After my last concerts for the year, I threw together a simple transposition lesson for my middle school bands. I just came to my school at the beginning of 2020, and as a younger teacher, I continue to feel out ways of integrating music theory into my band classes. I find lots of opportunities to talk about it in lessons (especially with students that have piano experience), but there’s nothing that I’d consider straight theory as part of my curriculum for every student yet.
I wanted to set them up to talk about transposing music they like to listen to in a key they’re more comfortable playing, but I wanted them to get to do transposition firsthand. The sheet I put in front of them was going to be mostly text, I knew, but I also wanted to have their concert B♭ scales with the scale degrees written under, and the scale of the key they’re transposing from (concert G♭ for this sheet, though any unfamiliar key works just as well). Then I wanted the melody in the unfamiliar key and an open stave for them to write in.
Like many other things, this sheet would’ve been possible in Sibelius. It just would have taken more than the 10-20 minutes from the time I sat down at my computer.1 If I were using Sibelius rather than Dorico today, I’d have probably done all the actual layout work in Pages and exported all the music graphics to it. While Pages makes layout easy, the major downside would be essentially having a separate Pages document for every instrument. In Dorico, I set the text up in the Master Page for the project, and then used a separate layout for each scale and the melody in a predesignated frame.
I was glowing when I finished this project. I couldn’t believe how easy it was and how little time it took. I wanted to talk the ear off of any other adult unfortunate enough to pass me in the halls on my way to or from the copier, because I was so jazzed up by how easy this was, especially compared to how arduous I knew it could be in other software.
If you want to make some quick changes to the sheet without using Dorico, I highly recommend using PDF Expert or a comparable app just to edit some of the text. If I spent more time on this, I would’ve picked a font that doesn’t space flat symbols out so far, and probably used something other than Academico (the default Dorico font) for the scale degrees (which I just did as lyrics in Dorico). The font I used in my original file (and thus in the PDFs) was Abadi MT Condensed, but for compatibility, I changed it to Helvetica in the Dorico project itself.
Here’s my boilerplate from previous posts: For anyone curious on playing with the project file who doesn’t have Dorico, pick up Dorico SE — or now the new iPad app. I didn’t test these files in SE, but I think you can get the gist using it. As I recommended in my big Dorico post, the trial is worth grabbing.
Dorico for iPad
The new Dorico for iPad is here and it’s incredible. For the best possible coverage, as always, check out Scoring Notes. Also, Robby Burns has a new podcast episode with Steinberg’s Daniel Spreadbury along with his own coverage.
For my part, I played with the free tier long enough to see its limitations. I want all my students who have an iPad to get one ASAP. (It’s a little bit user-unfriendly to ask them to make the Steinberg account to go from 2 to 4 players, but I won’t complain, as SE limits it to 2 and requires a Steinberg account).
Having only played with it today, I can’t believe how full-featured it is. At a glance, every setting from Layout and Notation options are in here. The new project flow is a little bit…weird. It’s somewhat more beginner friendly to encourage you to set the key and meter at the beginning, but the number of bars is giving me Finale flashbacks. I wish, just on principle, that it could surpass the 12 player limit for subscribers, though I guess I understand.
The most important thing to me is that all of the shortcuts from the desktop version of Dorico are here. This allows me (with my Smart Keyboard, which is always on my iPad) to write in parts as fast as I do on my Mac with Dorico. That’s not just the note input shortcuts, but all the shortcuts for the popovers allowing me to put in special barlines, key changes, lyrics, or whatever else. It has support for a MIDI keyboard (and I actually have an adapter to use one with my iPad Pro) but I’m faster and more comfortable keeping my hands on a QWERTY keyboard (and I think anyone who gets good at both will be faster on a QWERTY keyboard as well). The only downside to the keyboard shortcuts (and this might be solved in an update) is that for users unfamiliar with them on Mac/PC, they don’t show up when you hold down ⌘ like in most apps. There is, however, a preference pane to not just view them all, but to rebind them all (which is far from a standard feature in most iPad apps).
The free version is good enough for most of my students, though I’ve found the $40/year tier easy to justify for the additional features it brings (up to 12 players and some light Engrave mode options). Steinberg are on the record that Dorico on Mac and Windows is not moving to a subscription model, but it’s worth noting that it does sound like v4 is a bit further away than I recently speculated given this release (for anyone on the fence about jumping on v3.5 today).
It’s not a full stand-in for the Pro version of Dorico — it’s missing some of my favorite Engrave mode features even with the subscription, in addition to the 12 player limitation.2 It will definitely allow me to work on arrangements when my Mac isn’t with me, be helpful in lessons as the most sophisticated musical whiteboard I could have on-hand. Much like Dorico SE was, it’s a great tool to get in my students’ hands instead of MuseScore where appropriate.
Ultimately, for my more involved projects, I’ll still have to complete them on the Mac, but I’m more comfortable managing the final files there anyway. For other educators, this is probably the easiest way to dip one’s toes into Dorico if you’ve never used it before (the setup is so much faster than on a desktop or laptop computer), but if you know you need the pro level of any notation software, it’s not that, from the player count alone. Still, I’m wowed by its abilities, and very glad to have it as a tool in my arsenal.
It’s worth noting that Sibelius has released an iPad version as well this week. Since I have active Sibelius subscription or upgrade license, I haven’t played with this and don’t really have any thoughts of my own to share, other than some envy that there is an unlimited player count. In addition to Scoring Notes coverage (they’ll also have some podcasts up on it this weekend), Robby Burns wrote about this one too.