Working with master pages in Dorico, part 1


One of Dorico’s most helpful features for score layout is the introduction of master pages. Master pages are essentially “templates” that define the appearance of a layout. They’re incredibly powerful, but it can take time for new users to understand how they work.

In this first post on master pages, I’ll explain the basics of how master pages work and how to edit them. In the next post, I’ll describe more advanced functionality, such as adding master page sets and master page changes.

Local vs. global changes

As you create your project, you’ll notice that Dorico creates a “default” format for the score. When you’ve entered the score elements and added some project information (File > Project Info), your first page layout might look something like this:

Switch to Engrave mode, and you can see a more “descriptive” view:

Dorico has automatically created text frames (green) and a music frame (blue) that contain the score info and the music.

So far, so good.

But suppose you wanted to change the layout slightly, like making the title larger. You might be tempted to simply double-click on the title and increase the font size. But when you do, the first thing you’ll notice is that the title is actually a token:

In fact, every default text field in your layout is filled with tokens, which are strings of code that Dorico populates with information — quite like wildcards in Sibelius.

You can watch a helpful video about tokens on Dorico’s official YouTube channel and download a list of tokens from their web site. It can be a bit unnerving at first to see a text field abruptly change to an odd-looking code, but tokens are a helpful way to automatically display the info for each flow or project.

Very well, then. You select the “projectTitle” token, increase the font size to 25 points, and click out to exit the window.

The title font is larger, as you wanted, but you may notice that the first page in the right-most panel now has a small red triangle in the top left corner:

This triangle indicates that you have overridden the template for that page. Perhaps it seems unimportant, but it’s essential to understand that the change you made was local, not global. If you add another score layout, you’d need to manually change its title font too. And if you wanted to change the design of a ten-page score (which this example is), you’d need to edit every page manually.

For example, what if you wanted to change the header on the second page of the score… and all following pages?

Armed with your new knowledge of tokens, you could perhaps double-click on the header and change the text to {@[email protected]} - {@[email protected]}: {@[email protected]}, which would give you a more descriptive header:

But scroll to the next page, and you’ll see that, since you changed only the second page, the header on the third page is still displaying “Allegro.” Do you have to change the header on every page? Thankfully, no.

Why master pages are better

Instead of editing the layout of the actual score, you edit the master page, and then apply that “template” to the appropriate pages.

For starters, make sure there are no red triangles (page overrides) in the right panel. If there are, right-click on any page and select Remove All Page Overrides. When you do, you’ll see that your local edits are erased, and the layout has returned to its default design. (If there are page overrides, those pages won’t reflect any updates you make to the master page, so you need to remove them!)

Next, look at the Master Pages panel on the right side:

As you click on the different pages, you can see the first page uses the “First” master page, and all other pages use the “Default” master page. It makes sense: the typical format of a score has one design for the first page, and another design for all subsequent pages (and you could add more master pages if you needed certain pages to follow a different design).

The “First” and Default” master pages together make up a master page set. By default, Dorico creates two types of master page sets: a full score set that defines the appearance of the full score, and a part set that defines the appearance of all the part layouts (in this case, each individual string part).

You can create additional master page sets, but for now, let’s focus on editing the master pages we have.

To edit the First master page for the score, double-click on the first master page in the right panel. Now you’re editing the master page itself:

This is where you edit the design of the layout by changing or resizing text frames, modifying tokens, and changing fonts. You’re now changing the template itself, which you can then apply anywhere you wish.

There’s a left and right master page because you’ll sometimes want to change the layout depending on whether the page is a left or right page. But in general, you’ll want the same design regardless of which side it’s on. If so, make the changes to one side, then “copy page layout” at the top to duplicate your changes to the facing page. Then apply and close.

Your layout should now reflect the changes you made. If it doesn’t, you likely have page overrides that you need to remove (or perhaps you edited the wrong master page). Page overrides are sometimes necessary, but they shouldn’t be the primary way you make changes to the layout, since they’re not global. If you do need to make changes that override the master page, that’s fine: page overrides aren’t errors. Just make sure you’ve carefully set up your page template (the master page) before you begin creating overrides.

Editing the “Default” master page works the same way as the First master page. To create the second-page header I described above, double-click on the “Default” master page to edit it, and enter your desired token string in the header:

Then click out of the text box, Apply, and Close. Now your new header design is automatically applied to all pages from 2 onward!

Note that you don’t always need to explicitly copy the design to the other side, because the default text frames are linked; when you edit one side, you can see the mirrored text frame on the other page will update automatically. If you resize or add a frame, you will need to copy the layout to the other side. Either way, it’s best to click Copy if you want to ensure both sides are identical.

Hopefully you’re beginning to see how powerful master pages can be for achieving a uniform design in your layouts. In the next post I’ll discuss more advanced options related to master pages.

I also offer tutoring in Dorico, either individually via video conferencing, or on-site for educational institutions. Whether you’re a new Dorico user, or you already use it and want to increase your efficiency, contact me.


  1. Nicholas Rio

    Hello Dan, thanks for the great post!

    Just wondering if there’s any way to make a default Master Page to become a Template for my future works? (something like exporting the engraving rules at Sibelius). Thanks!!

  2. Dan Kreider

    You can’t yet export, no. The standard practice, until such functionality is available, is the save a blank project and import flows to it.

  3. John

    Of course, if it’s only the title you want to make bigger everywhere then you can use Engrave > Paragraph Styles and edit the Title there too. :)
    Good, clear description of Master Pages – I look forward to more!

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