Dorico 4.3: I’m Running out of Things to Complain About

I’m Ehler, and I love to complain. Dorico 4.3 is now out, and those folks at Steinberg have taken away things for me to complain about.

The biggest thing for me – and I imagine, most people who ever write for percussion – is a new “tremolo” behavior that is very useful when writing percussion rolls. Because Dorico understands two notes tied together as one note in actuality, applying a tremolo to the first note in a tie chain applied it to the last note as well. Many percussion rolls, however, need to show the final note without any tremolo slashes. Prior to 4.3, this would require a trip to engrave mode to disable the single stem tremolo property on the final note in a tie chain.

Old Roll Method

On its own, not particularly cumbersome. But this is a very common way of writing rolls, and in a given snare part, one may have to do this dozens of times.

The new method is much better. No changing modes, no properties panel. Just adding rel at the end of your tremolo input in the “Create Repeat” popover (e.g. 2rel or //rel) omits the tremolo/roll slashes on the final note.

New Roll Method

This, to me, is really the biggest improvement that percussion part writing needed in Dorico, and is most welcome. This one change is the highlight to me of a very meaty update. I won’t even talk about the impressive chord realization features, mostly because you should read David MacDonald’s post on Scoring Notes instead, but also because I’ve got two other things to gush over.

The first is a small change that will save me a lot of headache, and is kind of hard to understand. In most projects of any type, I do most of my writing in the score rather than the parts, in page view. As a result, when I need to change something from its default option via the properties panel I change it in the score. But Dorico has had for some time the concept of “local” and “global” properties – whether the property change should apply just in your current view (e.g. in the score but not the part) or everywhere it can be affected (in both the score and the part). There are times changes in one but not the other are definitely desirable, but the end result has been me forgetting to click the global button before making changes for years now and then having to go back and click all those properties again.

They have now let you change the default behavior. The only downside at all is it was a bit hard to find, and I had to pull up the version history to find it. Under the main preferences (⌘, on Mac), Note Input and Editing, it currently resides as the final entry before the “Editing” section

Properties - Set Local Setting

If the description of what this does made no sense to you, then you’re probably also the kind of person who should turn this on.

The last exciting feature of this release is the addition of some new commands and properties: Hide notehead and hide stem. These will allow easier creation of new kinds of worksheets for educators, I’m sure. This last summer, I had a handwritten resource from another educator from a jazz symposium I was given that I was excited about possibly using. Being a gigantic nerd, though, I was trying to think through how to make it in Dorico and was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t come up with good ways to do so. Before 4.3, I’ve now been convinced that it’s possible – over on Scorico, Hanneke Hommes has a series of worksheets she has made that I found inspiring in pushing Dorico to its limits. But these new features will make things like this even easier.

Now I have a bit of crow to eat. Despite considering myself a bit of an enthusiast, I don’t read every line of the version history documents for Dorico. Especially in the 4.x series, which has had a lot of improvements to Play Mode that are not of particular relevance to my own needs. The team at Steinberg is very thorough in these documents, and if you wanted an exciting read during your travels over Thanksgiving and Christmas, you could do a lot worse. But I missed an addition in 4.1 that also solved a standing complaint of mine.

I am quite colorblind. So much so that my students and I get to joke about it. And as such, I don’t really lean into color coding of things very much. But, when I was a student, I found it very beneficial in Finale and Sibelius to have out-of-range notes on instruments colored red, which was fairly visible. Now, Dorico has had this feature (I believe since 1.0). But the shade of red Dorico has used has been a very, very, dark red for my colorblind eyes. I can see that it is different from the black notes, but I have to be looking for it. When I was younger, this would have still been of value, but these days, any parts I am writing I’ll just notice that the note is out of range before I’d notice the difference in color (unless I was reading an irregular transposition of an instrument or working with instruments I’m not used to).

And I am very glad to have recently noticed1 the setting in Preferences now to change the note range colors. I don’t know if there were previously separate color selections for “standard” vs “advanced” range, but switching the shade of red for the former to match the latter was the perfect solution for my problem, and I’m incredibly appreciative of the option.

So what do I get to complain about now?

From criticisms I’ve brought up before, this really solves the percussion matter and the colorblindness thing. Improvements I’d like to see to Engrave mode aren’t really “complaints,” but continuing to make more powerful things possible with fewer overrides, more intuitive frame chain behavior, etc. are very desired. Also, even as I get a better sense of how Dorico the program understands flow headings, it’s still easy to be frustrated with them.

I’ve heard folks from Steinberg defend things that aren’t bound as shortcuts. I understand their case, and I still don’t agree. To quote myself on this:

Part of using music notation software efficiently is learning the shortcuts, but in Dorico, there’s an awful lot of important things not bound. Things like the sub-modes within the Engrave mode need to be bound. It’s one thing to expect your power-users to change the bindings, but it’s frankly a cop-out to leave so many things unbound. These are decisions that should be made by the developers. Undecided decisions are a shortcoming in your design; after all, to quote a guy who was an okay semi-successful designer: “Design is how it works.”

This may never change, but I still find it to be a problem in my personal use, and it’s still a philosophical problem I have when I advocate for Dorico to others.

Other complaints are pretty small, but I bet other band directors have them too. I’d like to be able to change the default transposition on instruments. I almost always want euphoniums in bass clef/C. It’s only a bit of work to click that every time I add them to a score, and I can save templates where they’re in C, but if I want to use the fancy new ensemble picker from 4.0, I need to then go in and change the euphonium’s transposition. And that ensemble picker is slick.

While we’re at it, I would still love for a setting to remove transpositions from player (and layout) names without having to do it manually. Again, I should be using templates more than I am, which would mostly alleviate this, but the Dorico team has taken away so many other things to complain about from me. And it’s possible this is the sort of minor thing they’ve slid in as an improvement that even I’ve missed somehow. There are some other snaggles here and there, but they’re minor enough that I’d need to look through my forum browsing history to remember them.

Beyond “complaints,” I’m really hopeful roman numeral support is around the corner. The figured bass additions in 3.5 are still wildly good, and I’m surprised that roman numeral analysis wasn’t right on their heels. MusAnalysis is a very fine substitute for the feature itself, but I’m hungry for the real thing.

Dorico has been revolutionary in what it’s done, and I’m almost kind of bummed not to have a longer wish list than that, because I’m afraid for what that means for innovation in the space of music notation software. Thankfully, the folks at Steinberg have a far greater imagination than I do, so I’m excited for far more than just roman numeral features in future versions of Dorico.

I really would get more work done in Dorico though if I could have a coffee-stained background. Perhaps they’re waiting to innovate on that too by dynamically adjusting where the coffee stains appear based on some ability to sense my actual current coffee consumption.

  1. It was while looking for the global/local properties option in preferences. I looked really hard and I couldn’t find it until I cracked the version history. I knew to look in preferences (not notation options, engraving options, layout options, note input options or any library settings) and it was just really hard to find, okay? 

Revisiting My Dorico Criticisms: In Light of Dorico 4’s Release

Dorico 4 is out!

What I want to write about it isn’t a review. If you want a real review for it, you should read the excellent one over on Scoring Notes. It’s the most comprehensive look aside from just reading the version history document.

If you want my review, it’s short and sweet: this is a great release, and you should buy it.

Instead of pretending I could give a review that would be worth your time in light of Scoring Notes’s, I did want to touch base on some of the things I griped about previously and just follow up on where some of those things are with Dorico 4. It’s not an objective or even fair measurement of this release as a release – which is what differentiates it from a review. But I want to acknowledge where they’ve made important progress and have to look at the areas they haven’t in the same breath.

I’ll acknowledge that I have had a chance to test this version of Dorico ahead of time, which also means that I received it for free. Which itself means that I’m of course totally in the bag for Steinberg and no longer a trustable source on any of this.1

As a quick summary of the things I mentioned:

CleanShot 2022 01 12 at 23 39 16 2x


The Dorico team has really done a great job with the new templates, and to me they’re one of the headlining features of this release. It goes beyond the bare minimum that many of us would have settled for – it does a great job of handling things like font and even certain layout options in a template itself. I was able to pretty easily set my blank file for rhythm assessments to a template with flows included. Check the SN review for more on the Library Manager features to better understand the depth of these features.

Engrave Mode Improvements

My checklist is actually a bit generous here, but I really appreciate one refinement in Engrave Mode that’s so subtle, I didn’t realize I’d been using it and benefiting from it until I heard Daniel Spreadbury (Lord of the Dorico-verse for anyone unfamiliar) mention it as one of his favorites. There’s now what he calls a “crosshair” when adjusting frames, and that makes all sorts of layout and alignment work absolutely delightful. I don’t know what a guide feature exactly looks like in my head, but in practice, this is everything I want a guide feature to be. Daniel has mentioned true snapping might be down the road as an extension of this feature. I’m now totally satisfied in this particular itch, though.

eLicenser is Dead

Ding dong! I mentioned that it wasn’t long for this world, which was public knowledge when I last wrote about it, but now it’s officially dead! And what replaces it?

The Steinberg Activation Manager looks nice and is mostly out of the way. Having been on the beta, I assume I’ve had vastly more interaction with it than someone on public releases. While it’s fully baked, it is worth noting that Dorico is Steinberg’s first program on this new system, and it’ll probably have some further revision as they add it to new releases of Cubase, Nuendo, WaveLab, et al. I don’t expect that’ll make for a worse Dorico user experience in the slightest.

Importantly, where with the “software” eLicenser before, you could only use Dorico on a single machine (and it required a USB dongle for a second machine) the new SAM allows you to use it on three machines. Great stuff. For more details on it, check Scoring Notes’s coverage

Setup Mode Behavior

I vaguely griped about setup mode in my previous post, but there’s some really strong progress here that will be even better as it’s further realized.

It’s much faster now to add instruments to a score (or as Dorico conceptualizes it, players, which is meaningful in how it intelligently handles instrument switching). It’s much faster now when using a feature called the “ensemble picker.” The SN review mentions this, but I think a GIF makes things much clearer quickly:

GIF of Ensemble Mode interactions

Further improvements on this feature are going to make life even easier, but for most band users, you’ll want to make ⇧E your new favorite shortcut in Setup Mode.

There’s a new default that band people will want to be aware of, and that’s the fact that new instruments get added in orchestral score order. That most importantly means that your horns will go in the wrong place (in a band score, horns should always go after trumpets, while in an orchestral score, they go before). Band score order is likely coming though, and the forums are a great place to give input on this. I sat down with a full list of every Dorico software instrument that Daniel provided to me and got a start on it, but aside from making some assumptions about where a Zink goes in a band score, I wasn’t very confident in a good order for many percussion things with the time I was able to commit to reordering things.

Closing Thoughts

This is all just a comparison of what I’m still wanting Dorico to be against what it just became with the release of Dorico 4. This isn’t getting into the many great new features added that I couldn’t dream up. For those who care a great deal about the way things sound coming through, there’s major enhancements to Play Mode. For anyone using this with students (or even for yourselves) the new Key Editor (read: Piano Roll) will prove to be a valuable added dimension for working with the music right in Write Mode. The new Insert options give a lot of added flexibility to one of my favorite Dorico features. It’s a great release, and you should hunker up with the Scoring Notes review as soon as you have time.

I also didn’t mention that this release is now a “Universal Binary” on the Mac, which means it takes full advantage of the M1 chip’s power. The only downside is that many audio plug-ins (including NotePerformer which I quite like) are not, and require you to manually run the app in Rosetta (nullifying that benefit) for compatibility. I can only guess, but I assume NotePerformer will become a universal binary some time between now and June.23

I won’t pretend that every feature I care about on this checklist is mission critical for every band director.4 I just wanted to touch base on these issues; because this is already getting a bit long, I won’t even go to the effort of restating the issues that still stand today; anyone who cares has to go read my old post on it. The team at Steinberg has done a great job with this release, and I’m excited for the point releases to follow and everything that’s still to come down the road. The timeline of the Steinberg Activation Manager, the iPad release, and, oh yeah, COVID-19 made this release a little farther away than the team at Steinberg has intended them to be relative to their ideal release cadence, but it’s been worth the wait. Everything else on my list can wait for Dorico 5.

  1. I shouldn’t have to specify this is sarcasm, but I know we’re on the internet and it’s 2022, so… 
  2. And I now have an M1 Pro MBP, which I absolutely adore} 
  3. The team behind NotePerformer is great, and you’re a jerk if you get mad at them for not having a Universal Binary or put any stock into my guesses 
  4. I think fixes to the percussion notation actually are a huge day-to-day deal for most directors and band arrangers looking at Dorico 

Chord Sheets (with Remingtons) — and Dorico for iPad’s Update

This resource page is the source of a lot of where I’ve come to believe Dorico can improve the experience with Engrave Mode, particularly with frames being able to have ‘guides’ or snapping like many other applications offer. It’s also where I encountered the absolutely bizarre Flow Heading assignment behavior.

The goal with this sheet was to provide a written out example of a Remington (both on concert F and concert B♭) as well as the chords for every scale. Some of my students weren’t grasping the idea of a Remington right away (leaving out tones, etc.) as they hadn’t done them with the previous director. I also wanted a major triad stretching across the range of their instrument to allow us to later do chordal Remingtons after each scale in a warm-up. There might be an unnecessary/unhelpful excess of notes that I could pare down, but this was just the first version to revisit later.

The way I wanted to lay this sheet out made it pretty tricky. I thought Dorico’s frames features would make it easier than it ultimately did, but in reality, I had to do a ton of math and remembering numbers in the properties panels for these frames to get it lined up even halfway decently. This is where some guides or snapping would’ve really been handy.

Properties panel of just *one* of my frames

I had each chord as a separate flow and had a pretty easy time of just setting every instrument’s notes across their range from the score itself. I assigned each flow into a separate frame chain (which itself could maybe be a faster process) but what really threw me was the flow headers were all assigned seemingly at random until I figured what was up. I then manually had to set the text frames too, assigning one for each flow’s title.

Oh no… (Master page layout with tokens of this Dorico project)

Thankfully, I only had to do this arduous process once for the master page layout, but I still think it should’ve been easier. In any other application, it would’ve been equally hard in different ways — making staves invisible, keeping system text titles of chords from floating away, and having to fuss with inconsistencies between different instrument parts.

The preview of what all my frames looked like on the master page when finished.

Here’s the project file and the individual PDFs. You’re best off doing any edits from the score, rather than an individual part. Sorry for any font weirdness.

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.

I’m not sure if I’ll have any new resources next week as summer wraps up, but I wanted to share these resources with other educators for them to be able to put to use in their classrooms and to give them ideas of what Dorico is able to do with some of the features that make it unique from other notation applications. To provide a more permanent home than these Dropbox links (though I don’t plan to deactivate them ever) I’ll be following up before long.

I did want to drop one other quick note on Dorico for iPad with this post.

Software development is hard, and business models take a lot of consideration. Many software companies are like a large boat, seeing the currents of the market and their customers’ needs, but taking time to pivot.

Twelve long days after Dorico for iPad launched, they’ve removed the 12-player limit for subscribers, thus solving the #1 limitation I felt the app had. It’s great to see the Dorico team responding so quickly to customer needs, and to have the app become so much more valuable. At $40/yr, it’s a no brainer. It’s still not Dorico Pro as it exists on the Mac, but it’s a vastly more capable application than it was two weeks ago when it launched — and at launch it was already an amazing experience.

A Transposition Worksheet and Thoughts on Dorico’s iPad Release

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 the project file and the individual PDFs.

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.

  1. In fairness, I had already laid it all out in my head before this, otherwise it would’ve taken longer 
  2. Scoring Notes lays out the exact features and limitations of the iPad version very well. 

Chromatic Scales Sheets in Dorico

When I set out to make a new chromatic scale resource for my students, I had a few simple goals:

  1. It had to have a shared range on it that we could use as part of our rehearsal warmup
  2. It had to have a different range on it for assessments, more appropriate to each instrument
  3. Since I teach 5-12, I figured I’d just make one sheet with both the middle school and high school versions of points one and two.

Now an important thing pops up right away in that I might want different lengths of chromatic scales for different instruments when assessing. The effective range I want my high school flute players playing is more than the two octaves I tend to expect from my brass. Every teacher will have different opinions, but I wanted to share my Dorico files as a starting point.

If I were trying to do this in other software, I’d be hitting a wall with the differences in length of my “assessed” ranges. I’d just have to have empty measures at the end of some instruments’ pages, OR I’d have the enviable task of having totally separate files for each instrument. Frankly, even if it’s not a good reason, if I were trying to accomplish this in Sibelius, I’d probably standardize the length.1

So that’s what I’ve done in Dorico. Every instrument with the same length is condensed into a single flow, but the flows are only assigned to the relevant layouts. I have a “score” of every layout, so I can keep one reference document for everyone (though it’s somewhat more sane to just keep each instrument’s sheet in a PDF). Because the “shared ranges” (for warmups) have to be the same to use as a warmup, they’re obviously the same length.

Here’s the Dorico project file, and a Zip file of every instrument’s part.2

Criticize the ranges I chose all you want, it’s something I continue to reevaluate myself. I invite you to use this as your starting point, though. It’s also worth noting that I threw some C♭s in place of some Bs for my middle school ranges on C instruments, to introduce them to that idea ahead of getting to the G♭ scale .

You’ll also notice I don’t have every instrument in here; we’re a small school, and I haven’t taken the time to add in some instruments I don’t have any students on right now, but it’s very easy to add them yourself.

Here’s my boilerplate from my last post: For anyone curious on playing with these files who doesn’t have Dorico, pick up Dorico SE. 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 also worth grabbing.

  1. There’s something to be said for standardizing the length from an equitability standpoint, and if that’s where you come down, that’s fine. But to make that decision based on the limitations of the software you’re using is pedagogical malpractice. 
  2. At some point in the future, I’m going to make a more permanent home for these links than links from my personal Dropbox, and I’m reserving this footnote to host the link for when I finally get around to that. 

Rhythm Assessments in Dorico (and a Template)

One of the primary assessments I’m currently using with my students is a set of three rhythm assessments each semester. I won’t go into how I’m managing these with reassessments and how I’ve got the progression through various “rhythmic vocabulary” broken down, but I do want to share how I’m using Dorico to handle these files and share the files themselves as examples.

I have four graded ensembles — my 6th grade band, my junior high band (7th and 8th grade) and my high school band. I want to be able to go over these rhythm assessments as part of our warm-up at the start of class, but my 7th and 8th graders have a separate set of assessments from one another. I also don’t want to be fumbling around with 3-4 different sets of papers myself for my lessons.

Enter flows and layouts. I have each individual rhythm assessment set up as a flow. The first three are assigned to my 6th grade layout, the next six to my JH layout, and the last three just to my high school layout. My “score” layout has all twelve on it so I can print it double-sided or use it on forScore on my iPad.

It’s not the most revolutionary thing in the world, but it’s more convenient than having to fight with separate files or variable lengths of things like I might have to in other programs.

Here’s a link to the blank file that I start from scratch each semester. I’ve tried using macOS’s “stationary pad” feature in Finder to help me use it as a real template, but alas, I just have to be careful with that file to not overwrite it with Dorico, since, as I griped, it doesn’t have templating support.1 The template should have the proper frame and system locks, though if you do much more than four bars in a single system, you might run into trouble. I’m more of an Avenir guy than Futura, but I like using something different for these assessments, and Futura is part of my school’s official branding.

Additionally, here’s the Dorico files I used in Fall of ‘20, Spring of ‘21, and this upcoming Fall.2 And here’s a zip file of the PDFs that it generates for the same three semesters.3 The Fall ’20 ones aren’t quite as reflective of the current form of that template as the Fall ’21 ones are.

For anyone curious on playing with these files who doesn’t have Dorico, pick up Dorico SE. I didn’t test these files in SE, but I think you can get the gist using it.

  1. Though in fairness, something like this is actually above and beyond what I would expect in the template support I hope they implement. 
  2. If any of my students are reading this, no it’s not cheating to get a head start on these, but maybe spend your summer on something more fun than reading your teacher write about music notation software. You’re only young once, and I would question spending it this way. Also, get off your phone and practice your instrument. 
  3. At some point in the future, I’m going to make a more permanent home for these links than links from my personal Dropbox, and I’m reserving this footnote to host the link for when I finally get around to that. 

Making Remote Learning Smoother

My district has just gone to distance learning, and I figured it was time to share some of my thoughts (that I’d originally begun formulating in the spring) about what I”m using to make the process as smooth as it can reasonably be.

In rehearsals, I find Loopback to be really valuable. I can pipe in audio from Logic or AnyTune for students to hear. I’ve got a MIDI controller that I’ll use with Logic to give them individual notes, and with AnyTune I can easily adjust the tempo of the piece(s) we’re working on.

There’s obviously no great solutions for running rehearsals in terms of being able to hear the kids’ actual progress.

For lessons, I’m having students sign up through Calendly. Calendly lets students grab a 20-minute block within the times I’ve set, but automatically filters out any times that I already have calendar events (as meetings throughout the day pop up). Once they sign up, it automatically adds to my calendar and I get an email notification, and the students get the same.

I then open the event on Fantastical and use Fantastical’s native handling of Google Meet or Zoom (depending on what students selected on their Calendly form). I have a TextExpander snippet that I send with the Zoom/Meet link along with a link to some quick video directions for configuring Zoom audio to better facilitate a music lesson. I have another TextExpander snippet after a lesson that sets a template for their next assignment, and in the Spring it instructed them how to sign up for another lesson.

(I actually use Airmail’s Markdown mode so that I can totally avoid Rich Text snippets.)

TE Snippet for Lesson Confirmation

If I were paying for Calendly, I could skip this step because it’d integrate with Zoom and add the meeting automatically, but I pay for Fantastical anyway, and I’ll take any excuse I can get to make some new TextExpander snippets.

When I was teaching general music last spring, I prepared an asynchronous video lesson each week. It was definitely overkill, but I used Final Cut Pro X to prepare the videos. I was able to use transparent .png files to overlay music notes over myself and transition them in on top of a video of me speaking. Using QuickTime’s ability to capture an iOS device’s screen, I did a video demonstration of what I wanted students to do in GarageBand. I also captured a bit of Dorico running on my screen to highlight some rhythms. To pipe the audio back in to the screen capture, I was using Loopback again. I also tried a bit of Screenflow towards the end as well over QuickTime; there were compromises (using the free version) and it didn’t make showing my button presses as easy as I”d hoped, but it was okay.

I’ve tried Reincubate Camo, but I don’t really need a better camera. What I’d love is the ability to add an image overlaying my video when I’m on Zoom, and I’ve started to explore some of those rabbit holes. It might be more trouble than it’s worth, though.

Using Database Software in Your Band Program

I’ve gotten a lot out of listening to the Class Nerd Podcast and lots of the things that Robby Burns puts out. I was insanely jealous in the Class Nerd episode where Robby described his use of FileMaker in his band program. Unfortunately, I don’t have the chops with a program as complicated as FileMaker to make the best use out of it, nor do I have the resources for a deployment of it in my band program to the extent it would be as useful as I desire for something similar to Robby’s use of it. I tried other solutions, like Airtable, but they didn’t feel like the right fit.

At NEIBA this year, I caught Dave Anderson’s awesome talk that he gave at IBA last year (and described to me in person earlier in the year) about using Google Forms with an add-in essentially as a database for producing email reports to parents on lessons that I’m going to be looking at implementing eventually.

But a bug caught me the other day, and on a whim, I got sucked in to setting up a Ninox database for my band program. I have some insights to share from what little I’ve been able to do with it so far, and why it’s already paid dividends for me in tracking information.

The first question is ‘Why Ninox?’ I’m looking for something about in that budget range, but I don’t want to be paying for a regular cloud service fee. When I caught this bug awhile ago, I tried a few products without success before throwing in the towel. I picked up Tap Forms at that time, but didn’t invest the same amount of upfront work as I just have with Ninox to put it though its paces. Before I’m too far along in Ninox, I might wind up giving Tap Forms a more fair shake, just to see if it does some things better. Obviously, there’s also the band-focused software out there like Charms or Cut Time, but I want to try rolling my own system first.

The main goals I had with a database program were tracking program-level information. I wanted to be able to have a central hub of student information that I could easily extend to cover new vectors (in database parlance, tables). The two primary things I wanted to extend tracking for was instrument rentals and tracking information related to solos.

At my school, I have happily maintained my predecessor’s tradition of requiring all students to prepare and perform a solo at a local solo & ensemble event. After year one, I saw how much some of our students grew (particularly our first-years) through the event. It was also a lot of valuable feedback for me as someone new to the profession.

The only downside is the work of selecting a solo for every student in my program, managing our library, keeping track of payments, and coordinating accompanists without much time in my schedule to do it.

Enter Ninox

After getting a table set up in Ninox with core student information (emails, lesson time, what bands they participate in), adding another table for their solos was a cinch. It’s made it easy to track the information I need to submit for the contest coordinators, and it’s already saved me a lot of time.

Before, I threw together a spreadsheet from information I copied over, and then got to work filling it out, and trying to keep some things up to date. It’d be organized in a different way than my other spreadsheets of student information, and there’d inevitably be friction throughout the whole process.

Being able to link information together in Ninox has saved me a bunch of sanity already when I’m running on less sleep than is ideal. It still has a few friction points in terms of shortcuts and some minor bugs, but I’m getting the hang of its core functionality quite well. It’s also easy to keep the information up to date on my phone (essential when I’m in the workroom on a different floor, and much more reliable than having my fingers crossed that the right spreadsheets have synced in the right folder).

It’s because of these small friction points that I’m hoping Tap Forms might have a bit more for me than I’ve currently seen, but if not, I can live with Ninox.

If you’re looking to give a database program a serious whirl, I highly recommend starting by importing all of your student records from your grading system (Schoology, Canvas, PowerSchool, etc.) Adding students piecemeal is not an effective way to see if a database program is a good fit for you. You’ll also just wind up importing some of those things (like parent contact info) later anyway.

I’m hoping to scale it for some lesson-related tracking as well, but I’m not sure if it will handle the exact needs I have without throwing extra money at it. I’m also not sure how well it could integrate in my current physical set-up for lessons and the needs of my program, but I’ll continue to update regarding this journey.

Managing Multiple Drives and Managing My First Year

I’m well into the start of my first year teaching now, and things are crazy. I wanted to first share a tip I’m using to manage some of the work I’m doing on my own computer for work (I have a PC assigned to me by my school, but I’m working a lot outside of the school day).

I have my primary personal Google account set to my “default” Google account in my browser. The primary benefit of this is that if I click a link to a Google Doc anywhere on the web, it goes into that account (which is the behavior I want). The downside is that when I’m opening up a new tab or window for Google Drive in the middle of work-related things, I’d have to click the account switcher, select my work account, and then wait a second for Drive to reload while closing the first tab. It’s a small inconvenience, but it adds up doing it a lot.

Instead, I’ve bookmarked the Drive URL that I have after switching to my work account. It should be something like for that account)/my-drive. Your default account is 0, then each one down the list is another number.

To speed up getting there, I usually launch the bookmark from Alfred, as I don’t keep the bookmark tab open for Safari. It’s a pretty simple solution to a pretty simple problem, and I could always use a different web browser for work matters (but I don’t want to).

App updates

OmniFocus 3 has changed the game for me. I was part of the TestFlight for OF3 for iOS, and I’m now in the beta for OF3 for Mac. Tags and better perspectives are helping me manage a ton of work. I’m a bit disappointed that OF3.0 for Mac lacks support for the advanced notifications that OF3 for iOS has, because I’m still taking out my phone to set a reminder notification for tasks. It’ll come in a point update that I”m already excited for.

I’m constantly restructuring my projects and tags to make them work better for me, but it’s not a time sink, it’s just a chance to organize better. I have so much on my plate at work that I think I’d have a nervous breakdown without OmniFocus to keep track of it all.

I’ve finally got Drafts integrated into my workflow. Drafts 5 added some really nice features, and it’s a great fit. Part of the reason it was so essential is because of some degradation of my iPhone 6’s speed (which will cease to be a problem within the month), but it continues to be the first thing I open when someone tells me something in the hallway that I can’t forget. Most of it goes into OmniFocus still. Because of how little email I compose on iOS, I’m still not getting the most out of it, but between updates to my phone or Drafts coming for Mac, it will only be more useful soon.

I’m planning to write soon about how my adoption of Bear has let me keep track of the documents and emails for rehearsals and individual class periods, why Dorico has won me over, and how I’m getting great use of Pages for making materials.

Teaching Scales

I’ve put off posting for awhile because I’m running into some specific formatting issues with the top post in my drafts folder that I’m hoping a friend of mine can help me with.  In the mean time, I thought I’d dig up some resources for other music educators I’ve been meaning to post.  Today I’ve got some handouts for students on understanding major scales.

Beyond just knowing how to play any number of major scales on their instrument, it’s important that students understand the fundamentals of constructing them.  Beyond the muscle memory (that is itself a valuable skill for performing most diatonic music), it forms the basis for understanding a great deal in theory, and specifically serves as the best foundation for learning other scales (minor scales, modal scales, etc.)

While I’m sure there are more ways to conceptualize scales effectively (especially outside of the concert band set-up), through my own teachers and teaching experience, I’ve encountered two dominant approaches that I’ve made handouts for:

The first is understanding them by the circle of fourths.  This is my preferred method for teaching scales.  The way I see it, it builds a more innate understanding of the relationships between keys, which encourages a faster mental turnaround.  Of course, there’s a lot of bias in that viewpoint, because that’s the way I learned my scales.  I was fortunate to my former high school band director—Steve Stickney’s presentation at the 2017 Iowa Music Educators’ Conference on warming up bands, where he discussed teaching scales this way.  He had some useful warmups in his presentation notes that he has graciously permitted me to share.  These are useful regardless of your teaching approach on scales.

The other way that I have been exposed to teaching scales is through a series of rules that focus on the relationship between the last accidental and the name of the key.  While I think this requires more steps of processing longer in the learning process, it does better allow a teacher to guide a student to getting their answer and formatively assess where the comprehension may be breaking down in a lesson more easily.

I know both seem a little wordy, but during my student teaching, I was seeing light bulbs go off for seventh graders who were reading the latter handout after having had scales explained more than once in class.  While I’m fine with my second handout as is, I’d like to update the first for students down the road.  It would probably need to go on to a second page, but I would like to elaborate a bit more and discuss how “adding flats” to a key with sharps is just removing sharps (and vice versa).

I hope others find these useful!  Feel free to drop a line in the comments or on any other platform on the side bar regarding these!