Today Steinberg released Dorico 2.1, the latest update to its music notation software and the first update in the Dorico 2 series. Although officially Steinberg is saying that there are only two new features in 2.1 — a notehead set editor and swing playback — the update boasts dozens of “improvements” of significance that many of them could be called new features, too. In addition, there are more than 120 bug fixes that address earlier issues.
If you were wondering if you missed any updates since the May 30 release of Dorico 2.0, you haven’t. Unlike with Dorico 1, where there were several “dot-dot” releases such as 1.0.10 and 1.0.20, Dorico 2.1 is the immediate successor to 2.0, owing to its long list of new items. (The update is free to all registered Dorico 2.0 users, and you can download it from Steinberg’s web site — feel free to read on as you await the download to finish.)
With that established, let’s see what goodies Dorico 2.1 is packed with.
(Editor’s note: Once again we’ve got team coverage for this review with contributions from our experts: Florian Kretlow, Anders Brevik Gleditsch, Andrew Noah Cap, and myself. — Philip Rothman)
Noteheads and notehead sets
With the last updates a few dialogs have been added where you can edit the appearance of different notation elements (for example chord symbols and playing techniques). The Notehead Set Editor is the latest of these additions. While it’s been possible to assign different noteheads to selected notes before, users were limited to a (comprehensive) list of common noteheads to choose from. The new dialog allows users to edit, create and organize noteheads and notehead sets.
Let’s take a moment to contemplate the concept: When you select a note and open the Edit > Notehead submenu, you are not presented with a bunch of indivdual noteheads to choose from. Instead you see a list of notehead sets. Each notehead set contains one or more noteheads and in turn each notehead is assigned to one or more note durations. (Perhaps I should correctly say that each notehead set contains a list of references to one or more notehead definitions, as noteheads can be shared between sets.)
The advantage of applying notehead sets rather than single noteheads is evident: you can select a passage that contains notes with different durations and change all the noteheads at once.
The notehead set editor
Now for the new features in 2.1: You’ll feel right at home when you open the the Notehead Set Editor (Engrave > Notehead Sets…) for the first time: the dialog is very similar to many other dialogs in Dorico.
The sets are organized into Notehead Set Categories on the left side of the dialog. Some of these have special powers (for example, special notehead shapes depending on the actual pitch). Once you have selected a set, you can edit it in the upper part of the right hand section. You can rename the set, move it to another category and specify the default notehead to which Dorico falls back when it doesn’t find a notehead for a specific duration.
And then, most important, there’s the panel that hosts all the noteheads that are allocated to the current set. With the two buttons below the panel you can add existing noteheads to the set or remove them. Keep in mind that when you remove a notehead it’s not deleted altogether; you only countermand its assignment to the current set.
When you select a notehead in the panel, you can access its properties in the notehead section below: you can edit the name and specify the note durations it should be used for. You can also choose whether it should be used for upstem or downstem notes only; and, in case it’s a double whole note (breve) notehead, whether it should be considered round or square (remember: you can choose the breve type you want to use in Engraving Options).
At the bottom of the section you’ll find an action bar with buttons for adding, duplicating or deleting — all pretty much self-explanatory, though not to be mixed up with the previously mentioned buttons for importing and removing noteheads to and from notehead sets!
The notehead editor
When you click Edit Notehead… in the action bar (or double-click on a notehead in the panel) the Edit Notehead dialog opens.
This is the same editing dialog that’s used all across the application for creating and editing notation elements like chord symbols, playing techniques and accidentals. Your notehead can consist of one or more glyphs, text elements, graphics and predefined composites. Scale and position them to your heart’s content. Don’t forget to move the stem attachment points to the right places, or the stems will look displaced!
A word of caution to close with: Make sure you understand that one notehead can be assigned to several notehead sets at once, and that when you make changes to a notehead, it will be changed in all the sets it is assigned to!
New empty sets are populated with the default black notehead to start with, but do think twice before you start happily editing this one or large parts of your score might unexpectedly change their appearance. Dorico helpfully reminds you that you have changed one of the built in noteheads by displaying a red flag in the upper left corner of its panel. Needless to say that you can reset it to the default, and that you can also save your own noteheads and sets as default so they are available in new projects.
In addition to the notehead set editor, swing playback is the other official new feature in Dorico 2.1. You could wager that the London team wouldn’t be content to just play eighth notes as triplets and call it done, and you’d win that bet.
No, in Dorico fashion, there are a multitude of options. Impressively, Dorico’s swing patterns are tempo-dependent, meaning that as the tempo increases, the swing feel straightens out, and vice versa — slower tempos result in a more pronounced swing. Steinberg says that their work is based on academic research into how swing is actually rendered by real musicians by authors Anders Friberg and Andreas Sundström, but you don’t need a PhD to know that it is very difficult to play bebop in a strict “triplet feel”, and likewise terribly awkward to square off a hard-driving blues.
Project-wide swing playback options are controlled in Play > Playback Options > Timing > Default rhythmic feel.
The tempo-dependent options are:
- Heavy swing, producing a 3:1 ratio in slow tempos and 1.5:1 in faster tempos
- Medium swing, producing a 2:1 ratio in slow tempos and 1.5:1 in faster tempos
- Light swing, producing a 1.5:1 ratio in slow tempos and 1:1 (straight) in faster tempos
The Fixed options maintain strict ratios regardless of tempos:
- 2:1 swing is the familar triplet-style swing
- 3:1 swing is a more pronounced dotted 8th / 16th swing
Clicking Edit… brings up the Rhythmic Feel dialog, in which you can modify these settings to suit your taste, or create your own settings using intuitive controls. By clicking Save as Default you can save any of these for use in any project:
This answers the obvious question about what is meant by a slow (or low) tempo and a fast (or high) tempo — you can adjust these, and the swing feel will be changed as appropriate, within the bounds of your tempo range. The swing ratio sliders change in 0.1% increments from 1.0:1 (straight) to 5.0:1 (essentially a sextuplet feel) — keeping in mind you add the two numbers of the ratio to determine the effective number of subdivisions of the beat.
Swing playback isn’t just limited to an entire project — you can change it up at any point using the Shift-T tempo popover, typing your desired rhythmic feel and pressing Return:
And a signpost will reflect the change:
Of course, the feature wouldn’t be complete without staff-independent swing controls, and that’s included here too, so that playing steady eighths under a bluesy line is no problem. The process is nearly the same. You do this by selecting a note or other object on the desired staff (or simply position the caret there) and invoke the same Shift-T popover. There’s just one subtle tweak at the end: press Alt-Return to apply it to only that staff.
Although they are implemented in some different ways, Dorico’s swing playback features might seem familiar to anyone introduced to similar features in Sibelius 7.5. That release represented some of the final Sibelius work of many of the developers who now work on Dorico, so you can draw your own conclusions there.
Other playback improvements
Calling the following items “improvements”, like Steinberg has, or “new features”, is a matter of semantics; in either case they add to Dorico’s usefulness. Some of them were requested many times over the past year, and so we are glad to see them here.
Background sound loading, “silence” template, and stereo output
The first improvement we immediately experience is the loading process occurring in the background while adding players in Setup mode. It now works much more smoothly, and the time when setting up a score is reduced to a minimum. We can immediately start to enter notes while the loading process is still running. This goes for switching projects as well; you can start working in the new project right away as the sounds are loaded in the background.
Don’t forget that Dorico 2.0 brought NotePerformer support, which will further speed up the process compared to Steinberg’s default HALion libraries; with its modeled sound library, the lightweight (in terms of disk space) NotePerformer is a great-sounding alternative to larger libraries comprised of sampled sounds.
If you’d rather not load any sounds at all, there is a new Silence playback template that you can choose from Play > Playback Template. This template had been unofficially making the rounds prior to this release, and apparently it was requested often enough that Steinberg decided to add it to Dorico 2.1.
You can set the playback template for a particular project here, and if you wish to load sounds again, you can simply choose one of your other templates with sounds.
If you want Dorico to use the Silence template (or any other template) by default, this can be set in Preferences > General > Play > Default playback template.
Incidentally, clicking on Audio Device Setup… here will reveal a new Stereo Output option if your audio interface has more than just one pair of outputs available.
Playback of bar repeats and phrasing dynamics
Bar repeats are now played back, which is a welcome improvement. There’s nothing to set up — it works right out of the box. Other elements that coexist with the bar repeat are played back as normal, which means that you can add audible changes of dynamics or playing techniques if you wish to.
Dorico will now interpret a series of gradual dynamics of the same direction in close proximity as phrasing dynamics and will automatically reset the prevailing dynamic level at the start of each gradual dynamic, rather than getting continuously louder or quieter. This means that a passage written like this:
Will play back automatically as if it were written like this:
Instead of like this:
Dorico now distributes Apple’s ProRes codec, meaning that videos that use this codec will now play back correctly on Windows. Also, when opening a project with a video attached, if the video cannot be found Dorico will automatically re-attach it as long as it is saved within the same project folder. These improvements make things a lot easier when sharing projects that include video files, support for which was added in Dorico 2.0.
More microtonal playback
Dorico 2.0 brought support for playback of microtonal accidentals. In 2.1 support is added for tonality systems beyond 12-EDO or 24-EDO (EDO = “equal division of the octave”).
To get started with this, you create a new tonality system in Write mode by opening the Key Signatures panel and, under Tonality System, click the + button (New Tonality System).
The resulting Edit Tonality System dialog will open you to a bevy of options from which you can set custom divisions of the octave and create custom accidentals and key signatures to your liking.
There is also a field on the new Tuning page of Play > Playback Options to allow you to specify the reference pitch for playback, which is set to 440Hz by default but which could be set to, e.g., 415Hz if you like.
We will have a more thorough exploration of microtonal notation and playback in Dorico in forthcoming articles to be published on Scoring Notes soon.
Play mode improvements
The Play mode has gotten some love as well. When switching between the different modes Play mode remembers its state much better now, such as the state of which tracks are expanded, the vertical sizes of lanes, and which MIDI controllers are currently set for each automation lane.
A new Play > Tracks submenu allows you to select which additional track beside the instrument tracks will be shown in the Play mode track field. Time, Chords, Video, and Markers can now be individually hidden or shown.
One of the newly implemented features I like the most is the stem export of audio files, found in File > Export > Audio. The user can now select whether the complete score can be exported in one file, or, by checking Export players as separate files, the selected instruments will be exported in separate files — helpful for further mixing in a DAW. You can also export each flow as its own file as well.
In our Dorico 2 review, we praised the new slash region features for their ease of use, beautiful looks and time-saving automation.
After roughly two months of use, the first impression remains, and I’ve truly enjoyed using these new features. However, as mentioned in the review, there were a few areas that demanded workarounds and where competing products are more flexible and powerful.
Now, with a few seemingly simple additions in Dorico 2.1, the need for workarounds is almost eliminated.
Slash regions now hide underlying music. This is particularly useful when you need music for playback without having everything written out in the parts.
Certain elements, such as dynamics and playing techniques, are always drawn. I find this to be a clever decision, which makes slash regions an elegant way to pad parts with slashes, while keeping some of the important information. For the sake of completeness, there could have been a few options to control what elements are shown and not, but I believe the current implementation covers the vast majority of needs in a very simple and predictable manner.
One important thing to point about this feature is that the hidden music isn’t drawn at all. In some other notation programs, hidden elements are drawn transparent, which means that they affect spacing. In Dorico they don’t, and the result looks very good, without any need for tweaking.
If you want Slash regions to co-exist with other notation, there’s a new Show other voices property in the Properties panel.
Slash region counts
One limitation that was pointed out by a user in the comment section below our previous review was the lack of counts for slash regions. This is now in place, and it works exactly as you would expect — automatically, with global options under Engraving Options > Notes, and options for individual regions in the Properties panel. These options cover appearance, position and count frequency.
Although these new additions may seem like simple necessities, we’re pleased that the developers have filled these gaps so quickly and thoroughly, making rhythmic slashes — as well as bar repeats, mentioned previously in the playback section of this review — in Dorico complete tools that surpass competing software when it comes to ease of use, looks, and several clever mechanisms to simplify workflow.
Propagation of page formatting and properties
Until now, Dorico’s advanced page formatting and properties settings have resulted in the user having a great deal of control over those elements, but without a way to quickly reproduce settings within a project, which caused a great deal of repetitive effort. Two new tools have been added in Dorico 2.1 that serve to address these pain points.
The first of these tools is the copying of part layouts to other parts. The new Propagate Part Formatting command, found in the Setup menu or by right-clicking any layout in the Layouts panel, is designed to make quick work of copying, say, the Flute 1 layout into the Flute 2 and Flute 3 layouts — most helpful if those players are doubling each other a lot or playing homophonically.
You can optionally choose to include layout options (such as page size and margins, default master page set, space size, vertical spacing, note spacing, casting off, multi-bar rest behavior, and staff label options) should be copied from the source layout to the destination layouts, and whether or not system formatting should be copied. In the example given above, you’ll want to leave both options checked, but it is possible that you would want to copy layout options without copying the system formatting if the source and destination parts are very different.
Users of other programs will recognize this as analogous to Sibelius’s Copy Part Layout command or the Finale plug-ins by Jari Williamsson and Tobias Giesen that perform similar functions. Keep in mind, though, that Dorico’s reliance on frames and frame chains to achieve complex part layouts will yield unexpected results if you employ these in your document. In most conventional cases, though, you will see good results.
The second tool is a command to duplicate the properties of a selected item to all other layouts in which that item appears. Users coming from other programs that have linked parts may be surprised that if you change certain elements in a score — such as the placement, design, and position of slurs, for example — don’t necessarily carry forward to the part in Dorico.
The new Edit > Propagate Properties command is designed to address this shortcoming, by doing just that — propagating a selected object’s properties from one layout to all of the others where that object appears.
When invoked in Write mode, the set of properties propagated will be only the more limited set that are available in that mode. When invoked in Engrave mode, the complete set of properties will be propagated.
This is welcome in that it provides a very quick way to propagate the appearance of an item from the full score to the part and vice versa. In the future, though, we hope that there will be a better solution to help people manage the fact that Dorico currently allows items to have an independent appearance between the full score and the part even when they would rather it shared the same appearance.
To that end, Steinberg product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury called the current implementation a “short-term measure” and said, “In the longer term, we are planning to introduce some changes to the way the Properties panel works so that you both have improved visibility of which properties always apply to all layouts and which are independent between layouts, and in the case of the latter, to allow you to specify that any changes you make to an independent property should be propagated automatically to other layouts where the edited item is found. But this will be quite a big change, and we don’t want to rush into a user interface change that won’t serve us well into the future.”
Staff, group, and divisi labels
Dorico 2.1 comes with a number of noteworthy improvements in the area of staff, group and divisi labels.
Rich text formatting for staff labels
The most apparent addition is the implementation of rich text formatting for staff labels. The Edit Instrument Names dialog has been largely extended. Now it hosts the same formatting panel that we are already familiar with from the Change Divisi dialog and from editing text objects in the score. If you want to change the font that’s used for staff labels globally, you should still edit the corresponding paragraph style via Engrave > Paragraph Styles. However, if you need to format single labels or even parts of a label individually, you can now do that in the Edit Instrument Names dialog. What’s more, we can finally create multi-line staff labels!
Grouping of staff labels for solo instruments
A new option, Staff labels for identical adjacent solo instruments, has been added to the Staff Labels page of Engraving Options, allowing users to follow a very common engraving convention: Several identical solo instruments can now be grouped together with a single centered group label. When there is an odd number of staves, the label is vertically aligned to the instrument number that belongs to the middle stave, otherwise it is aligned to the center point between the two middle staves.
Correspondingly, there’s a new paragraph style: Staff Labels (Inner). It is used for instrument numbers and divisi section labels, while the existing Staff Labels paragraph style is used for group labels, divisi group labels and normal staff labels. Don’t worry, this is actually less confusing than it sounds. When in doubt, consult the version history document for a nice multi-color illustration! (Actually, do consult it either way, it’s the best source of detailed information about all the new features, improvements and recently squashed bugs!)
Instrument and divisi change labels
Two new options concerning instrument change labels and divisi change labels have been added to Setup > Layout Options.
First: Staff labels are not commonly shown in part layouts. Nonetheless a player who’s doubling needs to know which instrument he should be playing at the beginning of a movement. Dorico can now automatically provide this information with an instrument change label at the start of each flow.
Second: With the game-changing divisi feature that was introduced just a few months ago in Dorico 2, it was not always obvious at first glance where on a divisi staff the actual divisi material started, or, vice versa, where it ended. Now Dorico can automatically create mid-system divisi section labels above the staff whenever the divisi constellation changes.
More new engraving options
Dorico 2.1 boasts a number of other new engraving options, some of which we’ll summarize here.
There are more options for accidentals, such as tucking accidentals on back notes, defining the length of ledger lines on notes with accidentals, and editing cut-outs.
A new option Arpeggio signs on slash voices has been added to the Arpeggio Signs page of Engraving Options, controlling whether or not arpeggio signs should be shown in slash voice.
Dorico 2.1 will avoid collisions on barlines that protrude outside the staff, and support has been added for thin-thin repeat barlines (seen in hymnal style music) and triple single barlines (sometimes used in musicological analysis).
A new option Position of accidental relative to alteration has been added to the Alterations section of the Chord Symbols page of Engraving Options, as advocated by Russel Garcia in his book series The Professional Arranger Composer.
New options on the Divisi page of Engraving Options allow you to determine the default distance above the staff for these mid-system divisi change labels. There is also new Show divisi change labels above staves option has been added to the Staves and Systems page of Layout Options.
There are some new options in the Rests page of Engraving Options: In Bar count on grand staff instruments, you can choose between showing the bar count on multirests in the middle of the grand staff or on the top of each staff; there is a threshold for showing “tacet al fine”, and you can choose to have a fixed H-bar width.
The Rhythm dot consolidation option in the Rhythm Dots section of the Notes page of Engraving Options has been revamped, both to make the behavior clearer and to provide a separate option to specify how rhythm dots should be handled for unisons in opposing voices. In addition to this, a separate Rhythm dots on unisons in opposing voices option has been added.
New Rhythm dot X and Hide ledger line properties have been added in Engrave mode.
It is possible to set Offsets for the Start and End of Brackets of tuplets in Engraving Options > Tuplets > Horizontal Position. The default for new projects is ¼ space, but the offset for existing projects will be set to 0 to avoid changing their appearance.
There are even more improvements in Dorico 2.1, and that’s not including the 120 or so bug fixes that shore up existing features.
A full version history is provided at Steinberg’s web site, along with the application updaters. As mentioned up top, the update is free to all registered Dorico 2.0 users. Dorico 1.x users will need to purchase a license to obtain the update, which is €100 including VAT or $100 USD, or the equivalent pricing in your local currency. A free 30-day trial is available.
If you haven’t yet read it, or need a refresher, we encourage you to read our review of Dorico 2.0 which provided the basis for the improvements in the 2.1 release.
About future releases, in a post on the official Dorico blog, Steinberg product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury said, “The headline improvement in the next update will be the inclusion of sophisticated support for repeat markers, to handle things like segnos, codas, and so on: in true Dorico style, there will be comprehensive options for the appearance and behavior of these markers, including support for complex structures involving multiple segnos and codas.”
Daniel also said that “we do not intend to release an extended series of updates for this version, as we did with the epic series of Dorico 1.x updates: obviously, plans are always subject to change, but at the time of writing our intention is to release one more substantial update to Dorico 2 later this year, and then to get on with tackling some of the larger and meatier areas of functionality that many users are waiting for. That will be the start of our work on the next major version, which will mean a bigger step in version number, and therefore also an update cost.”
The refrain in this review is the same as in our previous one. Of the three major scoring products, Dorico is the leader in innovation. It easily feels the most modern of any of the programs and with each update the program both introduces unique features and checks off the list those items where it hadn’t achieved parity with its competitors. It’s not yet an empty list, but it is an ever-dwindling one.
Not to be overlooked in all the notational features are the strong playback capabilities that Dorico sports. For decades, people have talked about wanting more integrated DAW-like features in a first-tier notation program. Dorico is without peer here and the improvements in the 2.1 update only sharpen that edge.