Dorico 4.1 review: a better Key Editor; improvements to lyrics, interface and more

Reviews

Steinberg has released Dorico 4.1, the fourth revision to Dorico 4 after its January release. This is the first “.1” for Dorico 4 and it brings further refinements to the Key Editor, user interface improvements with more color options, an overhaul of the way lyrics are treated, the ability to print selected flows in a layout, new effects plug-ins, a library export function, and more.

Concurrently with Dorico 4.1 for desktop, Dorico for iPad (version 2.3 if you’re keeping track) is also newly available and updated (see our related Scoring Notes coverage). In addition, perhaps the biggest news for many users today is the announcement of a new “lifetime unlock” option for Dorico for iPad, giving access to all of its premium features for a one-time fee, instead of a regular monthly or annual subscription.

Editing the editors

Dorico 4.0 showcased a major overhaul of the interface for Play mode, including automation editors for MIDI data. Due to time constraints, some features had to be postponed, such as editors for tempo, dynamics, pitch bend, and percussion. This has left some users with the dilemma of whether to upgrade or not. The 4.0.30 update in March restored the Tempo and MIDI pitch bend editors, and now Dorico 4.1, the fourth update within six months, adds the dynamics editor, along with some enhancements to notation, productivity and the interface.

The new Dynamics editor works in a similar way to the other ‘play-data’ editors, but with the addition of ‘green regions’.

The new dynamics editor, with green and blue regions

Green regions show the default data for gradual dynamics in the score. Score markings are also indicated with text at the very bottom of the editor. Blue regions show where manual data values have been created with either the line or pencil tool, as in the other MIDI data editors.  The start and end values of a green region can be adjusted, either horizontally, affecting its position in the score; or vertically, changing the underlying dynamic value of either end.

Manual edits to the Dynamics lane, using the Line or Pencil tools, will appear in blue. Blue regions can overwrite the default score data of a green region, but green regions cannot overwrite existing regions of either color. Thus, you can draw a dynamic curve with the pencil over a score dynamic, but you can’t move a score dynamic’s data into an area where you’ve already made an underlying MIDI dynamic change. You can of course move the dynamic in the score, regardless of any MIDI edits.

Steinberg product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury, in describing the goal of the Key Editor in Dorico 4, said they intended to “not only to match the functionality provided by Dorico 3.5 and earlier versions, but to add greater capabilities while making the editors feel as good as possible, ideally as good as they feel in your sequencer of choice (which I very much hope is Cubase). Some edits in Dorico 3.5 and earlier could be a bit unpredictable and produce peculiar results. We have worked hard to make all of the editors more robust, and this is particularly evident in the reintroduced dynamics editor.”

Command and Control

There are some further improvements to the function of all the MIDI editors. The resolution of pencil points has been increased. You can now select a range of points in any editor and drag them to a new position.

Selecting and dragging MIDI data

Holding Shift after you start dragging will constrain the movement to one axis. Holding Alt will copy the selection, instead of moving it.

The Velocity editor can now edit separate velocities for notes in chords; and the velocity of a selected note (or notes) can now be set directly in the Properties panel.

The new Velocity property

Color me pink

The application Preferences now let the user define the colors of various parts of the interface. A new section (unsurprisingly named Colors) contains the already established options for the page ‘paper’ and the window background. New options let the user set the color of elements such as selected items, the caret and grid, playhead, out-of-range notes, and more.

User-definable interface colors

Another set of options defines colors for the first eight of Dorico’s polyphonic voices. Voice 1 is the default Up-Stem 1 Voice; each new voice created will take the colors 2 to 8 in turn. For a grand staff instrument, the default Up-stem 1 voice on the lower staff takes color 2. After the eighth voice, Dorico will then return to automatically assigning colors.

Settings for Voice colors

(Here I’ve already set Voice 1 to be Black, so that only additional voices will be highlighted in a color.)

There’s also an option to invert the page: giving white notation on a black background. All these options can be found in a new Colors section of Application Preferences, along with the page and background color settings.

A staff line showing an inverted page

Lyrics

Dorico has two different categories for defining fonts: ‘basic’ Font Styles, which offer simple settings for single-line notation items, like Tempo instructions, Repeat Markers, and dynamics; and Paragraph Styles, which offer a larger and more complex range of settings, like letter and word spacing, horizontal scaling, color, and so on. Lyrics have now been moved from Font Styles to Paragraph Styles

The Paragraph Styles dialog, with Lyric styles

This brings several advantages. Firstly, there are more parameters to choose from. (For example, you can make a ‘faux’ condensed version of Academico with the Stretch parameter set to 89% and Letter spacing to 0.1pt.)

Academico with a Paragraph Style applied.

Another advantage is that individual syllables can be styled using Dorico’s standard text controls, using a new Edit Single Lyric command (under Edit > Notations > Lyrics). This allows any syllable – or character within a syllable – to be changed in any conceivable way. Typeface, size, color, superscript, underlined, etc.

Single syllables and even characters can now be edited

This single lyric editor also provides an easy way to add several words separated by spaces or hyphens to the the same note (after you’ve created the syllable). You can also change the Paragraph Style of selected syllables in the Properties panel.

Like all Paragraph Styles, the point size for lyrics can now be set separately for Parts and Score. While singers don’t usually sing from parts, this could be useful for a continuo part that needs to see recitative; or even a special part that’s actually a bit of a score.

Getting technical for a minute, Paragraph Styles use newer text-drawing routines which also improve the speed of scrolling and display. However, these routines calculate the position of text objects in a slightly different way from the Font Styles. Consequently, lyrics in existing documents from earlier versions may be spaced slightly more broadly, both vertically and horizontally. For most documents, using the default settings for lyric spacing and positioning, this should cause minimal disruption. If you have a particularly tight page, then it’s possible that some bars might reflow to the next or previous system: though it’s likely that you can restore the appearance just by reining in the Engraving Options for vertical distances and syllable spacing slightly.

This is annoying in the short term; but progress often comes at a cost. Daniel Spreadbury says: “You may be wondering whether it would have been possible to maintain the old way of drawing lyrics for the purposes of backwards compatibility, but I’m afraid that was impractical. Maintaining two paths for drawing lyrics both adds to the complexity of the code today, and also increases the maintenance burden forever.”

Like many of Dorico’s features, user requests have driven the change, so hopefully the benefits will be welcomed in spite of any re-adjustment needed to previous projects.

O thou who changest not

Most notation software has, at some point, implemented changes that have caused things in older documents to move about, whether accidentally or deliberately, and a thorough proof-reading of old documents in new versions is essential. I’ve long considered it good practice to make PDFs of finished scores and parts, to have a ‘bulletproof’ copy. (This also helps in the event of authorisation or installation problems.) You can of course keep earlier versions of Dorico installed alongside the latest: each ‘paid’ version is entirely independent and can run concurrently, with separate preferences and audio engine. It is even possible to keep Dorico 4.0.31 separate from 4.1. On Mac, just rename the application from “Dorico 4” to “Dorico 4.0.31” before you install 4.1. On Windows, you need to rename the “Dorico 4” folder in C:\Program Files\Steinberg before you run the Dorico 4.1 installer. However, if you have multiple version of Dorico 4 on your computer, they will all share the same preferences, default options, playback Templates, etc. (Also, don’t open them two copies of Dorico 4 at the same time, as only one can use the audio engine at a time.)

Elision slurs

Another new feature in Lyrics is an option to adjust the width of the elision slur. This is a crucial bit of fine-tuning for anyone using these slurs. (The slurs also sit better next to punctuation.) The default setting is now a scale factor of 0.5: you’ll be pleased to know that old documents will be given a value of 1.0, which preserves their appearance in this regard.

Elision slurs with scale factor of 0.5 and 1.0

Ignore the dot

Something else to please lyricists is a new Engraving Option: Punctuation at the start or end of lyrics in the Lyrics > Spacing section. This controls whether to ignore punctation in the alignment of syllables, or not.

One at a time, please

Following the recent improvement in Dorico for iPad that allows saving directly onto cloud storage like iCloud Drive and Dropbox, Dorico now issues a warning message if an open project file is modified by another device. It then gives you the option to overwrite the file (losing the changes made on the other device); save with a new name (creating two separate versions); or reload the project file with the changes (if nothing has been altered locally). This is a nice safety feature for collaborators or individuals who work on two or more devices.

Print the flow

Another feature that has been requested by many users for a long time is the ability to print selected flows in a layout. Dorico now offers this in a new control in the Print panel.

The Print Flows dialog

Note that the entire page on which the flow starts is printed, including material from flows that aren’t selected.

Fixes and fittings

As usual, there are a great many small fixes, improvements and additions across the board.  Here are some areas that have received attention.

Chords

The option Position of chord symbols on grand staff instruments has been moved from Engraving Options to Layout Options, so that it can be changed on a per-layout basis. Chord diagrams can now be edited in Dorico Elements and Dorico for iPad. 

Comments

Dorico has previously been able to export all the comments in a layout to an HTML file. The filename now includes the layout name (previously the same file would be overwritten, whichever layout’s comments were exported). The HTML file itself now displays each flow’s number beside its name: useful if you have more than one flow with the same name.

Instruments and templates

The sorting order for several instruments has been improved, to place them in more standard position. Dorico now gives precedence to user-defined templates and instrument names over factory settings.

Library Manager

The Library Manager, Dorico’s one-stop shop for synchronizing settings between documents, now contains a command to export all of its settings to a .doricolib file, which can then be re-imported and synced to other documents, either entirely or in part. Text and preview graphics have been added to show the differences between settings when comparing projects.

Note Input

There’s a new option in application Preferences: Jump over rests to next note only if closer than n quarters (crotchets). When using Lock Duration, Dorico normally jumps over rests to the next note. This setting lets you determine whether the caret will return to ‘normal’ note entry when it comes to a large number of rests, rather than jumping forward to a faraway point in the score.

VST plug-ins

Two new effects plug-ins are now bundled with Dorico: Frequency EQ and Multiband Compressor. This brings the total number of effects plug-ins to 36, though you can only apply four of them to any one track.

Miscellany

A thorough read of the extensive version history is always essential, to discover all the new functionality.

Here are some items that caught my eye:

  • Several improvements have been made to edits involving tuplets.
  • There’s an option to show articulations on all split-stem noteheads.
  • Bar numbers on multi-bar rests can now be moved in Engrave mode.
  • The audio engine has been updated. 
  • Select operations are faster. 
  • Horizontal lines can now be shown, or excluded, from Cues. 
  • Some XML 4.0 commands no longer flag errors.

There are also over 80 ‘issues resolved’. Regular readers will be familiar with the usual lengthy litany in the Version Notes containing the words “Dorico now correctly…”, “It is now possible…” or “Under some circumstances…”. 

Conclusion and availability

The Dorico team are certainly making good on their promise to restore what was missing from the overhaul of Play mode, while also providing welcome new features and refinements. There is still some work left for another update: a dedicated editor for percussion and for notated pitch bends (e.g. guitar bend lines). Additional interface functionality for the MIDI editors is also planned.

If you’re in the middle of a project where the exact position of lyrics is critical, you might want to complete that before updating (unless the new features are of use); but otherwise, Dorico 4.1 is yet another step forward that fulfills many users’ requests.

Dorico 4.1 for Windows and Mac desktop is a free update for current registered users of Dorico Pro 4, Dorico Elements 4 and Dorico SE 4 users, and is available now via the Steinberg Download Assistant.

Dorico 2.3 for iPad is in the App Store now. Just as before, it is free to download with in-app subscription purchase to unlock all features. (Remember that as of version 2.0, the in-app purchase is also now eligible for Family Sharing.) Dorico for iPad 2.3 will be updated automatically if you have automatic updates enabled; if not, you can update the app manually through the App Store. There is also the brand-new lifetime unlock option, with a regular price of $119.99 US or equivalent.

If you are currently running Dorico Pro 3.5 or Dorico Elements 3.5 or earlier, you can buy an update to Dorico Pro 4 or Dorico Elements 4 from the Steinberg online shop.

For full coverage of Dorico 4, please read our comprehensive review, as well as our coverage of the subsequent 4.0.10, 4.0.20, and 4.0.30 updates. For the latest information about compatibility for Finale, Sibelius, Dorico, and MuseScore, as well as links to the latest news and reviews about product releases, please see the Scoring Notes Product Guide.

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