NAMM 2020: Dorico 3.1 is out with condensing changes, lines, and much more


Note: All this week, we’ll be publishing posts from the 2020 NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. It’s a huge exhibition, so we’ll focus on what we do best: covering the field of music notation software and related technology. Follow all of our NAMM 2020 coverage at Scoring Notes, and on our social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

In this post, we cover Dorico 3.1, the first update to Dorico in 2020, coinciding with the opening of the NAMM show. If you’re at NAMM 2020, you can find Dorico as part of Yamaha’s station in the Elite 2 ballroom of the Marriott Hotel, where there will be a Dorico presentation at 3:30 pm each day of the show.

Today, coinciding with the first day of the 2020 NAMM Show, Steinberg has released Dorico 3.1, a significant update to its scoring program and the first since the 3.0.10 update. Dorico Pro 3.1 builds on new features introduced in the major 3.0 release, such as score condensing, guitar fingering, and chord diagrams, and improves many others. Long-awaited features such as lines and bracketed noteheads debut in Dorico 3.1, and a new dynamics lane appears making it even easier to adjust playback without compromising the notation.

Condensing changes in Dorico Pro 3.1

Further, a behind-the-scenes update has added better support for high density displays on Windows, making 3.1 a must-have update for any Dorico user.

What’s more, in addition to the professional Dorico Pro tier and the hobbyist/student-level Dorico Elements, there is now a completely free offering of Dorico for the very first time. Called Dorico SE, it is essentially very similar to Dorico Elements but is limited to a maximum of two players per project.

Dorico 3.1 is free to all registered Dorico 3 users and can be downloaded from Steinberg’s website or via the Steinberg Download Assistant. Let’s start with the major new features and then move on to the improvements, and finally look briefly at Dorico SE.

Condensing features

Condensing changes

When we reviewed Dorico 3 back in September, we cautioned that condensing was a work in progress, and that some results would need manual fix-up that couldn’t yet be achieved. We’re extremely glad to report that condensing changes are now here, and seemingly they make anything (condensing related!) possible.

A brief reminder:

  • The global condensing decisions that Dorico makes are influenced by the rules defined in Notation Options > Condensing.
  • Dorico can change its condensing approach from one phrase to the next. Typically a phrase starts wherever there is a rest, and ends on the last note before the next rest.

We previously described condensing changes as ‘local events that will allow users to override the global rules for a specific region, very similar to the existing note spacing changes’, and this is precisely what they are.

The Dorico 3.1 version history encourages users to employ condensing changes as sparingly as possible: the most efficient workflow is to set the rules in Notation Options > Condensing in such a way that Dorico makes the decisions you want, most of the time. Condensing changes can then be inserted by Engrave > Condensing Change.

Dorico’s development team have clearly had quite a task, devising a dialog that can simultaneously apply different rules to different groups of players. They’ve come up with something that’s structured similarly to Notation Options:

The left section shows all available condensing groups. (A reminder from 3.0 that Dorico automatically groups instruments sensibly by assigning each identical adjacent solo instrument in the layout to a condensing group, but finer control is possible: go to Layout Options, choose your Full Score layout, and select the new Players > Condensing.)

Tick the checkboxes of those for which condensing should change, and then highlight a particular group to set the details. This is done in the right section, which is divided into two categories: Notation Options and Manual Condensing.

Looking more daunting than it actually is, Notation Options acts as a localized override for each of the rules in Notation Options > Condensing, albeit without the pretty graphics. To existing Dorico users these switches should be familiar. If you leave the switch off, the prevailing value carries through (from either Notation Options > Condensing or from a previous condensing change). Turn on the switch to either Reset it to the global rule, or to Change it to a new one.

These sorts of changes can be added as frequently as necessary, and it’s worth noting that the mere act of inserting a condensing change for a player group without any further settings will tell Dorico to start a new phrase at this point – a “phrase break”, if you will.

If you need to take control beyond what is possible with the available option overrides, there’s Manual Condensing. In this section, you can turn off condensing entirely, Reset to Dorico’s automatic condensing, or spread players across staves exactly as you wish.

Let’s take this excerpt, for example, which Dorico has condensed using factory defaults:

If we introduce a condensing change to disallow mid-phrase unisons, we get this (because in this instance, Dorico will be forced to use four voices):

In this instance, I’d rather not second-guess the way the global Notation Options are set, so I’ll employ Manual Condensing instead:

Note that condensing changes carry forward until the next condensing change, so I’ll need to insert another one with a Reset further on. You can apply a manual condensing change anywhere, and some will take effect immediately at the point at which they are applied. But for obvious reasons, those that will alter the number of required staves can only take effect at the start of the next system.

Dorico aims to be conservative in its automated condensing choices, but we’ve found that condensing changes make this eminently flexible.

The enormous amount of calculations that condensing changes require takes a hit on Dorico’s performance, especially on larger scores. Steinberg is aware of this, and in his post today announcing Dorico 3.1, product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury said, “There is plenty more work for us to do in improving performance when condensing is enabled, and we will hopefully be able to deliver further performance improvements in future updates.” We’re looking forward to those improvements.

Further improvements to condensing

There are new options within Notation Options > Condensing to better handle inactive players (or rather, their rests), as well as new and improved options which allow for condensed staves to be labeled consistently with non-condensed staves, as specified in Engraving Options > Staff Labels.

A fix has been snuck in to deal with condensing of choral music, too: condensed Tenor/Bass staves now correctly use bass clef.

Lines (vertical and horizontal)

The fact that Dorico is driven by the semantics of music is the program’s great strength. Before implementing a new feature the designers ask themselves musical questions such as “What does this symbol actually mean?”, “How does it combine with other symbols?” or “Why is it placed on a score in this particular manner?”. This imparts a great deal of sturdiness to the application. However, there are times where semantics must become composer-driven in order to free-up creativity. This is the intent behind the new “Lines” tool. With this tool, Dorico modestly begins its foray into the complex area of drawing tools. I say “modestly” not because the implementation lacks sophistication – it unquestionably is a complex tool – but because the team has intimated that a full-blown design tool to edit and create lines is something they will likely add at a later date; in which case lines will really start to fly!

Lines are so devoid of semantic baggage that the new tool does not even come with a popover. Sure, some lines are available in other tools. But this is Dorico, so those tools have a particular musical meaning — and certain restrictions that arise from it. This is an important distinction.

For example, one can create a playing technique to use a symbol, such as a fermata, that can live on a single staff (as opposed to a proper fermata from the fermata tool that will appear on all staves). However, ascribing a playing technique for playback to that fake fermata is then mandatory — and for lack of a void playback command, one has to fall back to the “natural” playing technique. But that means that in a pizzicato passage, our impostor fermata will cancel the pizzicato playback. The new lines tool eschews such semantic minutiae in favor of a more graphical approach which the user can employ according to his or her taste and requirements.

Dorico offers a wide selection of lines. They are divided into two sections: vertical lines and horizontal lines. Horizontal lines can be diagonal, too: it kind of means “not strictly vertical” here.

Let’s start with vertical lines. The new Vertical Lines panel, available from Write mode, allows you to choose from a small array of lines.

Once a chord is selected, clicking on the desired line item will create a line to the left of the notes that spans the whole chord by default. The line will be “sticky” and change length if you start moving notes from the chord up or down. Various choices in the properties panel then allow you to flip the line to the right, make it shorter or longer, change the body of the line or its start/end cap. Text can also be added to all lines except for wiggly and wavy ones.

As you can see from the example above, a vertical bracket can be drawn with dashes (A). The same bracket can then be flipped to the right (B). Different voices can have their own lines (C) or share one (D). Lines can also be drawn across staves that belong to the same player or grand staff instrument (E). Notice the excellent default placement of the added text. Once a line is drawn, its body and caps can be changed (F). It goes without saying that various engraving options are available to fine tune the appearance of all lines.

Vertical lines live and stay at a single rhythmic position. Horizontal lines, however, span between two attachment points at different rhythmical positions. You need to define those points before creating a horizontal line by selecting a passage in the score. The Start/End section at the top of the Horizontal Lines panel allows you to determine whether the endpoints of the line will be attached to concrete noteheads (starting to the right and ending to the left of a notehead), rhythmic positions, or barlines. Any combination of start and end attachment type is possible.

Once we have set up our attachment points as needed, we can select a line type from the panel to create our line. Many properties regarding placement, text, and design of the line can be changed later at any time.

As can be seen above, the tool has many applications. One of the most obvious use cases is a line that connects two noteheads in order to indicate which hand to use in a keyboard passage (A). Such lines will follow the noteheads if you move notes up or down. Using rhythmic positions instead, one can create horizontal brackets for ligatures (B – no more 1:1 tuplets at last). If you require the ligatures to follow the notes up and down however, you will need a trip to Engrave Mode as lines that are attached to rhythmic positions are always horizontal by default.

C is an example of a line that connects two barlines, but with a bit of a twist: I’ve held down Alt when I created it so it’s now a system-attached line, which means that it will automatically appear in every part. Example D shows an arrow that starts at a rhythmic position and extends to a barline. This is a good opportunity to mention the placement options available on horizontal lines: Above, Below, and Inside staff (in this example I’ve chosen Below and dragged it further in Engrave mode).

All sorts of line bodies and cap combinations can be used (E and F) to the user’s taste (and mental sanity).

Keep in mind that with all lines, local changes to properties in Write mode propagate to parts and remain linked. If you set a property in Engrave mode, the override must be propagated manually.

Not absolutely everything can be done with lines at the moment. A box tool is not present in Dorico 3.1, but one is promised for the future. There are no curved brackets yet (which is too bad since they could be so close to a “Mozart fermata”), but a lot is possible already, and I have certainly started to use the tools extensively in my writing. Hats off to the team for spending the time on this new feature.

Bracketed noteheads

As Dorico matures, seemingly simple general tools often appear as bundles of individual full-fledged features. For example, consider Dorico’s approach to staff management: Divisi, ossias and extra staves all have different functions, and the developers chose to implement each of them individually instead of simply making them different flavours of a single catch-all extra-staves feature. (Obviously parts of the internal infrastructure for additional staves will be shared between these high-level features, but that layer of abstraction is hidden from the end-user, resulting in the clean and purposive application that we have come to appreciate).

The same is true of Dorico’s approach to bracketing. Users had to show quite a bit of patience as early versions of the software didn’t support brackets for most elements of the score. Initially only brackets for accidentals and dynamics were supported. Brackets for ghost notes in percussion parts followed later. Today’s 3.1 update closes another gap: it’s finally possible to bracket noteheads without resorting to cumbersome workarounds.

It was worth the wait: brackets for noteheads are flexible and yet easy to handle. The following picture explains all of the various possibilities in “one-stop-shopping” style.

Adding a bracket is as easy as selecting a note and activating the Bracket style property. By default, you’ll get a round bracket (A), but you can easily change it to a square bracket (B) with a single click.

When it comes to tied notes, Dorico defaults to bracketing only the first notehead (C). While this is logical in most circumstances, the developers have not forsaken their philosophy that multiple tied notes are really just a single event: just switch on the Bracket until end of tie chain property to include all noteheads of the chain in the brackets (D). One limitation at present: while one can make a bracket last up to the end of a tie chain (even from a mid-chain position), it is not possible to bracket multiple subsequent positions within the chain (say, enclose the second and third position of a four-link tie chain as a single unit). All of this can easily be done for single notes in chords as well: simply select the notehead you wish to bracket and activate the respective properties.

Bracketing chords works exactly the same: select multiple adjacent noteheads at once and hit the switch: they will receive a single, large bracket (E). If you don’t want this, you can activate the Break bracket property for a specific notehead to split the bracket below that point (F). If you select multiple non-adjacent notes in a chord or if the notes are very far away from each other, Dorico produces separate brackets automatically.

It is to be noted that all of the aforementioned properties immediately affect all layouts. This is of course very convenient, but it also means that notes cannot be bracketed in parts only: brackets are intrinsic properties of notes that can’t live only in selected layouts.

As you’d expect, it’s possible to tweak the appearance of brackets in Engrave mode: you can change the height, the distance to the notehead, and even – in the case of round brackets – their convexity (see example G above). Changes to these ‘cosmetic’ properties are layout specific and must be propagated manually if you want them to affect other layouts.

Brackets can also be added to tablature in the same manner.

In all cases, there are also many defaults that can be altered using the new Bracketed Noteheads section of Engraving Options.

To sum up: Dorico’s implementation of bracketed notes is nicely flexible, especially if you keep in mind that this would appear to be a small feature at first glance. This kind of implementation is really at the core of what Dorico is all about: make the feature logical and easy to use; implement it with correct engraving standards right out of the box; and allow users to override the defaults if they so wish.

While we’re on the topic of brackets: Square brackets are now available for accidentals, too — previously only round brackets (parentheses) were possible.

So, what’s left in terms of brackets in general? Well, there are still a few lacunae. Playing techniques cannot be bracketed through Properties at the moment and that pain is felt by some users. Looking at some more specialized areas, bracketing chord symbols (and/or strings of symbols), which is something we often see in fake-book style output, is not supported yet. The same goes for bracketed ornaments, an editorial technique much used in baroque music. “Bracketed Regions” where entire phrases could be bracketed would also be a great boon to many. Still, considering the care with which bracketed noteheads have been implemented, we can optimistically hope for simple but great solutions for all of these in the future.

Playback features

Dynamics lane

A very clever feature has been added to Play mode. The new dynamics lane considerably improves its usability.

We’ve been waiting for this for a long time! The dynamics lane gives the user direct control over the internally calculated dynamic values before they are translated into the control changes that live in expression maps and communicate with the VSTi.

Both gradual and immediate dynamics are exposed in the dynamics lane. Here the dynamic levels can be edited without changing the notational representation in the score. For example, increasing the level of a piano to forte in the dynamics lane will not alter the piano symbol written in the score.

This makes it possible to adjust the level of each instrument for a proper blending in a more fluid way. This is way better than muting all dynamics and then working in the CC-lanes only: a process that could be time consuming and confusing for users who were not familiar with manipulating midi data.

To access the dynamics lane, simply switch to Play mode and expand an instrument track. In the bottom left corner you’ll find a new button that opens the dynamics lane – sensibly marked with an f.

The extremes of the dynamic range (fff to ffffff, and ppp to pppppp) are demarcated by the faint lines at the top and bottom of the lane, and the labels (which are now present on other lanes as well, like the Time track for example) are at the bottom.

The horizontal middle line reflects a mezzo forte with a value of 0. The overall range goes from -6 to +6 where a -3 reflects ppp and a +3 indicates fff. As in other areas of Dorico the graph works with rational numbers. This allows for very precise editing. The most common dymanic range (pp to ff) is given the majority of the space while the extremes (fff to ffffff, and ppp to pppppp) are nested in thinner stripes at the top and bottom of the lane.

The picture above shows the different kinds of dynamics in the dynamics lane. The graph starts with two immediate dynamics (ff, mf), followed by a swell (messa di voce). Then there’s a force dynamic (sfz) and a diminuendo followed by an immediate forte. At the bottom of the lane you’ll see the labels that represent the notational representation of the dynamics in the score.

The four different types of dynamics (immediate dynamics, gradual dynamics, messa di voce and force dynamics) are edited in slightly different ways.

Immediate dynamics can be adjusted vertically by selecting and dragging the given point in the lane up (to increase) or down (to decrease the level). These adjustments will not affect the dynamics in Write mode. It is not possible to drag a point horizontally. If you need to move an immediate dynamic horizontally you can do so by holding down Alt and pressing the arrow keys. (This will change the position of the immediate dynamic in the score as well.)

Gradual dynamics are edited in a similar way. One can increase/decrease the level at the start and end of the line. It is not possible to drag the start point horizontally but the end point can be dragged leftwards to make the final dynamic arrive sooner. (This, too, will affect the the end point of the notational representation of the dynamic in the score.)

When a gradual dynamic is followed by an immediate dynamic, it is not possible to drag the endpoint of the gradual dynamic beyond the horizontal position of immediate dynamic.

The starting level of a messa di voce is always the prevailing dynamic level, so it is not editable. The level at the end as well as the level at the transition point can still be adjusted vertically. The endpoint and the transition point can be dragged horizontally to adjust their precise rhythmic position. This will change the position of the end point and transition point in the score too.

Lastly, there are force dynamics and combined dynamics. Yes! Dorico can now properly play back fp, sfz, etc.

Force dynamics have four adjustable points. The initial dynamic level, the louder dynamic level (2), the endpoint of the louder level (3) and the level at which the end dynamic arrives.

The end level (4) is linked to the start level (1). When you drag the initial level vertically the end level follows suit. It is not possible to adjust the end level individually, but you can drag the fourth point leftwards to shorten the release time.

The values of the louder dynamic (2 & 3) are also connected. Dragging one of them vertically adjusts both of them at once. But both points can be dragged horizontally within the limits of the given initial dynamic level point (1) and the end level point (4) to give the force dynamic a more detailed contour.

Combined dynamics such as fp have 3 adjustable points. The initial point (1) can be adjusted vertically to set a proper initial level. The middle point (2) can be dragged horizontally to adjust the timing of the transition between the two levels. The endpoint (3) can be moved horizontally and vertically to define the final dynamic level and its rhythmic position. Both 2 and 3 affect the release time (ramp).

Points always snap to the rhythmic grid horizontally. If you need to do fine-grained adjustments, you can set the resolution of the rhythmic grid to a shorter duration.

The brand-new playback of force dynamics and combined dynamics such as fp and sfz are accurately reflected in the dynamics lane. But this is not all! It is now possible to draw dynamic curves and points that do not appear in Write mode, which allows for even more detailed editing of dynamics. We can now give that virtual musician a sensitive human touch – espressivo, so to speak.

With the Draw tool, additional dynamic level points can be added to the dynamics lane, snapped to the rhythmic grid. Newly added points are constant points by default, which means that the same level is kept until the next dynamic point. You can change a constant point into a linear point and vice versa in the right-click menu. The constant/linear property always affects the behavior to the right of a given point.

Existing dynamic points that represent dynamic symbols in the score are overwritten by manually added points in Play Mode. Such overridden dynamics have no effect on playback anymore, but their notational representation in the score remains untouched.

One other important thing should be mentioned: Gradual dynamics are now played back correctly in trills, tremolos and drum rolls.

Labels in Time track

Similar to the dynamics lane, the Time track now has labels, too, showing the text that appears for that tempo change in Write mode. This makes orientation easier, especially when editing tempo points or curves in larger projects.

In the future, it would be nice to see labels for fermatas as well. Those are tempo-related and always a hot spot for tweaking.

Unlike dynamics lanes, editing points in the Time track always has a direct effect on the tempo markings in the score. In other words, manipulating the length of a ritardando changes its length in Write mode, or changing the tempo of an immediate tempo change changes the value of a bpm indicator. (♪=86, I mean this!)

Correct harmonics playback

Both natural and artificial harmonics are now played back in the correct pitch. Dorico hands over the playback playing technique pt.naturalHarmonic1 to the expression map so that a VSTi including harmonic patches can be triggered correctly.

It is advised to check the manual of your VSTi, as some brands handle this differently. For NotePerformer users, this is handled automatically; be sure you’ve updated to the latest version of NotePerformer.

Even more playback improvements

  • To adjust the value for fixed tempo in smaller increments, it is now possible to drag the mouse up and down while holding down the Shift key.
  • Control Change data can now be copied and pasted to other positions within the track or into automation lanes with the same controller number of other instrument tracks.
  • The Endpoint Setup dialog now shows the singular names of instruments given in the edit name dialog. This makes things much easier in larger projects with loads of VST instances.
  • When a project is set to use a particular playback template, Dorico will automatically check for newer/later versions of expression and percussion maps. If a newer version is found, Dorico will automatically replace the old maps. Note: Choose the name for expression and percussion maps wisely. When a new map is built on a given one and then changed tremendously, an override of the old expression and/or percussion map might be unwanted on older projects.



The Dorico developers continue to refine the program’s options, allowing for finer user control. One such area is in the placement of articulations relative to the staff. The option Position of larger articulations in the staff in Engraving Options > Articulations > Vertical Position section sports a new Advanced Options section (along with a bit of editorial advice which you are free to ignore), in which you can specify on a per-articulation basis which articulations are allowed inside the staff. Previously Dorico only allowed an all-or-nothing approach with articulations taller than a space, such as marcato and staccatissimo.

Another change will make it easier to apply articulations consistently across all layouts. The Pos. in tie chain property that allows you to specify whether an articulation appears at the start or end of the tie chain can no longer vary between layouts, so setting it or changing its value in one layout will now affect all layouts in which the articulation appears.


There’s a new Short (top) barline that covers the top two spaces of the staff, for use in liturgical music. (The existing short barline – which covers the middle two spaces of the staff – is unchanged.) Type shorttop into the Shift+B popover to create the new barline type.

Brackets and braces

Dorico’s bracketing approach was formerly handled globally in Engraving Options. It’s now moved to Layout Options, meaning that each layout in your project can have a different bracketing approach by default. Users who’ve previously needed to override with Bracket and Barline Changes will appreciate this.

There’s also significantly more control over how Dorico produces brackets: this Advanced Options section within Engraving Options > Brackets and Braces is all new.

Chord diagrams

Dorico 3.0 brought broad support for chord diagrams. New in Dorico 3.1 is the ability to name a chord and create a diagram that omits essential notes. For instance, if you have a chord consisting of only the notes G, C, E, and A, but still want to label the chord as a Dm11 chord, even if the D and F are missing you can do that in Dorico 3.1.


User-defined chord shapes appear in a different color in the Choose Chord Diagram dialog, to help you identify shapes that you have created yourself.

However, we continue to wish that the chord diagram would automatically reflect the voicing in the tabs; this would save the user from having to execute a redundant step.

Further on, Engrave > Chord Diagrams has been revamped in the Category menu to allow you to see chord shapes according to the number of strings (four, five, or six) of the instrument for which they are intended. The list below the Category menu lists all of the chord shapes for instruments with that number of strings, combining the defaults from the factory library with any you have edited or defined yourself in the current project.

Our wish for a future version of Dorico would be to have the ability to select 4-, 5-, or 6-note shapes for only guitar chords. This would be perfect for the CAGED system, which is already organized in the same fashion. Additionally, the 4-note chord voicing option would be ideal for more sophisticated harmonic approaches to guitar.

Still, taken together, the improvements in Dorico 3.1 all aim to speed up the workflow of sorting through hundreds or even thousands of different chord shapes.

Please check out our video review of the new guitar features in Dorico 3.1:

Fingering text

It is now possible in Dorico 3.1 to indicate using the thumb of the left hand for fretted notes. Simply type t after invoking the Fingering popover via Shift+F.

There are is also a new option for a Zero as indicator, shown as zero enclosed in a circle in Engraving Options > String Indicators > Open string appearance.

Another new option in Engraving Options, this time in Fingering > Position > Collision avoidance for fingerings to the left of noteheads is Offset vertically, allowing in spaces,  so that fingerings to the left of noteheads will be centered in the space if possible.

Guitar tablature

A new Guitar section has been added to the Ornaments panel in Write mode, and the button to create a guitar bend has been moved to this section, along with several new options to provide initial support for vibrato bar notation. You can create a vibrato bar bend, a dashed line to indicate the extent over which the vibrato bar should be used, a vibrato bar dip, and a vibrato bar scoop.

When you have multiple bends in succession without an intervening release, Dorico now displays the bends one after the other as a single run in tablature. Each bend in the run can be individually edited in Engrave mode.

Local chord symbols

One of the great leaps forward in Dorico’s approach to chord symbols, first introduced in Dorico 1.1, was its global treatment of them, making them system-attached instead of staff-specific. The thinking was that the harmonies of a composition are such that each player would be playing from the same chord symbol at any given time. As Alexander Plötz wrote in our review of Dorico 1.1, “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.”

He did identify one shortcoming in that implementation, however: “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.”

In Dorico 3.1, this has finally been remedied by the debut of local chord symbols, which are attached to an individual instrument rather to the system, once again giving the user finer control if needed. Instruments will still show the global or system-attached chord symbols, but if a local or instrument-attached chord symbol is present at the same rhythmic position as a global chord symbol, the local chord symbol will appear instead.

In practice, the use of several additional shortcuts makes it easy to switch between local and global chord symbol entry. You still type Shift+Q as normal to open the chord symbols popover, but to place a local chord symbol, hold Alt before you type Return to confirm the popover. If you want to input a series of local chord symbols, you can lock the popover to input local chord symbols by typing Alt+L while the popover is open; to lock it back to global chord symbols, type Alt+G while the popover is open. Holding Alt temporarily flips the popover into the opposite mode.

The icon shown in the popover changes to show you whether the chord symbol will be created globally or locally; the silhouette indicates local mode:

As with most other new features, this won’t be supported if you use the local chord symbol feature in Dorico 3.1 and then open the file in an earlier version of Dorico.

One other chord symbol fix has muscled its way into Dorico 3.1: The Enharmonic spelling for chord roots and altered bass notes option in Engraving Options > Chord Symbols, which allowed chord roots of E♯ and B♯ to be simplified to F and C respectively, now also applies to F♭ and C♭, so that they may be respelled to E and B.

Notes and note input

You can’t have music notation without notes. Dorico 3.1 improves this fundamental area of the software in several aspects.

A new option Respell to avoid double and triple accidentals has been added to Write > Transpose. This option can be activated to prevent Dorico from spelling notes using double and triple accidentals when transposing, instead adjusting their spelling to single accidentals on adjacent note names. Bad news for the hard-core music theorists, but a welcome improvement for sight-readers!

Music theory still comes into play, though — transpose by the interval of a unison, and you can use this method to simplify accidentals without actually transposing the music. Clever, no?

In the same vein, there are times where you want to spell a tied note differently based on the underlying harmony or key area. Dorico 3.1 finally makes this possible. In Engrave mode, select the notehead or noteheads in the tie-chain to be respelled, and use the key commands Alt+= to respell using the note above or Alt+- to respell using the note below (the same shortcuts you can already use in Write mode for untied notes).

Moving along, there is now a handy way to remove any overlapping notes in the same voice, with the new command Write > Edit Duration > Shorten to Next Note.  It will shorten any note that extends beyond the start of the following note such that it abuts the following note.

Playing technique input for unpitched percussion

For playing techniques that are represented by specific noteheads, Dorico now remembers the most recently used playing technique. There are also new options in Preferences > Note Input and Editing so that you can specify which, and how many notes to allocate for switching playing technique.

Importing and exporting Master Pages

There are new buttons in the right panel of Engrave mode, allowing Master Pages to be imported and exported to and from projects, and to and from Master Page Sets within the open project. Yes!


Instrument changes

To date, instrument changes in Dorico have left something to be desired, particularly in projects with local time signatures. Dorico 3.1 now always snaps instrument change transitions to the next barline, correctly padding the gap with rests.

This will only work if the local time signatures match on all relevant staves (in other words, with matching positions and overall bar durations). Dorico will accept, for example, a 3/4 and a 6/8 time signature at the same position as equivalent. If this condition is not met, Dorico reverts to the old behavior.

Piano pedaling

A new Position of retake relative to notehead option has been added to Engraving Options > Pedal Lines > Horizontal Position, allowing you to determine whether pedal retakes should be left- or center-aligned with noteheads.

Markers and timecode

A new option Show timecode has been added to Layout Options > Markers and Timecode, so that you may choose between showing timecode Below timecode staff (the existing behavior) or Above or below start of system, so that timecode can be displayed at the start of each system without needing to display the timecode staff at all. The new Offset at start of system options allow you to adjust the default position of the timecode when shown at the start of the system.

Save New Version

Kudos for this simple new feature: Save New Version provides a quick and simple way to create a checkpoint in your work on a project. You can find it in Preferences > Key Commands > File and assign a shortcut to it. (We wish the command was available in the File menu too, and not just squirreled away in Preferences.) When the command is invoked, it appends an automatically incremental number to the filename of the project and saves it in the project’s current location.

Unlike in Sibelius, which has a versioning feature built into one file, each version in Dorico is a completely independent project, and there is no link between different versions. It’s merely a convenient shortcut to doing Save As with Dorico providing the filename for the new project automatically.

Before, a round-trip to the Finder or File Explorer was necessary each time to rename the file — a small but disruptive task. This simple addition will keep you in your element.

Staff spacing

Dorico 3.0 introduced Lyric Offsets, so that you could manually shift whole lines of lyrics up and down, system by system. These offsets were previously indexed to the first syllable of each system, meaning that if the casting off changed you’d lose them. In 3.1, this behavior’s been improved: as long as the same number of staves and systems remains on the page, and manually adjusted staves are still shown on the relevant system(s), Lyric Offsets and Staff Spacing Overrides will now survive.

Make space for lyrics is a new feature in both Layout Options > Note Spacing and the Note Spacing Change dialog. By default Dorico has always made space for lyrics but some users really enjoy the challenge of saving paper, particularly in hymnals. If you’re prepared to put in the effort to space lyrics by hand, you no longer have to fight the software’s automatic spacing. This reviewer suspects that at least one Scoring Notes contributor will be rejoicing at this (somewhat dangerous) option.

User interface

As previously mentioned, Windows users on high-DPI displays will be pleased that Dorico’s user interface is now correctly scaled according to the Change the size of text, apps and other items option on the Display page of the Windows 10 Settings app, so that its interface will appear at a scale factor consistent with other applications on your computer.

A few other UI tweaks have the potential to brighten your day (or display):

  • When a note or chord is selected, the information read-out in the status bar now displays the voice to which the note or chord belongs, for example, Upstem Voice 1.
  • It is now possible to select a contiguous range of pages in the Pages panel in Engrave mode using Shift+click, which makes it much quicker and easier to perform operations like moving or clearing page overrides.
  • In Play modeEdit > Go to Bar works, and the contrast of the mouse cursors for each of the editing tools in Play mode has been increased.
  • When swapping between the different tools in the toolbox in Engrave mode, the state of whether or not the left-hand panel is shown or hidden is now retained.

Dorico SE

Here on Scoring Notes we generally cover the “pro” level of product tiers, such as Dorico Pro or Sibelius Ultimate. However, it’s worth spending a moment on Dorico SE, a new product introduced today by Steinberg.

Dorico SE is completely free to download and use, but you will need to register the product with Steinberg. Like with most free products, this is not an entirely altruistic offering from Steinberg; they eventually hope you’ll like working with Dorico SE enough that you’ll want to purchase either the mid-range Elements version or the top-level Pro.

Still, it’s notable that, unlike the 30-day trial version of Dorico Pro that users can get on a one-time basis for each major release, you can use Dorico SE for as long as you like. It’s limited to a maximum of two players (Elements allows for 12) and doesn’t have Engrave mode or many of the other advanced features of Dorico Pro. That’s not to say it’s useless; in fact if you only ever work on solo music, say, or piano-vocal charts that fall squarely in the realm of conventional music notation, it may be all you need.

Dorico SE still has Play mode so you can hear your projects, complete with a full audio mixer with support for all VST 3 and effect plug-ins. You can print them, and export them to MIDI, MusicXML, and audio files. Many of the Dorico workflows are available in Dorico SE, such as Insert mode and Multi-paste. You can even create multiple flows, multiple tonality systems, and open meter, if you like.

Further, Dorico SE will open any project created in Dorico Elements or Dorico Pro, and you can play those and print them too. In that respect it’s very much like a “Dorico Reader +” so that anyone, anywhere can open a native Dorico file without having to spend any money or convert it to another format first.

In an exclusive interview we did with Dorico’s product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury (which will be released in full tomorrow), he said, “Particularly for people who are using other software, you have to see [Dorico] to believe it. We can tell you over and over again — and I will, at great length! — how good Dorico is, how much time it saves, how smart the program is, how easy it is to learn, and so on. But the truth of the matter is that all these things are tested in battle. They’re not tested on a web page or a YouTube video. … What we wanted to do was give people a flavor of the unique things that Dorico itself has, in a package that has no time limit … and it has the Dorico experience. … What we hope is that Dorico SE gives is the opportunity to try [Dorico] for themselves without the pressure of a 30-day limit.”

Moreover, if you have Dorico Pro, you already have Dorico SE (and Dorico Elements) — helpful if you use the product professionally but are also a teacher and wish to launch the product in a way that your students might see it. Hold the Alt key while starting Dorico to launch Dorico Elements, and hold Command (Mac) or Ctrl (Windows) to launch Dorico SE. Daniel said, “To be honest, we saw that Sibelius did that when they introduced the different flavors, and we saw that was well received by their users for exactly that reason and we thought, ‘that’s a good idea’, so we decided to make it do the same thing.”

Indeed, the three-tiered approach to Dorico — Dorico SE (free), Dorico Elements (intermediate), and Dorico Pro (pro), invites comparisons to Sibelius — Sibelius First (free), Sibelius (intermediate), and Sibelius Ultimate (pro). We cheered the introduction of the new Sibelius First when it was released in 2018 and we feel the same about Dorico SE — there is only upside for the user who wishes to explore all of their options.

Availability, compatibility — and a one-week sale

Dorico 3.1 is available now. It is free to all registered Dorico 3 users and can be downloaded from Steinberg’s website or via the Steinberg Download Assistant.

The minimum OS requirements are macOS 10.12 and Windows 10. Dorico 3.1 is supported on macOS 10.15 Catalina. A version history can be found online.

Sales on Dorico are rare. None were offered during the 2019 holiday season. But to coincide with the beginning of the 2020 NAMM Show and the 3.1 release, Steinberg is running a one-week sale beginning today, January 16, 2020, until January 23: All Dorico products will be on sale for 30% off. Once you add a product to your shopping cart, you must click Redeem to apply the discount code JANSALE30.

Prices will vary in your local currency, but US prices are as follows:

All Dorico products are “perpetual licenses”. A subscription plan is not offered.

About the competitive crossgrade, Steinberg has said:

If you want to buy the Dorico Pro 3 crossgrade, please note that after you begin the checkout process, you will be required to provide proof of eligibility for the crossgrade by uploading an image that shows your ownership of the qualifying product. A screenshot of the software “About” dialog showing your serial number or System ID/Activation ID will be sufficient. If you are a subscriber to Sibelius Ultimate, you must have either an annual subscription or have been subscribing to the monthly subscription for a year to qualify: a screenshot of your subscription details from Avid Link or your Avid account will be sufficient proof.

Please note that cut-down versions of Sibelius and Finale do not qualify. For Sibelius users, you must be running any version of the full Sibelius product from version 1 to version 2018.1. For Sibelius version 2018.4 onwards, you must be running Sibelius Ultimate and not Sibelius or Sibelius First. Older cut-down versions of Sibelius like Sibelius First, Sibelius Student, and G7 do not qualify. For Finale users, you must be running any version of the full Finale product up to Finale v26. Cut-down versions like Allegro, PrintMusic, Guitar, Songwriter and Notepad do not qualify.

Finally, educational products are not included in this promotion; that information can be found at the Steinberg Education Shop or your local reseller.


Once again, Dorico continues its unbroken impressive streak of updates. Condensing — the marquee star of the show — deserves a rousing ovation, but the supporting cast of lines, brackets, the dynamics lane, and all of the other improvements each merit a hearty curtain call in their own right.

When Dorico 3.0 was released in September 2019, the Steinberg team promised condensing would be much further refined, so today’s update is no surprise. Yet there’s still even more to do for a feature that has been part of the Dorico road map since its very early development days; in our interview, Daniel Spreadbury said, “Condensing is certainly by no means able to do everything we would like it to do yet.” When it comes to condensing and all of the other myriad features now packed into Dorico, Daniel said, “The one thing I can safely say is there is no shortage of more things to do and we will be very busy for for the foreseeable future.”

That’s like a marathoner running and saying “I need to run another marathon,” eyes focused firmly ahead and not looking back. The marathoner analogy is apt in another way — when a Dorico feature is developed, it’s done so with the long view in mind. Off to the races!

As far as the user is concerned, Dorico’s latest features span every nook and cranny of the program, and the software is still new enough that every Dorico Pro user should update to 3.1 and leave prior versions behind. If there’s a bone to pick with this update, it’s with the program’s performance, which can slow considerably on larger projects as it performs more and more calculations behind the scenes. This is not unique to Dorico, but with the software getting ever more complex (with the intention of making your music look anything but) it could slow you down. As with other Dorico deficiencies, this too is promised to improve over time — and the team has a solid track record of making good on their promises.

Finally, with the free Dorico SE, Steinberg is now enticing anyone to come and see what all the fuss is about, going head-to-head with its main competition in terms of product offerings. At the very least we heartily encourage everyone to give it a spin — no money down — and see what you think for yourself. You might just become a “Pro Dorician” before too long.


  1. Waldbaer

    Yeah, finally condensing is where it should have been when it was released! But the other improvements are at least as welcome, my favourite being Master Pages im-/export: Finally this feature really can show its strengths! I’ll just keep a Masterpageset for each project type at a central position instead of always searching all my students’ song files for a more or less up-to-date-layouted file and then, after finding nothing really fitting, go on and apply the same changes as always again (takes only a minute but shouldn’t).
    DoricoSE is also very welcome, I’ll check that out and see what it can do; it could make it much more useful to actually share Dorico files…

  2. Qwe

    Dorico is really starting to come into its maturity. Yes, there are still areas that need some more work. But with each new release, that list gets smaller and smaller. And all the things it does, it does superbly, with the minimum of user effort.
    Ardent users of other software who have long guffawed at its lacunae should look to the amazing responsiveness of Dorico’s team in addressing bugs, adding features and helping the growing userbase (to say nothing of the quality of its output), and compare that to their own brand.

  3. Brian

    I really wish Dorico would get ReWire or some way to sync up with Cubase.

  4. Mark

    I think every composer wants Dorico to be both a sequencer and a notation software all in one. Even if you do ReWire, that would be at least doing something which would be heading in that direction. If you did this, everybody would buy it!!

Leave a Comment

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