Adding reference pitches in Dorico


It’s not uncommon to preface a score with reference pitches, such as timpani tunings or handbells used in a piece. This reference material is typically slightly reduced, with an indented staff and stemless notes.

While it was sometimes previously necessary to paste this material into the score as a graphic, Dorico makes creating it quite easy through flows and frame chains. In this post I’ll walk through the process for creating a “bells used” chart, but you can easily apply it to other types of prefatory material in your scores.

Formatting the examples

The first concept to understand is flows, which are musical fragments, movements, exercises, or anything else you want them to be! I’ve written in my handbell score; next, I’ll add a flow and call it “Bells Used.”

Then I’ll input the bells used into that flow. Here’s what I want it to look like:

You can see there are 12 pitches on the bottom staff and 22 on the top. The easiest way to space these automatically is to enter the bottom pitches and add a barline. I set the meter to 12/4 and hid the time signature, but you can enter the notes without a meter:

Next, create a 22:12 tuplet in the treble clef, enter the notes, and hide both the tuplet bracket and number using the Properties panel:

Then select all notes, switch to Engrave mode, and hide the stems.

We’re almost done preparing the chart. To add the brackets for optional bells, you need to cheat a little; Dorico doesn’t yet offer native support for drawing brackets, so you need to select the notes, add a 5:5 tuplet, and change the placement to above the staff:

Then, manually adjust the angle of the bracket in Engrave mode, hide the tuplet number (don’t forget to propagate!), and enter the text for “optional”:

You’ll want to do the same for the optional notes in the bass clef, except with a 3:3 tuplet. At that point, your chart looks pretty close:

You can hide the staff label via Layout Options > Staves and Systems, and you can delete the bracket in Engrave mode. Finally, add the descriptions for number of octaves and number of total bells as a text item.

Adding a music frame

The next step is to add the bells chart to the beginning of the handbell score. Switch to Engrave mode and select Frames from the left panel.

It’s better here to edit the score itself, not the master page. Here’s why: first, it’s always best to use master pages when possible, but page overrides are not a bad thing. And in this case, it’s important to know that if:

  1. a first master page contains a master music frame (with an M prefix), but…
  2. …that same master music frame chain is not present on the default master page, then the first page of the score will use the default master page, not the first master page

You may need to re-read that, because it’s quite important!

If that seems confusing, remember that a master page is a “proper” treatment of a layout and its included frame chains; so if Dorico started a frame chain on the first master page, it will want to continue it on the default pages that follow.

So in this case, it’s best to draw a music frame into the score itself, which will give us not a master music frame (Mx), but a layout music frame (Lx). Move the “primary” music frame (MA) down, and add a new layout music frame (LA):

It looks awful, of course, but don’t despair. From the FLOWS: dropdown, select only the Bells Used flow. Then just a couple more things:

  • Resize the staff to 60% (select any note, Edit > Staff Size).
  • Respace the staves manually.
  • If the second bar is displaying as well, insert a system break to remove it from the frame.
  • Some of your modifications to the tuplets may not have correctly propagated to this layout music frame; if so, you’ll need to redo them here.

It should now be looking like this:

And here’s the final result!

I offer tutoring in Dorico, either individually via Zoom, or on-site for educational institutions. If you’re interested in switching to Dorico (or increasing your efficiency), contact me to schedule a session.


  1. André Van haren

    What about making the reference pitches at the start of the first system as for example timpani?

    1. Dan Kreider

      I’m afraid your best bet there is to capture a graphic and paste it in front of an indented system, in that case. There’s no way to omit the preamble otherwise.

    2. Waldbaer

      Hm, I think you want to create something like this:
      I just found the “rare clef” “invisible clef” which should do the trick here (it’s in fact a treble clef, but the notes are not to be played anyway, so…). So it’s possible, but you’ll have to set “Engraving options | Clefs | size for clef changes” to 1 to show the following clef at normal size.
      If you have a score with multiple instruments, you’ll probably have to use the extra-flow-variant described here, which does not need the special clef change size, but comes with more problems:
      – you’ll have to carefully adjust positioning to fit the system’s lines (and redo this as soon as it changes)
      – you’ll have to indent the original system manually using engrave mode’s note-spacing
      – if you want staff labels, you’ll have to add a system break on the first note of the standard-flow to be able to hide its label (you’ll use the one of the extra-flow)
      So, yes it’s possible, but you’ll have to see for yourself if it’s useful…

      1. Kambro

        Thank you for this trick.
        There is just one ting I cannot do : hide the barline after the clef.

  2. Paolo

    Beautiful tricks, thank you!

  3. Peter Hamlin

    I’m loving Flows in Dorico. Great to see this implementation!

    (At the moment I’m making an arrangement of recorder pieces from the Cantigas de Santa Maria. Each piece is a flow, and I can easily change the order and get automatic page numbering and title numbering, just by swapping the flows around as desired. It’s a pretty wonderful way to work.)

    Flows are such a great tool for organizing work, flexible and powerful. Thanks for this post, Dan! I learned a lot from it!

  4. Waldbaer

    A really nice tutorial once again, thank you very much for posting it! I’m still learning to use the mostly quite wise concepts in Dorico to their full possibilities. I’ll try to make something like this for my next Drums sheet.

    I wonder though, is it possible to hide the staff label for one flow only? I’m thinking about adding things like that in front of the score or use a custom label like “Drum Key” or something like that.

    1. Dan Kreider

      One way to hide staff labels on an individual basis is to click on the frame or system break (or create one, if needed); then in Engrave mode, there’s an option for hiding or showing staff labels for that system or frame.

      1. Waldbaer

        OK, I never had the idea to add a system break on the first note just to have more formatting options… I actually did not know these at all until now. It’s much more tricky to do unusual things with Dorico than with the other apps… it’s sometimes even useful that they don’t know what they are actually doing where Dorico does. :-)

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