Expression maps and Play mode improvements | New Features in Dorico 3.5

🎬  This article is a transcription of one of the excellent tutorial videos posted to the official Dorico YouTube channel.

Presented here in written form with the kind permission of its creator, Anthony Hughes, this tutorial is titled “Expression maps and Play mode improvements in Dorico 3.5“…


Hello, I’m Anthony Hughes, and I’m here to show you the improvements we’ve made to VST Expression Maps and working in Play mode, here in Dorico 3.5.

Explanation of Expression Maps (00:20)

Expression maps are Dorico’s way of interpreting the markings in your score for each instrument, and mapping them onto the sounds available in your VST sound libraries.

By default, Dorico uses the HALion Symphonic Orchestra library. When you add an instrument to your project, a new track for that instrument is added in Play mode, the relevant instrument sound is loaded into the HSSE Player, and Dorico connects the two by setting the appropriate Expression Map.

If we look at one of these expression maps, you can see a list of playing techniques mapped for that instrument, and for each one, an action that controls which sample preset the virtual instrument plays. For example, this violins expression map has a switch for pizzicato, that triggers a Keyswitch in the HSSE player and produces the pizzicato sound.

Expression Map in Dorico 3.5

It is our aim that with every new version of Dorico we are striving to make these maps more expressive, and model more closely the design of the various sample libraries, not just those that ship with Dorico, but that are available to purchase from third parties. That way we can help you make the most of your VST libraries’ capabilities.

We’ve added lots of new flexibility, but this is still just the next step in the evolution of Dorico expression maps, and there is more to come in the future.

Note lengths (01:53)

The first thing we have added is a way to trigger different samples by way of adding note length conditions to an existing switch. For example, the HSO Violin Solo map now includes switches that contain conditions which trigger the ‘short notes’ samples when it comes across shorter notes in the music. This greatly enhances the quality of the performance by using the samples intended for quick runs of notes or long, held sustains automatically.

Dorico HSO Solo Violin Expression Map: Note Length Conditions

Let’s quickly set up a note length condition for the 1 st Violins in Spitfire’s BBC Symphony Orchestra library.

(02:33) If I want to use the Long technique for regular natural note playback in Dorico, then short note playback sounds like this… (02:43)

Let’s open the Expression Map editor from the Play menu. I’ll start by duplicating the Natural switch and disabling it with this checkbox.

That way I can always revert back to my starting version here. Now with the duplicated switch I’ll add a condition to be triggered only when the note length is greater than or equal to Medium.

Then I’ll duplicate this switch, and change the condition to less than Medium. Here I can set the Keyswitch for shorter notes.

I can give both of my new switches a more meaningful name. And now, when I play back, you can hear the difference, and see how the technique switches in the BBC SO plug-in window. (03:33)

Dynamic triggers (03:38)

It’s now possible to trigger dedicated sforzando and other dynamics samples in your VST libraries by selecting the playing technique for a switch and setting the appropriate action to return that sound. (03:53)

Add-ons (04:00)

Some sample libraries have special functionality that switch on certain techniques such as legato, portamento and con sordino, by using additional keyswitches or controllers on top of the regular switch.

We can achieve this in Dorico by creating a new Add-on switch.


For example, the East West Hollywood Brass library uses a legato function that can be enabled by using MIDI CC68. With that set-up, now when Dorico encounters a slurred passage of Horn music, it activates the legato feature of the East West library. (04:40)

Init switch (04:52)

If required, you can also set the new Init switch at the top here if you want to ensure that the plug-in will always start from a known state, for example that the legato setting is properly set or any add-on switches are reset to their default state.

Mutual Exclusion Groups (05:09)

Mutual Exclusion Groups are Dorico’s way of knowing about techniques that are related in some way and therefore cannot happen at the same time. For example, strings cannot play both Arco and pizz. at the same time, and brass players cannot play multiple mutes at the same time. So, you want an Arco marking to cancel a pizz technique, but you don’t want it to cancel a con sordino technique, or a vibrato technique and so on.

Dorico’s Mutual Exclusion Groups

Dorico now creates basic essential Mutual Exclusion Groups automatically, meaning that the most common cases are handled, and you don’t need to create quite so many different switches. The automatic functionality is on by default, so you don’t even need to disclose the section unless you have a specific need.

Controller lane improvements (06:01)

Having a look at the improvements we’ve made to Play mode editing, we’ve updated controller lanes to show the automatic modulation control that Dorico is applying under the hood.

This flute music has some dynamic markings. When we look in Play mode at the Dynamics lane for the Flute track, we can see the dynamic profile that Dorico has created for us using those markings in the score. If we also open the MIDI controller lane on CC1, which for this instrument setup is how dynamics are controlled, we can see the underlying data that powers that dynamic profile.

When we make our own manual overrides to the controller lane, they are displayed more prominently,


and when we delete them, we are returned to the automatic generated behaviour.

The Playing Techniques lane tooltips show much more comprehensive information now, so you can see the effect of the playing technique, how the expression map is responding to it in terms of which switches are active, and what VST plug-in will be used for playback.

This includes showing the new note length conditions we saw earlier.

Editing velocity for multiple notes (07:16)

Finally, it’s now possible to edit the velocity for multiple notes at the same time, by first selecting the notes in the piano roll.

I’m Anthony Hughes. Thanks for watching.


I hope you’ve found this video tutorial transcription to be helpful. If you have, please subscribe to OF NOTE for ongoing music notation related info.

And don’t forget to subscribe to the Dorico YouTube channel, which is the source of this excellent series of Dorico video tutorials. ~robert puff

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