Dorico 1.2.10 update brings program-wide improvements

Reviews

Today Steinberg released Dorico 1.2.10, the latest update to its scoring program. The update is free for all registered users and is available to download now. This is the first update of 2018, and the first update since the major Dorico 1.2 update at the end of 2017.

By virtue of its double-point version number, Dorico 1.2.10 technically is a maintenance update. It also mostly feels like one, at least in comparison to the program’s previous double-pointers, which were each overflowing with profound feature introductions that usually are saved for point updates, if not for proper main versions. Granted, this had to do with the fact that some obvious feature gaps of the initial release had to be filled as soon as possible, but it also is a good indicator of how well-organized and structured the development of the program is in the long term — a stream of wide-ranging and significant improvements and feature introductions as has been seen with Dorico over the last year can only be achieved if the proverbial pipelines are full and flowing.

So, given how spoiled early Dorico users have been so far with each update, 1.2.10 is somewhat modest in scope. Nonetheless, there are a number of smaller, and certainly welcome, feature additions that we will discuss in a moment.

But first, a quick word of acknowledgement: Scoring Notes didn’t cover Dorico’s unpitched percussion in December, as we originally teased. It became clear that today’s update would impact the existing unpitched percussion features in quite a number of ways, and reviewing these features on the original timetable would have — almost immediately — made our comprehensive assessment inconveniently outdated. Therefore, percussion — with the exception of an issue concerning copy and paste — is yet again not covered in this post, but a soon-forthcoming post on Dorico’s percussion features incorporates all relevant changes and improvements in that area that version 1.2.10 has brought. (Be sure to follow this blog if you haven’t done so already!)

Notable developments in Dorico 1.2.10

System dividers

As a prime example for how a relatively low-key feature can have a big impact, feast your eyes on one of the at-last-available system dividers:

An extra-long system divider

System dividers are set to appear (or not to) on a per-Layout basis under Setup > Layout Options > Staves and Systems, with an option to use one of three available glyphs (the common one, as well as “Long” and “Extra long”, shown above). A subtle innovation, built upon Dorico’s concepts of Flows and Players, is that dividers can be limited to appear only for Flows that feature a minimum number of Players (as included within the respective Layout). This gives a good deal of flexibility for any projects with widely varying Player constellations, like an opera score with secco recitatives.

In Engrave > Engraving Options there are some further settings. It can be decided whether dividers should be drawn also — or even exclusively — to the right of a system; it is also possible to tweak the exact inset width for left and right dividers from the page margin.

As far as I am aware, this is once again an example of Dorico going from “Can’t even do X!” straight to “Best X available anywhere.” With an overall blunt tool like system dividers, this is not notable right away, but the amount of cleverness applied to the mundane task of drawing two slanting lines speaks for the care going into every aspect of the program’s development.

Lyrics

For anyone working a lot with vocal music, especially choir settings, there are two useful additions. For one, there is a new engraving option that controls whether dynamics, when occurring on the same side of a staff as lyrics, should by default be positioned either “inside” or “outside”.

On the local level, there is now a new Show verse number property for lyrics. It can be used, most obviously, to re-state verse numbers mid-system after a chorus passage. Less obviously, it also allows removing an occasional unwanted verse number that Dorico draws by default.

Basic playback

While bug fixes are rarely the focus of Scoring Notes reviews, I think most users of Dorico 1.2 will be very pleased to hear that the arco playing technique from Write mode’s right-hand panel will once again cancel out pizzicato, as it is supposed to.

The Play From Selection command (P) has been refined in a way that might come with a short re-learning period. Where previously starting playback from a selection would always result in all the music present in the current Layout sounding, it is now possible to conveniently specify a sub-group for solo playback. To quickly listen to the string section only, or to check the second alto saxophone against the bass trombone in a thick big band arrangement, simply select a note (or something else) in each relevant staff and press P. Playback, starting at the point of the earliest selection, will be restricted to the instruments included. One quirk of this feature is that it is quite literal about instruments. If, for example, the flute included in a selection for solo playback is subsequently exchanged for a piccolo by its player, the piccolo will keep mum unless some of its content was selected as well by a prescient user.

Another new useful workflow enabled by this change is that you can set the Mixer solo state based on the selection. So if you want to repeatedly hear the same combination of instruments played back while you work on a specific section, this is much more convenient than before: the combination of setting the solo state from the selection and the Shift-Space shortcut to play back from the last place you started playback is very convenient for revising material.

A fundamental exception to this behavior is that having “only a single note or other event” selected will give the full playback of all instruments, as has been the default until today’s update; given Dorico’s eschewal of something like Sibelius’s distinct “passage selection” and “multiple selection” concepts, it would otherwise hardly be possible anymore to have a generic “play from selection” feature without users having to diligently select the whole score up and down first.

While the general approach is certainly sound, the real-world application gets occasionally thwarted by so simple a scenario as, when selecting a single note, a slur starting at that note will easily become unintentionally selected as well, which Dorico will interpret as more than “a single note or other event” being selected, thus giving a soloist’s rendition. As seems to be more and more a running theme for Dorico’s overall user experience with regard to selection, there is room for improvement here.

Barlines

Repeat barlines can now globally be set (in Engraving Options) to appear with wings, useful to make a complex repeat structure more easy to navigate.

It is also now possible to have barlines drawn through at the end of a Flow contrary to the overall bracketing. This can be preferable especially for large choral settings, where the final barline will otherwise be split between each single staff. The setting is found in Write > Notation Options > Barlines, along with a companion option to have barlines drawn through at the end of every system of a particular Flow — a less common, but nonetheless existing convention.

Both settings can create somewhat awkward situations if any drawn-through system ends coincide with repeat barlines, which will tend to come with another repeat barline that may very well be placed mid-system. Dorico’s automatic handling of barlines currently does not account for such situations.

But another new feature can be used to fix such a predicament, even though this is probably not its main purpose. A time signature can now be locally set to have its preceding barline join all staves. Since, as you may remember, all of Dorico’s barlines are technically time signatures, this can be used to make any explicit barline span the whole height of a system.

Engraving arcana

Slurs and ties

The drawing of slurs and ties has been overhauled, ensuring smoothly drawn lines over the whole length. Before this update, some inconsistencies could happen in certain situations, especially with rather short slurs. Given that even I — as one who usually scoffs at such issues as being a mere matter of taste — must admit the categorical improvement here, I would guess that this is exciting news for the many people caring about such details much more passionately.

Breves

For the breve (double whole note), Dorico by default uses the historical rectangular notehead form, as it was used in mensural notation. This gives a certainly much more distinguished look than the modern variant. But, it turns out, there might have been a good reason for the development of the younger form — when used in chords, the rectangular notehead can give quite ambiguous results. This is why there has been a choice added (Engraving Options > Notes > Noteheads) for which breve form to be used.

Pro tip: if you frequently find yourself writing chords in breve notes, you are probably doing something fundamentally wrong.

Clef changes

Anyone here remember the Great Clef Change War of ’14 on the SMuFL mailing list? Today is the day when it all starts to have been worth it!

Going deep into the rabbit hole of engraving nerditry, clef changes for G, F and C clefs are now drawn as what is called an “optical variant glyph” instead of merely a scaled down version of the regular clef. This emulates an idiosyncrasy of copper plate music engraving, where a clef change couldn’t be done by simply “scaling down” the stamp for a regular clef. Instead, a stamp from a smaller rastral size would be used, which, when it was created in the foundry, had to obey the laws of physics. In particular, lines couldn’t get thinner below a certain threshold, so while the clef symbol as a whole was a somewhat shrunken version of the larger stamp size, many small details, in relation, were slightly heavier than a geometrically correct copy would be. While this is technically not necessary in computer engraving, where every symbol can be scaled freely, it still makes a lot of sense, as important details of “freely scaled” tiny symbols are easily lost once they are actually printed out on paper — because: laws of physics.

Regardless of whether this does not interest you at all, or, on the contrary, fills you with delight, there is nothing for you to do here. There is no option, Dorico just does it.

Copying and pasting

The sophisticated unpitched percussion features in Dorico 1.2 were slightly spoiled by the fact that their addition also introduced some awkward bugs with copy-and-paste edits, of the sort that had marred the initial release for a while. As diligently as the latter had been weeded out quickly afterwards, so have these new issues been fixed with today’s update.

Most noticeably, it was not possible to paste pitched material into unpitched instruments or unpitched material into pitched instruments. That limitation has now been lifted — or rather, it hasn’t, because it is fundamentally impossible, as I hopefully make a bit clearer in our dedicated percussion post (stay tuned to this channel). However, the next best possible thing can be done now, which is to take the rhythmic content and to put it onto a somewhat reasonable staff position on the destination staff.

“Reasonable” is a relative term here, because results can be quite unpredictable in that regard; but then again, there really is no such thing as an obviously correct solution for the task. Given the innate incompatibility of pitched and unpitched material, each result of such a copy-and-paste action should be approached with the same confidence that you would have when turning algebraic equations into a Reed-Kellogg diagram via Google Translate.

Popovers

The “auto-complete” function introduced with last version’s Cue popover has been made available for the popovers for Tempo and Playing Techniques, matching a user’s text input against the long lists of pre-defined items in both categories.

This is especially useful for Playing Techniques, where typing in an undefined term will close the popover without any edit applied; the new feature gives users instant feedback on whether they are on the right track when hunting through the vast sea of available techniques. I assume that the same perk will similarly apply for the Tempo popover once the somewhat snobbish pool of available terms has diversified — there are a lot more tempo terms out there today than your great-great-great-grandparents’s “Allegros”, Appassionatos” and “Adagios”.

The “auto-complete” feature also makes it a bit more convenient to enter exact tempi, because Dorico’s suggestions already include the appropriate strings for metronome numbers. These can be quickly adjusted by just pressing backspace and entering a custom value, instead of having to change this in a second step via the Properties panel.

Similarly, a few clicks can now be saved when entering “niente” dynamics (hairpins from or to “imperceptible” volume”). The Dynamics popover will parse a string like >o or >n to set the necessary properties for the created object right away.

Tokens

There have also been added nineteen different text tokens to include the current date and time. Inserted in one of Engrave mode’s text frames, they update when exporting or printing (also: by change of Layout, which is useful to know if you really have no other clock at all available). If you think that nineteen is a ridiculously high amount of formatting options for mundane clock time, you can join me in raising an eyebrow in disbelief when being informed of another set of nineteen tokens for indicating the time of the most recent file save. I will take a stand here and proclaim that I draw the line at eighteen!

Bug fixes, version history, and downloading

Dozens of bugs have been fixed since Dorico 1.2, in addition to all the items regarded as new features. As usual, a full list of those fixes, a version history and application updaters are available from the Dorico download page on Steinberg’s web site.

Mac users should note that Dorico 1.2.10 now runs correctly from a case-sensitive file system, such as one of the options introduced in High Sierra with Apple’s APFS system.

The Dorico 1.2.10 is free to all existing registered users.

Dorico 1.2.10 will be the final update to Dorico 1, after which the next update will be a paid one.

About the next version of Dorico, on the Making Notes section of the Dorico blog, product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury said: “The team is already hard at work on the next Dorico release, which will be available later in 2018. We have delivered no fewer than seven significant updates at no additional cost since Dorico 1.0’s release in October 2016. As such, the next release will be a paid update for existing users, but the update cost will be modest, and we will pack as many features and improvements into that release as we can. I plan to tell you a bit more about some of the things we’re working on for this new release in a new installment in the development diary series in early Spring, all being well.”

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