It is time for a second blog on my trial of Dorico. If you have not read my first blog explaining this trial, you may find that a helpful place to begin. I’m taking advantage of a free 30-day trial of this new notation software from Steinberg. Almost a week has passed since I began, but with the Thanksgiving holiday leading to the weekend, this is really only day two for me. Even though it is only day two and most music notation software comes with a steep learning curve, I find I’m learning a lot and can already do a lot with this program.
As I loaded the software this morning, the quickness that it loaded caught my attention. It was so quick, that I closed the program and restarted it again just to experience it again. That quick start is a great thing. There is nothing worse than having an idea ready to explode and you are held back waiting for the computer to catch up and load.
Dorico is based on five modes. There is the “Setup Mode.” This is where you set up your “players.” Dorico handles instruments and players differently than Sibelius and Finale. Rather than setting up an instrumental line for a specific instrument, you set up players and assign instruments to them. That may be a single instrument such as if you are writing for school band or for a piano soloist. It may be a combination of players playing like instruments such as a violin section. Or it may be a musician who plays a combination of instruments where the player switches such as if you are writing for a theater pit or a sax section of a jazz band. In “Setup” you have your basic global settings. In addition to instruments, you set overall layouts of parts. Perhaps you would like the score printed in a larger format than the individual parts. This is a very easy way to set this up and while there are many situations where the part sizes may be the same, there are others, such as writing for marching band where the part size difference is very important.
“Write Mode” is where your creativity takes place. On my first day of trial last week, I spent all of my time in this mode figuring out the basics to present a very simple one-staff melody. This time, I took my simple melody and developed it out a little further for woodwind ensemble or section. A significant difference between Dorico and other notation programs is what they call “Flows.” A “flow” can be a musical idea such as a sketchbook idea, or it can be a section of what may become a larger piece. At this point, my little composition is a flow containing a basic orchestral woodwind ensemble. I can use this flow to develop a woodwind piece or perhaps my creativity will lead me to develop this into a full score. This “sketchbook” concept sets the program apart and can be very helpful for creativity. Much of the music we perform is multiple parts. We have multiple movements all making a larger work, collections of songs, and scenes in a musical.
In “Write” you enter all your notes. The goal here is to simply write music. You might even leave the time signature out and write freely. Dorico is not locked to time signature and bar lines for writing music. This is a great distinction and will be helpful for writing modern music that is ametrical. And if your music is more traditional and metrical as was in the case of my little woodwind piece, it is very easy to use a time and key signature.
Dorico is very intuitive in trying to write in a way that your musicians will understand. That is an important objective of written composition. How can I communicate my music to the musician so that they will interpret and perform it in the way I intend it to be performed? I am finding it is best to just keep writing and let the program do its work. Sometimes, this takes purposeful effort. There were times I was bothered that Dorico would start writing a tied quarter to eight as opposed to the dotted quarter I intended. I would be slowed down if I kept stopping when this would happen, but once I got used to how Dorico thinks, I learned to trust that as I kept entering notes, the tied notes would be replaced by the proper dotted quarter I intended.
As this was only my second time using the program, it was surprising to me how quickly note entry was coming to me. As I wrote in the last blog, the note entry is different than the 10-key-pad-based system where 4 is the quarter-note as in Sibelius and Finale. Here 6 is the quarter-note and it is based on the number row of a computer keyboard as opposed to the number pad. This works very well with the small keyboard without the 10-key number pad. This will work great with today’s computer systems. Mac and laptop users take note of this improvement. Note entry went very fast and I feel I am getting to be as fast for basic note entry in Dorico as I am in my other two programs.
Articulations, dynamics, and slurs were also easy to enter and there was a familiarity to this part of the interface. A positive distinctive is that everything is laid out concisely on the screen. There are no layers or multiple rulers to navigate. You’re not thinking about changing tools. You’re already in the tool—Write mode!
I will note that Dorico is very well optimized for smaller screens. Once again, another benefit for laptop users and an encouragement to creativity as you can take your composition with you and aren’t tied to programs that are best optimized for very large or multiple monitors.
I have only scratched the surface of the final three tools, so I won’t spend much time on them but will summarize. “Engrave” is a full-fledged desktop publisher. The uniqueness of putting Engrave as a separate feature is to enable the composer to focus on composition and then worry about the few little adjustments and do them in a separate place which won’t affect the overall composition. In reality, the defaults seem to be really good, so it is nice to not focus on layout until later when I can tweak just to make things a little more readable.
“Play” is similar, but from the point of playback. In my score, I wanted a Baroque separation in the bassoon part which I wrote as a staccato. The playback automatically interpreted my staccato as a very short staccato. Using the piano-roll tool in “Play,” I quickly adjusted those staccatos. Now, my score still looks correct, but the playback is interpreted properly. This provides a better demo of my composition. In a world where we are constantly listening to MP3’s and Spotify for music demos to help us learn, an actual performance example easily generated from the program will be a great help to the performer and composer. While I’m still only exploring, this seems to be a major area of improvement over the status quo.
“Print” provides everything you’d expect to print the score properly or export it a variety of graphic formats.
There is a lot to love in Dorico. I will admit that the learning curve still feels slow as I’m so familiar with Finale and Sibelius. But, that is the point of this new program. Finale and Sibelius provided a great way for notation and have been providing this for many years. It is great to see a company ask questions like, “Is there a better way?” “Is this the fastest way?” “What might a music notation software do that it currently is unable to do?”
I’ll continue having fun exploring in my thirty days of trial and will write more soon.
I love music notation software. I remember when I was much younger, trying to get my Commodore 64 to produce a satisfactory score with Music Construction Set. The copy it produced looked horrible, but it was so much fun trying.
Since that time, I grew into experimentation with Encore, MusicProse, and eventually many years working with Finale and Sibelius.
I have been reading about the development of Dorico for some time and waited to let the earliest adopters work out some of the kinks, but now it is time for my own experience with this software.
Steinberg provides an unrestricted 30-day trial just for this purpose. I decided to try it on the Mac first. Installation was easy, but the download is rather large at over 9 GB. The Steinberg Download Assistant helps manage the large download in case it would get interrupted, but didn’t have any problems.
I watched a few videos provided for the trial as I waited. These were helpful to get an idea of the new philosophy of computer music notation. From the videos, it didn't seem as if the learning curve would be too steep.
For anyone newer to music notation software, Dorico is a brand new product designed and built from the ground up by a team led by Daniel Spreadbury. Spreadbury led a team that was the brain-trust behind Sibelius, who along with Finale make up the "big two" music notation softwares. Avid Technology purchased Sibelius Software Ltd. In August 2006, and in July 2012, announced plans to divest its consumer businesses closing the London offices and laid off the original development team. Since that time, Avid has recruited some new programmers to continue the development of Sibelius.
Many of the former developers of Sibelius were hired by a software company named Steinberg to begin developing a new music notation software. They announced the project in February 2013 and the name Dorico after an Italian pioneer in music engraving from about 1500 AD, Valerio Dorico was announced in May 2016. The program was released in October of that year.
Why create a new music notation software? Competition spawns creativity and advancement! Some of the best music notation features came from the rivalry of Finale and Sibelius. They made each other better! In addition, a strength of Finale is that it has been around so long, but that becomes a weakness with regards to legacy code and even legacy methods of doing things. Sibelius also comes with the baggage of “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Spreadbury created a great piece of software with Sibelius, but as he said from the initial announcement of this new software that perhaps the most intriguing thing that can be done with a new piece of software is being able to have another chance to change and improve some of those things he wished he would have done differently. The legacies of Finale and Sibelius are what Dorico is built on. Now, we have the opportunity to test this which may be the future of music notation software.
It was a little sad to not hear the inspiring orchestral chords of Sibelius’ 6th Symphony when the program opened as one always did when Sibelius started up, but I guess even good things can be made better. The program seemed to open quickly which is always appreciated.
Tutorials are shown as you progress from screen to screen. They are basic and to the point, but very helpful. I found that I was able to create a short piece very easily. The tools are all right in front, yet not cluttering the screen. I never once had to wonder where something was buried. The playback of my simple clarinet piece sounded as good as Finale and Sibelius' playback and again there were no glitches—something that I ran into occasionally with Sibelius.
In Finale and Sibelius, note entry is dependent on the 10-key number pad. Many computers no longer have this and my new Mac is one where this is missing. I was pleased to see that Dorico is built around the idea that the 10-key pad is unnecessary. One could easily write music without a MIDI keyboard or extended computer keyboard. The number layout is very logical, but is also completely customizable in case you have a better idea. Dorico and Sibelius are both built around the concept of duration before pitch where Finale is built with the idea of pitch before duration. Sibelius gave a courteous nod to Finale by letting pitch before duration be an optional setting so Finale users could easily migrate. In contrast to this, Dorico doesn’t give any acknowledgement to an alternative way and as Spreadbury replied on a message board where a user was asking about this, there are no current plans to add that option. In his words, “We’re duration before pitch people.” I found it relatively easy to adapt, but that will add some to the learning curve of one wanting to migrate from Finale.
One of the things I appreciate most about Sibelius is that it is really designed around the way a musician thinks—notes, articulations, dynamics all entered at the same time whereas I found Finale to be more like desktop publishing software where these “details” are more easily added after the notes. Spreadbury takes this even further with Dorico and in my short time so far, it feels even more like pure composition with a tablet of manuscript paper rather than an elaborate computer desktop publishing system. To me, that inspires creativity!
One can set up a score completely from scratch as I did for my simple clarinet piece, or one can use a template. A negative surprise that I saw when looking through templates was the glaring absence of jazz ensemble templates. I will definitely be reporting more on this in a future blog after some time to look further. I may have missed them. I saw many other ensemble options and was very surprised to not see that immediately.
This is only day one, so I really don’t have much more to say. It has been an enjoyable trial so far, and I think the rest of my thirty days will be a lot of fun as I try to take the program through its paces further and see what it can do. Stay tuned for another blog on this after a week or so!
A piece of my childhood that I remember with great fondness is the music of Vince Guaraldi as the score to the great trilogy of Charlie Brown specials for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Vince Guaraldi is the genius behind that music and while he is best known for Linus and Lucy with all the Peanuts characters dancing, his music has many more dimensions. For November and autumn, here is Autumn Leaves by Vince Guaraldi.
The next stops on our little tour as Pianist With an iPad include two additional programs that I have found very useful. I won’t go into nearly as much of detail on these as both are for more-or-less a niche of iPad musicians, but being in a position where I use both, I want to mention them as you may find one or both useful as well.
The first program I’ll highlight is called Music Stand. Music Stand is part of an amazing suite of online tools for church musicians called Planning Center. If you are a church musician, it is very likely your church already uses Planning Center as it is getting to be rare to find a church that doesn’t. Planning Center began as a service planning tool and has developed over the past decade into a full church management suite. Each module is offered and priced separately, so for churches like mine that use a different product for a church management system, I can still use the Services module for service planning.
I’ve been using Planning Center Services since May of 2009. Music Stand was added as an inexpensive add-on in 2010, but it wasn’t until several years later that I embraced it. Just as I had not embraced the idea of using forScore it took me some time to discover the real benefit of using my iPad for music. In 2010, Music Stand was introduced for iPad only, but it is now available for Android as well. My church subscribes to for the low price of $10 per month and that allows anyone on our team to use it. Smaller churches can get it for as low as $2 per month!
The feature set is very similar to forScore. The big difference is that you don’t add songs to Music Stand, you program them into the service in Planning Center. Then they automatically appear, in order. Each week, you simply load up the service plan. You can also look ahead at future plans or behind to find a song from a past plan. A great feature for church musicians is that notes you add to the score are saved and you’ll see them each time. In addition, each user has their own notes, but they can view other users’ notes. This is a great way for a leader to pass on info to the team.
Music Stand works very well for church musicians who participate in multiple churches. The accounts link to the same log-in. While I don’t use that function for that reason, my church collaborates each year with some other churches with a men’s conference. This has made it that all our musicians no matter which church they are from can easily access the music with their devices.
As I already said, Music Stand is an add-on to a program called Planning Center Services. If your church does not already subscribe, you would need an account. If you aren’t the church music leader, ask him or her. Again, it is very likely your church already has an account and this would be only a small additional add-on. I interact with many churches and it is getting very rare to find a church that doesn’t already use this great program. Besides, if your church hasn’t already discovered this gem, I believe they would really find it beneficial.
For the second program I’d like to highlight, we can step away from the church musician side of music and move to the world of jazz. Back in the 1970’s a jazz fakebook called The Real Book started being distributed. The copyrights were not cleared, and royalties were not paid, so this book wasn’t sold on music store shelves, but was sold musician to musician in music school hallways, pulled from a hidden stash under the counter of a music store, or even from the trunk of a car! It was known as the tool any serious jazz musician needed to have. In 2004, publisher Hal Leonard stepped in and obtained rights to most of the music in the original Real Book and the first legal edition came out. Now, this legal edition is the standard any jazz musician or jazz student needs. But wait! I thought this was an article about tools for iPads. That is where iReal Pro comes in.
iReal Pro offers a tool where the chord progressions of jazz charts are published. Melodies are not provided as they can be copyrighted, but a chord progression cannot, so, while iReal Pro seems to have stepped back into the realm of not complying with copyright laws, it really is legit and a great tool for any jazz musician.
What makes iReal Pro even better than just getting a Real Book? The iReal Pro app simulates a rhythm section that can accompany you while your practice. If you play a horn, you’d leave the entire rhythm section playing, but as a pianist, you can easily take the piano out of the mix and play along with the bass and drums.
Tempo, key signature, and form are customizable, so this tool provides a great way to practice. I find this a very helpful tool for a jazz piano student. I regularly ask for metronome practice. This tool provides metronome practice in a much more fun way. It can also help develop swing style or help the student understand Latin style such as clave patterns.
The database of songs is enormous and there are many styles that one can download, or you can add your own songs easily.
While there are many great uses for iReal Pro for the student jazz musician, I would caution to not allow your student or yourself to only play and practice with iReal Pro. A significant characteristic of jazz music is the interaction between players. We “play off” one another often imitating or responding to a rhythmic or melodic pattern we hear. This is a big part of the improvisatory communication style that is inherent in jazz music.
That aside, iReal Pro is a tremendous benefit to a serious student of jazz young or old, and I highly recommend it.
These are certainly two great additional tools for a Pianist With an iPad and both can be easily found in the App Store.