Note: This post about the first Dorico release, 1.0, is from October 2016. Read about the updates to Dorico since then:
Editor’s note: This review was written by Alexander Plötz; the playback section was written by Andrew Noah Cap. Philip Rothman edited the review and provided additional content.
For new readers to this site: Sibeliusblog.com is an independent site about music notation software and related technology, and is independently owned and operated by NYC Music Services, a music preparation service. It is not affiliated with Steinberg, Avid, or any other software company.
This post was updated on December 8, 2016 to account for the changes made in the 1.0.10 update, and also for clarity and accuracy.
Today marks the release of Dorico, a new proprietary music notation application from Steinberg. If you have enthusiastically awaited the program for months now and your mind is already made up: Go ahead, skip this review and purchase Dorico right away; feel free to come back here while you wait for the eight gigabytes of the sound library to download.
In most professional fields, the arrival of a new software tool — for a reviewer — is generally an occasion to perform a routine task of measuring up the new against the not-just-as-new-anymore, comparing the product to a number of similar competitors. True innovation is often incremental and limited to only a handful of the many components of a modern software package.
With commercial music notation software, this is a bit different: for more than two decades, the market has been dominated by exactly two products. Both of them, Avid’s Sibelius and MakeMusic’s Finale, are powerful tools with an impressive record of innovative features, but they also cannot hide their age. Rooted in an era when software engineering had just started to find ways out of the Software Crisis, today they are mature to the point of a terminally arrested development, one could say.
So when a new player enters the market — for months now credibly promising not only to match, but to surpass the status quo — it creates an enormous amount of expectation, especially in our narrow and opinionated niche. That is why an in-depth review of Dorico, like the software itself, cannot be approached in quite the usual way. Instead of merely discussing what we can produce with Dorico, we must also explore the philosophy behind its design.
A few notes before we begin:
- In order to write this detailed review, my fellow contributors to this article and I were allowed to use various pre-release builds of Dorico over the past several months.
- I have used Dorico on a Microsoft Surface 3 Pro running Windows 8.1, with an additional monitor attached.
- The examples contained herein have been created for the sole purpose of illustrating this review. They are intended for demonstration purposes only and are not suited for any other use.
We’ll start by recapitulating the four-year journey to today’s release; if you prefer to jump directly to the review: this way, please.
The road to Dorico
It’s worth reviewing how Dorico has come to be.
In July 2012, Avid, the maker of Sibelius, announced a corporate restructuring in which its consumer audio and video product lines were sold to other companies, with the intention of focusing the company on its media enterprise and post & professional customers, and to improve operating performance. At that same time, Avid also announced plans to lay off a number of its employees.
With Sibelius not having been mentioned in the press release, concern in the user community grew about the fate of the Sibelius team and the future of the product itself. It was soon learned that the London-based Sibelius developers were to be terminated. Avid affirmed that it was keeping Sibelius as part of the company with two letters to the user community: one with an initial statement and another acknowledging the deep level of concern that users were expressing.
A pressure group was formed which unsuccessfully tried to influence Avid’s decisions, and the founders of Sibelius, Ben and Jonathan Finn, made twice-rebuffed offers to buy back Sibelius from Avid. Over the summer and fall of 2012, Avid transitioned Sibelius development and began terminating staff, concluding with the closure of the Finsbury Park office in October 2012. (It was at that time that Daniel Spreadbury passed the stewardship of this blog, an independent venture, to Philip Rothman.)
Prior to their departure, the remaining members of the London-based development team issued Sibelius 7.1.3, which was the last update to Sibelius 7. Shortly after their last days at Avid, most of that team was hired by Steinberg in November 2012 to create a new music notation and scoring program — unnamed at the time.
A few months later, in February 2013, Daniel started a new blog, Making Notes, regularly updating the community about the new software and the team’s progress at Steinberg. An early result of their work was the development in May 2013 of a new open standard for music fonts: Standard Music Font Layout (SMuFL), and the creation of its flagship font, Bravura.
Fast-forward three years and many development diaries along the way, and we arrived in May 2016 at the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association annual conference in Helsinki, Finland, where, in the first public presentation of the software, the Dorico name was officially announced, along with the news that the software would become available for purchase in the fourth quarter of 2016.
In short order, we were invited behind the scenes to learn more about the scoring team’s efforts and plans, as the inevitable release date approached.
And so, in time, the heartbreaking scene of the vacant Sibelius office has given way to a thriving, bustling environment from which Dorico has finally emerged.
Dorico is organized around five modes, which Daniel described last year: Setup, Write, Engrave, Play, and Print, which he says are “roughly divided up according to the different phases of working on a given project. In each mode, collapsible panels down the left- and right-hand sides of the screen, and in most cases also along the bottom too, show the main interface elements for creating and editing your music.”
The modes have been covered before, but a summary is in order.
Setup mode is the first thing you’ll encounter in Dorico, but it’s also accessible at any time by clicking the top part of the display (as are the other modes) or by keyboard shortcut (in this case, Command-1 on Mac or Ctrl+1 on PC).
In Setup mode, you first create the player and then add to it, for example, a Flute and a Piccolo. A player can be a single person or a section (e.g. for a violin or choir section).
The key concepts of Setup mode are:
- Players: humans holding one or more instruments
- Instruments: flute, oboe, guitar, piano, etc.
- Flows: self-contained spans of music, such as a song, movement, piece, act or number
- Layouts: contain the music for one or more players, from one or more flows
More on Setup mode, Flows, and Layouts in a bit.
Inputting music in Dorico is done via the mouse, computer keyboard, or MIDI input. It relies only on keys found on laptop keyboards, without a need for a numeric keypad.
Shortcuts are a mix of ergonomic and mnemonic shortcuts. The idea is that the items are organized in distinct groups on the computer keyboard. These elements are also contained in the Write mode (Command-2 on Mac or Ctrl+2 on PC) on the left side of the window:
- The letters A through G input notes
- The numbers 1 through 9 specify note duration (e.g., 5 is an eighth note, 6 is a quarter note, 7 is a half note)
- 0 represents a natural; – is a flat; = is a sharp
- The most common articulations are placed using the keys [ ] \ ‘
- Tuplets are placed using the semi-colon
- Grace notes use the slash key
- Augmentation dots use the period
- Rests use the comma
- Q is for chords
- I is for insert
- T is for ties
Clefs, key and time signatures, tempo markings, dynamics, ornaments, tremolos, barlines, fermatas, playing techniques, rehearsal marks, text, and lyrics are found at the right side of the window in Write mode.
While in Write mode, you can switch between Page View and Galley View via a toggle at the bottom right of the display. Zoom controls are found there as well, as are options for viewing your music in spreads or single pages, both vertically and horizontally. Also here: you can switch between a marquee and a hand-grabbing tool; holding down Shift and dragging the background will temporarily put you in hand-grabbing mode.
This is quite possibly Dorico’s raîson d’etre. Engrave mode (Command-3 on Mac or Ctrl+3 on PC) is devoted to refining the look of your score. Nothing can be created in this mode. The idea behind separating the phases of work is that it can be too easy to make an unintended musical edit while changing the finer visual details of a score.
Details of the score’s components can be selected independently in Engrave mode. When pressed with the Alt modifier, the arrow keys move the elements at a micro level. With further addition of Ctrl (PC) or Command (Mac) the arrow keys will move by a greater (but still relatively small) amount.
From the Pages panel on the right-hand side, you control the layout of your music. Here you can insert pages, change the page numbering, swap pages, and more.
Immediately below that are the Master Pages options, powerful tools for organizing a template of sorts for your document. You can have different master pages, for instance, for the first page of a score and subsequent pages; these can then be organized into Master Page Sets.
To the left are options for creating Frames. Music, text, and graphics are all part of frames, and the frames can be created or organized in any way, on any page. For conventional music layouts, it will be rather obvious where frames for common items like the title, composer, and music go.
The power behind frames begins to become evident when they are paired with flows. Because a flow can be any length of music — even a short snippet — it can be placed on a page at any place, making it trivial compared to other programs to create things like worksheets and other seemingly disconnected sections of music.
You’ll find various options to format frames and systems here. The staff size of each system in Dorico can be set independently.
Properties, accessible at the bottom of the screen, are an important part of this mode when making fine adjustments; we’ll cover them more later.
Play mode (Command-4 on Mac or Ctrl+4 on PC) is where you can edit your mix, load VST instruments, and more. We’ll go into detail later.
The last of the five modes, Print mode (Command-5 on Mac or Ctrl+5 on PC) is where you’ll finish your project. Select a layout on the left side of the screen to see it in the print preview.
The layouts selected in this panel will be printed when you click Printer in the Destinations panel, or exported as graphics — including PDF, PNG, SVG, and TIFF formats — if you click Graphics. True monochrome output is supported. Annotations and view options can be optionally shown, similar to what is available in Sibelius, for those working in a publishing environment.
You can change the number of copies you need and expand the layout to see its page size and its number of pages, as Daniel demonstrates in this video:
Dorico can impose booklets and 2-ups, and can make use of a duplexing printer if one is available.
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.
The idea of your music: the music model
Dorico’s innovation with the most far-reaching consequences is its thorough approach to modeling musical concepts and their intricate interactions. This might not be apparent right away, as it is not so much a single feature but the accumulation of many small ways of capturing the meaning of notation conventions and not just their appearance.
An example case: the voices paradigm
Have a quick look at Finale’s documentation for the Layers feature (the equivalent to Sibelius’s voices).
In condensed form (italics added for emphasis):
- “Each staff in Finale has four transparent layers of music.”
- “[…] each layer may be taught to flip its stems […] to help distinguish the multiple voices.”
- “In general, you’ll want the stems of Layer 1 to flip up, but only when Layer 2 is present […]”
- “Furthermore, you’ll probably want ties to flip […]”
- “Therefore, you’ll probably want to select options as follows.”
- “The settings for Layers 3 and 4 are up to you, since [settings] probably depend on the piece you’re notating.”
- “In addition, you may wish to specify that the placement of rests […]”
- “You tell Finale how far out of the way you want these rests to appear […]”
- “In the usual situation, you’d enter a positive number […]”
In summation: while Finale offers a solid technical framework and all necessary tools to create the graphically correct appearance for any complex notation, there is an implicit assumption that users can not expect the software itself to infer how to reasonably use these tools.
It turns out that this can indeed be expected. To get there, Dorico does not simply improve upon the status quo, but goes back to first principles. For voices, this means breaking with a presumption taken mostly for granted today: the four-voices-per-staff model.
Sibelius works this way (voices 1 and 3 are up-stemmed, voices 2 and 4 down-stemmed), as does Finale (see above) and even LilyPond — which does support more than four voices in a somewhat straightforward way — does acknowledge the four-voice model in its predefined commands.
Dorico, however, does not make any assumptions in this regard. Instead, it just requires from the user one fundamental decision before starting to input notes: is this voice supposed to be up-stemmed or down-stemmed?
The caret appearing when note entry is started (Shift-N) in Write mode will show a small stylized note symbol, up-stemmed by default.
By pressing Shift-V the user can call for a new voice to be created, which will — nominally — be down-stemmed. (Similar to the behavior of Sibelius and Finale, these directions will take effect once there are two or more voices present; one voice alone will have its stem directions determined by the usual rules.)
Pressing Shift-V again prepares a new voice, with stem direction reversed once more. I use the word “prepare”, because a voice is only ever actually created if notes are entered.
This is where the old paradigm is abandoned. Instead of choosing the “correct” voices from a limited set, users create exactly the voice constellation that is needed; for example: one down-stemmed voice and five up-stemmed ones. Once voices have been created, users can easily toggle through them by pressing V, allowing for polyphonic notat… Wait, wait, wait – just a minute. What? One down-stemmed and five up-stemmed? Who would ever need such a weird voice construction?
Well, one Ludwig van Beethoven would:
In all fairness, this short passage from the third movement of op. 27/2 does only really need five voices. I opted to use a sixth one on the chords, for clarity — and Dorico let me.
If you try to create this example in Sibelius (which you will fail to do without heavy workarounds, since you are at least one voice short), you will spend some time hiding a lot of excess rests, created because Sibelius insists on each voice being complete within a bar, also meaning that a particular voice can technically only start or end at a barline.
Dorico does not offer a feature to hide notational elements yet, so where are these rests? Again, Dorico’s voices work opposite to the way we are accustomed; they can start and end literally anywhere. Appropriate rests shown before or after the extent of a voice are added by Dorico automatically, unless users opt against it.
Instead of having four determined voice “tracks” which can be used to mimic the concept of independent voices, the actual concept is deeply implemented in Dorico. And instead of thinking about where to best place a voice in the available technical framework (and thereby necessarily thinking about that framework itself), users only need to concern themselves with a genuine musician’s decision: up-stemmed or down-stemmed?
Dorico’s promotional material claims that there is no limit on the number of voices for a stave, and I have not been able to create an example to refute this. It surely is an impressive achievement in algorithm design, even though there is, in practice, rarely a use for more than three voices, let alone an infinite number.
But okay: here is the first full entry of all 40 voices from Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium. I hope we can agree that this example is exhilarating, but not really helpful for anything (click for PDF).
So rigorously from the ground-up is the program designed that finding one’s way into working with Dorico often serves as a useful refresher course in notational thinking in general.
Here are the articulations that Dorico offers its users during basic note entry: To the right you have your staccato and tenuto, invoked by the shortcuts ] and #. Adding the Shift key will give you the respective shorter versions of staccatissimo and staccato-tenuto. Likewise, [ will produce an accent, or a marcato with Shift. Convenient, so far.
But what are these two symbols in the bottom left corner? There is a good chance that a number of readers see them for the first time – that is, unless they are also students of prosody, where similar symbols are used to notate patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables. Arnold Schoenberg introduced them to music notation with the intention of clearly showing how a rhythm is supposed to be articulated against an established overall meter. It would be interesting to hear in the comments from those who use these two articulations on a regular basis, but I won’t hold my breath.
Given the relative obscurity of the “stressed” and “unstressed” articulations, one might easily object their inclusion here. After all, aren’t there many types of articulation that are much more widely used? Where are the circle, the cross, up-bow and down-bow?
But think about it for a minute. The one thing Dorico’s eight articulations have in common, and which distinguishes them from any other “articulations” (as we may be accustomed to think about them), is that their meaning will not change with context.
Put another way, a circle denotes a harmonic on a string instrument, but on a horn it means an open note (after a muted passage). The cross (or plus) will stand for left-hand pizzicato in strings, but for hand-stopping in horns. Up-bow and down-bow really do not make sense anywhere except within a string part. It takes a moment of adjusting one’s preconceptions to realize that both Sibelius and Finale (and most other scorewriters out there) consider symbols as articulations which, on closer inspection, signify playing techniques.
Actually, to say that they “consider symbols as articulations” may be even a stretch for Dorico’s competitors. It would be more accurate to say that they consider notes, and then also symbols that can be stacked above or below these notes.
Case in point: the image to the right shows something that passes as a valid notation in Sibelius. Dorico, instead of just placing glyphs, makes a distinction between notations that have a universally musical meaning (the actual articulations from the left-hand panel) and those which carry technical information (found in Write mode’s right-hand panel, under Playing Techniques).
The differentiation does not stop there. Articulations themselves are separated into three categories.
To use Dorico’s terminology:
- Articulations of duration (the articulation panel’s right half);
- Articulations of force (accent and marcato);
- Articulations of stress (the Schoenberg symbols).
Only one from each category can be applied to a note or chord at a given point. Once one takes articulations seriously as musical concepts and not just as symbols to be placed in relation to a note, this makes good sense. While it is possible (not in Dorico, though) to have a note be simultaneously marked as “stressed” and “unstressed” on the notational level, it really can only be played (articulated) either the one way or the other.
This sophisticated understanding of articulations also is the key to another detail that might look odd at first. Dorico provides a dedicated staccato-tenuto articulation. Visually it is, of course, a combination of the two glyphs for staccato and tenuto. Musically, however, a staccato-tenuto is only superficially a combination of staccato and tenuto.
One and the same note can not be deliberately shortened and at the same time deliberately held out for its nominal duration, of course. An actual staccato-tenuto is a two-step procedure of first shortening a nominal note value and to then taking care to actually emphasize this shorter virtual duration (or the other way round, if you like).
Dorico wisely acknowledges this, even though technically it is not necessary for producing the appearance of the proper notation. In Sibelius, a staccato-tenuto is created by stacking line and dot. Finale, in contrast, not only allows to have the kind of hit-and-miss implementation available in Sibelius, but to additionally add the line-dot-combination glyph, making it possible to mark up a note with a stack of two lines and two dots in total.
Back to first principles: dynamics are dynamics; ottava lines are…clefs?
It is obvious that one guideline that has been observed closely by Dorico’s developers is to not go for solutions which merely give a straightforward technical way to a specific notation’s appearance.
In other programs, a dynamic marking is either a symbol or a text object or a line, depending on what is easiest to do with the existing framework. For Dorico, it is neither; instead it foremost is simply the concept of a dynamic. This concept can then be expressed by the user in different ways, be it a symbol, a text or a line — even combinations. But underneath, it always is the same fundamental type of event.
In going to these conceptual lengths, Dorico shines where existing software starts to stumble. It is inconvenient enough that Sibelius users have to construct text-chain instructions of the “de – cre – scen – do po – co a po – co” variety by arranging individual text objects. But then they might have to do the same work again because of horizontal spacing in a part diverging heavily from the score. And the real frustration starts when such a carefully fine-tuned passage has unexpectedly to be changed substantially.
In Dorico, this poses no such problem.
Sometimes, following Dorico’s music model leads to elucidating surprises. If you thought that ottava lines are… well, lines – consider this: their effect is that any notes to which they apply are displaced to a different stave position. Dorico therefore has them share a category with the only other notational elements with a similar function; ottava lines are now basically clefs.
Since Dorico comes with its own fledgling DAW, having ottava lines behaving like clefs has also the clear benefit of keeping the pitch information of a score perfectly intact at all times. This, once again, is the opposite of the commonly used method of having the worst of both worlds: combining notes that refer to the wrong octave with a line that clumsily counteracts this by adjusting playback.
The meaning of the music
Dorico’s model attempts to comprehensively cover not just appearances, but meaning. It does succeed to an unprecedented extent. But music — being art and therefore an act of resilience — is not inclined to take this without a fight.
While the articulation system described above is perfectly logical, appropriate and well researched, the actual practice of seminal (and not-so-seminal) works might not necessarily care. The newest of the many reasons to lament György Ligeti’s passing is that we will never witness how Daniel Spreadbury explains to him that it is wrong to stack three “articulations of force”.
Likewise, there has never before been a scoring program that actually understands how to reasonably handle fermatas. Still, Richard Wagner managed to come up with fermata use cases like this one, which is as invalid as it is ingeniously apt:
It will be interesting to see how the Dorico developers choose to engage this eternal dilemma. Will they be able to expand their model without sacrificing its elegance and consistency? Or will we eventually just barter our Sibelius and Finale workarounds for ones idiosyncratic to Dorico?
Let’s look at a few of the engraving innovations in Dorico.
To start things off, here are a few appetizers, presented without much comment.
Octave lines can be angled to follow the material’s contour:
Tremolo strokes will automatically stay out of leger lines:
Cross-stave tuplet brackets are drawn with correct hooks:
Dense chromatic clusters can be displayed with split stems:
Glissando lines between notes of the same diatonic pitch slant:
For better or worse, tuplets can cross bar lines easily:
You can even (with a little effort afterwards) re-create the multi-segment slur in Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin:
Challenging avant-garde scores
Assuming that you are appropriately dazzled, now here is an example that shows the power of Dorico’s Engrave mode — in particular, the concept of music frames in connection with flows.
Leonard Bernstein, at the beginning of his Mass, writes four mini-cantatas to be played (from tape) simultaneously, but completely independently. The score of the section, which merely acts as a rough guide for minimal synchronization, was virtually impossible to create without highly specialized tools and knowledge.
Guess what: I did it within a few hours in Dorico, with most of the time spent on note entry (click for the PDF).
Keep in mind that this is a proof-of-concept to illustrate this point; many details from the source score have been left out and it’s not suited for proper publication.
So, what is happening here?
The four separate pieces are four separate flows. With these put in, all I had to do was to draw independent music frames in Engrave mode at the appropriate positions on each page, and then override the default “frame chain”; which simply means that I tell Dorico exactly which flows I want to have “flowing” through which of my custom frames.
Perhaps it is better illustrated in this schematic (click to enlarge).
Next up is a short excerpt from Ligeti’s Nouvelles Aventures. Again, it’s a proof-of-concept with details left out but also, this is a bit mean; in Dorico 1.0 the functionality demonstrated here is not entirely available.
Note how all notes between the various players are connected with a single beam. In the publicly released build this is only possible between multiple instruments belonging to a particular player (and within any multi-staff instrument, of course). I include it here to show that Dorico is actually much more powerful than it might appear at first; there are some phenomenal things waiting to be unleashed once they are completely ready.
And since I know that there are people out there who won’t take a scorewriter serious unless it passes the Ferneyhough test; here you go (click for the entire PDF):
Disclaimer: the above excerpt from Ferneyhough’s Opus Contra Naturam was provided by Steinberg in form of a MusicXML file. The statements of previous disclaimers apply, but it should be added that all I did to make the XML import presentable was to set a page size, to introduce breaks, to move a small number of rests and to fine-tune the right-hand offset of a comparably small number of tuplet brackets to cater to my personal taste. I spent about ten to fifteen minutes on this, from XML import to PDF export.
It does automatically what you would have done anyway
One of the statements that has come up repeatedly from Dorico’s developers over the last four years is that it will “do automatically what an experienced copyist or engraver would have done anyway”.
Does the program deliver? It sure does. But you don’t have to just take my word for it. Instead, you can take another look at the PDF files that I presented in this review’s previous section.
I prepared those scores to demonstrate Dorico’s innovative features allowing for notations that have been extraordinarily difficult to achieve with current scoring programs. However, the more astonishing thing about them is that I virtually did no fine-tuning to their standard notation. To be more precise: I did not even feel the need to fine-tune anything. That does not mean that nothing in the scores could be improved. But it is also quite hard to find anything that positively has to be further polished.
We only have to revisit the first system from Bernstein’s Mass, though, to find a number of things which would potentially need to be adjusted in Sibelius (and often also monitored later, to make sure nothing has reverted).
Taking my usual workflow as a reference:
- The tempo indication needs alignment with the time signature.
Most of the time, Sibelius places them at an adequate position, but that is merely due to its default offset for Tempo text matching the most common scenario; thus I tend to check every tempo indication anyway. Incidentally, the source score does not follow the standard rule in the first place. Dorico does.
- The metronome mark part of the tempo indication will have to be double-checked at some point to make sure that all tempo indications of the score have consistent formatting.
Dorico completely automates this; see below.
- The spacing for the the first half of the first bar, depending how crowded the system is overall, might need to be increased to make room for the dynamics if they are wider than the default spacing.
The source score is spaced wide enough for this to not be an immediate issue. However, for a rehearsal score of just the first pre-recorded piece, or a part for the soprano, it becomes problematic. Sibelius users might recognize this as the case where a very short hairpin suddenly vanishes behind a neighboring expression text object.
- Dynamics in the percussion staves would benefit from using Bob Zawalich’s Position Dynamics plug-in on them.
This is how Dorico handles it:
- Fermatas have to be added one by one in each stave and also to any hidden staves that might be present.
In Dorico, a fermata applied to the relevant position in a single voice will automatically have corresponding fermatas added at appropriate positions on all other staves, including those with bar rests.
- The breath marks have to be dragged to the correct position at the end of the bar, as there is no automatic way to create them there.
In Dorico, breath marks are not just independent symbols attached to the stave, but properties of the note preceding the mark.
- A dotted barline, being one of the dreaded “special barlines”, will have to be carefully adjusted, along with the spacing around it, to counteract the “special” way it deviates from standard spacing.
We can also observe a bonus automation here, due to a bug of the current Dorico build: While the dotted barline should not cause the following A flat in the singer’s line to show a cautionary accidental (consider this a bug report), it is great to see how the slur is allowed to cut through the flat’s line, allowing for a closer slur path. I dare not to estimate the number of times I have manually adjusted this in Sibelius.
These are seven issues which, in Sibelius, make me work just to achieve the obviously necessary, for three bars of material that is not even particularly challenging, engraving-wise.
In Dorico, one merely enters the music. Its deep semantic model at last introduces to music notation a paradigm well-established in other fields: the program asks users for the results they want and not just what edits should be done.
The key to this approach lies in two places: global options, and the Properties panel at the bottom of the screen in Write mode and Engrave mode. Let’s look at Properties further, to see what’s possible.
The Properties panels
In Write mode, and especially Engrave mode, the context-sensitive Properties are accessed by clicking on the chevron at the bottom of Dorico’s display (shortcut: Command-8 on Mac or Ctrl+8 on PC).
As an example, let’s take a look at how properties can affect tempo text.
In other programs, tempo indications are basically text objects, even though there might be some additional functionality attached. Dorico’s understanding of tempo indications is much more sophisticated. For starters, they are divided into four categories:
- Absolute (think “Allegro”)
- Gradual (“ritardando”)
- Relative (“doppio movimento”)
- Reset (“a tempo”)
Let’s assume we created an absolute tempo change by invoking the Tempo popover (Shift-T) and typing in “Allegretto”. Here are the properties available:
In addition to the actual tempo text, there is the option to provide an abbreviated version, useful in parts where horizontal space might be limited. A second property decides whether the abbreviation should actually be used; in our use case, this would be checked in a particularly crowded part, but not in the score or in parts with plenty of room. Tempo can also be specified as a bpm (beats per minute) value, along with the note value constituting a beat. Dorico understands the concept of a tempo range, which can be set by adding a second bpm value (last entry to the right in the panel).
It is important to understand that all this information (full tempo text, abbreviation parameters and metronomic values) says nothing yet about the tempo indication’s actual appearance; that’s controlled by the properties in the panel’s middle column. Text and metronome mark can be shown independently from each other: just “Allegretto” or just a metronome number or both together. Unchecking the first two boxes makes for a fully functional, yet invisible tempo change. The metronome mark itself can be controlled further to be parenthesized and to be understood as approximate. If the latter option is chosen, there are five choices available for how to display this. If you ever have spent time carefully checking if all metronome marks in a larger work are written consistently then you will know how convenient this is.
However, using the Properties panel is not even the proper way in Dorico to get a consistent score appearance. All defaults for Properties can be customized in Engrave mode > Engraving Options to match what is needed for a specific project, while Write > Notation Options can be customized on a flow-by-flow basis.
Daniel has said that the beautifully illustrated options in these dialogs were inspired by the music examples in Elaine Gould’s music notation reference Behind Bars.
A greyed-out property means that the default setting is being used. Only if there is a specific reason to deviate from the default — like with the abbreviation of a tempo indication — a Properties override is called for. With carefully set global options, there is a good chance that for many scores the Properties panel will rarely be needed by many users, especially for music that that tends to function in well-defined stylistic constraints, like big band charts, wind band music or pop music transcriptions.
The stress test: comparing Bach’s Musical Offering in Dorico, Sibelius, and Finale
Earlier, I discussed Dorico’s ability to have any number of voices on a single stave. I did not address, however, if those voices are then handled competently. It is no small thing to ask for; voice positioning rules are obscure and tedious.
To stress test this area, I notated two passages from Bach’s Musical Offering. These excerpts from the Ricercare a 6 have the distinction of containing one of the few instances in the literature with four independent voices written simultaneously on one stave. For comparison we prepared the same music in Finale and Sibelius.
We used the same ground rules for all competitors: consistent voices had to be used to match the counterpoint (no switching to other voices in between, cross-staves notation when necessary). The only edit allowed to improve the default output was to swap stem directions.
I can honestly say that this blew me away. Take a moment and study this in detail. Compare what Dorico is doing and its competitors are not. Try to imagine what the algorithms behind this default (!) output must look like. It truly is mind-boggling.
That’s not to say that everything is perfect, though. Again, keep in mind that such dense counterpoint on single staves is a challenge in any case. (Then remember the Sibelius and Finale versions you just saw.)
So how to improve this? With experience from other programs, your impulse might be to now painstakingly shift things around by editing offset values. And maybe you are thinking Dorico’s Engrave mode will give you graphical freedom as Finale does, or even the fabled SCORE.
Well, there’s bad news and there’s news making the bad news largely irrelevant. It turns out that, at least currently, Engrave mode lets you move around items far less then many people might have been expecting. Most importantly for our voice positioning problems, there is no way of freely moving notes around horizontally. That’s quite a bummer — if you insist on doing things the way you are used to.
But Dorico actually offers you a much better way, and it does again involve Properties and telling the program what you want instead of what it should do.
Let’s take one of the Bach examples and apply this step by step. Here is the default output:
As a first manual edit, I improve two ties by changing their direction (this still feels rather familiar, with maybe the exception that tie ends will be also moved horizontally more often than in other programs, to adapt them to new context):
Next, in Properties, I swap the Voice column indices of some notes. I could do that manually, but Dorico conveniently provides a command for this, again offering to provide a result instead of just a tool. The Voice column index is a number determining the priority which a note, rest, or chord will have in the left-to-right arranging order where several voices claim to place something at the same position. Activating the Voice column index property for a note allows me to override the index.
I have colored the swapped pairs:
Lastly, we have to adjust stem lengths (colored notes) and rests. (Placing of the latter, I have to admit, is a bit crude in comparison to what Dorico does with notes; one reason might be that the Voice column index can not be applied to them.) Only now is the point to resort to offset overrides. While this feels more like working with old tools again, it is noteworthy that, again, each edit is evaluated in turn to automatically improve the whole section based on the new context:
Features in context, and those yet to come
I have mainly been singing Dorico’s praises so far, but it’s no secret that Dorico 1.0 is lacking a few things one has come to expect in a professional notation program. So… about those missing features.
I’ve thought about what would be an appropriate way to address this. It occurred to me that, with the situation being as singular as I described it in the introduction, it cannot be discussed without acknowledging the extraordinary amount of all kinds of expectations that have mounted during the last four years.
The expectations game
When Philip contacted me about writing this post, to give me some kind of idea what was needed he sent me a link to his review of StaffPad. Re-reading it, there was one sentence that stuck out:
StaffPad is quite good at recognizing flags on notes to create unbeamed notes.
“Quite good”. Mind you, that is meant as an endorsement. The program with the main selling point of reliably recognizing handwritten notation will correctly identify one of the most basic use cases… most of the time. But: it was a huge leap forward to something a lot of people desperately wished for, so everyone could agree that StaffPad was a game changer, even though it does not deliver entirely without fault on what it is setting out to do. (For the record: StaffPad is a deeply innovative and wonderfully designed software. Buy it if you haven’t already.)
The expectations game worked in favor of StaffPad: groundbreaking software at last achieves a single task, given up on by many people, having been burned before. But will probably make things more difficult for Dorico: groundbreaking software sets out to develop a unified field theory of music notation, with people cheering on a trusted team to make possible everything they have demanded in vain from their current tools for years — on top of what they can do right now, of course.
So first, let’s officially bring down a few notches the main expectation which many of us have been gleefully pushing ever-upwards (Daniel has had to remind us that he and his colleagues “aren’t curing cancer”).
Contrary to understandable and long-nurtured wishful thinking, this initial version of a highly complex software tool, aiming to set multiple new standards in an obscure field with numerous diverse user profiles, is not, indeed, perfect in every way. Let me repeat that: not perfect. There is still room for further development.
What you won’t find (yet) in Dorico
Besides perfection, however, a more difficult problem is that Dorico is still incomplete in ways that will leave users more often than not with superb, yet unpublishable scores. That is because much of the currently unavailable functionality is scattered all over different aspects of notation, and many common use cases are affected at some point or another.
Let’s try to take stock:
- There are no chord symbols yet, something everyone knows already. A subgroup of those caring about this will further be disheartened by learning that slash notation and jazz articulations are not offered in the initial release. [UPDATE: there is a small assortment of slashed note heads, but this hardly counts as fully implemented slash notation.]
- Volta brackets (first, second endings, etc.) are not covered at this time (to avoid confusion: repeat barlines are impeccably implemented). There are a lot of otherwise quite undemanding scores out there which cannot be engraved correctly in Dorico today because of this.
- The overall very comprehensive Playing Techniques omit the entirety of piano pedaling. So if you are a highbrow composer that has been inwardly scoffing at all the people panicking over pedestrian chord symbols: Karma’s a pitch!
- Engravers and copyists have to swallow the fact that, for the time being, they cannot create cues in any way.
- Educators will have to do without fingerings for a while; from all the things listed so far, these are the only ones that are currently fakeable to some extent, but that is hardly a selling point.
- Doing a lot of musical editing work, this reviewer in particular misses a convenient feature to annotate scores. (Then again, this is possible in Sibelius but not Finale.)
- Brace yourself:
there is currently no way to transpose (again for clarification: this means local transposition as an editing feature; transposing instruments are working just as they should). A basic way to, for example, transpose a selected passage up or down a major third can’t be found in Dorico 1.0.[UPDATE: the 1.0.10 update has introduced a sophisticated transposition feature.]
- Also not yet implemented: some pet peeve of yours that didn’t even occur to me to check.
It should be noted, though, that thinking of Dorico as a program with a lack of features gives a wrong idea of what its development status is. Steinberg’s marketing is very eager to point out that many features are going to be added soon, and this should not be dismissed as mere window dressing. (If you look at the screenshots released in the last months by Steinberg and study them closely, you will quickly find a number of tantalizing UI elements that are omitted from the 1.0 release.)
The good news here is that the developers consistently value rock-solid implementation over instant gratification. This gives reasonable cause to assume that Dorico will not find itself anytime soon in the kind of plateau situation that Sibelius and Finale are facing. The reason for any widely demanded feature not being included yet is, in all probability, not so much that the developers haven’t gotten around to it, but that it currently is still only “quite good” and not “insanely great” — to borrow from another technological pioneer. (That same pioneer didn’t include something as rudimentary as copy and paste in the first iPhone, and it still ended up turning out pretty well in the end.)
In assessing how debilitating any missing features might really be, it can be deceptive to simply make a comparison with what one is used to. Consider, for example, that in Dorico
there is not yet a dedicated feature to tweak vertical staff spacing on a case-by-case basis. That means users are for now completely at the mercy of the program’s justification algorithms — a scary thought if we were talking about working in Sibelius or Finale. [UPDATE: the 1.0.10 update has introduced the ability to vertically move staves freely and with ease.]
This, however, is a wrong equivalency: as long as Dorico is given minimally reasonable space for laying out the music, its collision avoidance on the staff level is faultless. While an ability to override staff spacing manually will certainly be added at some point, its absence right now is certainly not a deal-breaker. The program once more “does automatically what you would have done anyway”.
Dorico’s performance has room for improvement
Given the amount of sophistication of Dorico’s separate features, it should come only as a mild surprise that sometimes they are not yet comfortably under the user’s control in this initial release. Content selection might be the most obvious example: at times — to me at least — it does behave in ways that are not completely predictable, and so I spend two or three approaches on a selection that feels as it should be easy to make.
My impression here is that the problem is not a clumsy implementation of selection itself (even though some semi-advanced standard selection features are, wait for it… not yet implemented [UPDATE: the 1.0.10 update has brought first improvements here]); rather, processing selections in Dorico is an advanced multi-dimensional task, where all the intricacies disregarded in competing programs have to be considered.
Fortunately, with the fundamental software architecture being focused on modular processing, improvement in this area is not so much dependent on any inherent technical limits, but on the software engineers getting around to refine the current algorithms. There is no reason to doubt that this will happen eventually.
Outside of particular features, it cannot be ignored that there are also some broader technical issues. While the occasional bug or crash is not too big a deal (especially as bug fix updates are to be expected soon),
the speed of the program regarding certain edits is a letdown [UPDATE: these problems in particular have been addressed in the 1.0.10 update to the point that they are hardly noticeable any more, if at all]. Personally I am ready to accept this for the time being, in order to experience the kind of quality bought by these obviously laborious operations.
As with the issues concerning selections, I hope that the developers’ assurances of large untapped potential in optimizing the current code will prove true rather sooner than later.
One of Dorico’s more peculiar quirks right now is that edits of pitch will be executed (and redrawn) subsequently for each selected note. This is quaint to watch the first few times, but it will slow down bulk edits considerably. [UPDATE: this is not an issue anymore after the 1.0.10 update]
Another area where response lag gets seriously in the way of a smooth user experience is Setup mode: Complex changes to the Player/Flow/Layout triangle require patient users, as the program will go about redrawing the whole project the moment a checkbox is clicked. While this is happening, users are free to continue clicking on checkboxes, each time triggering new high-level edits that have to be queued in.
To add further confusion, checkboxes will be updated before the corresponding edit has been completed, resulting in an increasing discrepancy between the state of the checkboxes and the actual output (I guess you have to see it to share my annoyance). To Dorico’s credit, all lagging edits will be correctly executed in the end. Still, Jakob Nielsen woud not be impressed. It has been stated that these speed issues are a transitional situation, but as is the nature of such announcements, no time frame has been declared [UPDATE: while sorting out a large number of complex edits in Setup still seems to be not correctly in sync with the UI, the substantial speed improvements of update 1.0.10 mitigate this problem greatly].
The most important “hidden feature”: the team
There is one special feature of Dorico that I’d like to review here for its double peculiarity of being a unique selling point and also being largely invisible: the development team.
Obviously they are the most qualified group for their job, considering their previous engagement. But on top of that, they have an extraordinary track record of engaging with their customers and going out of their way to actually listen to feature requests, to discuss issues openly and to base improvements closely on user feedback.
If you are a longtime Sibelius user, you might remember a time when you could go to that software’s support forum, make a suggestion for further development, and to then after a while often see that your voice made an actual difference. For three months now, as I have had the opportunity to work with various pre-release builds of Dorico, I had the inspiring experience that this is at last possible again.
If the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, the Dorico team will establish the same kind of exceptionally close relationship to its product’s user base as it had when they were responsible for making another program “the world’s best-selling scorewriter”. Don’t take my word for it; hop onto their public forum to contribute to the discussion.
Prices, availability, specs
Pricing for the boxed edition will be 579 € including VAT, or $579.99 for US customers, for a full professional license. Educational pricing for qualifying teachers and students will be 349 € including VAT ($349.99 USD), and a crossgrade offer for qualifying Sibelius, Finale, and Notion users will be available for 299 € including VAT ($299.99 USD) for a limited time — until March 31, 2017.
A download-only version is available as well; if you’re willing to purchase Dorico that way, you’ll save $20 from the prices listed above. The reason for this is that you will have to buy a USB eLicenser separately if you want to transfer to it your Soft-eLicenser at some point. It’s included with the box but it will cost you $28 if you purchase it separately.
What’s that about an eLicenser? Right now, you’re only allowed to use Dorico on one computer at a time. When you activate Dorico with an activation code, it will lock Dorico to a single computer. If you want to move your Dorico license from the Soft-eLicenser to the USB-eLicenser, Dorico will only run if the USB-eLicenser is plugged into a USB port on that computer.
It’s a clunky way to manage software licenses in 2016. Daniel Spreadbury said:
Steinberg is always reviewing its licensing technologies in the light of changing customer and business needs, and looking to the future we plan to introduce new capabilities to our eLicenser system that will address the needs of customers to run the software on their computers without the use of the USB-eLicenser while still protecting both their and Steinberg’s investment in our software.
Also check the OS requirements: Mac OS X 10.11, El Capitan or macOS Sierra, or 64-bit Windows 10. Steinberg’s policy is generally to support only the latest operating systems, although users running earlier versions of Mac OS X and 64-bit Windows systems may be able to run Dorico as well.
If you want to try a demo for free before purchasing,
you’re out of luck — but not for long. Steinberg will make a 30-day demo of Dorico available in about a month. [UPDATE: A 30-day free trial is now available]
So, should you buy it?
After reading above about some of the features not yet in Dorico, you might wonder if buying now will make you have to pay again once those features are implemented. Thankfully, that’s not the case — here’s what’s been promised, directly from Steinberg:
Dorico will receive a number of updates in the coming months that will be free to existing users, adding new functionality. Some of the functionality that is planned to be added in these updates includes*:
- Chord symbols
- Repeat ending (1st, 2nd time or volta) lines
- Jazz articulations
- Rhythm slashes
- More flexible unpitched percussion notation
- Improvements to playback and support for third-party virtual instruments
* Please note that the list of features that will be added in free updates to Dorico is subject to change.
While the asterisk is noted, we think that Steinberg will make good on all these items without requiring users to pony up again.
So if you’ve saved up your funds and you’ve been eagerly awaiting this release — and, let’s face it, you have been — buy Dorico. Dive in wholeheartedly. Explore its features, its quirks, its myriad notation and engraving options. Understand the philosophy behind its design, and try to not be constrained by your familiarity with how other notation software works.
But don’t expect perfection, and certainly don’t delete the other programs from your computer anytime soon. It’s a 1.0 release, after all, and you’ll undoubtedly find bugs, problems, and occasional head-scratching frustration. If you work with these expectations in mind, it will help you put this new era of desktop notation software in perspective.
Steinberg is in it for the long haul, and we hope their competitors are, too. As much as Sibelius in its heyday spurred on competition with Finale, improving both platforms, we hope that Dorico will do the same for Sibelius and Finale, not to mention the other music notation products available to users today. To know the history of the Dorico team is to know that their fire is lit as much by a healthy dose of professional rivalry as it is by their undoubted passion for music notation — and that will benefit users in the end.
When it comes to the future, we’re reminded of what Sibelius co-founder Ben Finn told us last year when we interviewed him:
It is extraordinary that this niche and difficult task keeps being attempted by people. As far as the newer programs, I must say that I’m not fully up to date on all of them, but I surmise that when Steinberg comes out with their new program, having three really strong programs in the market will be more than enough, and will make it pretty much impossible for anyone else to enter the market with a professional program. Though it may not make it impossible for someone to survive in the market with an app that does lots of useful stuff but is not comprehensive.
But in terms of comprehensive professional-quality music notation, I can’t see how you could ever have more than three. Because you have to make money, and you have to pay staff. You can’t do that unless you have market share and are making some serious money. You can produce a simple program for not very much money, and either give it away or sell it for not very much, and maybe you can make a living from that. You can’t, however, create a program that requires a team of ten or twenty people just to develop it over many years. That costs millions of dollars, and that’s got to come from somewhere.
Indeed, the money has to come from somewhere. Today Steinberg will begin to tell how the market rewards their notable investment in the future of professional music scoring software. We don’t think they — or you — will be disappointed.