Properties management in Dorico


You know the old saying: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Whether you attribute that advice to your Spidey-sense or some other historical source, it adequately describes how properties — the characteristics of individual items and fragments of items in your project — were handled in the early versions of Dorico.

While many of the choices that would appear in the Properties panel (shortcut: Command/Ctrl-8 when in Write or Engrave mode) when selecting an item in the score would change automatically in part layouts, some other choices would remain “unpropagated” in those same part layouts. This gave the user a great amount of flexibility in terms of what could be published from a single document. For example, in the case of a youth orchestra, one could have the score of a baroque string work with editorial slurs for the teacher/conductor, while the students could receive their parts with normal slurs.

Although this was extremely powerful, it left the user with the ponderous task of remembering which properties propagated by default and which didn’t. In addition, this approach would incur a great deal of extra work from the users in terms of having to manually propagate certain properties. To address this state of affairs, in version 2.1 Dorico implemented a simple brute command found in the Edit menu called Propagate Properties, which immediately transferred all properties of a selected item into the other layouts.

Propagate Properties in Dorico 2.1

This worked, but the user had no way of verifying the status of an item’s properties after propagation other than taking a peek at that layout, and any further layouts that were created in the aftermath would not benefit from that command until it was issued again. The Dorico team was very clear as to the nature of that tool: it was meant to be a stopgap measure until they would develop of more comprehensive way of dealing with the propagation of properties in way that would keep the flexibility displayed in version 1.0, while at the same time making it easy for the user to propagate properties automatically when required.

With Dorico 3.5, this was realized, and the propagation of properties is now a sturdy, under-the-hood feature. It allows the user to change properties in two modes: a global mode where the properties are immediately propagated, and a local mode where they are set in the active layout only.

Think globally, act locally

Global properties will have their respective labels display in bold white in the panel, while local properties will be more modestly highlighted. Furthermore, the panel is equipped with filters where the user can see which properties have been set and whether those have been set globally or locally. The Properties panel also has a search bar to help the user find a specific property, something that is very useful when the panel gets heavily populated with choices.

There are now two choices available to the new Set local properties option seen on the upper right corner of the panel: Locally and Globally.

Since most of the time, we want instant propagation, let’s set it to Globally. Let’s select the first dynamic (forte) and flip it using the Properties panel with the Placement switch (the flip command F will also work). The dynamic mark moves above the staff as expected, and the Placement label is now conspicuously bold. This indicates that the placement property is now global and will appear in all layouts.

We can also verify this by using the new filters on the upper left of the panel. Clicking on Show: Global Only will trim the panel down to the Placement property as well as the two properties that are obligatorily global: prefix and suffix. Selecting the “All” filter will trim the panel further to “Placement” only since this is now the only global override for our selected item.

Opening the corresponding part layout will confirm this: the dynamic will be above the staff.

If you create a new part layout, you will will see that the dynamic will also be above the staff without any further intervention from the user.

Power and flexibility

Now let’s say that I change my mind and I want the property to be active in the score only. It is best to unset the property first by flipping the switch. Then I can Set local properties to Local (it is best to unset the properties first because the Set local properties option deals with how a property is set when activating that property — it does not change whether a set property is global or local). If I now flip the dynamic, it will only flip in the score, and the label will be highlighted, but in pale white…

and all other layouts will display the dynamic below the staff. Any new layout will also display the dynamic in its default position.

Do remember that some properties are “obligate global citizens” such as Prefix and Suffix in the case of dynamics. Those will never accept a local status, and will shine bright, white and bold when set, even with the Locally option turned on. If one filters the panel choices to Local Only while Set globally is chosen, any of the options displayed will magically disappear once their respective switches, paddles, or checkboxes are activated because they are no longer local. They will, however, magically reappear with the Global Only filter activated.

This also works with the properties shown in Engrave mode, including slur control points. And that brings us to the fact that we can have a sort of hybrid status to properties.

Have the best of both worlds

Some Engrave mode properties, such as positions, may work very well in one layout and not in others due to differences in note spacing, staff size, etc. So entering changes in Local Only is often preferable for those cases. However, one can set properties to Globally, execute a change (such as moving a slur control point)…

go to the corresponding part, set the options to “Locally” and execute a minor correction to that slur. The property will still appear as being Global in the original layout, but the correction will be localized in the part only.

This can be a good way to avoid completely reinventing the wheel when dealing with a complex, multipoint “Tombeau de Couperin-type” slur that may require only small corrections in a part after being set in the score.

This “hybrid” status can be very useful in the case of the “baroque editorial slurs” example I gave above. One can do a score while globally setting some editorial slurs which will then transfer to the parts. This can then become the “professional set”. However, once that is done, I can create another set of string parts, set the local option to Local, filter all slurs and change the property to Solid (don’t flip the switch though, that will make everything local), and you will end up with two sets of parts: one for advanced players who can discuss the slurs, and another for youth orchestra students who may find slashed or dotted slurs simply confusing at that stage of their musical development.

And what about the Propagate Properties command; has it disappeared? Not at all, but it now sets any selection to Global instead of propagating changes to other layouts as a bunch of local changes, as was previously the case.

Do it all at the touch of a button with Notation Express

If you have a Stream Deck, Stream Deck XL, or the Stream Deck Mobile app for iOS or Android from Elgato, you can invoke both Propagate Properties and Set Local/Global Properties with pre-programmed buttons in Notation Express and Notation Express XL, our custom profiles for Dorico, available exclusively from Notation Central.

You’ll find them in the Formatting folder, with lots of other useful commands.

All in all, this is an incredibly powerful way to work. If you never want to be bothered with this, set the option to Global and work happily with the secure knowledge that everything is being propagated. But if you desire greater control, this new feature will make you have your cake and eat it too.

This article is excerpted from our comprehensive review of Dorico 3.5.


  1. Bernhard Eder

    Will there be a german language update for the Streamdeck Dorico 3.5 App as well at some point?
    Currently there is only one for Version 3.1

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