Quickly specify measurement units in Dorico

Tips

In music notation, it’s common to have to work with multiple units of measurement in a single project. Because the most fundamental element of conventional Western music notation is the five-line staff, a space is a unit of measurement that is defined as the distance between two of those lines, and it is an essential component of figuring out good music engraving settings.

But because a music staff can practically appear at any size on the page (or screen), a space is not a fixed unit of measurement. There is no standards bureau that has agreed on its equivalence in other measurement systems; indeed, even among Finale, Sibelius, and Dorico, each of those programs have fixed the space differently, relative to other units of measurement.

In our first of two articles, we explored the various measurement systems in use, how to set the global defaults in the various programs, and show you how to quickly override those defaults in Finale.

Now, in this article, we’ll show you how to quickly override those defaults in Dorico.

The measurement systems

A reminder that the most common measurement systems used in music notation, and the software that creates it, includes points, millimeters, centimeters, and inches. See the previous article for more on that.

Changing the preferred unit of measurement in Dorico

Another reminder: Dorico allows you to set the preferred unit of measurement on a global basis, in Preferences > General > Preferred unit of measurement:

Changing the unit of measurement on a case-by-case basis in Dorico

Even though you may have set your measurement unit globally in Dorico, it’s easy to change it elsewhere without needing to frequently revisit the Preferences dialog.

The first thing to note is that Dorico is reasonable enough to know that if you’re working with engraving settings, those are always measured in spaces, as they relate to the staff. So that’s why you won’t find Spaces as an option in the Preferences > General > Preferred unit of measurement, and also why you’ll only ever measure Engraving Options in spaces:

Still, there will be times when you’ll may wish to hold two different units of measurement in your head at once. For instance, you may prefer to work in millimeters when setting your staff size, but that’s not as helpful when setting up your page format (in Layout Options > Page Setup > Page Size), which is most likely set in inches if you’re working with US/ANSI-sized paper.

In the example above, If you know that you want to have a staff height of 7 mm, and can do a little basic math to divide 4 into 7, you can type 1.75mm into the spin box. As soon as you tab away, or click Apply or Close, Dorico will automatically convert and apply the correct value in your preferred unit of measurement.

This works the other way; if your preferred unit of measurement is millimeters, but you want to change the page size to something like 18″ x 12″, you can do that; either 18" or18in will work.

Try pt for points and cm for centimeters.

Spin up fractional changes in numeric value fields

There’s more to those innocuous-looking spin boxes, at least when you’re working in spaces. In addition to changing the number directly, it’s possible to change the values in the following ways:

  • To increase/decrease the value by 1⁄8 space, click the up/down buttons.
  • To increase/decrease the value by 1⁄32 space, Ctrl/CmdShift-click the up/down buttons.
  • To increase/decrease the value by 1⁄2 space, Shift-click the up/down buttons.
  • To increase/decrease the value by 1 space, Ctrl/Cmd-click the up/down buttons.
  • To increase the current value by a specific amount, enter += followed by the amount into the spin box. For example, enter +=2 to increase the current value by two.
  • To decrease the current value by a specific amount, enter -= followed by the amount into the spin box. For example, enter -=3.5 to decrease the current value by three and a half.
  • To multiply the current value by a specific amount, enter * followed by the amount into the spin box. For example, enter *3 to triple the current value.
  • To divide the current value by a specific amount, enter / followed by the amount into the spin box. For example, enter /2 to halve the current value.

This may take a little practice to get the intended results, and in the end you may find it easier to just figure the calculations yourself and then type them in directly.

But it could come in handy if you want to change a handful of settings all by the same proportion, or make fine adjustments of, say, 1⁄32 space on a series of settings all at once, and are dealing with values with various denominators (don’t you just love fractions?):

My good friend, and Dorico expert Vili Robert Ollila reminded me that it’s also possible to enter values in the fraction fields in decimals (e.g. 0.49, the smallest possible unit being 0.01 or 1/100). Often, this could be a quick way to enter very accurate changes, or it might just be simpler to write, for example, 0.6 instead of 3/5. As soon as you tab out of the input field, or click Apply, the entered decimal value is converted to a fraction.

Do you have your favorite methods of working with measurement units in Dorico? Feel free to spin those up in the comments.

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