- Title: Dorico
- What it is: Scoring software
- Developer: Steinberg
- Price information: Dorico Retail – (boxed) £497, (download) £480 / Dorico Retail crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £257, (download) £239 / Dorico Education – (boxed) £300, (download) £282 / Dorico Education crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £153, (download) £136
- Available from: https://www.steinberg.net / https://www.dorico.com or music shops
Carla Rees reviews Steinberg’s new score-writing software
In 2006, Sibelius was bought by Avid Technology. In 2012 Avid announced the closure of the UK development office as part of plans to sell off consumer businesses and streamline their operations, and hired new software developers to continue product development. Alongside Finale, Sibelius has, for a long time, been the industry standard in terms of music notation software, and is used by everyone from publishers to student composers and performers. Its development began in 1986 by British brothers Ben and Jonathan Finn and the first version for Acorn computers was launched in 1993. The Windows and Mac versions followed in 1998.
The UK development office was where the programme was established from its initial Acorn version to the popular software that has become a household name in music circles today. The loss of expertise that was implicit in the closing down of that office was quite a shock to the music world. However, Steinberg (producers of music sequencer Cubase, among other products) stepped in and bought the whole team in order to develop a new notation programme. Fast forward to 18 October 2016 and Dorico was launched. Taking into account the lessons learnt in the development of Sibelius, the new software has the potential to revolutionize the process of music notation.
The software is named after Valerio Dorico (1500–c1555), an Italian music engraver who was known for publishing editions of music by Palestrina, among others, and for using pioneering printing processes. This very much matches the ethos of this software; it offers a new innovative approach to music notation which is intelligently constructed and keeps practical considerations at the forefront.
While the user interface may take a little time to get used to for people used to Sibelius or Finale (different keyboard shortcuts, for example), Dorico is designed to work effectively on a laptop screen. It does not rely on the numeric keypad (an essential item in Sibelius which is lacking from most laptop keyboards), and the various sidebars and menus can be hidden from view when not required, maximizing screen space for the music itself.
The task of creating a score is divided into well-thought out stages, corresponding to the different modes shown on a tab across the top and accessed also through keyboard shortcuts. Set up mode allows you to create parts for individual players (the thinking is that the music is produced for the humans who will play it, rather than instruments) and change the order that they are shown. Layouts, on the right side of the screen, can include any combination of parts, allowing for piano reductions, full orchestral scores and any other arrangement or combination of instruments to be interlinked in the same project, meaning that changes made to one can apply to all of the related layouts.
Write mode is for inputting the notation, either via a keyboard or other MIDI input device, or via keyboard shortcuts. Here, details such as dynamics and other marks of expression are locked to position based on the rhythm grid, which is set by default to quavers (but can be changed according to user need); this allows for accurate placement which can be fine tuned later in the process if required. One of the most impressive elements of this mode is that the time signature doesn’t have to be defined at the beginning of the process, which gives much more flexibility to composers using the software for creative work. There are many neat tricks here for users to discover. One of my favourites is the insert mode, which allows rhythms to be changed without the subsequent notes being rescored – instead, everything shifts up to allow the extra duration to be inserted or removed (my experience in Sibelius is that this kind of editing causes additional rests and/or a lot of ties which then have to be renotated).
Engrave mode is where the fine tuning of the layout happens, and a nice addition here is that in this mode, pitches cannot be changed. This avoids the scenario where notes are accidentally moved (often without noticing) while dragging other details around on the score. In the engrave mode, expression marks can be put anywhere on the score, and do not have to be locked to the rhythm grid as they are in write mode, enabling precise positioning of all of the elements in the score according to user requirements.
Play mode is for listening back to the score, using the Halion Symphonic Orchestra sound library, or any other user defined set of sounds. A piano roll view enables a sequencer style approach if required, and the VST mixer includes some plug ins to allow the user to mix and enhance the sound. One small, but enormously useful touch, is that all the parts are automatically fed into a reverb unit, which the user can switch on or off. This is one of the most common ways of enhancing the sound from computer playback, and its inclusion in this way means that a beginner user with little knowledge of sound mixing can easily access this feature.
Print mode lists all the layouts and allows for various types of export. One of my favourite features here is that it remembers the settings used (such as paper size etc) so that parts can be reprinted the same way at a click of a button.
The features in Dorico are too numerous to list them all here, but most impressive for me is the level of flexibility it allows. It is designed so that just using the default settings, a professional level of engraving is possible. However, every single aspect of the programme is also customizable, so users can fine-tune the smallest details. These include features such as the ability to change temperament or tuning system, including making any combination of accidentals (including quartertones) into a key signature. Each of the dialogue boxes for the customizable features has a graphic to show exactly which parameters are changed through each item, and these dialogues can be kept open while looking at the score so that the effect of these changes can be clearly seen.
Dorico is also reinforced by an impressive amount of product support, including active facebook groups, an online manual, a monthly Discover Dorico podcast centred upon questions from users, and youtube help videos on most topics. While there are some features still in development, the most recent autumn update includes multi-stave drum notation, dynamic orchestral cues (which are linked to the original parts so any changes appear in the cues automatically) and the possibility to include fingering charts. Each time a new feature is added, it is thorough, comprehensive and keeps practical requirements at the forefront. It feels to me that the developers of this software have already thought of everything, but they are also open to suggestion for anything that might be needed but isn’t currently included.
My overall impression of Dorico is that it has been created with the user in mind, and that it solves many of the problems that Sibelius and Finale users have become accustomed to finding complicated work-arounds for. While switching programmes and learning a new interface is an investment in time, I have no doubt that Dorico’s intelligence and flexibility makes it worthwhile. Highly recommended.
About the author
Carla Rees is Editor of Pan, the journal of the British Flute Society. This review first appeared in the November 2017 issue of PAN and is reprinted with permission. For further information, please see www.bfs.org.uk.