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!