Creating editorial marks with Dorico


In April last year, Claude Lapalme presented an overview of Dorico 2.2’s capabilities in producing editions of Early music.

In the nine months since then, the Dorico team have released a major new version, 3.0 (in September 2019), followed by a ‘point’ update to 3.1 in January this year, both of which have greatly increased Dorico’s capabilities and extended its range of functions. For the creators of critical editions, Dorico has a comprehensive set of tools for making editorial marks.

Music editors frequently need to make a series of additions, interventions, alterations and commentaries to the music. They have to correct mistakes, reconcile variations between different sources, reconstruct missing parts or realize a continuo bass. They must add missing accidentals, dynamics, slurs, and any other notation that the source material lacks but which modern performers require to interpret the music correctly.

It is imperative that any editorial contributions are clearly distinguished from original material copied directly from the source. (Most of all, this allows performers to ignore them, should they know better!) A series of notation conventions has been established over the years to identify editorial content, mostly involving curved or square brackets, and Dorico now has a formidable arsenal of tools to deliver them. Let’s take a look.

Brackets everywhere!

We’ll start with some of the features that are native to Dorico, most of which are just one or two clicks away in the Properties panel.

Curved brackets around dynamic symbols have been an option in Dorico since version 1, and a simple click in the Preference panel will surround the selected dynamic, along with any dynamics on other staves that are linked to it. You can also type parentheses in the Dynamics popover, e.g. (mf).

Editorial ties and slurs can be marked in a number of ways. Dorico defines an “Editorial” slur or tie as one with a small vertical stroke in the middle of the arc; it also provides dotted and dashed curves. These styles are all available in a similar drop-down list in the Properties pane for both Ties and Slurs.

Now in Dorico 3.1, notes and chords can have brackets, too. Again, its just one click in the Preference panel.


Editors of early music love to have a large variety of accidentals at their disposal. Because of the change in conventions for the use of accidentals over the centuries, editors may need to distinguish between:

  • accidentals found in the source;
  • accidentals implied or missing in the source but necessary in modern notation;
  • accidentals found in the source but unnecessary in modern notation;
  • cautionaries;
  • other kinds!

Dorico has always been able to display curved brackets on accidentals, but version 3.1 now adds square bracket to the Properties panel.

You can add a key shortcut to toggle through the options in this control.

Remember that these changes will only show in the current layout until you Propagate Properties to any other layouts. This capability allows items in different layouts to be displayed differently. This might be what you want, or not what you want. As in all notation software, flexibility is both a blessing and a curse.

Musica ficta

Another editorial convention places accidentals above the note, often to indicate musica ficta. While Dorico doesn’t have a ‘from the factory’ built-in method to display these, the program has reached a stage where most of the notation elements it lacks natively can be achieved by creating new symbols, customizing existing symbols, or using Text or Lines. We can create ficta accidentals as new Performance Techniques. The ‘real’ accidental can be hidden to maintain accurate playback.

In the Playing Techniques panel, click on the + icon at the bottom of any group. You’ll be presented with Dorico’s familiar Symbol Editor. Change the Type from Text to Glyph, and choose a memorable popover text, like ‘edn’ for Editorial Natural. Click on the pencil to edit the symbol. Delete the existing text with a click on the Trash icon, select an accidental and press Add Glyph.


One thing Dorico can’t do yet is create a reduced-size accidental, which is sometimes used by editors to distinguish yet another class of editorial accidental. (Currently, the size of the note and accidental are inseparable.) However, if you need more than four different styles of accidental, there is a workaround. Assuming that you’re not using jazz ornaments in your Early music, you can edit the existing ‘plop’, ‘scoop’ and ‘lift’ ornaments, which sit on the left-hand side on the notehead, and change them to reduced-size accidentals.

In Engrave mode, select Music Symbols… from the Engrave menu. Seize the rare opportunity to type the word ‘plop’ in the Search bar. As before: delete the existing glyph and add the accidental. Change the Scale to 80%, which I find is enough to be noticeable and still readable.

Here’s one in context:

More brackets!

One of Dorico 3.1’s flagship features was the new Line tool, which provides a range of horizontal and vertical lines. The ability to put horizontal brackets over notes is of major importance to early music editors, as it is often used to indicate ligatures of breves and semibreves in 16th-century notation, or other groupings no longer observed in contemporary notation.

Prior to Dorico 3.1, brackets above notes could only be created by creating so-called ‘parity’ tuplets: 3 notes in the time of exactly the same 3 notes. This had no effect on the notes themselves, but produced a bracket above them. Now, it is simplicity itself to draw a bracket above notes with the new Line tool.

Currently, vertical brackets in the Line tool only attach to one rhythmic position. However, once created, you can extend and reposition a bracket in Engrave mode, to place a musical phrase in parentheses, or to indicate groupings of Players, or other editorial remarks.



Incipit and ambitus

Some editors like to display prefatory material at the start of the piece, such as an incipit (Latin for ‘it starts’), which shows the original clef, key, time signature, note duration and starting pitch for each staff. Voice ranges (again with the Latin: ambitus) are also helpful to show how the parts should divided between singers, when staff names such as ‘Sextus, Discantus’ might not be indicative. Both of these can be produced in Dorico.

While you can go to town creating separate music frames and flows for the incipit and the body of the music, the simplest way is to use Dorico’s feature for making a Coda, which automatically creates a gap between two bars on the same system. Then it’s just a matter of setting up the initial bar with the clefs, notes and other details that you want.

Then re-apply the modern clef, key and time signature. Don’t forget to reset the bar numbers!

Some 17th-century organ books use 6-line staves: you could even indicate the extra staff lines with Dorico’s line tool.

This technique uses a barline-to barline line, placed below the staff. The default distance is set to 1 space from the staff, which is perfect. You’ll need to manually extend the line to the system start.

An ambitus is created in a similar way: create a pickup measure of just one quarter note. Add the extreme notes as a chord, then hide the stems. Hide the time signature before the notes, and restate it on the other side. You can hide the barline, or use a double. Also, you should click Suppress Playback in the Common section of the Properties panel, to avoid a hearing hideous clash at the start of the piece.

Again, make sure your bar numbers start from 1 in the next bar.

Time signatures

It’s worth mentioning at this point that if you need to display a different time signature from the actual meter of the bar in Dorico, you can use a pickup bar. Pickups can be longer or shorter than their standard value, so you can have 3/8 displayed as 12/8 or 12/8 displayed as 3/8. This is done with the popover, typing: 12/8,3 or 3/8,12. Once you’ve shown the ‘fake’ signature, continue the correct meter with a hidden signature. Another handy tip: any meter with a 2 as its denominator — 9/2, 8/2, 4/2, 22/2 – can be displayed as Cut C via the Properties panel.


Dorico’s easy placement of fermatas across all staves with a single action is a great boon to productivity. Indicating editorially added fermatas requires a bit of set-up, but once done, it’s as easy as pie. However, we need to distinguish between two different situations: Firstly, those places in the score where editorial fermatas are needed only on some staves that lack them in the source. Dorico’s Playing Techniques (PT) are the go-to feature for custom symbols above or below the staff. These two requirements will need two PTs: one ‘original’ Fermata glyph that can be added to individual staves to show fermatas from the source, and another bracketed fermata that can be added as our editorial completion.

Create the new PT by clicking on the + icon in the Playing Techniques panel. Change the Type of the PT from Text to Glyph. Click on the pencil to edit the symbol, and delete the existing text. The ‘original’ fermata can simply be added from the Holds and Pauses range of SMuFL symbols, and we’re done. Click OK.

Don’t forget to give your symbol a memorable and easy text for the PT popover (Shift+P). For the editorial fermata, first we need to find some square brackets: the Standard Accidentals range of SMuFL symbols contains a set, so that’s easy.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Note that Dorico places the symbols in the order in which you add them from left to right. Not a problem, as you can adjust the X and Y of each one in turn. However, if you move the X and Y value of the first symbol, all the subsequent symbols move relative to it! So, add the left bracket, then the fermata symbol, then the right bracket. The brackets sit quite low on the fermata, so you’ll need to move the fermata down 3 spaces (Y axis), then move the right-hand bracket back up 3 spaces.

The second type is those places where there are no fermata symbols in the source, but we wish to add one to every staff. While we could laboriously add the bracketed PT to each staff, the alternative is to edit one of Dorico’s eight existing styles of fermata, modifying it to look like a standard fermata with brackets. We do this in the Music Symbols editor, in Engrave mode’s menu.

NB: When creating symbols as Playing Techniques, make sure that your new PT doesn’t actually trigger any playing techniques, including “Natural”, in case you use the symbol when some other effect is active. I’ve created a “None” playing technique, just to be safe.


As with Fermatas, editorial trills can be created as Playing Techniques. Add the left bracket, then the Trill symbol from the Common Ornaments SMuFL range, then the right bracket. Because Dorico’s Playing Techniques now come with continuation lines, you can even include a trill continuation line on your editorial symbol.

If you are very clever, you may be able to activate trill playback with your own Playing Technique. (I leave this as an exercise for the Reader.) Otherwise, you can add a hidden ‘real’ trill.


Editorial contributions to underlay are, by convention, styled in italics, and Dorico allows this very easily with a straightforward Italic switch in the Properties panel.

If you’re not including a translation, you can use the Translation Lyric: Alt+Up arrow in the Lyric popover, or select existing lyrics and check the Is Translation checkbox in the Properties panel. The Translation lyric has its own Font Style, which you can select from your full list of fonts. (Though you may be using that for Figurato, the excellent figured bass font that adds the symbols as lyrics.)

Small notes

Additional notes, supplied by the editor, are sometimes displayed by convention at a reduced size. These may include the reconstruction of missing contrapuntal parts or the realisation of figured bass.

Dorico provides some pre-defined Sizes: Cue, Grace, and Cue-Grace. If you can use these, rather than just specifying a number in the Custom Scale setting, then you can globally adjust the size of all your Small Notes in the Engraving Options.


Of course, you don’t need special features to add a set of brackets around text items, like Tempo Marks, System Text, or Custom Text on Repeat Markers: you can just type it in. However, metronome marks in tempo indications can also be parenthesized, directly from the Preference panel.


Last, but by no means least: no scholarly edition is complete without a set of editorial notes, listing errors and their corrections, variants between the sources, and other matters of interest. Dorico’s Comments tool allows the editor to make notes in the score at the relevant point. These can then be exported as an HTML document, which provides the basis for a critical commentary. Here’s a sample output, based on the following excerpt:

Author Date Instrument Bars Comment
Ben Fri Jan 24 16:44:57 2020 Discantus 1 Editorial accidental.
Ben Fri Jan 24 16:45:09 2020 Discantus 2 Bracket for ligature.
Ben Fri Jan 24 18:27:53 2020 Discantus 4 This bar shows a small accidental, and an editorial fermata.

This is a huge help in organizing one’s notes, and keeps this information within the same document as the music, rather than having a separate notes file for each project.


With the release of Dorico 3.1, the program now has a fine set of tools to make editorial contributions clearly distinct. Furthermore, Dorico’s semantic approach to notation means that most of these indications are not just visually distinct, but distinct in terms of the underlying data.

Combined with the techniques shown in Claude Lapalme’s earlier article, Dorico is a high-productivity app for anyone creating editions of Early music.

A sample Dorico project file containing the techniques described in this article can be downloaded here.


  1. Julian Elloway

    ‘Curved brackets around dynamic symbols have been an option in Dorico since version 1, and a simple click in the Preference panel will surround the selected dynamic’ – that’s good. But the example given shows the ‘curved brackets’ in italics. Is it possible for the ‘simple click’ to give roman parentheses around the dynamics – that is the style that would be preferred by some publishers for which I work. I’m not (quite) yet a Dorico user. In Sibelius you have to type in the two parts of the bracket, and then, if there is a collision, add a small amount of space, such as between a roman ‘(‘ and the foot of a standard forte or fortissimo sign. It would be lovely if Dorico had the roman bracket option and without it touching the sloping dynamic.

    1. Ben

      I don’t think so: dynamic figures are essentially italics, so putting ‘upright’ brackets around oblique symbols would look non-lovely, IMO. You would have to fake it by using text, which goes against the grain somewhat.

      1. Julian Elloway

        Thanks, Ben. The question wasn’t whether or not they look lovely, but rather, given that some publishers require that style, whether it is possible in Dorico without (as you put it) faking it using text. I’d prepared a couple of screenshots from published score, but there is no way of attaching them to comments here!

  2. Jester Musician

    I think there’s a better way to achieve reduced-size accidentals. In the Key Signatures panel under Tonality System, you can edit the accidentals in the current tonality system (12-EDO) by clicking the pencil. Then you can add a new scaled-down accidental with the same pitch delta as the regular-sized one. They can be selected in the Key Signatures panel under Accidentals, and will behave as regular accidentals would (though I suppose this may or may not be desirable).

    1. Ben

      Yes, you can create more accidentals in the tonality. However, because they have the same interval as the ‘real’ accidentals, (assuming you want playback to work), then if you transpose the music, you lose them all, as Dorico can’t distinguish between two accidentals of the same interval.
      Hang around, and I’m sure a much easier method will turn up!

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