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.