Adventures in early music with Dorico, volume 2


There is much to be said and done with Dorico when producing scholarly, critical, or performing editions of Early Music.

Accidentals, coloration brackets, lyrics, barlines, figured bass, staff lines, ornaments, and incipits are among the various areas of music notation that come into play. In this extensive tutorial, we aim to bridge the nearly 500-year gap between 21st-century computer software and the 16th-century plainsong that can be created with the code.

Your attention will be rewarded, and not just with newfound knowledge; a goodie bag of souvenirs awaits you at the end of this journey.

The backstory

Back in April 2019, Claude Lapalme wrote a tutorial here about creating editions of Early Music with Dorico, then at version 2.2. In particular, this covered using independent time signatures, and Notehead Sets to change the appearance of notes. I followed this up with an article about ‘editorial marks’ in February 2020, when Dorico was on version 3.1.

A few months after that, Dorico 3.5 was released, and we showcased the new figured bass capabilities of the app. It’s now 2024, God help us: and Dorico is on version 5.1.30, with a wealth of improvements, additions and revisions to its functions since those articles were written.


Dorico has long been able to display accidentals with either curved parentheses or square brackets from the Properties panel. ‘Ficta’ accidentals, above the notehead, can be easily created as Playing Techniques. One feature added in version 4.0 is the ability to scale an accidental independently of the notehead. Some editions use small accidentals to show the difference in the implied duration of an accidental, compared to modern conventions.

Small accidentals
The second accidental is implied in the source, but required in modern notation.

This is now easily done with a property in Engrave mode, so there’s no need to use the somewhat contrived ‘workaround’ method in the original article.

Accidental Scale Property
It’s a matter of scale

Another useful little feature, from v5.1.10, is the ability to display Cautionary Accidentals created automatically by Dorico in pink; and ‘Forced’ Accidentals (i.e. manually set to Show) in blue-green. This is really useful when wrangling editorial accidentals and proof-reading scores. You’ll find the options under View > Note and Rest Colors, and you can change the choice of colors in Preferences > Colors.

Accidental Colors

Coloration brackets

In the first article on editorial marks, we showed how Dorico’s new Line tool could create horizontal brackets over a group of notes (e.g. to show the presence of ligatures in Renaissance and Medieval music).

With the arrival of the Line Editor in 3.5, we can now create the customary markings for coloration. There’s a bit of setup, but once done, you can save it as a default, or copy it from one document to another using the Library Manager.

First, enter the Line Editor (under the Library menu) and create a new Line called “Coloration”.

Line Editor

Where it says “Body Style”: none of the existing styles are appropriate, so click on Line Body Editor to create a new one. Create a new Line Body called “None”, and set the type to “Dashed or Dotted”. And we’re done. (Because we don’t set a Dash-Gap pattern value, the line is one massive gap.) Line Body Editor

(Note that if you simply create a zero-width line, this will appear in a PDF as a 1 ‘device-pixel’ thin line.)

Next, close the Line Body Editor, and back in the main Line Editor, click on Line Annotation Editor. Set the Category to “Music Symbols”, and create two new annotations: Coloration Left and Coloration Right. For the symbol of each, choose the bracket shapes in the SMuFL ‘Medieval and Renaissance miscellany’ range. I’ve also scaled them to 120% (X and Y!) to make them a better size. You don’t have to set the vertical attachment, as the line is invisible, so it doesn’t really matter!

Coloration Left
Back in the Line Editor again, we define our line to use ‘None’ as the Body Style, and  ‘Coloration Left’ and ‘Coloration Right’ as its Start Cap and End Cap.

Coloration Line Editor

Now, we can select any group of notes and apply the Line. (Make sure that Rhythmic Position is selected for both ends in the Lines panel.) You may need to set the Property for the Horizontal End Position to be at the right-hand side of the notehead; or you can bring the length of the line in to a nearby grid position.

Coloration notation

This process is applicable to all kinds of other lines for various needs.


It has been possible to switch selected lyric syllables to an Italic style for some time; but since version 4.1, you can apply any Paragraph Style to selected lyrics. This gives an increased flexibility for marking editorial interventions.


Dorico 4.3 added some extra functionality to ‘Tick’ barlines. We now have top ticks and bottom ticks; and the ticks can sit inside, outside, or crossing the outer staff line.

Barline ticks

The well-known Early English Church Music series from Stainer & Bell uses bottom ticks, outside the staff, for example (as a kind of minimal Mensurstriche that doesn’t irritate lyrics). And indeed, two recently published volumes of EECM (65 and 66) were produced in Dorico, with several more in the works. Tick barlines that have been manually applied to the score with the barline popover or side-panel can have their length (height?) altered in Engrave mode. You can use this feature to create barlines of any height, inside and outside the staff – including a zero-height, ‘invisible’ barline (minus-one half spaces for Out and In).

Tick properties
Wicked men, you face the Tick.

Subsequent tick barlines will inherit the same properties, until you change the properties on another barline; or until there’s a change in time signature, when they will reset. So, if you need a custom barline at any point, for any reason, a Tick is the way to go.

Figured Bass

The original tutorial on figured bass pointed out some limitations in the initial implementation: there were no numbers greater than 9, and no brackets. Figures now go up to 19, and there’s also property to display ‘simple’ values of numbers above 8, e.g. 10 as 3. This allows you to stack figures in a different order. By default, figures are stacked from highest to lowest. Enter 10,8, and then display it in ‘reduced’ form, and you get 3 above 8.

Figured bass simplified

Brackets can now be applied on individual figures, on the whole stack, or even on hold lines. You can choose curved or square brackets, as an Engraving Option for the project. You can even put a left-hand bracket on one figure, and a right-hand bracket on another, marking a succession of editorial figures.

Brackets in Figured Bass

The ‘Tasto solo’ indication can be included natively, without resorting to a text object, just by typing ts in the popover.

Figure it out

Before Dorico introduced its figured bass function, Florian Kretlow’s Figurato font was one option for creating stacked figures, using lyrics. However, as a result of a change in Dorico 4.1 to lyric fonts, Figurato no longer displays correctly, appearing a large distances away from the staff. (Lyrics now use Paragraph Styles, which take note of the font’s vertical height metrics; and in Figurato’s case, these are absurdly high, in order to facilitate the stacking of numerals). Any ‘legacy’ project files created with Figurato will need to have the figures re-entered as actual figures. (In extremis, I have created a replacement font, called GoFigure which should fix the problem for most common figures, and which may be useful for creating figures in places such as on the top staff of a keyboard part, which Dorico can’t do yet. It’s also an attractive SMuFL-compatible font for actual Figured Bass; and might even be useful in other apps to display common figures. You’ll find it in the Goodie Bag at the bottom of this article.)

Custom staff lines

With improvements to the Instrument Editor in Dorico 5.1, we can now use staves with custom number of lines. One of the most common non-standard staves is a 4-line staff for plainsong. While we’re some way off from ‘fully neumatic’ chant, we can easily create a 4-line staff, with plainsong-y noteheads.

4-line staff

The noteheads are created with a custom Notehead Set, using the SMuFL plainsong neums. In order to get the plainsong-style clef, we need to change the glyph of the C clef in the Music Symbols editor, replacing it with the symbol from “Medieval and Renaissance Clefs” section of SMuFL. However, this will change the C-clef symbol for all C clefs, so if you wanted to use a ‘normal’ C-clef for a vocal stave, or viol, in the same project, you’d have to find another solution. Here’s a sample of a 17th-century English organ book, which shows a 6-line grand staff, with clefs.

17th century organ book

And here’s a transcription in Dorico, with the same 6-line staff.

Reproduction of organ part in Dorico

It’s worth noting these words from the Version History:

Pitched staves in Dorico are always built upwards from the bottom staff line, so if you have a pitched instrument with a 1-line staff, the single staff line that appears is the bottom line of the staff; i.e. if you have a treble G clef, the pitch of a note on that single staff line would be E4, or if you have a bass F clef, the pitch of a note on that single staff line would be G2.


Several more Baroque ornament symbols were added to the ornaments panel in Dorico 5, so you won’t have to create Playing Techniques for those.

Ornaments in Dorico
Wiggle it, just a little bit


In my original article, I showed a method for creating a basic incipit using a Coda. But having a systemic barline (the initial barline that joins the system together) with a bracket at the very start was less than ideal; as was having a gap before the ‘coda’. However, the .30 update for Dorico 5.1 introduces two new features: firstly, Systemic barlines  can now be hidden on Codas and System/Frame Breaks; and also, the ‘gap’ or indent can be set for any given Coda.

Coda Properties
The Properties of a Coda.

So we can now hide the barline at the very start of the system (either with a zero-indent Coda or with a System Break); and use a second coda, also with zero indent, to force a systemic barline before the second bar.


(Don’t forget to start the bar numbering at the second bar.) You could save a project file with this incipit as a project template: you can always add more Players. With a little ingenuity, it’s possible to create a script that will go through the motions for you: but you’ll need to make sure you already have the correct time signatures for bar 1 (your incipit) and bar 2 (“the start”). The ability to hide systemic barlines may have other uses.

Ambitus tips and tricks

If you need to determine the range of notes on a given staff for creating an ambitus, there’s a nice little trick you can use. Select the whole staff (e.g. Select to End of Flow, or Select More (and More, and More again!)): the selected notes will be highlighted on the piano keyboard with blue dots.

Selected notes on the virtual keyboard
Selected notes are shown the virtual keyboard

You’ll still need to make a note of the range, and create your ambitus manually, by hiding the stem of the two-note chord. You can Suppress Playback to avoid an unpleasant scrunch at the start.


As of Dorico 5.1, you can choose whether the Username and the Date appear in the exported Comments webpage. If you’re not collaborating with any one else, you might not need these for generating Critical Commentaries or Editorial Notes.

Options for Comments fields
Options for Comments fields

You can right click on the Comments panel to select the fields that you want to see.

What do we still need?

Dorico now has a wide range of capabilities for producing early music editions: incipits, bracketed and reduced size accidentals, ficta, independent meters and key signatures, barline styles, custom staves, lines for ligatures and coloration, figured bass, ornaments, custom noteheads, and more. New features get added at an alarming rate, so who knows how long before this article is out of date?  There’s still a few things that would be useful in future versions:

  • a Clef Editor, allowing us to create additional clefs, with custom symbols, set on whichever staff line we want. Currently, if you want a G clef on the third line of a staff, you’re out of luck. (Well, there are methods of adding custom clefs, which involve complex and unsupported editing of the XML in .doricolib files.)
  • additional barline styles, or a custom barline editor, for other rarefied types of barlines not covered by the options already provided.
  • more flexible options for time signatures, to include various mensural symbols and proportions.
  • the ability to add parentheses / brackets effortlessly around any object, including rests.
  • Some additional capabilities in figured bass, such as ‘French style’, and figures on the upper staff.

Goodie bag

I’ve created a Dorico project file which showcases incipit, ambitus, ligature and coloration brackets, ficta accidentals, and ‘plainsong’. It looks like this.

Lassus Magnificat
A full-featured edition, created in Dorico.

You can download it here.

I’ve also created a small bundle of Early Music in Dorico goodies.

In the goodie bag, called Ben’s Early Music Bundle and available for download from Notation Central, there are two fonts: GoFigure, which supports bass figures as lyrics or other text; and Bracketura, which contains a very small number of symbols from Bravura with brackets around them, allowing the easy creation of Playing Techniques for bracketed fermatas, trills, etc. There are also two .doricolib files: one containing additional C clefs (using different glyphs depending on which staff position they sit);

Additional Clefs
Different forms of C clef

and the other containing Playing Techniques from the Bracketura glyphs.

Bracketura techniques
Playing Techniques from Bracketura

These .doricolib files can be installed into Dorico’s configuration and then be made available to every project. You’ll need to follow the instructions to create a folder for them in the right place. The aforementioned Dorico project file is also included in the bundle.


  1. Carole Prietto

    Very cool! My attention was rewarded with much new knowledge!

  2. Martha Bishop

    I am working with barless music by putting an X instead of a time signature. Is there any way I can designate that rests should never be dotted but spelled out? I have unchecked the “no dotted rests” box but the rests always get combined anyway.

    1. Ben Byram-Wigfield

      I think you’ll have to use Force Duration. You can copy and paste the undotted rest to other locations.

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