruments is rarely on my radar - I really don’t give two hoots as to how many hooters I can hear hooting!

Dan, I’m guessing your method involves using solo players with additional staves. Remind me - with that method, is there an easy way to get the instrument name centred between two staves, with player numbers (1.3, 2.4 etc.) horizontally aligned with each stave?

I just ran across this in the new manual:

Divisi in playback
All notes on divisi staves play back, regardless of the number of staves. However, because divisi
staves belong to a single section player, all staves are played back through the same channel.
This means only a limited differentiation between the different sections in the divisi is possible. It
is not currently possible to play a single section player divided into sections through multiple
channels, however, this is planned for future versions.

So it appears that the ability to play back solo instruments in divisi in a parent section staff is not possible…yet.

It also appears I should abandon this experiment and wait until the needed functionality is present.

It’s been fun, though.

Yes. Edit name, Oboe 1, hit Enter, 2. Select “Oboe” and offset baseline to -6. Works great.

Presumably that’s a mess if staff spacing changes between systems, though?

I’m not following you there. The name is centered between the numbers, regardless of the staff spacing.

But the whole point of that kind of staff labelling has always been to keep the numbers by the staff and moving with it.

Solo parts don’t have divisi because, well, they’re solo. Unless you mean some other thing. Condensing, when in place, will draw from underlying solo players.

I only use that split bit for the combined staves. For the individual staves, I use individual names. Sorry, that was probably Leo’s question. And no, there’s no good solution for that, as you probably know.

Right, I get that. I was not talking about dividing solo parts, I was talking about dividing section parts into solo players. This is talked about in the new manual, so it is possible, but unfortunately all divisi parts playback using the same MIDI channel as their parent, so there can be no solo playback as yet.