Dorico 4 review: Do more with your score

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Dorico 4: Supercharged
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Today Steinberg has released Dorico 4, a major upgrade to its scoring program. With a version history document running in excess of 37,000 words and 100 pages long, this highly anticipated release is the program’s largest since the introduction of Dorico more than five years ago, the first paid upgrade since Dorico 3.5 came out in May 2020, and the first update of any sort to the desktop version since a minor update in February 2021.

New in Dorico 4 are some features that had already been introduced in Dorico for iPad, which we first saw in July 2021 and which was followed quickly by an August update. Users of the tablet version will feel instantly comfortable with Dorico 4, which integrates the Key Editor, a piano roll-style view of the score, directly into Write mode, along with velocity and MIDI controller editors.

Dorico 4

iPad users will also recognize the other note input tools brought over to the desktop and dropped straight into Write mode, such as on-screen instruments like a piano keyboard, a guitar fretboard, and a drum controller grid that can be used for unpitched percussion. The histogram and mixer, along with other tools, make what is now called the “lower zone” into the go-to-place for all kinds of score editing.

In concert with the related Write mode features, Play mode gets a complete overhaul, which not only allows for these tools to be used in Play mode but also sporting a total redesign. iPad users will recognize this, too, but the changes go Play mode beyond the superficial; it’s been totally rebuilt for Dorico 4, making pro-level audio adjustments easier and more discoverable.

The relationship between audio and notation is further solidified in Dorico 4 by powerful importing features that intelligently map MIDI files into Dorico, identifying tracks, split points, and keyswitches, and making sensible notation-based choices for instrument assignments, articulations, and playing techniques, and storing those preferences for future use. This makes it much quicker to get from mockup to finished score.

For the pure “engravers” who never use audio or MIDI, Dorico 4 is a giant leap forward with the introduction of the Library menu, which consolidates many disparate options across all modes of the program into a single menu for easy access. This is the entry point into the long-wished for Library Manager, which finally makes it possible to have a “house style” system in Dorico that can be both all-encompassing or highly granular, allowing the user to compare settings between documents, mix-and-match styles, and save them all into templates for repeated use.

Steinberg is marketing Dorico 4 as “supercharging your workflow”, and more new features and improvements along those lines appear, many of which compare favorably to competing software: instrument filters (“Staff Sets” to Finale users), a “jump bar” (“Command Search” to Sibelius users), the ability to move bars to the next or previous system during the casting off process (à la Finale), and musical transformations (like with some Sibelius plug-ins) are a tiny representative sample of the huge number of items that both existing and new Dorico users will be delighted to find.

Of course, any software is only useful if you can actually, uh, use it, and to that end, Dorico 4 is the first version of Dorico — and the first of any of Steinberg’s products — to make use of a new licensing system. Steinberg Licensing is a new identity-based system that will enable single-user activation on three computers simultaneously, and will be managed by the user’s Steinberg ID account. Gone are the old requirements of a USB key or separate licensing system permanently tethered to your machine.

If you’re reading this post first thing on January 12 and want to catch the official live-stream announcement from Steinberg, it will be broadcast at 2pm GMT / 3pm CET / 9am EST / 6am PST, and available later on-demand.


About this review

Steinberg offers three tiers of Dorico:

  • Dorico Pro, the self-explanatory professional tier;
  • Dorico Elements, an entry-level version aimed at students and amateurs, limited to 24 players; and
  • Dorico SE, a free version that is limited to two players.

Everything in this review refers to Dorico Pro, although many of the new features have made their way to Dorico Elements and Dorico SE, too.

New in Dorico Elements 4 is the graphical editing sub-mode of Engrave mode, so you can make graphical adjustments to the score, but it still doesn’t have staff/note spacing, frames, or graphic slices, and Dorico SE does not have any engraving features so, generally speaking, most of those kinds of features or improvements won’t appear in the lower tiers.

If you’ve been with us before, you know that we rely on team coverage to cast as wide a net as we possibly can with these enormous Dorico releases. Once again, we’ve got the experts here: Ben Byram-Wigfield, Andrew Noah Cap, Dan Kreider, Florian Kretlow, Claude Lapalme, and David MacDonald (with modest assistance by Philip Rothman) have collectively contributed many years of their lives (slight overstatement) in service of bringing you this review.


New features

Re-zoning the desktop real estate

In previous versions of Dorico, the menu that expanded from the bottom of the main window in Write mode and Engrave mode was called the Properties panel because, well, it’s where you could see and change the properties of notes, rests, articulations, and other elements of a score. Beginning with Dorico for iPad and now in Dorico 4, this is now referred to simply as the “lower zone”.

Highlighted lower zone controls
From left to right: properties, on-screen piano, on-screen fretboard, on-screen drum pads, mixer, and Key Editor

The renamed menu area reflects the new reality that in Write mode, this part of the window contains more than just the Properties panel — though that is still found here. The lower zone contains several new tab-like views: the familiar Properties panel first, as well as a piano keyboard, fretboard, drum pads, mixer, and Key Editor. While all of these tools and interfaces are new to the desktop, they will be familiar to Dorico for iPad users.

The Key Editor

The Key Editor is perhaps the most powerful new addition to the lower zone. It is a MIDI piano roll-style view of your score that looks just like the MIDI editor in a DAW, sequencer, or Dorico’s own Play mode. In fact, I think of it as a little window into Play mode from within Write mode.

Screenshot of the Key Editor in Write mode
The Key Editor in Write mode shows MIDI data right alongside the score.

Notes in the Key Editor are represented as horizontal rectangles, with the vertical position representing pitch and the horizontal position and length representing timing and duration. With the “link mode” activated, the Key Editor will instantly move to the instrument and measure of any selection you make in the score.

Just as with the MIDI editing tools in Play mode, changing notes in the Key Editor can be instantly reflected in the score, on the staff. You may want to make more subtle changes to timing or note length to make the playback less rigid, and doing so can optionally not impact the notation simply by toggling the Key Editor into audio-only mode (the waveform icon) rather than notation mode (the eighth notes icon).

It’s also easy to grab a whole region of MIDI notes within the Key Editor using the multi-select tool to drag out a rectangular selection, which is useful for grabbing all notes within a certain register in a passage. You can also add new notes in the Key Editor with the pencil tool, which will be added to the score.

Just like with other forms of note input and editing, Dorico will decide how best to represent the rhythm automatically within the score, tied notes, beaming, and rest groupings are all determined independently of how the notes are entered in the Key Editor.

In addition to pitch and rhythm, the Key Editor also allows precise control over velocity, expression, and other MIDI parameters. These can be controlled independently for each note, for selected passages, or for the entire score.

Screen recording using the Histogram editor
The histogram allows for editing the velocity distribution of large passages at once.

One of my favorite features of the Key Editor is the Histogram view. This shows a graph of all the distribution velocity (or other MIDI parameter) values for the score, or just a selection. If a score is dealing with manually entered notes, these velocities are likely to be static, and the Histogram can help add some subtle randomization to make the playback more natural.

I know the word “histogram” seems really nerdy, but I think once you get around and start playing with it, you’ll see that it can be both fun and powerful.

On-screen instrument input

On-screen piano keyboard
The on-screen piano keyboard will be particularly useful on touch screens.

Three of the other new tabs to the lower zone are all dedicated to virtual instrument inputs. During note entry with the active caret, you can click on the on-screen instrument to enter notes. I imagine this will be particularly useful to users who are on touch-enabled Windows laptops.

Screenshots of two on-screen fretboards
The top screenshot shows the fretboard when the caret is on a guitar staff; the bottom shows the fretboard with the caret on a mandolin staff.

The on-screen piano keyboard is available as an input method for any instrument, but the on-screen fretboard is only available to fretted instruments, where the fretboard adapts to the currently selected instrument. So a guitar will get six strings, a mandolin or bass guitar will get four. The fretboard (like the rest of Dorico) is also aware of the tuning of the instrument, and will input notes correctly on the staff based on that tuning.

Screenshot of on-screen drum pads
The on-screen drum pads simplify entering certain kinds of percussion instrument and technique notation.

A third on-screen instrument models a MIDI drum controller (grid of buttons), which struck me as slightly silly when I first encountered it — why put virtual buttons on the screen of a device that already has lots and lots of buttons — but upon using it the utility becomes obvious. The drum pads are labeled with all of the available instruments and techniques of the selected staff, and clicking them will enter the correct notation for that technique. For example, the default snare drum instrument offers “natural”, “rim”, “cross stick”, and “side stick”. You can re-order these buttons freely, and even space them out to suit your needs.

One caveat of the on-screen instruments is that while the piano keyboard is available for all instruments, the fretboard is only offered when a fretted string instrument is selected, and the drum pads are only available when an unpitched percussion instrument is selected.

While I understand that the drum pads may not make a ton of sense when inputting a bassoon part, I can imagine a lot of users who might be more comfortable thinking musically in guitar terms rather than piano terms, even if they’re inputting music for voice. This would present a challenge of which of the many possible fretboards to present, but I can imagine how welcome such an interface might be to some users.

The Mixer, remixed

The last of the new additions to the lower zone is the newly rebuilt Mixer, which is found in the lower zone of Write, Engrave, and Play modes. There is also a pop-out Mixer which may be of particular use if you want to put tools on a secondary display. Like the redesigned Play mode (covered later in this review), the updates to the Mixer make it look and behave much like similar tools you may have used in a DAW or sequencer.

Screenshot of the mixer lower panel in Write mode
The Mixer can now be quickly accessed from Write mode’s new lower zone.

The lower-zone Mixer includes a volume fader, stereo balance (hidden on the “C” at the top), and mute/solo buttons for each instrument. This can be particularly useful for combining different kinds of playback sources, like mixing different virtual instrument libraries, or balancing the audio from a film scoring project.

The pop-out Mixer window also includes an easy way to apply effects through an inserts menu. This will provide a list of any compatible VSTs installed on your system. There is also a set of EQ sliders you can expand for each track as well. These are not found in the lower-zone Mixer.

Mixer pop-out window
The pop-out Mixer window includes a handful of controls at the top that are not available in the lower zone.

These new controls are very easy to use, and anyone who has experience with a DAW or sequencer will pick them up quickly and easily. One concern I have with the mixer is that scrolling the long row of faders in a big project is a bit awkward. There is no on-screen scroll bar. Instead, you can click and drag — natural for a touch interface but very awkward with a trackpad or mouse — or you can use a scroll wheel or scroll gesture. The second of those would make some sense, but to scroll the mixer, you need to scroll up (for right) and down (for left), which is rotated 90 degrees and inverted from what I would expect. Furthermore, doing so risks your vertical scrolling be interpreted as moving the faders up and down if you happen to start a scroll while your pointer is in the wrong spot.

We’re told that this will be addressed in a future maintenance update, where support for more traditional mouse wheel for up/down and Shift+mouse wheel for left right will be included.

Despite those navigation issues for now, the new Mixer is an excellent revision, and its inclusion in Write mode in particular is a nice, practical addition.

Brand new Play mode

Play mode, which has been one of the most distinctive Dorico features since version 1.0, has received perhaps the most striking visual change. It has been completely rewritten and reorganized. The result is something that looks and works much more like a DAW, which feels right for the tools that are here in Play mode.

Screenshot of Play mode
The newly redesigned Play mode looks more like sequencing interfaces in popular DAWs.

One of the biggest changes is that a lot of the controls that were along the right side of the window are now along the left. Each staff of the score is represented by a channel strip and colorful MIDI regions. Each channel strip has a mute and solo button on it, and when selected, the details of each channel can be tweaked from the track inspector on the left, including the VST/MIDI instrument (e.g. Halion, NotePerformer, etc.) as well as mixer controls (level, balance) and effects.

One other useful tool you’ll find in the track inspector is a button that says “Turn on IRV”, which toggles on a separate mixer track and MIDI lane for each voice on the staff. This could prove useful for all sorts of things, like using a different VST for a secondary voice, panning left and right for separation, or simply bringing one voice up or down in the mix.

The lower zone of Play mode includes the same Mixer and Key Editor as Write mode, and this is where you will find most of the MIDI tools that you might have used in previous versions of Dorico’s Play mode. See the sections of this review on the Key Editor and the Mixer for more details there.

On the whole, the new colorful interface is fun and welcoming, and the colors also bring a lot of clarity to which track is selected and what is being edited in the Key Editor, as the colors of the MIDI notes change to match the color of the selected track.

I really like this redesigned Play mode. It feels more familiar coming from Logic or Cubase, and for that reason, I expect I’ll use it much more than I did previously. If you’re a long-time Dorico user who has mostly ignored Play mode, I’d encourage you to poke around it a bit more in this latest release.

Smart MIDI import

This is a game-changer.

To create scores and parts from a given MIDI file in a notation software, one needs to know and to understand the structure of the template that was used in the DAW from where the MIDI file was exported. What library played what articulation? What instrument track was doubled or copied to trigger multiple, say, string patches? How were the drums organized?

Those are only some of the questions to be answered before importing a MIDI file into a notation software, and this is followed by a time-consuming preparation of the imported MIDI file before one can even think about working on scores and parts.

Dorico’s Smart MIDI import now takes care of the whole process in its own unique way. This being such a key feature of Dorico 4, I am pretty sure the Dorico Team will do a detailed video on Smart MIDI import, so I can keep it short – otherwise it would be a review on its own!

The new MIDI file import workflow allows you to:

  • Eliminate empty tracks.
  • Map multiple tracks with different articulation and playing techniques to a single player.
  • Map a single track to multiple players.
  • Filter out key switches.
  • Detect slurs, grace notes, trills and tremolos.

And the best of it: Dorico memorizes one’s decisions (“track memory”), so whenever one imports or opens a MIDI file coming from a project with the same or similar tracks, Dorico will recall the setting after it’s done once.

Smart MIDI import works on both Open MIDI and Import MIDI, depending on one’s needs; unlike the comparable feature in Sibelius, you do not need to import the MIDI file into an existing template to make use of its advanced features.

When importing music, the MIDI import options dialog allows to choose the destination: New Flow or an exisiting flow.

The import MIDI options dialog opens in Basic editor mode by default. It shows a track table with the tracks in the MIDI file, along with a few global options in the top panel of the dialog. This is where the above-mentioned option to use track memory can be found, and you can select the destination, etc.

Although the settings in the upper row are self-explanatory, one should keep an eye on “interpret as GM”, because all instruments on MIDI channel 10 are going to be interpreted as unpitched percussion. As a rule of thumb, older MIDI files downloaded from the internet may well conform to GM, but newly created MIDI files you receive from a sequencer or DAW probably do not.

In the table itself one can determine which tracks should be imported by activating the corresponding checkbox. By default, all non-empty tracks are enabled. The Instrument(s) in track column shows Dorico’s suggestion for the instrument it’s going to map to each track. The assignment can easily be changed by double-clicking the table cell.

The Technique(s) column shows the playing technique (staccato, legato, etc.) represented by each track. This is important when multiple tracks of the same instrument are used to represent the needed articulation/playing techniques separately.

The Max. sim. notes column indicates how many notes are considered to be played by a single instrument in a track. Dorico uses this information to deduce whether a track should be mapped to multiple players, and if so, how many.

The Total No. of notes column gives the sum total of the notes in a track and allows to quickly spot tracks that contain no music at all and are thus redundant to import.

At the bottom of the panel there are some additional Import Options. The settings in this section are self-explanatory, by and large. As mentioned, Dorico helpfully remembers all these settings for subsequent imports.

The Advanced editor mode of the dialog allows for even greater control over some aspects of MIDI import. In this mode the dialog is enriched with two more sections where you can specify in great detail how each track should be mapped to players in the Dorico project.

Additional sections of the MIDI Import Options dialog in Advanced editor mode.

The Track settings section affects how the selected track will be interpreted during MIDI import. It shows the number of instruments required by the track (deduced from the value in the maximum simultaneous notes column in the track table). When you select an instrument in the list, Dorico makes a corresponding selection in the Players in Dorico project section. If the number of instruments in the track list is greater than the number of players in the project, Dorico will add new players to fit the requirements. Newly added players are marked with a + to distinguish them from existing players in the project.

As mentioned, Dorico can merge multiple articulation tracks into a single player. As an example, let’s assume that a given DAW project has 5 tracks for Trumpet 1:  sustain, staccato, marcato, accent and tenuto. Dorico needs to know the first and the last playing technique used in the Trumpet 1 part. Quite often, the predefined pairs will match. If they don’t, you can use the dropdown boxes start/end to define a custom pair of playing techniques. Next, Dorico needs to know the articulation represented in the given track (no selection represents natural/sustain). Voice separation mode allows to specify how Dorico handles chords in case the target is a single instrument. The last step is to assign all 5 tracks for Trumpet 1 to the player “Trumpet 1” in the right-hand column “Players in Dorico project”.

When importing GM percussion, it might happen that certain instruments are not already defined in the target percussion kit. In that case, Dorico will automatically add the missing instuments during the import process, including the assignment of note heads and staff positions. Of course these automatic decisions can be change in the Edit Percussion Kit dialog once the import is done.

Polyphonic MIDI transcription

For most of its existence, Dorico has offered robust tools to facilitate real-time MIDI recording (which we’ve written about here) and import. It’s been good enough to actually be a viable method of note entry for sufficiently skilled keyboardists (or even less-skilled ones).

Dorico 4 makes significant strides in conquering several challenges of accurate MIDI conversion: multiple voices, variable split points, slurs, grace notes, trills, tremolos, and smarter transcription of pedal lines. In the interest of brevity, we’ll discuss only the first two. (For more information, please refer to the version history.)

Regarding new options for MIDI transcription, there really isn’t much to adjust here, except for Edit > Preferences > Play > Recording:

Dorico now makes intelligent decisions regarding split points, or the dividing line to determine when notes should be displayed in the upper or lower staff. Here’s an example entered in real-time with no editing (bonus points if you can name the tune):

You can see Dorico is making a thousand miles’ worth of decisions about how to distribute the notes based on what it thinks is playable by the human hand. While it won’t get it right every time (yet), it’s a huge improvement! (As an aside, clean-up here is a snap. Select all RH notes in the first two measures, bulk-edit the note durations, change all notes to Upstem Voice 1, and use the Extend Duration function to fill the rests.)

Next is polyphonic detection. The new functionality here is… astonishing. Here’s a real-time recording with no editing:

Granted, polyphonic detection isn’t always an improvement. Here’s another recording (“under the C,” as it were):

It would be helpful to have the option to turn off polyphonic detection, since it only makes this particular rendering more complicated to clean up.

With the new polyphonic detection feature, MIDI transcription now requires more consolidation of voices than it did in Dorico 3.5. I don’t know what the best solution is, since I think I understand what Dorico is doing here. Maybe it’s just as simple as adding a step during clean-up for consolidating voices (Select All, followed by a key command to convert to same voice). Or maybe a future setting in Preferences (like in Finale) to omit secondary voices. Or better yet, an option to exclude overlapping events… if it were possible to differentiate between chords (good, keep) and overlapping notes that create ties (bad).

Still, the improvements here are extremely exciting for users who depend on real-time MIDI entry… and for those who never even considered it previously due to its pitfalls! We’re looking forward to seeing what’s possible in future releases!

Insert mode

When I first purchased Dorico 1.0, I was eager to try Insert mode — a mode of entry where notes added in the middle of a passage move the notes to the right of the insert point instead of deleting them. It worked beautifully, but I recall my initial dismay when I realized that later passages on the same instrument were also moved further down the time-grid. For example, if Francesco Cavalli decided to double the values of a passage using Insert mode and the “double value” command, the passage following it would also inevitably move, in this case by a whole measure:

Additionally, one could not control whether the passage in question could be limited to a voice, an instrument, or indeed the whole score when inserting notes in the score using that mode of entry.

Dorico 4 fixes all of those issues, giving the user far more control over the use of Insert mode.

First off, while typing the letter I still activates the tool on the left-hand panel, typing Alt+I now toggles four choices, or, if you like, you can click the Insert Mode button to expose the submenu for the new Insert Mode scopes.

They are, from top to bottom:

  • Voice: only notes, rests, tuplets, and other items in the current voice are affected
  • Player: affects all voices belonging to the current player, and all non-voice-attached items, such as dynamics
  • Global: affects all players in the flow
  • Global Adjustment of Current Bar: affects all players in the flow, but if note input is active, it additionally changes the length of the current bar rather than pushing or pulling items across barlines

(While the top-level buttons all show a tooltip when the pointer hovers over them, the buttons in the sub menus don’t. That’s unfortunate, because some of the new buttons might have a hard time conveying their complex meaning the first time you see them. This is actually a problem in several new areas of the UI. We were told that there are boring technical reasons for the missing tooltips, which will be sorted out in due course.)

The last one, global adjustment of the current bar, is a most welcome tool when composing cadenzas. For example, if I wished to add a fancy renaissance trill to the following excerpts and lengthening the bar automatically, I would just have to select the appropriate scope. Inserting the 32nd notes will then not only move the following notes, but will lengthen the measure without destroying whatever lies in the following measure (note: one must first choose that option in the new Insert Mode tab in Note Input Options):

The Global setting does indeed move all instruments:

I even tried using the global setting on two notes at the time so that both would be lengthened, and it worked beautifully:

The Player setting will move the content of both staves as expected. Notice in all examples above that attached objects (lyrics, dynamics etc …) will also intelligently move or stay put, depending on the situation.

Stop right there

What about the issue of later music being pushed over while using insert mode on an earlier passage? Dorico has neatly solved the issue with the invention of the Stop Position, a red line positioned at a chosen point where insertion becomes inactive. The stop position is invoked by typing Shift+Alt+I after selecting the desired stop position point in a score. It can also be drawn from the system track by clicking on the stop icon. The red line can then be moved by increments should one change one’s mind.

Once the line is in place, nothing to the right of it will move when using Insert mode:

And if we re-enact our first example using a stop position, the music that was initially moved over by a measure when doubling the previous values, will actually stay put:

As usual with many new tools, this takes a bit of practice, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. I have no doubt that it will spur a massive uptick in Insert mode use among users. The possibility of lengthening measures as we insert notes is, even by itself, a huge plus. The capabilities of Insert mode have now been fully realized.

Melodic and rhythmic transformation

Learning the transmogrification spell

A tool enabling the user to take a passage and invert or reverse it (or both) has often been requested since similar tools are readily available in other software. Since by now we are accustomed to Dorico going an extra mile when creating a new tool, the perceived delay with making such a tool available is understandable. In this case, saying that it was worth the wait is an understatement.

The Transform tool included in Dorico 4 is so comprehensive that I was truly taken aback by its scope. For the sake of this review, I feel I can only deal with the tip of the iceberg, but rest assured that a full exploration of this tool is akin to opening a world of wonders. It covers a variety of manipulations of pitch and rhythms — separate or combined — that include pitch mapping, pitch and rhythm rotations, inversions and retrogrades, all with a remarkable level of control.

While the tool may appear to be intimidating at first because of its scope, a little practice does make it easier to use fairly quickly, and the more common transformations are actually both easy and quick, and therefore effective.

The full tool is accessed through the menu Write > Transform with three submenus for PitchesRhythms, and a combination of Both. They can also be accessed through the Intervals popover, or Shift+I.

Let’s start with the simpler ones. There are many different ways to write choices in the popover, but I will use inv for inversion, rev for retrograde and rev inv for their combination. All we have to do is select a passage and enter the desired command:

Note that attached objects stay in their rhythmic position for an inversion, but are intelligently translated in reverse whenever retrograde is used.

Simple stuff so far, but if I use the menu instead, we discover a variety of options such as whether we want a diatonic transformation according to the key signature, or if we want to start on a different note, or on which octave we require the transformation to be realized:

The wheels of the bus go round and round

But the tool does not stop there. We can also rotate pitches or rhythms by a set amount. For example, I can have the tool rotate the last two rhythmic values of the passage to the beginning without changing the note order; or take the last four pitches and put them at the beginning of the passage, moving the other pitches over without changing the rhythms:

This can of course be done backward, forward, and in combination.

Mapping pitches and scales

Not content with these manipulations, Dorico 4 also makes pitch mapping available using the same tool. One can map any pitch to another with great control, or also map a scale to another scale.

In the following example, I go from minor (“m”, the original mode) to Lydian mode, and also to a whole tone scale. I use “snap” to make sure that pitches that do not belong to the original scale (such as the C♯ and the F♯) are “snapped” to the nearest pitch of the destination scale:

Of course, one can choose another starting note and apply a variety of settings to the mapping.

A favorite command of mine in this new tool is Repeat Pitches, a kind of automated “Lock Duration/Paste” tool. It can be used to create isorhythms for both the medievalist and the Messiaen enthusiast. For example, the middle section of the sixth movement of Messiaen’s quartet contains a series of seven measures of palindromic rhythms which repeats once, against a series of sixteen pitches. Using this tool, the composer could have entered his rhythms first, using his sixteen pitches for the beginning only. Then, after selecting the entire passage, he could have use the Write > Transform > Pitches > Repeat Pitches and set the number of pitches to use at 16:

The result would then reproduce the entire passage correctly:

 

As I said above, this is only a small exposé of the Transform tool. It is impossible to fully express the richness of this tool within the scope of a review. The version history document devotes an entire eight pages on pitch and rhythm transformation. (Condensing, a brand new paradigm introduced in Dorico 3, used twelve pages, so one can readily observe the scope of such a seemingly simple tool.) This will be invaluable to composers and educators alike.

Instrument Filters

Another user request is fulfilled with the introduction of Instrument Filters. In Galley View, projects with large numbers of staves can make it difficult to find your place, or to work on physically distant staves that share similar material. Instrument Filters provides a method for showing only a selection of staves, while you work on them. This is a similar feature in purpose to Staff Sets in Finale or Focus on Staves in Sibelius. By default, Galley View now shows a small floating toolbar, called the Instrument Filter Overlay.

The Instrument Filter Overlay

It can be revealed or hidden from the View menu. Simply select some staves and click on the + button in the Overlay to create a new filter. (A filter being a list of staves that you want.) There is also a Filter Manager, where you can create more complex filters, name them, or delete them. Once you’ve created some Filters, they can be selected from the overlay. A dashed grey line will indicate the presence of instruments in the score that are not part of the filter. You can assign key commands to the first ten filters.

Project Templates and Ensembles

Another new feature that sits well with creating a consistent style are Project Templates. You can now save any existing document as a project template (with or without its music content). You can optionally choose to Preserve existing flows and/or Preserve Project Info; useful for many cues in the same project for a scoring session, for example.

It will then appear in the File menu, under New from Project Template.

You can also specify categories for your templates. This is ideal for projects with your own Master Pages (now renamed as Page Templates).

Project Templates
A user’s custom template, ready to be selected

Project Templates will also appear in the Hub, where you can use them as the basis for a new document, specifying an initial key signature, meter, and number of bars.

Custom Project Templates can also be deleted in the Hub.

Project files (including templates) can now be shared between iPad and desktop without overwriting the different playback configuration that each platform uses. The document will store both the iPad’s playback data and the desktop’s.

Ensemble picker

The Ensemble picker has had a make-over, making it easier to assemble large groups of instruments, and allowing you to save your own ensemble groups, for use in any project.

There are two tabs: Build and Choose. Choose is where you can select an existing ensemble; Build is where you can create and save your own ensembles. Type the number and name of each instrument, e.g. 3 vln, 2 vla. (Most standard abbreviations work.) You can also type things like br2222 to get a brass octet, or 2222 for woodwind.

Building an ensemble in the Ensemble Picker

Automatic instrument sorting

Orrrrrr-der!

In addition to the  revamped instrument picker, Dorico now automatically orders instruments.

To enable this new feature, click and hold or right-click the new Sort Players button in the action bar in the Players panel in Setup mode: a menu will appear in which you can choose between None, which disables automatic score ordering, and Orchestral, which specifies the standard orchestral instrument order.

This choice specifies the order that will be applied when you click Sort Players when adding new instruments. Note there is a situation at the moment where if Orchestral is chosen, any group of instruments that are combined in a Group will go to the bottom of the order.

While this is not a real issue when creating a project with many groups, it may be advisable to turn off the feature by choosing None after the initial setup if one is adding a single instrument while well in the middle of composing. Moving a single instrument may then be preferable to moving a large number of groups. The developers are aware of this behavior.

You can also do the same thing on the right side of setup mode, and re-order the layouts according to orchestral specifications.

Soloists always get preferential treatment

You can also now designate an instrument as a soloist. If you have a player designated as soloist in your project, right-click that player in the Players panel, and choose Soloist from the context menu. This causes the instrument to move in the score order to the conventional position for a soloist (for example, in a concerto), directly above the strings. You can then choose whether you want the soloist to receive system objects above it (such as tempo marks) or alter their brace or bracketing status in Layout Options. The instrument will be treated similarly to groups, meaning it will not be numbered if duplicated elsewhere in the score, for example.

Library menu

One of the most noticeable changes in Dorico 4 is a new menu called Library.

Library menu2
The complete Library menu

This gathers together:

  • Music Fonts, Font Styles, Paragraph Styles and Character Styles;
  • The editors for Chord Diagrams and Chord Symbols, Music Symbols, Notehead Sets, Playing Techniques;
  • The editors for Lines, Line Bodies, and Line Annotations, and Repeatable Symbols;
  • The menus for Expression Maps, Percussion Maps and Playback Techniques;
  • All the Options: Engraving, Layout, Notation, Note Input and Playback.

Basically, anything that you can configure and customize now falls under the heading of a Library.

There are two obvious benefits of this relocation: The first is that you can access this menu regardless of mode; so if you’re working in Write mode, you don’t need to change to Engrave mode, just to create a new Paragraph Style or Notehead. The second is clarity and discoverability of the items: anyone who just browses the menus to find features will instantly see everything they could need for configuring every aspect of their project, in one place.

But there’s much more to it than a mere re-arrangement of existing features. The Edit Font Styles dialog is now greatly enhanced, allowing you to configure multiple Font Styles before dismissing the dialog. Each style can have a Parent, from which it inherits characteristics, and Styles can be saved as user defaults. This includes the Default Music Font itself, should you want to use something other than Bravura.

There is now a preview pane that renders the font style:

Font Styles
The Font Styles dialog

If you use a third-party SMuFL font, Dorico now automatically fills in any missing glyphs with those in Bravura. This makes using (and creating!) third-party SMuFL fonts much easier, as you don’t have to worry about the font not having all 3,651 SMuFL glyphs (but who’s counting).

If you want to fall back to characters in a different font, you can specify which fonts should be used for missing glyphs, using the Substitutes list in each Font Style. This works for both text fonts and SMuFL (music) fonts.

Library Manager

Having defined everything that can be configured or customized in Dorico as ‘the Library’, Dorico now has the Library Manager, a new feature for wrangling everything into a consistent house style across multiple projects.

The Library Manager dialog

At first glance, the Library Manager allows you to compare the values of any options in the current project with either the Factory Defaults, or your saved User Defaults, or the values in another project. What’s more, you can then selectively or globally copy those settings into your current project.

For example, let’s say someone has sent you a project file, whose Slur settings you really admire, but you’re not too keen on the beaming. You can now copy only the Slur settings into your latest project, without altering any other engraving settings. Or you could copy custom Playing Techniques from one project to another.

Library Manager detail
Clicking on the ≠ sign will let you ‘sync’ the settings from elsewhere

Or let’s assume that you need to maintain several different house styles for different publishers. You can now apply the Paragraph Styles, Layout and Engraving Options from any other document into your current project. Every facet of Dorico’s parameters can be managed in this way: Playing Techniques, Expression Maps, Tonality Systems, Music Symbols, etc.

Jump Bar

One thing that I’ve always liked about Dorico is the fact that I hardly ever need a mouse to use it. Today’s release brings this comfort to a whole new level with the introduction of what’s probably best described as The Universal Just-Tell-Me-What-You-Want-And-I’ll-Do-It Dialog™. I’m sure the devs considered this name, but in the end they settled for the more modest Jump Bar, which is quite an understatement because the thing is just generally awesome.

If you already have and own Dorico 4, do hit j right now and see for yourself:

Got it? Ok, try these: Activate Go To mode at the top of the dialog. Then type b15 and hit Return to be beamed to bar 15 in the current flow. Alternatively, use f2 or ra to go to the start of the second flow, or to the rehearsal mark A, respectively. Now, do you get what this means? Provided you know where you want to go (generally a good thing in life), it’s now a matter of some four, five key strokes. A split second! Bam!

Now hit j again, activate Commands mode, and just type away. You’ll see Dorico populate the list below the input field with available commands that match your input. It’ll only suggest commands that can be executed in the current mode and with the current selection. Furthermore, Dorico remembers the commands that you previously executed with the Jump Bar, so those will be in the list of suggestions right away. Just use the arrow keys to select a command from the list, or continue typing to narrow down the suggestions. If there’s a keyboard shortcut associated with a suggested command, Dorico helpfully displays it on the right side of the entry. If you are a lazy person (like me) and you find yourself executing the same commands repeatedly, you can even define a shorter alias for it, to further reduce the number of key strokes.

 

If you ever struggled with the plethora of options in all of the sub-pages of all the option dialogs, the Jump Bar has you covered, too: You want to alter some settings for slurs? Hit j, type slur, select Slurs (Engraving Options) from the list and confirm. This is considerably faster than going to Engraving Options (assuming you already know which is the right options dialog…) and typing slurs in the search field. Very helpful!

If you’re a regular Scoring Notes reader and the concept of “command searching” in this way sounds familiar, see our review of Sibelius 2021.2, when that program’s Command Search feature was introduced. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in this case, it’s mostly that we hope Sibelius will imitate a few things that Dorico does here, like make the Jump Bar appear nice and big in the middle of the screen, instead of small and tucked away in the corner of the screen. The ability to define aliases is also something we picked up on as something that would be a useful enhancement, and we’re glad that Dorico delivers.

In case you haven’t noticed, I am rather happy about the Jump Bar. One tiny thing to nag about: There’s no single shortcut to quickly switch between its two operating modes. Sure, you can select Commands mode and Go To mode specifically with individual shortcuts, but those are somewhat awkward two-key shortcuts by default and I’d love to be able to simply “tab” between the modes!

Capos for fretted instruments

Dorico 4 introduces a hugely important function to chord symbols: capos!

Capo functionality in Dorico is unsurprisingly rich and complex, and it can take time to understand everything it can do. A complete tutorial would be beyond the scope of this review, so in brief, here are the main functions to know.

The first and more straightforward usage of capos is for chord symbols and/or diagrams. You may have a lead sheet in E♭ (which isn’t using a fretted instrument), and you want your guitarist to capo 1 using D shapes.

In Setup mode, right-click on the player and choose Chord Symbols > Capo Chord Symbol Definition. Then click up twice to get this:

(Note: click up once, and you get C♯… which would display the capo chord for E♭ as E♭♭. To avoid confusion, this dialog seems like it could be a good candidate for a “calculate interval” function similar to the one in the Transpose dialog.)

You still won’t see capo chords until you select one of these options:

…and then, voilà! (and yes, there are new Engraving Options for these):

For fretted instruments themselves, you can set comprehensive capo assignments for full or partial capos by clicking on the Edit Strings and Tuning dialog, accessed from the fretted player’s instrument card in Setup mode:

If required, you can then set the transposed appearance of that instrument in any layouts in which it appears via Layout Options > Players > Fretted Instruments:

Numbered bar regions

To count or not to count

The concept of “regions” in Dorico has just gained a little brother, and one that was dearly needed. The plight of the ensemble musician includes the eye-glazing moments when one must count a large number of consecutive identical measures in a row, or a long stretch of multi-measure ties while playing. Inevitably, the player uses the ol’ pencil tool (the graphite kind, not the one in Play mode) and adds numbers on top of the offending measures.

Examples of such passages abound in the literature. Let’s take an example (from Respighi’s “Quartetto Dorico”):

The situation is now easily remedied by selecting the passage and going to Write > Create Numbered Bar Region:

The bars are now colored, as is the case with other regions such as slashes or bar repeats. One can also do the usual manipulations through the Properties panel or Engraving Options, which deal with whether or not we want the range included on the first measure (as above), the frequency of numbers, whether we want the first measure have a count (in case there is too much traffic on it) and a variety of other options.

Whether or not those numbers are shown is done on a per-layout basis in the Players tab of Layout Options. This is important, since numbered bar regions are extremely rare in full scores.

The only quibbles I have at the moment is that in the case of long ties, cutting them in two sections using the Scissor tool (such as at the point where a rehearsal mark is inserted) works as with the other types of regions, but the tie also gets broken and must be retied. The developers have told me that they are aware of this and are presently looking for the best solution. Another small request would be for the color to be seen in layouts where the numbers are hidden, such as a score, so that we are aware of their presence as we write.


Improvements

Incredibly, this long list is not exhaustive; there are more improvements in Dorico 4 than we managed to cover here. Here’s what we found most interesting or noteworthy.

Improvements concerning Playback, Play Mode and MIDI

The Key Editor in Write mode is most likely the most obvious new feature in Dorico 4 that covers not only note input and note manipulation but the editing capabilities found in Play mode — a bit of “play” within the Write mode, so to speak. But there are some very interesting new features that may not be so obvious.

Project activation

One of the new clever features is the project activation some of us might know from Cubase. In previous versions, when working with multiple projects, a project was activated when one of its windows got the focus, which causes a reload of the playback template. This could be time consuming depending on the complexity of the playback template, and not desirable, especially when simple copy and pasting from an old project should have been done.

In Dorico 4, the first project one opens is automatically activated for playback. Every next project opened without closing the first allows the user to choose whether or not this newly-opened project will be activated while deactivating the first one.

A project can always be activated manually in Play mode by clicking the activation button on the toolbar.

The behavior of project activation when opening projects can be set globally on the Play page of Preferences.

Miscellaneous improvements to playback

Items suppressed in playback can now easily be spotted by using the new View > Note and Rest Colors > Suppressed Playback option (active by default), which colors suppressed items grey.

Notes with a manually applied offset (duration) can now have rhythmic feels/swing applied if appropriate.

The default metronome click in new projects is now called “Click”, and has some options on the Click page of Playback Options.

Ghost notes (bracketed noteheads) for unpitched percussion now have their own dynamic settings that can be changed globally on the Dynamic page of Playback Options. The adjustable value reflects the reduction level. A value of 1 reduces the dynamic to the next lower level, so a ghost note in a fortissimo region will be played back forte with a decrease value of 1, mezzoforte with 2, and so on. Of course the global setting can be overridden at any time in the Playback Options Overrides section of the Expression Map panel.

The blocks in the instrument tracks in play mode now display a thumbnail of the piano roll to make it easier to correlate regions in the event display and the piano roll (or write mode).

Although Dorico does not yet send MIDI tempo, libraries with word builders such like EastWest’s Hollywood Choir or Quantum Leap Symphonic Choir are now triggered and reset correctly.

Playback templates will be preserved when moving projects between iPad and Mac or Windows. Changes made to sound and effects on one platform will not damage or override the configuration on the other platform.

The warning dialog that appears when opening a project that uses a template not present on the computer can now be suppressed.

Improvements related to notation elements

There are several small improvements to the feature set of notation elements, removing limitations and expanding capabilities. Let’s quickly walk through them in somewhat alphabetical order.

Accidentals

Dorico 4 has new functions for dealing with accidentals and enharmonic spellings. These can be found in the Write > Respell menu.

Three commands relate to propagating or resetting enharmonic spellings between layouts. Previously, enharmonic changes made in the score affected the parts, but changes made in the parts did not affect the score. Now, you can sync the spellings of selected notes in a part to the full score, with Propagate Note Spellings.

Alternatively, you can reset local changes made in the part to the spellings in the full score with Reset Note Spellings in Current Layout (again, on selected notes). Reset Note Spellings in All Layouts will do the same for selected notes if they appear in more than one layout. Respell Notes Automatically redefines the spelling based on a sophisticated analysis of the music’s tonal context. A dialog lets you define how much music beyond the start and end of the selection is considered.

There are also options for handling accidentals in custom tonalities.

Other small improvements include the ability to scale the size of accidentals independently of the notehead (in the Properties panel of Engrave mode), and Engraving Options for the gap between accidentals and notes on ledger lines.

Bar numbers

It’s now possible to omit primary bar numbers, creating notations like in the below example:

New options have been added to improve the positioning of bar numbers at the start of the system relative to different clefs; and Dorico now correctly determines whether it should display bar number ranges above multi-bar rests according to whether bar numbers are generally shown on the respective staves.

The following option has been added on the new Bar Numbers page of Notation Options:

Yeah, that description does take a bit of concentration to understand. But it’s actually pretty useful to determine on a per-flow basis how Dorico should handle bar numbers when local time signatures are present. Occasionally that was a bit of a pickle in previous versions.

Beaming

On we go: beaming. Dorico has long been able to create a ‘centered’ beam (a beam positioned vertically between notes), but was limited to doing so only on notes that were either side of the middle staff line. (This was because Dorico relied on the natural unbeamed stem positions of those notes.)

Centered beam
The centered beam here could not be done easily in previous versions

A new feature, Custom Centered Beam, in the Edit > Stem submenu, lets you set whether each note has an Up stem or a Down stem, and then centers the beam to give the desired result. (Tip: a note below the beam will need an Up stem, and one above will need a Down stem.) This now makes any kind of centered beam possible.

Beaming
Custom Centered Beaming at work

Another beaming improvement is new Properties for the thickness of a beam and the separation distance between secondary beams, which can be manually changed as desired for individual beams.

Beam properties
Some unlikely values for these new properties

Finale users accustomed to using that program’s Special Tools will feel right at home here, but with the benefit of the modern and very appealing Dorico 4 user interface, which permeates this entire release. User requests for improved beaming options have been answered with some new Engraving Options (under Notes > Stems) for handling beams with notes on the middle line, and for calculating beam direction using the furthest note.

Breaks

There’s now an easy way to force a bar over to the next system, or to pull it back to the previous system. Select something in the bar, and use the menu command Engrave > Format Systems > Move Bar to Next System or Move Bar to Previous System. There are default key commands of , (comma) and . (period) for these.

Users of Finale will be familiar with a similar functionality, though Dorico behaves slightly differently: when pushing a bar onto the next system, Dorico only locks the previous system, it does not lock the ‘receiving’ system, thus allowing the following bars to space freely. This avoids the ‘whack-a-mole’ that can arise of having to continually push one bar over in each successive locked system to the end of the flow. However, if you prefer the ‘Finale’ way, you can switch this behavior in Preferences > Note Input and Editing, so that Dorico will lock both the source and destination systems.

Apart from the new ability to easily move bars between systems, a few additional improvements have been made to System and Frame Breaks.

Firstly, there’s a new preference Snap system and frame breaks to barlines when creating. If activated, this will prevent breaks from being created in the middle of a bar, forcing them to snap to the barline that’s closest to the selection instead. This can make casting off considerably quicker because it’s no longer necessary to make a precise selection before adding breaks. There’s an option to turn this off in Preferences > Note Input and Editing. You can still split a bar across two systems by moving the Break along the duration grid with Alt+Left Arrow or Alt+Right Arrow.

The behavior of breaks when creating new breaks on top of existing ones during Make Into System/Frame or Lock System/Frame operations has been improved. New breaks now correctly inherit the properties of their predecessors at the same position.

There’s also a menu item to Lock the entire layout: Engrave > Format Music Frames > Lock Layout. You can remove all the breaks with Reset Layout, if you’ve made a mess and want to fall back on Dorico’s automatic spacing.

New options to Lock or Reset the entire Layout

Comments

A minor change that makes a huge difference for users who collaborate: comments now display for the whole project, not just for the current flow. No more missing an editorial suggestion because you didn’t have the pertinent flow selected!

Cues

The cues feature has gained further versatility with two small additions: Most notably, it’s now possible to include fermatas in cues, as usual both with a global option and on a per cue basis. Secondly, unpitched instruments can now receive rhythmic cues from pitched instruments.

Cues also work better with instrument changes. Previously, when a cue concurred with an instrument change, the instrument change label would appear at the start of the cue, creating somewhat ambiguous, even confusing notations by default. The new layout option Show instrument change label after cue, if cue precedes first note in new instrument remedies that.

Dynamics

Positioning and layout of dynamic items has been subtly improved. This affects dynamics in tight spacing and gradual dynamics, especially messa di voce hairpins. It’s probably not something that most users will notice immediately — nevertheless it’s a very welcome change for those of us who care just as much for the graphical quality of an engraving as for efficiency and usability of the notation software used to create it.

Engrave mode

When moving items that are displayed outside the staff in Engrave mode, Dorico now helpfully shows a pair of crosshairs. Don’t get your hopes up: There are no advanced features like rulers or snapping to positions, yet. I for one was kind of surprised though how very useful just these two thin dashed lines are for aligning things with each other:

Also, all of the combinations of modifiers we’re used to from graphical editing can now also be used when moving frames and spacing handles with the arrow keys. This is something I’ve missed before, and being able to nudge these handles by a greater amount just with a modifier key is very useful.

Figured bass bracketing

Since figured bass is sometimes editorial, or requires editorial intervention, the fact that bracketing was not yet available was a sore point with Dorico’s otherwise excellent figured bass feature. This has now been put to rest and is remarkably simple to use.

To specify brackets when inputting figures using the Shift+G popover, simply type parentheses around a group of figures, a single figure, or even an accidental that you want to be bracketed.

For example, typing (#643) will bracket the entire stack of figures; typing #6(4)3 will bracket only the figure 4; and typing (#)643 will bracket only the sharp accidental to the left.

Additionally, Dorico allows you to hide single left or right brackets to bracket a span of figures:

Note that this is the only bracketing detail that can be affected via the Properties panel. To remove a bracket, one must erase the brackets in the popover or re-enter the figure.

Similarly, the type of bracket (round or square) can only be set globally through Engraving Options. These options now cover a wide range of editorial options.

Layouts

We can now create an exact clone of a layout easily in Setup Mode with the new Duplicate Layout command, which does exactly what it says it does. A sorting function has been added to the Layout Panel on the right side of the screen in Setup Mode. Layouts can be sorted by Layout Number or according to the Instrument Score Order. Not the most glamorous features ever added — but certainly useful nonetheless. (And we’re not exactly lacking glamour in Dorico 4, are we?)

Lyrics

When a multi-syllable word breaks across a system, Dorico has always displayed the hyphen twice: at the end of the previous system and at the beginning of the next.

It’s now possible to omit this second hyphen via Engraving Options > Lyrics > Hyphens:

Time to re-
joice!

Notations Toolbox

As a result of user interface changes made to accommodate the iPad’s touch screen, there are now two new buttons at the top of the Notations Toolbox that allow you to select what should happen when you click one of the buttons below: open the notations palette, or open the respective popover.

Telling Dorico to use the notations palette or popover

Player Group Labels

Dorico has always had the ability to group players together, which can affect the bracketing and numbering. Now, the name of these Player Groups can be displayed vertically alongside the instrument names, with or without a bracket. It’s as simple as turning it on in Layout Options > Staves and Systems > Staff Labels > Show player group names.

Player Group Labels
Player Group Labels

There’s a Paragraph Style (Player Group Labels) for the style of text, and a range of Engraving Options (under Staff Labels > Player Group Labels) for showing the bracket or not, the line thickness, the position of the text relative to the bracket, and the distance from the Staff Labels. There’s also an abbreviated group name, which will show if there’s not enough vertical space for the full name. You can set that by right-clicking on the group label in Setup mode.

Pasting and moving

One long wished-for improvement is the ability to Copy and Paste Articulations. Previously, the eight articulations in the Note Entry panel (Accent, Staccato, Marcato, etc.) could not be copied and pasted separately from their notes, as they are a property of the notes themselves. A new command in the Edit > Paste Special menu fixes that limitation. As with any Paste operation, you can apply the contents of one staff to several staves just by selecting them. Another nice little improvement is that you can now move selected notes into a different voice of the current staff by pressing V, which will cycle the selection through existing voices, or Shift+V, to create a new voice. These keys mirror the similar process in Note Input, of course.

Text

For some users, the days of navigating to the SMuFL page, copy-pasting the desired glyph, and changing the font to Bravura Text are no more! You can now insert music glyphs into the text popover using this nifty dialog:

To access it while editing text, simply right-click and select Insert Music Text.

How does it work, you ask? When you insert a glyph, Dorico changes the character style to “Music Text”— which changes the font to Bravura Text — then promptly changes it back so you can continue typing with your selected text font. Lovely.

(Of course, you should still consider getting MusGlyphs if you haven’t already…)

Percussion improvements

Give it a rest

Behold the following:

 

This was done fully in Dorico. Was the percussion done with a kit? Yes! Do all of the instruments in the kit play their correctly assigned sounds? Yes! So how come, since this is a precise bit of mallet/drum work, we don’t see the dreaded “extra rests” which plagued percussion kits since version 2?

Well, after months of what was characterized as “hard graft”, the Dorico team has found a way for users to manipulate rests in kits in the same way as if they were a single instrument. This is a technological feat tied to the fact that a kit is really a condensed staff. This, in my sole opinion, bodes well in the future in terms of manipulating rests in such staves as well.

Other percussion improvements

The percussion user will also find that the entering and manipulation of tuplets has been overhauled and made much simpler and more predictable. In addition, one can now insert rhythmic cues to kits and single unpitched instruments directly on their staff.

All of these small improvements add up to a big deal. In a way, there is a sense that the concept of percussion kits, which was thought out at the very beginning of Dorico’s development, has now “arrived”, and corresponds much more to the way it was initially dreamed up. Of course, we can always want more (for example: the combination of ties and tremolos really needs to be simplified and the speed at which notes move from instrument to instrument in large score need to improve), but right now, with these added improvements, percussion in Dorico is a remarkable achievement. As someone who has to create a large number of orchestral reductions, reducing the number of players in a given score by moving instruments around from kit to kit or player to player is an absolute pleasure in Dorico.


The rest of the story

Related links

On the next Scoring Notes podcast episode, coming out on January 15, 2022, we’ll have an exclusive interview with Steinberg product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury about the Dorico 4 release, including a behind-the-scenes look into the planning leading up to it and what we might expect for future releases.

Daniel Spreadbury has written up the news of the Dorico 4 release on the official Dorico blog, and has also taken us further behind the scenes into its development.

There is a series of 18 (!) new video tutorials about Dorico 4 created by Steinberg’s Anthony Hughes, available on the official Dorico YouTube channel, which demonstrate many of the features and improvements you’ve read about in this review.

The official live-stream announcement from Steinberg will be broadcast at 2pm GMT / 3pm CET / 9am EST / 6am PST, and available later on-demand.

Here’s the official product page, summarizing what’s new in Dorico 4.

The Dorico version history meticulously details the changes in Dorico 4, and itself has received a nice refresh, with easier-to-read fonts and many more screenshots and explanation than in prior version history documents.

Availability, upgrading, trial version, pricing

You can purchase Dorico from the official Dorico web site, or from an authorized reseller.

Upgrading to Dorico 4

Upgrading and installing Dorico 4 is a little different than before.

As previously mentioned, the necessary evil of the Dorico licensing process — the Steinberg e-Licenser — is replaced by Steinberg Licensing, which should make activating your product much less unwieldy than before.

Dorico 4 will not overwrite Dorico 3.5 or any other version of Dorico, and the two versions mostly coexist peacefully on the same machine. However, it’s not advisable to have both versions open at the same time. The Dorico 4 installer will copy over your settings in your Dorico 3.5 user application folder. For instance, any custom shortcuts you’ve created from Dorico 3.5 will transfer over seamlessly to Dorico 4. This also goes for third-party setups like the custom profile installed by Notation Express, which will work just fine in Dorico 4. (As the official blog of NYC Music Services, we can say here on Scoring Notes that an update to Notation Express that is rebuilt for Dorico 4 is in the works and will be forthcoming to all existing users soon.)

You can open Dorico 4 files in earlier Dorico versions, although any unsupported feature will be removed.

If you first activated a Dorico Pro 3.5 or Dorico Elements 3.5 license on or after August 25, 2021, then you are eligible for a free grace period update to Dorico Pro 4 or Dorico Elements 4 as appropriate; more on that below.

Dorico 4 system requirements

Apple silicon native

Dorico 4 is the first Dorico version, and the first of any of the major desktop applications, to support Apple silicon Macs, such as the M1 MacBook Pro, iMac, and Mac mini. If you have an Apple silicon Mac, Dorico will run as a native application by default. However, if you use VST plug-ins, Dorico can only load VST plug-ins that can run natively on Apple silicon as well, and these must be VST 3 (there is no support for VST 2 plug-ins on Apple silicon). It is possible to force Dorico 4 to run under Rosetta 2 on Apple Silicon, which will allow VST 2 and Intel-native plug-ins to be loaded, though at the expense of slower overall performance.

Mac:

  • Mac OS X 10.14 Mojave, Mac OS X 10.15 Catalina, macOS 11 Big Sur, macOS 12 Monterey
  • Multi-core Intel or Apple silicon 64-bit CPU (quad-core CPU or better recommended)
  • 4GB RAM (8GB RAM or better recommended)
  • 12GB hard disk space (SSD recommended)

Windows:

  • 64-bit Windows 10 update 21H2 or later, 64-bit Windows 11 update 21H2 or better
  • Multi-core Intel or AMD 64-bit CPU (quad-core CPU or better recommended)
  • 4GB RAM (8GB RAM or better recommended)
  • 12GB hard disk space (SSD recommended)

An Internet connection is required both to download and activate the software. Documentation is also online, but you can download a PDF for offline viewing from steinberg.help. No Internet connection is required after initial activation to use the software.

Trial availability

The 30-day unrestricted trial version of Dorico 4 is not yet available at the time of the publication of this post. Steinberg has told us that it will be available eventually, but it may be at least a couple of weeks away.

Dorico SE 4 is available now, though, and any existing Dorico SE users can just go and request a new download of Dorico SE 4 to get the new version, which will also use Steinberg Licensing and be possible to activate on up to three computers.

Suggested retail pricing in USD and Euros

It’s worth noting here that with the USB-eLicenser, the packaging for the physical product for Dorico 4 that you can buy from a reseller is slightly larger than the face of a deck of playing cards and about a quarter of an inch thick. It’s fully made of cardboard, with a tearable strip to open it up and find your redemption card inside with the Download Access Code you need to enter into Steinberg Download Assistant to download and install the software. The whole thing is completely recycleable, and it’s very small.

If you purchase directly from Steinberg, then Dorico is a download-only product, and some of the prices on the downloaded product have been slightly raised $20 or €20 from previous versions to match the prices of the boxed product, which otherwise remain the same as before.

All US prices are exclusive of state sales tax; Euro prices are inclusive of German VAT at 19%; actual prices vary per country, and you should check the Steinberg online shop or your local reseller for the price you will pay. Multi-user pricing for educational institutions is also available; these do not yet use the new Steinberg Licensing system, although support for this is promised for the future.

New licenses

  • Dorico Pro 4 – $579.99 / €579
  • Dorico Pro 4 Educational – $359.99 / €359 (you need to qualify for Steinberg’s educational pricing: teachers, educators, currently enrolled full-time students of universities; currently enrolled full-time students and teachers at public and private music schools and the SAE Institutes)
  • Dorico Pro 4 Crossgrade – $299.99 / €299 (Proof of ownership of Finale or Sibelius required)
  • Dorico Pro 4 Educational Crossgrade – $179.99 / €179; (Proof of ownership of Finale or Sibelius required as well as qualifying for Steinberg’s educational pricing)
  • Dorico Elements 4 – $99.99 / €99.99
  • Dorico Elements 4 Educational – $66.99 / €66.99
  • Dorico SE 4 – free

Updates

An “update”, in Steinberg-speak, is when you get the most recent version of the same product tier that you currently have (i.e., an update from Dorico Pro 3.5 to Dorico 4).

  • Dorico Pro 4 from Dorico Pro 3.5 – $99.99 / €99.99
    • Free for anyone who purchased or updated to Dorico 3.5 on August 25, 2021 or later
  • Dorico Pro 4 from Dorico Pro 3 or earlier – $159.99 / €159
  • Dorico Elements 4 from Dorico Elements 3.5 or earlier – $29.99 / €29.99

Upgrades

An “upgrade”, in Steinberg-speak, is when you upgrade to a higher product tier than the one that you currently have (i.e., an upgrade from Dorico Elements 4 to Dorico Pro 4). An upgrade might also encompass an upgrade (i.e, from Dorico Elements 3.5 to Dorico Pro 4).

We’re told that upgrades from Dorico Elements to Dorico Pro will not be available from launch day, but will be added to the online shop within a couple of weeks, hopefully at the same time as the arrival of the trial versions.

  • Dorico Pro 4 from Dorico Elements 4 – $479.99 / €479
  • Dorico Pro 4 from Dorico Elements 3.5 or earlier – $499.99 / €499
  • Dorico Pro 4 Educational from Dorico Elements 4 Educational – $289.99 / €289
  • Dorico Pro 4 Educational from Dorico Elements 3.5 or earlier Educational – $309.99 / €309
  • Dorico Elements 4 from Dorico SE – $74.99 / €74.99

Closing thoughts

After the release of Dorico 3.5 in May 2020, Steinberg product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury told us: “What I’m hoping is, for the first time since Dorico 1.0 came out at the end of 2016, we actually have a clear run of time when we can focus on some longer-term things.” If you were too dazzled by the extensive high-quality additions we got to unwrap on that happy day to really think about that (figured bass, the new line editor, to name just two of many), then perhaps later you started wondering… what might those long-term things actually be?

Well, the wait is over. Dorico 4 turns out to be the most extensive update ever to the most modern, innovative and feature-rich notation software currently available. Although, as Daniel told us in our podcast interview (to be released this coming Saturday), “Dorico 4 doesn’t add anything that’s a brand new whole virgin area of functionality, like say condensing or video,” that’s massively underselling this release. Pretty much all areas of the software have been touched, and, what’s more, it really seems that the Dorico team learned from its users and incorporated feedback from them on many levels.

For instance: It was a challenge for many Dorico users to grapple with the strict separation of the modes and somewhat of a pre-ordained prescription of how you were supposed to use the software, in sequence: Setup, Write, Engrave, Play, and Print. Dorico 4 still has the modes, of course, but now you can access lots of “play” features in Write mode, and the Library menu is always there for you regardless of what mode you’re in — a crucial feature for users who either collaborate a lot with others or need to maintain a consistent house style, which includes practically every music copyist on the planet. This puts often-accessed features where they need to be from a practical standpoint based on five years of seeing Dorico used in the wild, and not just the theoretical idea of how people might choose to interact with new software.

Moreover: Building on the work that has been done for Dorico on iPad, big portions of the user interface have been reworked (Play mode) and enriched with completely new elements, such as the key editor, on-screen instruments, and the jump bar. Plus, it just looks great, with every UI detail getting refreshed along the way. We’re seeing huge improvements to MIDI import and transcription, and to a somewhat lesser degree, to both notation and playback in general.

And: Setting up your score in the first place is no longer the chore it could be, thanks to templates, automatic score ordering, and fun ways to quickly build an ensemble, like actually just typing in the instruments you want to add. Utility features like the jump bar and musical transformations may not seem that glamorous, but they have the potential to save professional users accumulated weeks of lifetime. Granted, there are still rough edges here and there, but we don’t doubt that all of them will be addressed in due course.

Oh, and we almost forgot something that all of us will greatly appreciate: Steinberg has finally succeeded in replacing their old and cumbersome licensing technology with a modern solution. (That’s one giant rough edge taken care of for good.)

Mind you, the seven of us didn’t even manage to cover every new or improved feature in Dorico 4 with this 13,000 word review!

So, should you buy it? Honestly, we can’t think of a single reason not to. For each of us personally, many of today’s additions on their own would be reason enough to buy the update, and this is the consensus among our happy crew of reviewers. Do give Dorico 4 a chance to amaze you, explore this post, the version history and the many video tutorials that have already been published!


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.

Comments

  1. Nikola Kołodziejczyk

    There is a massive trove of features. This is groundbreaking for my workflow. Now my only outstanding feature to have is selection of flows for print. Then maybe improvement of keyboard navigation (selection perserverance, go to next bar) and a little bit of demystifying and bolstering scripting.
    Great, vast update, already saving me hours of work

  2. Bob Zawalich

    Wow, just wow.

    Also, great review, guys!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Bob!

  3. João Luiz T. Pinto

    Great review guys! This version has so many improvements and refinements that’s incredible.
    I like that they took what was good in other competing software (Finale, Sibelius) and implemented in Dorico making it more robust and easy to use.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, João!

  4. Taran Plamondon

    Thanks for the really fantastic in-depth review, as always. Things I’m most excited about: copy-pasting articulations, dynamic numbered bar regions, and finally being able to do quick experimenting with casting off like I can in Finale.

    Plus two things I didn’t even know I needed: the Jump Bar (what a sleek piece of technology) and the Library Manager – finally I have no excuse to be scatterbrained with all my templates.

    Honestly I would have paid the $150 just to be able to automatically lengthen a bar in Insert mode. My cadenzas will be the envy of all my colleagues. Looking forward to giving Dorico 4 a spin.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Taran!

  5. James Reynolds

    A useful introduction but some criticism might have given it more credibility.

    Dorico does have some frustrating limitations.

    1. Bob’s Your Uncle

      Bingo. Thank you for saying this. It’s entirely true and unfortunately not regularly recognized by this blog or the authors. It’s disappointing how much Scoring Notes has turned into #PaidProgramming for Dorico, when it used to be such a great independent recourse. Dorico has many wonderful features, but also severe limitations (unlike Finale or Sibelius).

      1. Philip Rothman

        Perhaps the hashtag comment was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but it is disingenuous, especially if you look at the totality of coverage of all the products on Scoring Notes. This is not sponsored content and such an implication is an affront to the reviewers who spent many long hours independently testing the features in this review. Their work and the contents of this post was not in any way controlled or directed by Steinberg.

        Our reviewers do receive advance copies of the software, so that they have adequate time to test it, and we are often in contact with the companies in advance, under strict embargo, regarding their release schedule and plans, so that we can provide timely coverage. As a courtesy, as well as to ensure we provide accurate information, we provide drafts of our reviews to representatives of the products we cover (this is the case with every review on Scoring Notes) so that they have an opportunity to provide additional information, clarification, or to simply correct points of fact.

        You will currently see relevant advertising on Scoring Notes from Steinberg, Avid, and NotePerformer, and we have accepted advertising from other companies, including MakeMusic, Newzik, PreSonus, and Neuratron, among others. Those advertising deals are completely separate from any editorial influence and not contingent on Scoring Notes providing any particular type of product coverage, good, bad, or otherwise.

        I’m sure our readers will be happy to learn more specifically about the severe limitations you feel that Dorico has, so that they can consider that information in their evaluation of Dorico.

      2. Dan Kreider

        There are three sorts of things I guess we could attempt to insert to make the review look more “genuine” (tongue in cheek).

        1. Dorico is missing feature X
        2. I wish Dorico behaved more like Other Program
        3. Bugs

        To the first point, the world of music notation is diverse. Sure, there are things Dorico doesn’t yet do. Cutaway scores, custom instruments, audio import, staff styles, and probably some other things I can’t think of at the moment. I have my own list of little things I’m waiting on, like “Set fixed folder location for PDF export.”

        Second, that attempt would be a waste of words. It’s entirely preferential. Anyways, so I like how Dorico does what it does? Yes.

        Regarding bugs: every program has them, Dorico’s are very small, and they get fixed quickly.

        We tested the update ourselves (for months) and wrote an honest review of the new features. What Dorico does, it does beautifully. If you want to know whether it does X, just ask on the forum. Or for that matter, contact Daniel directly.

        1. Philip Rothman

          I’ll also add that I am very happy for our readers to offer up opinions that are contrary to those of our reviewers; however, for the benefit of reviewers and readers alike, specifics are appreciated much more than just a general remark that the coverage should have a different take.

    2. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, James. We do offer up some criticism, but, as we were not even able to cover every last feature, improvement, or bug fix, the review accurately reflects the sum total of the reviewers’ opinions of this release, which is overwhelmingly positive. Providing criticism for criticism’s sake just to provide the appearance of being “fair and balanced” would not be credible. What are the specific limitations you feel should be mentioned?

      1. Ben Byram-Wigfield

        I suppose we could do an article on the practical limitations of all the major apps! (I would dispute that there’s none in Sibelius and Finale.) Though in these perilous times, I prefer to focus on the positive.

        1. Bob’s Your Uncle

          Comments like this are exactly my point. Compare this or any Dorico review to a Sibelius, Finale, StaffPad, whatever review written on this site and you will find *much* more criticism and discussion of missing features in those reviews. Meanwhile, Dorico does something super basic like putting dashed lines to help with object alignment and the reviewers act like Steinberg has revolutionized computer engraving, rather than included the bare minimum for graphics alignment and still foregone any actual tools such as rulers or automated align. And then, you say you’re only interested in discussing Dorico’s shortcomings in the context of the limitations of all the other softwares because you want to “be positive.” That standard has never applied to any other software review.

          1. Ben Byram-Wigfield

            Well, I’ve never written reviews for other software, and you’ve misrepresented my text in your penultimate statement. Probably best to call it a day.

          2. Philip Rothman

            Yes, Ben was speaking metaphorically there.

            Bottom line: We don’t pre-determine the review conclusions. It lands where it lands. If the reviewers’ impressions of the product is overwhelmingly positive, it will be reflected in the article; if it is mixed, then that’s what you’ll see instead.

            And we are not paid by the companies to produce content.

          3. Alexander Plötz

            “Meanwhile, Dorico does something super basic like putting dashed lines to help with object alignment and the reviewers act like Steinberg has revolutionized computer engraving, rather than included the bare minimum for graphics alignment and still foregone any actual tools such as rulers or automated align.”

            That’s a weird choice for illustrating your point, given that the review immediately offers quite a blunt criticism of that feature:

            “When moving items that are displayed outside the staff in Engrave mode, Dorico now helpfully shows a pair of crosshairs. Don’t get your hopes up: There are no advanced features like rulers or snapping to positions, yet.”

          4. Bob’s Your Uncle

            One of your reviewers actively defends the Dorico team at every chance and calls users of other softwares “refugees. Another regularly talks about how he hopes Dorico puts MakeMusic and Avid out of business. Yet another makes his money by teaching people how to switch to Dorico, and gets Steinberg to let him advertise through their pages (somehow I don’t think they’d let him keep doing that if he gave a bad review).

            Oh, and the Dorico team actively brags on their forums about how much they pay to have their advertisements prominently featured on this website. Not to mention they were somehow given a podcast to make major announcements about the removal of player limits on the iPad version, and you provided free advertising and clickbait for them. You can tell yourself whatever you want about this website being objective not inherently pro-Dorico, but both the content and optics say otherwise.

  6. LMo

    Super impressive update. I’m jealous of Dorico users mainly because of all the amazing DAW-like playback features, and it just got more incredible. As a film scorer and Sibelius user (who bought Dorico but just couldn’t shake the muscle memory of 20 years of Sibelius), I salivate over the stuff Steinberg is doing that would improve my workflow a hundredfold. Hoping that Sibelius will follow the leader and do some serious catch-up work, or that Dorico will implement some kind of “Sibelius user mode”.

    Congrats Dorico team on your hard work, and listening to what the industry wants and needs!

  7. Heiko

    Thanks for the great review! I hope there will be an updated version for Notation Express XL for Stream Deck coming soon!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Heiko! We will provide more guidance on this soon. For the moment, if you upgrade from Dorico 3.5 to 4, you should find that your shortcut profile is copied over, and thus you can go right on using Notation Express as before.

  8. Jesús Gomez

    I can’t remember the last time one of the companies releasing this software were as clear, concise, and relevant in their own coverage of their own software as Scoring Notes’ reviews. Really incredible work from the team – we’re all the better for it!

  9. Philip Rothman

    Thanks, Jesús. We really appreciate it and are glad you find it useful!

  10. Kambro

    Thank you for this article. I bought the update.
    In the section “Text” you add a screenshot displaying a text input frame (His jokes fell…). Did you notice that the text isn’t displayed really in Regular font but in Caption?

  11. Peter

    I‘m entered the Dorico world lately with 3.5 and I am exited about the version 4!
    Most of the time I write lead sheets and choir sheets for gospel choir so for me chord symbols are crucial. The dialogues for editing chord symbols were introduced in version 1.x and haven’t been improved very much since then. This whole part of Dorico has an odd concept and a heap of bugs. And nothing about this (lack of) functionality in the whole review!

    1. David MacDonald

      Thanks for reading, Peter! I also use chord symbols quite a bit in Dorico, and I’ve been very happy with them. Is there something in particular that you’re finding that you can’t do with chord symbols? One thing that I do find a bit annoying is that customizing the look of chord symbols falls under Engraving Options, and is therefore only available in Dorico Pro. This seems like a really loss to folks who are mostly doing lead sheets and don’t need most of the Pro features (like condensing) and just want a specific symbol style. But the tools themselves I think are pretty powerful.

  12. Peter

    I’m in contact with Markus Hartmann, the german support person for Dorico. We will work on the chord symbols in Dorico soon, and he will tell the Dorico team about it :-)

    Bugs in 3.5 and 4.0.10:
    1. I go to the chord symbols dialogue, reset to factory presets and then try to set that as standard I get a spinning beachball – Dorico is frozen. The Dorico team knows about that and will fix it in the next update.
    2. If I edit the chord symbols I can’t use both Fadd9 and F7/9. After editing the Fadd9 the F7/9 has changed to F7add9, and after re-editing the F7/9 the Fadd9 has changed to F/9.

    Bugs in 4.0.10:
    3. I create a new document. In the chord symbol dialogue I reset everything to factory preset. After adding a A7 chord I get 35 chord symbol components to choose from – most of them empty. I can delete them but after re-opening the dialogue they all reappear. (The bug is also present in 3.5 but there the components are not empty but filled mostly identical versions of “7”.)
    4. If I create a A7/#11 the line of the glyphs /,b,1,3 are not correctly displayed in the Edit Chord Symbol Component dialogue. If I align them on the same base line for all glyphs they are not aligned in the chord symbol dialogue (which still is called “Project Default Chord Symbol Appearances” instead of “Chord Symbol Library”).

    There are several others of these small bugs to fix before I can work in Dorico 4. But there are more fundamental mistakes in the basic concept of chord symbols in Dorico:
    1. The “7” is part of the basic glyphs of the chord symbols and I can’t change that.
    2. If I edit (or better: create) a chord symbol I cannot edit the add9 component and apply that to all add9 chords I want to use. Instead I have to do the same editing (at least 2 minutes for a complex chord symbol like A7/b13 if I know the measures already) for every chord root I want to use – and again if I want to use /X for a different bass note. So I have to create Fmaj7 and Fmaj7/A and Fmaj7/C and so on and then Bbmaj7 and Bbmaj7/D and Bbmaj7/F. And if I wan to use Fmaj7/9 I start from scratch again. And nothing can be copied.

    My suggestions to the Dorico team are (Markus Hartmann already knows about them):

    BEST, FUNDAMENTAL SOLUTION (Dorico 5 or already in 4.5?)
    All additions are edited separately from root note and bass note and can then be applied to any root note and bass note. (I know that’s like in Finale but it may be a good concept though :-)

    SMALLER SOLUTION WITH ONLY A FEW TWEEKS (in 4.0.11 :-))
    1. Engraving Options:
    a) option to choose whether the 7 should be part of the basic glyphs or the additions
    b) option to choose whether the “m” for minor should be part of the basic glyphs or the additions
    2. Project Default Chord Symbol Appearances:
    a) option to copy and paste (or duplicate) chord symbols in the “Project Default Appearances” field
    b) option to sort chord symbols in the “Project Default Appearances” field (f. e. by addition rather than by root note)
    3. Font Styles:
    a) option to choose different fonts and font sizes for root glyphs and additions

    Sorry for the long post and my bad english. I did some videos for Markus on these topics but they are in german; so I tried to describe them for you :-)

    1. João Luiz

      Peter, I also think this is an area in Dorico that needs a better solution in order to provide a better customisation.
      I would like to propose a more simple solution – instead (or as an addition to it) of all that complicated Default Chord Appearances I think we could have a field named Custom at every chord option where the user would put what he/she desires and all the roots would use it.
      Something like this:

      For example: I prefer to use F7+ (instead of maj7, MA7, etc) (yes I know it is not the standard, but I prefer it in terms of space), but the process to make the default it is so complicated that I gave up months ago.
      But I think chords need more easy customisation.

      1. João Luiz

        Thank you Philip for putting the image in my reply!

  13. Spencer Doidge

    Am I alone with this problem?
    I use Dorico 3.5. My needs are as simple as they could be, except for one thing, and I gave up trying to understand how to use it after spending more time on that than on any other issue.
    I speak of the whole right side of the screen in Engrave Mode.
    What I would wish for would be a way not to have to input {@projectTitle@}, {@layoutName@}, and several other things on the first page, and {@layoutName@}, {@projectTitle@}, and a few other things on each subsequent page, all so players could toss outdated versions of an evolving project and keep track of charts in their messy briefcases. As it is now, I have to hand-enter every one of these things on every page from scratch on every score and part that I write. It’s not that hard to do, but it does eat up time. People think they explained it, but a cum laude computer science degree came to me easier than understanding that.

    1. Ben Byram-Wigfield

      I’m not quite sure exactly what the problem is or what you’re after. You can of course save a document with the Master Pages set up as you want, and then use that as a template file for new projects. (In Dorico 4, there is now a “Save as Template” function.) You shouldn’t have to change every page: just the Master pages on which they are based.
      I’d suggest asking this on the Dorico forum, where you can show screenshots, upload sample projects showing the problem, and get lots of help. There’s a great community there.

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