Dorico 1.2 review, part 2: Fingering

Reviews

The Dorico 1.2 update, released earlier this month, brought with it an impressive set of new features and improvements — so much so, that we’ve split our customary review into multiple parts. Our first part covered the groundbreaking new cueing feature and other notational improvements. Today’s installment is about Dorico’s take on fingering. Still to come will be further posts reviewing the new percussion features, as well as how playback has evolved since the first release.

So, without further ado, my apologies for the delay; there was just so much cueing that I had to do.

Fingering

Fingering indications come in many context-dependent types, many of which are only relevant for certain sub-communities. To avoid any unnecessarily delayed disappointment, let’s just get out of the way quickly those more widely-used ones that — as part of a dedicated feature implementation — didn’t make it into the 1.2 update. As a special service, I provide my personal assessment of how easily each one is to fake overall, using a scale of one to ten Potemkin villages (YMMV).

  • Guitar fingering
    🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘
    (some useful symbols are found in Write > Playing Techniques; anything complex is quite a challenge)
  • Woodwind fingering
    🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘
    (the wide range of available specialist fonts should be usable within generic text objects)
  • Percussion (hand indications)
    🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘
    (if you need L and R, use Lyrics or generic text )
  • Harp pedaling
    🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘 🏘
    (quite easy with generic text objects and SmuFL copy-and-paste; more frustrating with simple pitch names)

Having pointed out “unsupported” instruments, I must also add that this means in no way that it is impossible to add any fingering to such instruments. The new fingering feature will allow, at a minimum, to add generic fingering numerals to any note, and to also make use of some of the advanced features if they happen to make sense in a general context.

There has been explicit confirmation that all of the fingering use cases listed above are on the radar for future implementation (with the exception of harp, by which I mean: I am not aware of any explicit acknowledgement, but there also is no reason to think it’s not on the roadmap).

Basics

The specific areas that are covered in Dorico 1.2 are fingerings for keyboard, brass and string instruments. Since the program actually takes the context of an instrument into account, such a distinction means more than just a few more special symbols being available — in fact, the same basic input can often give quite different results, depending on the instrument it is applied to.

As with most “secondary” notations, fingerings are entered through a popover. To summon it, select a note or chord in Write mode and then either click Fingerings or Shift+F. Generally, Dorico will distribute the numeric input in a straight-forward way onto the selected notes; there are some sophisticated details that we will look at in a minute.

The key for understanding the power (and some current quirks) of the feature is that fingering indications are in fact applied to individual note events, and not to, as you might expect, rhythmic positions on the staff. If a chord is selected, numerals from the popover separated by a comma will be applied to each note of a stack. Several numerals without separator will be applied to a single note, the use case being ornaments and brass valve constellations. Dorico 1.2 also allows you to create finger substitutions (by separating numerals with a hyphen), as well as alternative and editorial fingerings (entered into the popover by enclosing numerals in round or square brackets, respectively).

The way Dorico automatically chooses an appropriate special presentation for certain instruments is impressive, but it should also come with a cautionary warning. For example, the documentation’s statement that “for fingering on brass instruments, you can enter the valve number […] or slide position […] up to 7” would more correctly read “for all fingerings, you can enter numerals up to 7.”

As a consequence, a “zeroth” horn valve or a violinist’s sixth finger can be called for (as alluring as that idea might be), and the cello’s thumb indicator can boldly feature on an organ pedal solo. A few cases, though, are already tightly restricted to their respective instrument types (like horn branch indications and string shifts, the latter even correctly taking into account which pitches are possible on a particular string), indicating that this issue will become more consistent in the future.

The factory setting of the program is to have fingering indications show in all three Layout types (Full Score, Part, Custom), which is appropriate for a clear majority of use cases. If you ever find yourself in a situation where this is not what you want, it can be changed per Layout in Layout Options > Players > Fingering.

Examples

Since it is Elaine Gould month on Scoring Notes (see part 1 and part 2 of her interview with Justin Tokke), let’s test the feature with the two notation examples on the topic found in Behind Bars, both concerned with piano fingering.

Following below is the first one. Before we proceed with the details of fingering, though, I would just want to once more point out Dorico’s overall engraving prowess: for this complex bit of nonsense-notation it was merely necessary to flip some properties in order to duplicate the source’s specific solutions, but at no point did I have to actually “correct” anything in the default output.

Original source
Dorico output

For fingering, beyond popover entry there were a number of edits to apply to match the source, most prominently by way of the two properties Staff-relative position and Slur-relative position. The latter is named in a somewhat misleading fashion, because the property also affects placement in relation to tuplets, octave lines and ornaments, collectively.

One particularly clever detail of the popover entry makes it easy to quickly mark up double-stemmed notes and chords sharing the same rhythmic position. Analogous to how one would most probably think — in the context of fingering — not predominantly of two voices here, but of a pianist’s hand, it is possible to simply select all relevant notes and to then enter all numerals at once; Dorico will automatically distribute them to the suitable notes by analyzing the involved pitches. This, of course, works just as well for ordinary single-stemmed chords. If there ever is a constellation so ambiguous that the program can’t reliably mind-read a user’s intent, it is always possible to enter fingerings note-by-note.

On a keyboard instrument, like in the current example, the program will also make a (staff-based) distinction between inserting fingerings for the left and the right hand, as can be seen below (compare the popover input with the actual result).

If the material for a hand is on the “wrong” staff, this can be specified by preceding the popover input with an appropriate letter. The meaning of l and r should be quite obvious, but several other language cases are covered, too: g, s, i and h for “left”, while “right” can also be indicated by d and m. The latter stands for the Japanese migi, a vocabulary word which, if you want to retain it for showing off, can be etched into your memory forever with a simple Google image search.

Dorico will automatically use the common bracket notation for any input containing the same numeral for subsequent notes in a selection; it will not (and cannot reasonably be expected to) check whether any two notes are actually playable that way, so extra-carefully checking the result is advisable.

It is currently not possible to show such a fingering with just the bracket notation (not shown in the source), and the bracket’s direction can not be flipped, as would be necessary for an exact match of the thumb fingering in the fourth bar (right hand). Dorico also does not yet support the exact form for deferred finger substitutions shown in the Behind Bars original (same bar) and will instead draw horizontal lines.

Given how previously introduced new features have further evolved so far, I have no doubt that limitations like these will be gone probably sooner than later; I just bring it up here in the context of the comparison with the source example.

Placement of individual fingering indications was unproblematic and easily manageable by properties whenever the intended position was in conflict with the Engraving Options default (for example, indications for double-stemmed passages, in the source, are mostly shown as a block on one side of the stave, but are placed on opposite sides from the middle of the third bar on for the right hand; since only one setting can be the default, a trade-off is necessary in any case). Still, I took the liberty of fine-tuning everything by nudging things around in Engrave mode, which, after all, is that mode’s purpose for exactly that kind of individual positioning.

Original source
Dorico output

I did not change the default positioning in the second example, however. My intent is not to disparage Dorico’s automatic placement, but to demonstrate that there sometimes will be situations like in the first two bars, where, unlike in the previous example, adjustments will be necessary beyond mere fine-tuning.

The fourth bar provides one of the very few cases where I was unable to get any acceptable rendering of a constellation without heavy faking: a double substitution (immediately from 3 to 5, and a delayed return to 3). In all fairness, though, so far the only such double substitution that I encountered during my preparation for this review was the one from this very example. I know that they are out there, but given the odds for coming across one, the Dorico developers certainly get a pass for not including this in the current update.

Substitution itself, and the underlying mechanism, is one of the most ingenious aspects of Dorico’s fingering. Any substitution is initially entered as an “immediate” one, by typing in the start and end numeral separated by a hyphen. It is then possible to defer the substitution to any specific point over the duration of a note (or tie chain) by adjusting the Substitution offset property. Because each fingering is associated with a specific note (and not just a position), Dorico is always aware of any momentarily valid fingering, and as a consequence will take this into account for any subsequent new constellation by showing “cautionary” fingering numerals automatically.

A caveat

If you use Dorico mainly for compositions, arrangements, or for educational materials, and occasionally you just need fingering indications to make things clear for your musicians or students, you can safely conclude reading about fingering here. If, however, you are a professional engraver or editor, you might want to stick around a moment longer before you decide right now to embark on a big edition with Dorico 1.2, which, truth be told, would be a bit of a gamble.

For the latter group of users, the fingering feature is like Dorico 1.0 in condensed form: the initial implementation, in so many ways, is fundamentally better than what was available before, but… some very important things are just not really there yet, or awkwardly limited at current.

While one can make the structural distinction between regular, alternative and editorial indications, the representational control over these different types is narrow, and also almost exclusively possible on the global level. The most troublesome omission right now is a setting for arranging these three types vertically instead of horizontally. Attempting to emulate a simple and elegant solution like the one presented to the left (showing Beethoven’s personal markings, with the editor’s modern suggestion above), the closest I can get to by only using Dorico’s fingering functionality is the version to the right, which has obvious problems on several levels.

(L) Original source; (R) Dorico output

Some very useful settings are available as Engraving Options, but lack a local override. It is possible, for example, to choose between three different global approaches for the display of cautionary fingerings (not shown, shown with or without round brackets); but when preparing technically demanding piano music, any one of these three solutions may be needed on a case-by-case basis.

The problems of the property approach

The decision to make a fingering indication a property of a particular note or tie-chain makes possible a number of the innovations described earlier, but it also causes some work-flow drawbacks for those using the feature more extensively.

Copy and paste / deletion

In Dorico 1.2, a note and its fingering indication are practically the same thing; selecting one means selecting the other. This also means that a number of very basic edits are applied in the same manner, with often unexpected results. At time of publication, this reviewer — although never having problems before adapting to the “Dorico way” — still frequently deleting notes when trying to delete fingering indications. The actual way to do this (in case you are wondering) is to deactivate the note’s fingering property.

Correspondingly, it is not possible to copy a fingering indication without the note it is a property of; which is another way to say that it is not reasonably possible to copy-and-paste fingering indications. This limitation sure taught me that quickly copying a fingering is convenient much more often than one would assume.

Scaling

A particularly unsatisfying consequence of fingering indications being immediate properties of notes is how this clashes with the new Scaling functionality, something certainly also of great interest for engravers of high-end editions.

Two widely used approaches for determining the size of fingering indications (normal size for all; normal size or grace note size, according to source note) are available as global options. However, going through a number of instructional Chopin editions, there quickly can be found about every possible relation of note size versus fingering numeral size. Situations where historic editions use variable sizes quite freely (even within one score) involve Chopin’s frequent mixtures of normal-sized and grace-note-sized regular notes as well as markings for trills and ornaments; sometimes engravers even used stamps of the next-smaller size merely to improve legibility when a numeral could not be placed anywhere else than within staff lines.

Unfortunately, a fingering indication being an intrinsic part of a note in Dorico means that it is not possible to scale one independently from the other. The problem here is not that Dorico doesn’t do things automatically; there is no pressing need for a global option to use a smaller size for fingerings pertaining to ornaments, useful as that would be. But the current implementation pretty much prevents users from doing something like this manually, which is especially frustrating when remembering that the program is technically very well capable of scaling items freely.

While users having to deal with an above-average number of highly differentiated fingerings in their work should not be discouraged by my assessment, they certainly should expect to fall back frequently on generic Text (Shift+X) objects for now.

Popover

The one quirk that feels the furthest away from the by now established Dorico “feel,” however, is the necessity for the popover to close down completely after any edit. This is a stark contrast to the somewhat related — workflow-wise — popovers for chord symbols and lyrics, both of which do conveniently advance on their own.

With fingerings, an algorithmic approach for finding or making accessible the “correct” next selection to advance to is without doubt much more complex than with chords and lyrics, and chances are that only a relatively small number of users will add and edit fingerings extensively. Those dedicated editors, however, will quickly notice the potential for frustration.

By now, this has already been discussed on the public forum, and the developers seem open to reconsidering the issue (without any concessions for a time frame, obviously) in light of generally fingering-heavy guitar sheet music down the road. If that is a criterion — and it certainly is — I would like to present the following statistic: the Claudio Arrau urtext edition of the Beethoven sonatas lying on my desk right now does feature, on its last double spread (the final 26 bars of op. 111), no less than four hundred (400!) fingering items; that is: fingering item not as in “numeral,” but as in “most exhaustive fingering indication able to be created with a single instance of Dorico’s fingering popover.”

With that, we admire the degree to which fingering has been extensively implemented in Dorico 1.2, and hope for future improvements worthy of such an advanced scoring program.

DONATE

Like what you see? Keep Scoring Notes tuned up with a donation of your choice. You can even set up a monthly donation. 100% of your contribution will go towards supporting Scoring Notes. Thank you!

Comments

  1. Kenneth Gaw

    Thanks very much for this extensive review. Dorico’s fingering capabilities certainly appear to be far in advance of the competition.

    One quick, though possibly counter-intuitive way, to enter fingering is to select all the notes destined for “3”, for example, and then switch the fingering on and enter “3” in the properties panel at the bottom of the screen. This could certainly be useful when copying fingering from an existing source.

    Fingering appears to me to be the only note property which is accessed by a popover. Maybe this is one reason why moving to the next note is a bit awkward.
    Note objects are very well controlled via the left hand panel and I wonder if it would be possible to use this in some way to enter fingering. Repitching notes (i.e. locking duration when entering new pitches) is really useful. Would it be possible to rework some of this code to change the fingering property rather than the pitch property of the notes? Perhaps “A” could represent “1”, “B” “2” and so on and other pitches or controllers be used for the more sophisticated options on a midi keyboard, or perhaps the data could be entered as text, using “q” to prevent the cursor moving to the next note as in steptime input.

    Dorico has brought much that is new and innovative to the scorewriting software market and I look forward to its future development.

  2. Kenneth Gaw

    I’ve posted a temporary solution for PC users desperate for quick fingering input. It uses AutoHotKeys to combine several keyboard shortcuts into one and enables the user to close the fingering popover, jump to the next note and reopen the popover with one, or at the most two key commands. I wouldn’t bother with this for occasional fingering input, but if I was working on the Beethoven piece above I’d certainly be interested.
    Unfortunately AutoHotKeys is not available for Mac so this only works fro windows users.

    https://www.steinberg.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=246&t=130154

  3. Anil Kumar

    One thing I understood now is basic of Dorico 1.2.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *