Editor’s note: This review focuses on the new notation features and improvements in Dorico 1.1. It is written by Alexander Plötz. Philip Rothman edited the review and provided additional content. A supplementary post by Andrew Noah Cap about Dorico 1.1’s new playback features will be forthcoming soon.
Where to start?
Today Steinberg released Dorico 1.1, the most comprehensive update to the scoring program since the software’s initial October 2016 release.
I am aware that this update has been highly anticipated and that you probably have a lot of urgent questions.
So, what would you like to read about first? The addition of all the ornaments from Bach’s Clavier-Büchlein vor Wilhelm Friedemann? How slurs can automatically be placed on the first or last note of a tie chain, Mahler-style? That rests can now be nudged by any arbitrary distance, not just whole spaces? Chord symbols? The slight overhaul of the commands to control beaming? The implications of Dorico‘s polymetric features on bar numbering in multiplayer Layouts? How to notate…
Ah… Chord symbols it is, yes? Are you sure? Because, I’m telling you, that bar numbering stuff is fascinating.
Yeah, yeah, okay. Chord symbols.
There probably is no better way to give you an instant idea about how much of a game-changer Dorico 1.1 is in this area than by asking you to look at and study this complete screenshot of the program’s Engraving Options for chord symbols. Click on the image below for something that can be scrolled and read more easily. You will learn more things that interest you about Dorico’s chord symbol features from that screenshot than from the following review. Regardless, I will write about it in a bit anyway.
Before we get into the technical stuff, though, let me tell you a story.
There I was, late at night, two days before deadline, and I started getting nervous because, to be honest, chord symbols really are not my field of expertise anyway, and for days I had been struggling to find a good angle for covering them in this review. Then Philip sent me a Finale file that Darcy James Argue provided with many different chords and wondered: How would Dorico fare with them?
I looked at it and replied to Philip: It’s really tempting, but I don’t know; there’s so little time and someone would have to prepare it and what if too many things don’t work out and we end up with a useless example. It seemed a bit risky. But I started a new file and thought to myself: Well, let’s see how it goes…
…Well, don’t you know, this is actually a very smooth operation. A good number of these chord alterations I haven’t thought about in years, or — you know — ever. Still, I typed away, going by and a bit of trial and error, adjusting Engraving Options every few minutes to get the appearance of yet another new chord constellation to match the source. Two thirds in I consulted the manual at last, not because I was stumped by a certain chord, but because I suspected that there might be popover spellings much quicker than the ones I used (turns out, there were).
Makeshift casting-off, export to PDF, forward to my editor — done.
Now — a user who has sporadically used the chord symbol features for a bit over two weeks dives head-on into replicating several pages of sophisticated chord progressions that are written out in the author’s preferred system. The user is able to replicate all chords of the source in all their nuances and exactly according to their original visual appearance, within an hour — and the reason is certainly not that he is proficient with jazz chords in a savvy way.
Have Dorico’s chord symbol features been worth the wait? You tell me.
I must mention one caveat, though: the slash notation displayed herein is still a bit of a kludge. Proper support for it will be implemented in dependence with the work on unpitched percussion, which Daniel said in his post from today will be the “the final significant update to Dorico 1.x,” along with a focus on cues. For now, it involved changing the notehead style and basically setting the stem length for slash notation to have no length.
The chord symbol engine
Chord symbols can appear as deceptively simple when compared to other, superficially more complex musical notations. Other programs can render them reasonably well, something that has undoubtedly added to the frustration of many when Dorico was released without such a feature. There seems to be no need to re-invent the wheel here, like the Dorico team somewhat obviously did with other areas of notation.
Fortunately, they tried anyway. Steinberg’s product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury elucidates:
One of the initial decisions we made was not to rely on a library of predefined chord symbols, so we had to develop a pretty flexible representation of chord symbols themselves.
Chord symbols are made up of individual components: for example, a chord symbol like Bbm7b5(b9) is made up of the root note (B), the root accidental (b), the quality (m), the interval (7), and the alterations (b5 and b9). This means that we have to lay out six individual components for a single chord symbol.
Each component’s default appearance is governed by the current Engraving Options in use — e.g. the root note could be displayed as a German note name with a German accidental, so it would be only “B” and there would be no root accidental, and the “m” for minor could be “mi” or “min” or “-” etc. – and each component likewise may be positioned on the baseline, or superscript, or subscript.
Because these components draw upon different fonts, we cannot rely on simply laying these characters out in a rich text string with changes of font between them. Instead, we manually lay them out, and we have developed a way of describing kerning pairs between pairs of components, with separate pairs for components at their baseline, superscript and subscript positions, as dictated by the possibilities of the options.
Highly refined tools like these — the kerning table, for example, encompasses about 5000 pairs, according to Daniel — allow Dorico to construct each chord symbol from scratch where other programs use pre-composed compound elements for many modestly complex symbols.
Changing the fonts and appearance of chord symbols
One of this approach‘s biggest advantages is that it now becomes possible to freely change the underlying fonts.
I can imagine that many of you will want to try that out right away, so here is how it is done:
In Engrave mode, open the Engrave menu and choose Font Styles… . A dialog box appears with a drop-down menu, listing all semantically defined text items. The three relevant for chord symbols are pretty much at the top of the list: Chord Symbols Font, Chord Symbols Music Font and Chord Symbols Altered Bass Separator Font (the latter is exclusively used for the Japanese template, see below).
For the second one your choices are somewhat limited, as a SMuFL-compliant font is needed, and there aren’t too many of those around yet. However, technically it should be possible to micro-target new fonts at just the relevant music glyphs for chords, so font designers, take heed.
Chord Symbols Font controls the proper text used in chords, which, by and large, has the most impact on the symbols’ general appearance; any regular text font will do.
After choosing which one of those three you want to edit, you can adjust the font, its size and style, and you may opt to underline the font style, although you probably won‘t. As with similar settings elsewhere in Dorico, make sure that you activate the corresponding property switch to make your changes override the default.
If you need even more fine control over the typography, there are additional settings in Engraving Options dealing with general appearance. You might, for example, want to choose for your chord symbols to left-align at their rhythmic position if you tend to write mostly complex harmonies.
Maybe you want to set your own spacing gaps and line thicknesses and scaling factors and baseline heights. It is also possible to make Dorico automatically hide everything but the bass note indication for progressions like Cm, Cm/Bb, Cm/Ab, Cm/G, something that can also be done on a case-by-case basis via the properties panel, if you prefer that. Or maybe you want to set your own spacing gaps and line thicknesses and scaling factors and baseline heights.
But in case that you are really obsessive about every little detail (hello there, my dear friends over at the notat.io forum or on Music Engraving Tips), then you will have to wait just a tad longer, for one of the upcoming maintenance updates. Soon included in a minor updated to 1.1 will be a graphical editor (a pre-release version of which I was able to use) that will make it possible to manipulate every chord symbol down to the level of a single glyph. Font, type, scaling, placing — it will be all up to you soon.
Chord symbol convention templates
A feature of interest for the more practically inclined amongst you can be found right at the top of that options screen that I showed earlier. There users can choose between several real-world conventions for the writing of chords. Picking one style in the list will set all other items below appropriately. So, if you have your own preferences but do not want to work through that whole mass of settings, you might want to start with the established system that suits you the best and then just tweak a bit.
An enormous amount of research has been put into studying and replicating those time-tested (and sometimes passionately contested) systems, and the necessity to have templates being directly translatable into each other was obviously instrumental in coming up with the underlying framework.
Because the world of chord symbol usage is highly divergent, I expect there will be some conventions in use out there in the world that we didn’t find out about, but we did the best we could with the publications we could get our hands on, and with the feedback we received from users eagerly awaiting the implementation of the feature.
Corresponding to Chord Mode (Q) in Note Entry, Shift+Q summons the Chord Symbol popover, where the intended chord can be entered as a text string.
Just type in a string to describe the intended chord and Dorico’s sophisticated parser will conjure up the appropriate symbol — you will have to stray pretty far from any of the intuitive spelling possibilities to get to the point where the program will be confused. With the popover open, you can navigate between whole bars via Tab and Shift+Tab, between beats via Space and Shift+Space, and by the value of the rhythmic grid using the Arrow Keys.
The shorthand you use in the popover to create the chord symbol does not control its appearance. I could have typed
ma7 and they all would have appeared as a triangle, because of what I had set on the Chord Symbols page of Engraving Options.
Complex chords and polychords
Given the impressive flexibility of the program’s approach to understanding and rendering chord symbols, I asked Daniel where the limits of the system might be:
As for the most complex chord symbol Dorico can display, I don’t think there is one, really. You can write absolutely nonsensical things, like chords with the 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th and 13th all altered (or even doubly altered) over an altered bass note and then put that in a polychord with another similarly barmy chord, and the layout engine will do what you tell it to.
The approach is that, with the exception of some hardwired rules like not showing numbers like 2 and 4 on their own (by default, at least) so that it’s not ambiguous whether it’s an added or suspended note, whatever you type into the popover, you’ll get a chord symbol that looks like that. It’s up to you, on some level, to make it make sense!
Polychords — in case the one above piqued your interest — are simply entered using the pipe character; typing
ab|c5 will return the first chord of the following example.
Inputting using MIDI
In addition to using your computer keyboard, chords may be inputted using the MIDI keyboard as well while the Chord Symbol popover is active. As if the Engraving Options weren’t enough, you have a whole slew of options to suit your MIDI input preferences in Write > Note Input Options > Chord Symbols.
Placement of chord symbols
Not to be overlooked in all of this is an important feature: Choosing above which staves chord symbols appear. Chord symbols are exceptional notational elements within the context of a score insofar as they are hybrids between both system-attached and staff-attached indications. They describe a musical concept that exceeds any single part’s scope, so to speak; but unlike tempo text, time signatures or key signatures, chord symbols don’t necessarily appear in every part.
Finale and Sibelius avoid addressing this peculiarity by treating chord symbols as staff-attached elements, meaning that you must copy and paste chord symbols to each instrument that uses them.
Dorico takes a more sophisticated approach, treating chord symbols as common throughout the score, but allowing you to choose on which players’ staves they appear. (Although for the time being, it is not possible to accommodate those rarer instances where there are different chords on different instruments at the same time.)
By default, chord symbols appear on rhythm section instruments:
The default state can be changed in Setup mode:
Alternatively, once you start entering chord symbols on a player’s staff where they didn’t previously appear, chord symbols will be included for that Player:
There are options for showing chord symbols between the two staves of grand staff instruments, such as piano, whether or not to show chord symbols in a score, part, or both, and for hiding individual chord symbols (perhaps during a solo break).
Enharmonic spellings for transposing instruments on transposing staves don’t require anything fancy; just type in the enharmonic equivalent and Dorico knows what to do:
Enharmonic spellings can be reset on a staff-by-staff basis by typing Alt+S in the popover. Shift+Alt+S resets them for all the staves.
Playback and MusicXML import of chord symbols
Rudimentary playback of chord symbols is possible; they are played as sustained chords, and they will respect the voicing you used to play them in if a MIDI keyboard was used on input.
I asked Daniel whether they were able to build on existing features from other Steinberg products, in particular Cubase’s Chord Track. But apparently, at least on the fundamental stage of modelling chords, Cubase is the one having catching up to do:
We needed a more elaborate structure for the way chords themselves are defined in order to accommodate the full breadth and depth of chord symbols in use, but the tools in Cubase for helping you to explore new progressions or substitute one chord for another are definitely things that we plan to explore further in future, as well as Cubase’s superior way of handling playback of chord symbols, and the way MIDI tracks (and indeed even audio tracks) can be made to conform to the harmonies dictated by chord symbols. So there is plenty of potential for further development in this area.
Chord symbols can be imported in MusicXML files, although chords that specify Neapolitan, Italian, French, German, Pedal, Tristan and Other values for the kind element are ignored during import, as there is no information to specify what notes these chord symbols are meant to describe.
Until today the universe of people using the chord symbol features has been limited to those with access to a pre-release version of Dorico 1.1, such as beta testers. While we received permission from Steinberg to interview some testers for their reaction, we were asked to respect the confidentiality of the beta testing process and not reveal their identities.
If you’d like to read a sampling of their replies, please feel free. Their replies were not vetted or edited by Steinberg.
To conclude the section about chord symbols I would like to present you with yet another quote from one of my fellow beta testers. Not only is it a very accurate assessment, but it also provides us with a segue into the next topic:
I love this about Dorico. It’s going to go from “Can’t even do chord symbols” to “Market-leader for chord symbols” overnight. Same for…
I am almost tempted to simply show a picture of an Engraving Options dialog again to give you an impression of how thorough pedal notations are handled in Dorico 1.1, but suffice it to say there are plenty of them. Just as with chord symbols, the main news I can convey is that a highly complex area of musical notation has been implemented in a way that just gives users what they want without making them break their brains on how to get it.
In our review of the initial release we looked at length at how Dorico treats musical notations not primarily as graphical objects, but as abstract concepts. This allows the program to then express those concepts in different forms, a fundamental paradigm that is also at the core of pedal line handling.
One might consider pedal lines as something that should be fairly easy to implement, and one might be correct as long as one does not look further than the way one personally prefers pedal lines to be notated. But actually, the real-world conventions on how to write down the use of piano pedals have come in a variety of approaches right from the start, mirroring how there often is no standardized way for the notation of today‘s new instrumental techniques.
Historically, in fact, the first pedal lines were no lines at all, but mere text indications. And while a modest standardization kicked in eventually for the sustain (right) pedal, how to signify the use of the una corda (left) pedal was often up to personal taste. London pianists experimented with graphical symbols at the beginning of the 19th century, Schumann used the term “mit Verschiebung”, and Busoni wrote “II. Pedal”.
Only during the 20th century pedaling was prescribed in such a sophisticated way that notations like these (from Traced Overhead by Adés) became necessary:
The point of this short historical trip is that there are many legitimate ways to notate what is, in the end, always one and the same type of technical event, and Dorico acknowledges this.
Here is a short passage from the slow movement of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier sonata, followed — for purely demonstrational purposes — by two re-notations of the same passage with markedly different approaches for pedal notation.
The simple annotation with Beethoven’s decidedly non-standard wording of “poco a poco due ed allora tutte le corde” is exactly the same object — internally — as the slanted line with the pedal pictogram and hook in the second example and the dashed-line variation of the standard una corda appearance in the third.
The same goes for the sustain pedal notations (caveat: for the third example I did exchange the two consecutive lines with a single one, containing a retake; see below) and, as a related demonstration of the general concept, for the three incarnations of the crescendo. To achieve these different looks it is not necessary to cobble together several disparate elements, as in other programs.
The choices are implemented from the start and can be set either globally via the Engraving Options or on a case-by-case basis with the Properties panels at the bottom of the screen in Write mode and Engrave mode. And since the underlying object is always the same, this also means that any impact on playback that a line has will stay unchanged, independent from appearance and complexity of the notation.
Pedal indications can be created with the same flexibility as most notations in Dorico: via mouse from the right-hand Playing Techniques panel or with the corresponding popover (Shift+P:
ped / sost / unacorda), the latter without ever leaving Note Input.
With the same methods it is possible to add proper retakes to any existing sustain pedal, which then are part of the original line (Shift+P:
^). In addition to the conventional full retake — the pedal is released fully and immediately depressed fully — Dorico offers four predefined change levels at ¼, ½, ¾ and full depression:
I can just now hear all those readers who would be excited about such a feature cry out in unison: “But I can‘t have my creativity boxed into just four levels!” – and you shan’t. Retakes can be set to any arbitrary value in Engrave mode, and all who make excessive use of that functionality will without doubt endear themselves to the pianistic community forever.
There still are quite a number of other interesting, never-before-available pedaling features that I could cover here in more detail (symbols to choose from, continuation and restoration options, indications for global levels of changing lines, making only selected segments of a line dashed), but I hear about people who still haven‘t reached the end of my review from eight months ago, so let‘s move on.
Editing in Write mode and linked dynamics
In Dorico 1.1 it is possible to make a lot of intuitive edits in Write mode that were unavailable in a really convenient way before. In particular, most “secondary” notations like dynamics, lines, playing techniques, clefs or text objects can be dragged around now to change their position (and their duration, in the case of lines). Alternatively, this can also be done by keyboard by Alt+Left/Right Arrow to snap the selected item to the previous/next rhythmic position, and Shift+Alt+Left/Right Arrow to shorten or lengthen items of duration. Adding Command (Mac) or Ctrl (PC) shortens or lengthens by the current rhythmic grid duration rather than the next logical position.
As a reminder: this is different from moving objects in Engrave mode, where their visual position can be edited, but their attachment to a rhythmic position will never change.
Moving things around in this way instantly upgrades one of Dorico‘s already existing features that had had a bit of a wallflower existence so far: linked dynamics. The core of that concept is that whatever edit you apply to one dynamic, it will immediately update all corresponding dynamics that your original object is “linked” to. Usually, Dorico will take care of linking appropriate objects automatically, and it will show you which dynamics are linked to your current selection by highlighting them in light blue.
While this tool was already quite useful, it clearly reaches a new level now that it can be used in combination with the new positioning edits:
The current state is such that a newly entered dynamic will be linked automatically with any matching dynamic already present at the same position on another stave. If there should arise the need to give any instruments slightly independent markings (tuba, that means you), just select those particular dynamics and apply Edit > Dynamics > Unlink. Afterwards, overwriting the unlinked dynamic won’t affect the remaining column any more.
Unlinking also means that the dynamic is now independent in regards to its position, so it won’t move if you decide to drag around the group that you unlinked it from. While there exists the corresponding feature Edit Dynamics > Link, it will not work for differing items: two unlinked fortes at the same position can be re-linked, but not a forte and a mezzoforte, or a crescendo and a cross-fading diminuendo.
A useful addition to this feature would be if it were possible to selectively unlink positions and dynamic levels, which might allow our tuba to play softer than anyone else and still follow the general flow.
There is also no functionality — yet — enter a dynamic progression (or a single dynamic marking, for that matter) collectively on a selection of multiple staves. Therefore, the main benefit of linked dynamics right now is how it allows for corrections to already existing passages. Once you have adjusted the rhythmic position of thirty hairpins at once in a wind band arrangement by a single click-and-drag operation for the first time, this won‘t strike you as a trivial feature anymore if it did before.
For taking full advantage of the new additions in this area, it is recommended to early on internalize the difference between “linked” dynamics (stacked vertically over several staves) and “grouped” dynamics (consecutive dynamic progressions early on) – constantly confusing those two concepts during editing will lead to a lot of frustration quickly, as I can tell you certainly not from personal experience, because… how would that look, right?
When Dorico 1.0 was released last year, I wrote that there “are a lot of otherwise quite undemanding scores out there which cannot be engraved correctly in Dorico today because of this” — “this” being the absence of volta, or repeat brackets. Fortunately, this awkward gap has been closed by today, and if you have been following the general trend so far you already know that it has been done in a way worth waiting for. Well… unless you have been waiting for volta brackets playback, but this here is our notation review, so hush!
Creating repeat endings in Write mode is about the most straightforward example I have come across of Dorico’s design principle to “do automatically what users would have done anyway.” Applying an initial bracket to a selection (via Create Repeat Ending in the right-hand Repeat Structures panel) will add that bracket, but at the same time will also add a repeat barline and, attached to the following bar, a second bracket – because, obviously, this is exactly what users would do afterwards, since solitary prima volta bracket just doesn’t make sense.
If necessary, the duration of the follow-up bracket can be adjusted before using the tool Add Section to Repeat Ending to bring about a third bracket. And a fourth one. And a fifth, sixth, seventh, etc.
The reason why repeat structures can be conveniently handled nearly all of the time with only the two mentioned tools becomes clear by selecting a single bracket, which reveals that for Dorico a thing like “a single bracket” does not exist. All related brackets are selected as one object. This allows the program to once more automate some obvious tasks. For example, increasing a twin-bracket’s No. times played value in the Properties panel will automatically update the labels for both brackets.
In the wild, repeat structures tend to be one of the most boringly predictable notations out there, so Dorico‘s best guess will usually be perfectly appropriate. Only for the remaining exotic bracket constructions it is necessary to unleash the full power of Engrave mode. There, every bracket becomes indeed selectable as its own unit and can be assigned arbitrarily to any of the overall repeat times. Dorico will still keep track: filling in only a handful of numbers from a large range, the remaining values will be properly assigned to the other bracket(s) automatically.
So let’s see if this feature proves its worth in the real world. Or rather, in the not too real, but repeat-structure-wise modestly challenging world of a Jim Steinman song:
This, like all our examples, is merely a proof-of-concept, but as such it delivers flawlessly… almost. The brackets in bars 69/70 have been overridden to show the non-standard order of first/third and second, which — as far as I understand — should be supported directly through the Times played for segment property in Engrave mode, but did give the expected result only for the first bracket.
While I fortunately can report that the underlying problem will be fixed by the team in the very near future, it did not pose an insurmountable problem anyway: each bracket can be overridden with a custom text, be it because a certain order should turn out to be not possible automatically, or just because a custom text is simply more appropriate, as with the two brackets on the last system.
Coda and Segno indications, while not yet implemented as dedicated features, have been added as system-attached text (Shift+Alt+X) and will therefore serve their purpose without problems.
Staff spacing and note spacing
The first maintenance update introduced a tool to manually change the vertical spacing in music frames, which, while being well-implemented, was also as straightforward as could be expected for that job.
For Dorico 1.1, Engrave mode is further supplemented with a feature to edit horizontal spacing: users can deliberately edit the width of individual spacing columns, and they can also apply optical offsets to change an element’s visual position without affecting the underlying column (we’ll look in a moment at how it is done). The functionality here, too, is pretty much what you would expect from a professional score writer software.
Still, Dorico’s implementation comes with an innovative twist that improves those basic features’ workflow a whole lot. Switching on the note spacing edit function, a grid appears as an overlay, giving a tangible representation of that elusive concept, note spacing, which users in other applications are basically expected to infer themselves.
In Sibelius, as an example, adjusting a note‘s horizontal placing on the note spacing level can often feel like flying through fog (full disclaimer: I have never flown anything, let alone through fog). One can get to one‘s destination by proceeding carefully, but is forced to assume quite a bit about one‘s surroundings and some trial and error will be involved. One might even, accidentally, bump into something that one didn’t realize was there, as when one moves a note along and seemingly slams into some kind of invisible wall, only to then find out that at this point there is a note or rest on a hidden stave that one wasn’t aware of and which will prevent any further adjustment.
To see how the information provided by Dorico provides you with an unobscured flight path, let’s consider this exceedingly realistic example (without and with Edit Note Spacing turned on):
The grid shows all spacing columns as vertical lines, but it also provides a hierarchy. Handles about three spaces above the upper stave line, coinciding with the bar line, adjust the final spacing column of a bar, which often will work according to slightly different rules than the remaining columns of a bar.
Next down, about one-and-a-half spaces above the staff, are the handles for the remaining (standard) spacing columns. Looking closer at the handles for the selected columns, you can see an additional level of handles, roughly about two thirds of a space above the staff. These only appear for already selected spacing columns (solid blue in the example above), and only if at that position there are multiple voices present which, while sharing the same rhythmical position, cannot be drawn at the same visual position without overlapping.
Then, directly on the topmost stave line, there are handles for all occurring grace notes.
On the middle line, and again only visible for selected spacing columns, there are round handles, which actually do not control spacing, but a visual offset value (the equivalent to the X offset in Sibelius’s Inspector or Finale’s Special Tools > Note Position Tool); again, each Voice Column is assigned its own such offset handle.
Finally, at the upper left and lower right corner of the system there are two extra big handles with which the start and the end of the system itself can be nudged. They are mainly useful for systems that — unlike the notation shown — have been justified over the whole length of a Music Frame.
Having this hierarchy in place for reference means, among other things, that it becomes very straightforward to edit the spacing of a) regular notes only, b) grace notes only or c) both together:
Handles are selected by mouse and edited via keyboard: Alt+Left/Right Arrow, with Command (Mac) or Ctrl (PC) added for larger increments. It is possible to navigate through the handles with the arrow keys and through any subhandles by tabbing. Edited handles appear in red, and will turn blue again if they are reset by pressing Delete.
One especially neat addition during Note Spacing Edit is the display to the right of a system. It shows, as a percentage of the justified system width, how wide the system would be with the current spacing, if unjustified. The reassuring green color of the box will change to purple if the value drops below 70%, and to red if it goes above 100%, facilitating the avoidance of too loosely or too tightly spaced systems. I actually would like to have this System Fullness Indicator (actual name of the feature) as a view option independently from Note Spacing Editing, as it would be just as useful for regular casting-off decisions.
Note that, once one of the spacing editors is switched on, editing is limited to those aspects. It is then not possible to make any of the general edits in Engrave mode; conversely, it is not possible to change spacing unless the appropriate mode is activated.
Conveniently, this frees the mouse for confident selection of the relevant handles. It also seems in line with one of Dorico‘s general design goals to prevent accidental edits when possible. Whenever this principle comes into play, there is an — often noticeable — trade-off with flexibility; applied to horizontal or vertical spacing I find it highly appropriate, remembering how volatile spacing changes can be in other programs and how even an innocent spacing reset can come with unexpected complications.
Comparing to Sibelius, again, it is not that resetting changes to note spacing is not possible there (which it is, via the aptly named Reset Note Spacing feature). But for anything more complicated than a whole-passage reset, making use of that tool is cumbersome, as one has to infer what the correct selection would be to reset certain edits and to keep in place others. The consequence is that Sibelius users, when faced with the necessity to re-adjust already edited note spacing, might more often just reset a passage as a whole and start over from scratch with their fine-tuning. Dorico, by letting users know where spacing has been edited, allows them to review their spacing changes with the same ease as it provides them to make those edits in the first place.
It should be mentioned here that, from initial release on, Dorico already has a powerful tool for horizontal spacing — of a number of interesting features that we omitted from our original review. The note spacing tools that I have just described in detail, sophisticated as they are, should probably almost never be necessary for you to use unless you are a professional engraver of highest-quality materials for official publication.
But if you are, let‘s say, a bandleader, a music teacher, a choir conductor, a copyist for a stage production on a tight deadline — then the tool of your choice to improve an unsatisfying spacing situation should be the Engrave > Note Spacing Change, which allows you to override the default note spacing of any Layout on a passage-by-passage basis.
Here are five bars from a piano reduction of an orchestra piece with soloist and choir that I recently had to prepare ad hoc for a spontaneously scheduled rehearsal with 24-hour‘s notice (which reminds me: thank you again, Dorico!). For a number of reasons it was necessary to force the passage onto a single system. The consequence, though, was that the standard note spacing settings for the Layout were strained to the point where some collisions could not be avoided.
The solution was easy, though: first I added a Note Spacing Change at the start of the next system, with its properties set to Reset, thus ensuring that standard spacing would resume from there on. And then I added another one at the start of the system, changing two of the properties to appropriate values. And then I went on to more pressing problems, like the implications of Dorico’s polymetric features on bar numbering in multiplayer Layouts, which you can actually get a small glimpse of in the following screenshot.
Voice editing and filters
Dorico’s innovative approach to voices has been dramatically increased in power with the 1.1 release.
Before, mixing materials from different voices with copy and paste was something possible only by way of some awkward and undocumented intermediary steps. Now there exists a versatile palette of tools in Write Mode allowing for unprecedented flexibility in this area. An existing voice can be turned into the opposite default type entirely (Edit > Voices > Default Stems Up/Down), a selection of notes can be transferred on the spot to another existing voice or separated into a new one (Edit > Voices > Change Voice), a voice-swap can be applied to a selection containing items from two voices (Edit > Voices > Swap Voice Contents), and selection copied to the clipboard can be pasted, at another position, into any existing voice as well as into a new one (Edit > Paste Into Voice).
While not immediately obvious, the introduction of features like these perfectly showcases the enormous potential that comes from the development team’s approach to really rethink everything from first principles. Their decision to break with the usual four-voices paradigm (we looked at this in detail in our first review) now pays off in spades. In other scoring programs, pasting content from one voice into another means, internally, to take already finalized notations and trying to reconcile those with another set of finalized notations already present. Since all this happens in a technical framework, as opposed to a musical one, the necessities of the different notations can at some point come in conflict.
Voices in Dorico contain, you could say, not primarily a certain notation, but instead an abstraction of the underlying music. The program expresses these abstractions into concrete notations, appropriate to the context and to the rules set by users. Therefore, pasting material into another voice means to add musical objects together on a level where they are not notated yet, which is why there cannot be any notational conflicts once the result of that “musical addition” gets expressed in the end.
This proves doubly useful in combination with the also newly added wide array of filters. Directly relevant to voice editing are the filters for — obviously — voices (All Up-stem Voices, All Down-Stem Voices and a context-sensitive choice of all voices contained in the current selection) and Notes in Chords (Top/Second/Third/Fourth/Bottom Notes).
If you are awaiting the addition of arranging features like “explode” and “reduce”, all this is good news for you, especially if you are frustrated with the corresponding functionality in your current software. In all probability, the kind of problems that are at the core of that frustration are already solved in Dorico — or rather, were never a problem in the first place.
In fact, using the new voice editing and filtering functions manually will probably already give you superior results for arranging tasks; that is, overlooking the inconvenience of how tedious this will be because the Dorico team hasn‘t come around yet to automate the many steps that make up such taken-for-granted meta-tools. When they eventually do, you can expect that they won’t have to fight against the limitations that hold back the competition.
Prices, availability, specs
Dorico 1.1 is available for purchase beginning today. A 30-day trial is also available, with excellent news for those who tried out Dorico 1.0.30 or earlier: You’ll will be able to download a new 30-day trial of Dorico 1.1 by entering your MySteinberg registered e-mail address into the form on the trial web site.
For current owners of Dorico 1.0.x, the Dorico 1.1 update is available to download now, free of charge.
Pricing of Dorico 1.1 has not changed from 1.0. The boxed edition is 579 € including VAT, or $579.99 for US customers, for a full professional license. Educational pricing for qualifying teachers and students is 349 € including VAT ($349.99 USD).
A special note for those owning a competing notation program: the crossgrade offer, originally set to expire on March 31 and extended to June 30, has been extended again to September 30, 2017. The price for qualifying Sibelius, Finale, and Notion users is 299 € including VAT ($299.99 USD).
A download-only version is available as well; 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.
OS requirements for Dorico 1.1, as with Dorico 1.0, remain Mac OS X 10.11, El Capitan or macOS Sierra, or 64-bit Windows 10.
From a feature standpoint, Dorico has been packing more into their 1.0.x updates than competing programs often do between single “point” releases. While that may be partly due to the peculiarities of Steinberg’s version numbering system, it’s also in no small part due to the expanse of features that Dorico has needed to fill out as it develops from its nascent state.
The program was impressive from day 1, but with Dorico 1.1 we can say that Dorico is truly realizing its vision for the first time. A certain amount of tasks in all notation programs are, by necessity, going to be roughly equivalent: getting the notes in, copying, pasting, and such. Dorico 1.0 offered some new takes on those tasks as well as a number of unique features, but generally not enough to entice most dyed-in-the-wool users of a competing program to abandon their software of choice.
Dorico 1.1 is really 2.0 — or, maybe more accurately, what many had hoped what 1.0 would look like. In any case, it is what it is, which is to say a tool worth a place on any music professional’s desktop. This is serious software for serious users. No detail is too insignificant.
Yes, there is still much work to be done before one can use Dorico in many instances of music preparation. But to mention the shortcomings would seem almost unfair given the impressive achievements in this release. The development team knows what they are and have now proven their capability in delivering truly revolutionary features in time. We will expect nothing less for the next major release.
Dorico is still playing catch-up with its competitors in some respects, but it’s leapfrogged ahead in other ways. We haven’t even covered the full list of new features and improvements in Dorico 1.1, so you’re encouraged to review the version history.
When you do so, if you find that your needs are satisfied, download the trial with an eye towards purchasing it when the 30 days are up.
Oh — you were still expecting me to closely look at the aforementioned implications of Dorico’s polymetric features on bar numbering in multiplayer Layouts? You know, I would love to, but instead of making this long review any longer, I’d recommend you download Dorico 1.1 and find out for yourself!