The Player/Flow/Layout triangle
Being a scoring software, one would think that Dorico creates and edits scores. It does that, but these scores are only pieces of what in Dorico’s terms is called a Project. Big deal, you might say — they call a score a project, so what?
Plenty. There is no such thing as “the” score in Dorico.
You can have multiple scores or no score at all. You can have a score that consists of other scores. You can have versions of the same piece for different types of ensembles. You can have compositional sketches that don’t appear in any actual scores at all. You can have parts that only cover a single movement. You can have parts that cover everything but a single movement. You can have completely normal parts, if you must. You can have all this and it will still be part of one of the same Project.
Think of a Project as a triangle: its three points are Players, Flows and Layouts. In a way you are probably working with the same kind of triangle in your current software, only, it is completely rigid: your staves are kind of like players (but not really), you have one single big “flow” of music, and all this is “laid out” in a score and in parts.
If you ever had to prepare a four hands piano piece in this kind of framework, you will know the limitations. Four hands piano is not really a score. It is not really a part either; it is two parts. And to make it really weird: there are two players, but only one instrument. A rigid triangle really struggles with this. The groundbreaking power of Dorico comes from the way it lets users fluidly define such relationships.
Daniel demonstrated this in yesterday’s launch event in London:
A key difference between Dorico and its primary competitors such as Sibelius or Finale is that it is organized around players instead of instruments. “Who is playing the music? The program is designed around that concept,” Daniel said. This avoids the problem of having to add, and then hide, unnecessary staves in the case of doubling instruments, for instance. Daniel said that “staves in Dorico are transitory things; the program creates them as needed.”
A flow is somewhat of an allusion to desktop publishing. Daniel said that “we deliberately chose a term that isn’t a movement, a section, or a song. It could be a 2-bar ossia or a 1200-bar movement. The existing programs don’t handle one of the simple truths very well. Much music exists in multiple sections or multiple movements. Dorico handles this all in one step.”
Once a flow is defined, it can be assigned to a layout. Generally speaking, a layout will either be a full score or a part. A layout could also be a custom score, such as a piano-vocal score or a rehearsal score, or a part with only a single movement.
Layout options can be set to have independent page, system and staff sizes, as well as margins and transposition.
The concept of extracting parts does not exist in Dorico. Daniel paraphrased Steve Jobs: “If we make Dorico so that you have to extract parts, we messed up.”
Getting the notes in: keyboard entry, MIDI entry, importing
Once you’ve set up your score, you’ll want to start creating actual music. A lot of thought has been put into note input via computer keyboard. The declared goal is to enable users to input music with the limited layout of a laptop:
While Steinberg advertising makes the comparison of Dorico as a “word processor” in contrast to its competitors being “typewriters”, I am actually reminded — in a positive way — of the short-lived music typewriters from the last century. In other words, the program’s note entry is designed in such a way that users can get in their music as if they are writing a normal text document. In general, it is possible to enter large amounts of music without taking one’s hand off the keyboard once.
And I don’t just mean notes. One of the ingenious approaches for Dorico is its Popovers: quickly summoned task-specific entry fields, which will take a string and turn it into a useful notation. Most things in Dorico that are not notes are created this way.
While popovers are generally a very simple interface right now, they clearly have a lot more potential. The Text popover is an example how these versatile UI elements can be provided with extended functionality:
What works exceptionally well for computer keyboard entry is, ironically, a hindrance for MIDI keyboard entry. With one hand on the black-and-whites, the other one keeps jumping around between controls near the Return key (articulations, grace notes and tuplets) and the upper numbers row (note length values), with frequent unwieldy jumps to the lower left corner to reach for the S to input slurs.
I would suggest that an alternative shortcut layout be added soon as an option for MIDI-focused users. If it’s not, don’t quite discard your trusty USB keypad just yet. In the meantime, though, if you’re feeling ambitious, Dorico allows you to customize your own shortcuts in Preferences > Key Commands.
Another current shortcoming of MIDI entry is that automatic pitch spelling seems to be only implemented on the most basic level (a problem not unknown to users of existing software). It has been mentioned by the developers that the PS13 Pitch Spelling Algorithm is to be implemented, but this has apparently not happened so far.
I must confess something. I never understood the call from some users for Sibelius to allow notes to be inserted at some point in existing music, shuffling further to the back everything that follows. Maybe – I smugly thought – you should not input music unless you are sure what you want. Boy, was I wrong.
This is me “being sure what I want” to the point that I do not look up at the screen to check if what I type in is correct, only to then realize that I have entered three bars being an eighth note off:
This is me moving the caret back to the place where I went off-course, and switching to Insert mode (toggled by typing I):
And this is me just pressing Backspace, wondering how I have lived without this feature until now:
Import and export
During the four years of development of Dorico, the one question that I have seen to be asked the most on Daniel Spreadbury’s Making Notes blog, by a wide margin, was this one: “Will the new program open my old Sibelius files? Please?”
Since there are still people around asking this, allow me to provide the following public service announcement:
No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no!
Why would people think that? Seriously! We are talking proprietary formats owned by competing companies in a niche market. It will not happen.
So… no. You’re welcome.
What you can do is to use MusicXML as an interchange format. The main difficulty is that each existing program has its own ways of encoding MusicXML — or more precisely: what to encode — so results are bound to vary quite a bit in usefulness.
This obviously cannot be blamed on Dorico. Actually, Dorico approaches the dilemma rather boldly: first it will strip imported MusicXML data of most of the non-semantic information (page size, margins, breaks, position overrides, etc.), to then apply its own algorithms to the remaining core notation — basically as if the music is input from scratch in Dorico itself.
If you need to edit a Dorico score in another notation software, MusicXML is the way to go as well. There is a unique problem, however: MusicXML is not really prepared to handle the Flow concept (which is hardly surprising). For now, the compromise is that Dorico will simply export the first flow of a project. Thus, with a bit of patience, a whole project can be exported into several XML files by changing the flow order.
The playback section of this review was written by Andrew Noah Cap.
The demand for modern notation software with both high quality engraving standards and high quality audio capabilities has continued to increase. Composers are looking for more detailed editing capabilities to improve their audio files, exported straight out of their notation software. Publishers are looking for cost‐effective solutions to create audio demos of their catalogs.
The team behind Dorico took both engraving and playback into account and designed a modern notation software that perfectly fits the needs of today’s market.
Users who only need the engraving and printing features will find Dorico to be largely ready right from the start. For those users who are in need of detailed adjustments to playback, here’s a closer look into Dorico’s playback functionality.
In the first release, Dorico automatically assigns the detected audio and MIDI input devices. It is worth having a look at Preferences > General > Audio Device Setup… to check which audio driver is selected so that you can change it if needed.
When starting a score by adding players, Dorico will load the corresponding HALion sounds in the HALion Sonic SE player.
If you want to change an instrument sound to one that is different than what Dorico assigns by default, switch to Play mode. In the “instrument rack” on the right-hand side click the next to the HALion instance where the sound in question is loaded (if the player is not already open).
Once the HALion player has opened, you will find a multi-program rack where up to 16 sound programs can be loaded. Clicking into one of those allows an easy sound change via a list.
The Play mode is well-sorted and allows the user to adjust and assign almost everything without clicking through panels and options. For those accustomed to working with DAWs, it will quite look familiar.
In the center, the user will find all tracks representing the MIDI events from every given staff of the score. On the left-hand side all needed MIDI assignments for each track can be made.
VST instruments can be loaded into the right-hand side. Dorico is fully compatible with VST3 virtual instruments and will also allow certain VST2 instruments such like Native Instruments’ Kontakt or VSL Ensemble Pro.
A timeline shown on top of the track area and a transport field in the upper-right corner complete Play mode. The mixer and a fly-out transport field are accessible via buttons. Those can be moved freely on the screen (or screens).
The best “thing,” though, is not even visible: Steinberg’s audio engine, known from Cubase and Nuendo, with 192kHZ, 32‐bit floating point clarity and quality.
On the VST instruments panel on the right-hand side, all VST3 instruments and compatible VST2 instruments can be loaded via a drop-down menu. The number of audio outputs for the selected VST3 instrument will be automatically added to the mixer.
A small button next to the drop down menu labeled with (known from Cubase) allows the user to open the VST3 instrument in a separate window in order to load or change instruments, or to make more detailed adjustments within the loaded VST instrument, as described earlier.
MIDI assignments (left-hand side)
On the left hand side where all instruments of a given score or flow are listed, one will find a small arrow next to the instrument label which allows the user to expand the panel.
Depending on how many instruments are assigned to one player in the Setup menu, all given staves will be represented as tracks. Every track can be assigned to a different VST3 instrument, including the corresponding MIDI channel.
The great advantage a lot of film and media composers might like is that different articulations and playing techniques can be added to one player and then assigned to different MIDI channels just like they do in a DAW.
One important feature should not go unnoticed. Based on Dorico’s flow architecture, the user can select the playback setup for every flow in use to make individual adjustments and assignments.
HALion SE and SO
Dorico includes the HALion Sonic SE player including all HSE sounds plus the HALion Symphonic Orchestra library, for a total of 8.5 GB of samples (1500 sounds).
While it’s not exactly the newest sample library available today, the full and rich sound of the Symphonic Orchestra library still does a great job, especially the so‐called combi instruments which cover a variety of articulations and playing techniques triggered via keyswitch. The instrument collection that ships with the Halion Sonic SE covers a wide range of instruments and General MIDI sounds, as well as modern and vintage synthesizers, guitars, basses, and more.
The Halion Sonic SE has already a built-in mixer that allows different routings and FX assignments. An editor allows detailed adjustments of the selected sound — cutoff filter, resonance, attack, release — to name a few.
Dorico’s built-in mixer in its fullness is yet another step forward in music scoring software. All outputs of the loaded VST instruments are connected automatically to the input section of the mixer, and every adjustment in the mixer actually affects a true audio signal. Steinberg’s audio engine delivers a detailed audio signal and allows export as WAV or MP3.
A mixer channel contains a channel strip including 4 sends, 4 inserts and a 4‐band parametric EQ.
Dorico already comes with a good set of VST3 plug-ins familiar to those that use Cubase or Nuendo, such as a compressor, a limiter, a convolution reverb and certain additional effects. Additional third-party VST3 plug-ins can easily be added.
When expanding a track in the main Play mode window, an event display (commonly known as a piano roll) is shown containing all MIDI events related to the notes of the given staff. The note start and end points can easily be edited by click‐dragging the beginning or ending of the shown event bar.
Every adjustment is handled independently and does not affect the note appearance at all.
A little white line on the left next to the tracklist allows to adjust the visible height of the event display. Scrolling up or down within the event display can be done by dragging the piano keyboard at the left side up or down.
Scrolling forward and backward is done by dragging the ruler. Zooming in or out horizontally and vertically is done by holding Shift and dragging the rule or piano keyboard.
Overall, including a separate editor for playback including a piano roll to make adjustments independently from the score is something new in the world of notation software. The fly-out design (separate window) of the mixer and the transport allows the user to work in any of Dorico’s modes while adjusting the mix, especially when using a multi‐screen setup. The audio quality is nothing less than what we would expect from Steinberg. The VST plug-ins shipped with Dorico are well selected, and most of them have already been used widely in productions.
By taking advantage of the opportunity to start from scratch, the development team behind Dorico freed themselves from the limitations of other scoring software regarding playback capabilities.
Although Dorico’s play mode appears in a basic state in the first release, there are hints of things to come.
We can expect steady improvements and features in future updates, such as drawing several different control command curves (CC) or articulation and playing techniques that will be controlled by an articulation map, which can be compared to the well‐known expression maps in Cubase.
Eventually we hope to be able to edit MIDI events and controllers almost in a way it is done in Cubase — now in relation to scores, of course. The foundation of Dorico’s design that can allow for this is already present.
Here is an example of audio export straight from Dorico with its default sounds, with its built-in compressor, exciter, and reverb in use. It’s the final movement of my Gallimer Saga No. 1, opus 186 (1996) for solo oboe, first chair solo violin, strings, harp, and timpani.
When more playback features are added, we will follow up with a closer look.