Band Score Order in Dorico 4.0.10

Dorico 4.0.10 came out today, (SN post) which, as befitting an X.0.Y release is mostly bug fixes. I normally don’t write about any point updates for Dorico, but I felt the need to follow up on one thing from my post just a few weeks ago on the release of version 4 with the exciting news that Dorico’s score ordering feature now supports band score order in addition to orchestral score order!

Using Band Score Order

It’s a little tricky to find the band score order toggle; you do so by right-clicking the sorting icon at the bottom of the left-pane, which will give you options between different score orders (leaving room for more to come).

Finding Band Score Order in the interface – right-clicking

If you set that right from the start, then as you add instruments, they’ll appear in the correct order. If you unwittingly were working in orchestral score order first and need to then adjust, simply switch it over to band score order and then left click the same icon again to have it impose that score order on your players.

Sorting an existing set of players with band score order
It may behoove you to then renumber the layouts (in the Setup dropdown menu)

From Here

I had the privilege of getting to help with this list, but my own self-doubt when helping order all 610 instruments in Dorico for band and the lack of any single authoritative source on the matter means that an adjustment here or there might eventually be made by the smart team over there.

It peeves me beyond all belief when anything is mis-ordered in a score. Horns above the trumpets are an obvious offender, and percussion (which is mostly the same with orchestral score order) is also particularly irksome. It was a fun project trying to find sources, and if I were made of time, I wouldn’t mind taking a trip to just pull a bunch of scores and try to find what has actually been done with oddball instruments that almost never make it into a concert band. But this new feature will hopefully be of use to everyone who writes for band in Dorico – at the very least saving them the clicking and dragging on every new score to fix where horns and bassoons should be.

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. 

Dorico For Me, For You

Last week I tied up talking about subscriptions with why Sibelius is dead to me. I’m going to make the case for Dorico being the daily driver for my fellow band directors.

This isn’t my attempt to do a comprehensive review of Dorico. I’d be wasting my time, because Scoring Notes has created an unsurpassable work doing just that.1 If you haven’t read it before, I highly recommend their review of the first version of Dorico, as it explains what makes it so unique. They also have reviews of every version of Dorico (v3.0 doesn’t show up on that page for some reason, but they reviewed it too).

Instead, this is my attempt to talk about my use of it, and why I think it’s the notation software to be using in 2021. I want to discuss why I hold that opinion, what I feel Dorico does exceptionally well, and what my complaints are about it as of version 3.5. First, I want to talk about my use of it — not to lend me any bona fides or credibilities (if you want to scrutinize what mine are, then just assume I have none) — but so that you, as a reader, can compare my use to your own needs.

Dorico’s story and mine

If you’re not familiar with Dorico’s story, it’s somewhat interesting, and provides good context. Finale was released in 1988, and Sibelius was released in 1993. In 2006, Avid bought Sibelius, but kept most of the team it had at the time intact2 before canning them all in 2012. That team got scooped up by Steinberg, a division of Yamaha and makers of popular DAW Cubase, who hired them to make a new big dog program in that space.

Not to get too mythical about it, but the Dorico team was able to ask themselves ‘what do we wish the 19 year-old program we were working on could do that was hard because of the fundamental assumptions that were baked into it from its birth?’ Or simply, ‘since we’re starting from scratch, how do we make the best thing possible?’

One amazing part of that story is the stewardship of Steinberg. The Dorico team was given the time they needed to cook the best 1.0 possible. Sure, it wasn’t complete with every feature yet, but it’s very rare to see that kind of work done. And but for one major complaint, Steinberg has been a much better steward of Dorico than Avid has been of Sibelius.3

I tried that first version of Dorico, and while I was impressed with it, it was a bit slow for me and while it was obvious there were a lot of amazing ideas right away, it was not yet the right answer for me.But4 at some point in the 18-19 school year, Dorico Pro 2 had come out and I heard that their generous Crossgrade+Education offer was going to get less generous (it’s $200 today, which is still great and beats Sibelius’s $300 education price). At first, there were still some things I was doing in Sibelius that were easier there, but most things were miles better in Dorico, and my muscle memory quickly shifted that way.

I want to temper my recommendation, because if you have absolutely no problem with the software you’re using today, it’s probably not worth examining a switch…right now. Your existing files work best in the software you made them in, and it’s a pain to transfer. But computers are changing all the time and your next computer might not run your current software. If you’re a Finale user, getting current isn’t too painful, but if you’re a Sibelius user, it is. If you don’t have a current upgrade plan for Sibelius and you’re an educator, it’s cheaper for you to switch to Dorico. And it’s better over here.

Noteheads and ties there and hair[pins]. Oh my!

So what’s better?

In both Finale and Sibelius, the model is fairly based on graphics and objects. In Sibelius, you’ve got your notes as one type of objects; You can apply “symbols” (like trills or caeusuras); You can put text on things (like dynamic markings and other “expressive” text, or tempo changes or regular text). You can put on lines (slurs, hairpin crescendos/decrescendos, and 8va lines). There’s some relative siloing between these ideas and how you interact with these things. Finale is similar in these regards, and the different types of “tools” represent these silos.

In Dorico, the model is based around the type of musical element something is, rather than how you’re going to make it or how the software is manifesting it. Text saying “cresc…” and a hairpin crescendo are both dynamics; one isn’t handled with a text tool and the other with a line tool. The program understands them as essentially different ways of representing the same thing, and you can actually toggle between them. It’s more intuitive, and they’re grouped with your other dynamic markings at the same time.

This sounds like a small distinction, but you become much better attuned to what you’re doing when you’re working on actual music. There’s far more examples than this, and that’s true of all the points I make — the Scoring Notes reviews are a much more comprehensive listing of these sorts of things if you really want to geek out over it.

Opinionated Software

Dorico doesn’t want to understand things as symbols with limits defined by measures. It wants to understand everything as music. And because of that, it’s doing a lot of work for you to adhere things to its understanding. If you start a bar of 4/4 with a quarter note and tie an eighth note to it, for example, it won’t give you a quarter note tied to an eighth. It’ll transform it into a dotted-quarter note.

Now there are definitely times you don’t want the software making decisions for you like that. Dorico lets you override that through the “force duration” trigger. Most other decisions can be overridden in the “properties” pane at the bottom of the screen. But Dorico would prefer you don’t have to override any of these settings on a case-by-case basis; it has amazingly in-depth options under its “Engraving Options” and “Notation Options” for everything it thinks you should want to change. Its defaults are really good, but you’re best off changing project-wide settings in here (and you can change them as a program default or just for a project).

I really value this for a number of reasons. First off, it helps me not make dumb mistakes. Finale and Sibelius will much more readily let you make whatever mistakes your heart desires. Feel like restating the same time signature in measures 3, 4, and 5? You may. But not in Dorico; it won’t let you put in redundant, unnecessary things that are bad engraving practices.

If you’ve ever explored any of the scores on, you’ve seen some great examples of technically correct, but notationally abhorrent rhythms. In Dorico, if you type in a rhythm like that, it will automatically be corrected for you. For example in 4/4 if I input a bar of 5 dotted-eighth notes, this is what I wind up with from the defaults,

Dotted eighth, followed by a sixteenth note tied to an eighth note, followed by an eighth note tied to a sixteenth note, followed by two dotted-eighth notes. I'm bad at alt text, I'm sorry.

There are things about this that sometimes push back at the user — where the program’s handling falls short, there are very few ways to do any kind of workaround. It’s a truly noble goal that the program shouldn’t ever fall short, and in actual practice, it does an amazing job of hitting the mark. Even if you’re working with a lot of more modern/contemporary practices — aleatoric notation, custom symbols for extended techniques — the program will meet your needs very well. But in its very few blindspots, you don’t get so much as a “hide this” button.

Where it shines for educators — flows and layouts

While the aforementioned features are certainly nice and speed up my work, I think it’s the unique document model that makes Dorico shine for educators above other applications. Every separate file you are actually working with in Dorico is a “project.” Within each project, though, you can have multiple “flows.” These can represent any number of things; the archetypal example is different movements of a longer work, but creatively splitting things between flows lets a user make some pretty interesting things. For example, on a scale sheet, I could make each individual scale a different flow and handle the names of them at the flow level, rather than as text that I have to independently assign to each one individually. Or I could have totally separate musical examples on a worksheet. I could do the same thing in Sibelius by stretching out the space between the examples, but the program would be trying to reunite them if I made too many changes.

The other handy thing on Dorico is “layouts.” For regular usage, layouts are pretty easy to ignore the power of — by default, they’re just your full score and parts. But you can make layouts go very far for you. You can easily make custom scores that are maybe condensed5 or feature only a few of the parts you’re working with. You can even assign different flows or parts to different layouts, which is something I’ve made creative use of for various playing assessment resources I wanted students to have. My two favorite examples of this I’ll be sharing later this summer — the chromatic scale pages I give to students, and the rhythm assessments I assign.

Using these features together with Dorico’s flexible (if sometimes a bit arcane) Engrave Mode, by totally breaking away from the defaults and making your own frames, lets you make some really incredible things with ease. This whole summer I plan to share a lot of resources and worksheets I’ve made that leaned on Dorico’s special features.

Why I recommend Dorico today

Dorico’s got its strengths, but I think it’s worth comparing it to the other big pieces of software out on the market today to highlight why it’s the right choice for music educators.

Finale has just released its major upgrade in v27. It was the first program I learned to use really well, but I still think its downsides are really major. In v26, they made their first serious stab at automatically handling collision alignment. Sibelius’s Magnetic Layout has always been pretty good, but Dorico puts both to shame with how it handles collisions. Magnetic Layout can still be very fiddly, but in Dorico, the only time I ever find myself thinking about collisions are when I want the music significantly denser than it thinks to put in automatic line breaks. Finale is a lot slower to use than anything else today still; even drawing a slur or hairpin dynamics requires you to take your hands off the keyboard and use your mouse, even if you’ve taken the time to learn their “metatools” shortcuts.

Finale is old, and they simply haven’t been making the investments in development to keep up with what their program needs. It’s constantly playing catch-up, with Finale 2016 being dedicated entirely to making the program 64-bit compatible. There’s a lot of what is called “technical debt” in the program. Old code, or code for old systems that would take a lot of actively invested time to revise for (likely) no immediate pay-off for the users. But paying down tech debt is a part of running a software business. It’s like home maintenance.

Now how is Sibelius itself these days? After hiring new developers, they’ve gotten back to some good, consistent updates, and have come out with some interesting new things. And Sibelius remains pretty fast at a lot of tasks. If I was captured by psychopaths who put a giant bomb in the building I was in and I was up against a timer to make great looking scale sheets as fast as I could or be blown to bits,6 despite the fact that I know Dorico really well and haven’t used Sibelius for anything serious in probably two years now, I think I’d still choose Sibelius for that task.

There are things that Dorico does better than Sibelius, but there’s also areas where Sibelius shines in Dorico’s weak spots. Maybe for me personally, SIbelius would be a better choice on those grounds alone. But those aren’t the only grounds that I can evaluate the programs on. There’s of course the long-term trajectory of each application, but the bigger one is the business model. The only way I feel I could follow the path Avid wants me to go down is if Sibelius were the only application I’m using. Even if there’s some small ways that Sibelius has the edge, Dorico is too enticing to financially chain myself to Sibelius.

Outside of the big three commercial applications, there’s a whole host of other things to consider. Web-based tools like Noteflight and are interesting, but I only see them useful for putting in front of students, not for making my own resources. MuseScore has brought on some new talent and continues to get better, but I still don’t consider it up to the task of being a serious competitor with Sibelius or Dorico. It requires far too much manual adjustment and has too atrocious of defaults to quickly make anything I’m willing to put in front of a student.

Honest Criticisms

As much as I do like Dorico, I also want to lay out where I have some complaints. At its launch, it didn’t have some of the features that most users would expect from its competitors from their long histories, but now that we’re five years in, I feel all of these complaints are fair. Dorico 4.0 should be coming out relatively soon, so when it does, I’ll check in on these complaints.

I really do love Dorico, I wouldn’t have this much to write about its problems if I didn’t.

The two big ones

Two complaints stand above the rest, in its percussion handling and lack of templating.

Dorico comes with a handful of reasonable templates, but their support for templates ends there. You can’t make your own custom ensembles, which is a major pain at this point in time. You can store some things, like a custom percussion kit, as files that you can later load, but even that feels like a half-measure when you should be able to have custom percussion kits available in your instrument list.

Dorico has so many different options, and you can save what you like as a new set of defaults. However, you can’t have multiple sets of defaults to switch between for different projects, requiring you to remember how to reconfigure them each time. I’m not asking for an exact implementation of Sibelius’s “House Styles,” which is a really elegant way to store a bunch of options, font decisions, etc. at once. But this is one of the two things that I can’t believe isn’t better yet.

The other is all sorts of weirdness with percussion. I’ll start with the most egregious: Rolls. Despite all of Dorico’s smarts, including some harp pedaling intelligence and the ability to handle transposing figured bass notation, it doesn’t understand that percussion rolls work differently than tremolos. Dorico treats tied notes as a single note, which is generally how you want them, unless you’re writing a percussion roll. Because they’re a single entity, Dorico defaults to putting the roll on both parts of the note. To fix this, you have to go to a different mode (engrave mode) and untick a box that requires horizontally scrolling over for each instance. One of these days I’ll make a macro for this, but it pains me having to do this at all.

The percussion pains don’t end there, though. Dorico makes putting in cues a breeze for any other instruments, but if you’re dealing with unpitched percussion, you can’t put in a pitched cue. It also doesn’t extend its smarts to making flams look halfway decent by default. And drum set parts can be a mess in terms of how it handles voices.

There are percussion strengths — it’s very fluid in moving between a five-line staff, a grid, or single line instruments in different layouts — but actually writing percussion parts feels like a chore.

Engrave Mode and Learning Curve

Engrave Mode is very powerful, and I feel it lends a lot of flexibility. I also think it needs some rethinking. If you’re familiar with a program like Adobe InDesign, you understand things like Master Page Sets, but following the Facebook group for Dorico, it’s clear that it’s a barrier to entry.

Having done some really powerful stuff with Engrave Mode leaves me wanting several things it doesn’t currently have. The first is the ability for guides to snap with frames — dealing with the numbers in the properties tab is not an effective way of doing things for me, and requires a lot of math. I also wish that there were a way to more easily see your changes in the massive options panes (Engraving Options, Notation Options, Layout Options…) in the parts you’re working on as you’re tweaking them. There are ways to do this with multiple windows or monitors, but I’d like to not need a special set-up for it. The Sibelius ribbon is…well, contentious, but seeing my staff size update live helped make informed decisions on my 13” screen.

All notation software has a learning curve, and Dorico is no different. Because it wasn’t my first application, I can’t judge how hard it really is, but I think it’s important for Steinberg to be really cognizant of. The new properties settings of “local” vs “global” changes were hard to get my head around, and I still find myself going to Scoring Notes for clarity on all sorts of things. Steinberg has a lot of videos on their YouTube channel, but if I were advising someone new on how to learn Dorico, I don’t know where I’d start in terms of their videos. I don’t know if it’s possible to make a feature like Frame Chains intuitive, but it definitely required a trip to the documentation for me.

There’s a number of other things in Engrave Mode that are particularly unfriendly or don’t work quite right. Flow headings have a mind-boggling behavior if you’re getting particularly creative with the way frames are laid out rather than following the order you’ve laid out in the frame chains. Selecting objects to make into a single system sometimes feels fragile as to what you actually have selected. Smaller things, but still important to get right in my book.

Keys to the Kingdom

Out of all the complimentary or critical things I have to say about Dorico, this might be the one that more people disagree with me on than any other: Dorico doesn’t have enough actions bound to keyboard shortcuts by default.

I’ll be clear, it has a lot of them bound! Every popover (for putting in dynamics, or a tempo, or a repeat…) has a good keybinding. Toggling important options on and off in write mode has good bindings. But if you look at the open keys on the keyboard, there’s a lot of territory that they didn’t try and bind, and a lot of important actions that don’t have a default binding.

Now I’ll be even more clear: Dorico does a perfectly fine job of letting you bind keyboard shortcuts. You can bind just about anything you want — all the things I’m most grumpy about not being bound by default are all in the regular menu for keyboard bindings. And if you follow some advice from some power users, you can even bind some macros yourself.

”So what are you actually complaining about?” you might be asking.

I love to bind my own custom shortcuts. In fact, my most popular blog post is on a set of keyboard shortcuts that I think makes Sibelius vastly better. But the lack of existing keybindings make it harder to intelligently bind my shortcuts in a way that sticks.

You see, Dorico is still evolving, much more than Sibelius or Finale at this point. Each major version release has added some great new features that require some new keyboard shortcuts that they’ve happily bound. But because there’s such a wasteland of unbound keys, I don’t trust that anything I bind myself won’t get overridden in the next major release.

You might say that part of that is silly, as they could just as easily revise their own bindings from version to version. You’d be right, but I could at least take cues from how they’ve moved things around to find new places for my own shortcuts.

I’m serious in this being an actual problem, by the way. 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.”

I’ve personally been paralyzed for the last three years in getting a great shortcut flow down for myself. I’ve made some custom bindings, but other things occur to me as needing a binding, with no obvious thing to bind them to; not enough of an existing framework to use as the basis for any major reworking of the shortcuts myself. It’s bumming me out. Once I have some better shortcuts to share, though, I’ll share them. But I’d be much happier if Steinberg took a step first in setting more up.


There’s a number of complaints that I’d originally laid out in my outline quite some time ago that are no longer relevant. I had some complaints about the lack of fonts available, but that’s gotten substantially better just in the last year. I also was going to take a (very fair) jab at how atrocious the Steinberg eLicenser is, but they’ve recently announced that they’re doing away with it, and not a moment too soon. Even if it’s there today, it’s on the way out very soon.

There were a few last things I wanted to touch on that I couldn’t fit anywhere else. The first is Insert Mode which is mostly a blessing, but carries some danger with it. When I’m doing a transcription of something, it’s very easy to jump over a measure or even a line. Then you have to cut and paste the whole bit you were just on…and not with Dorico you don’t. You can just jump back to where you diverged, hit the “insert” mode trigger, and just like in a text editor or word processor, the things ahead of it will move where they need to be.7 The only issues that pop up are for brand new people who mistake it for the button to start inputting notes at all (and I was personally quite a bit perplexed with getting note input started once upon a time).

Finally, I want to mention the videos of Tantacrul on all the notation software. He has some legitimate digs at Dorico, though thankfully the worst are getting better with the changes to the eLicenser. Properties mode can still be a bit fidgety, and I will occasionally get a bit frustrated with handling players from time to time in Setup mode.8

In spite of my complaints, I can’t recommend Dorico enough to my fellow educators. If any reasons are starting to accrue for leaving Sibelius or Finale, you should really look at jumping over. Steinberg mentioned when v3.5 shipped in 2020 that they were hoping to move to a spring release schedule…working from home during COVID is probably the culprit of v4 not being out yet, but I’m eagerly expecting it any day now.

If you have any questions about Dorico, I’d be happy to answer them, or maybe write about them — I’m @_ehler on Twitter. I plan to be posting some projects I’ve made in Dorico to give other people ideas and things to steal throughout the remainder of the summer. I recommend picking up Dorico SE for anyone who doesn’t already have a full version of Dorico (though their trial is pretty lucrative.) The Facebook group and forums are great resources out there for anyone trying to get a handle on it.

For anyone from Steinberg reading this9 who spotted a mistake I made, I will happily correct it as I previously have.

  1. In this post I believe I will levy a lot more complaints than they do; just a different tone and a different set of goals. Read their dang reviews. 
  2. At some point in this timeline, the founders, Jonathan and Ben Finn moved on from the company. I don’t have an exact idea of when certain people began at the company and when others left but we don’t need to get any more bogged down in this. 
  3. For those wondering, that complaint is the eLicenser that I touch on later. It’s worth noting that Avid’s DRM has gotten much, much worse since 2012. 
  4. I tested it pretty thoroughly too; I’d recommend anyone kicking the tires on new notation software do so by transcribing something off of IMSLP. I did a Saint-Saëns bassoon sonata. Try something with piano for sure, because playing with voices/layers is key to getting a feel for a program 
  5. And Dorico’s condensing and cue features are incredible. Scoring Notes covers this well. Are you noticing a theme? 
  6. Yes this is a practical consideration to think about. Also… 
  7. Yes, even if there are triplets. 
  8. I also wish I could get most instruments not to write out their transposition by default in the part layout name. There are ways to do this in the score, but I don’t need “(B flat)” written in the file output for every clarinet and trumpet part. 
  9. They have a commendable social media presence, including John Barron of Steinberg is actually very active on their Facebook group answering questions and Daniel Spreadbury going on the Scoring Notes podcast frequently. 

On Subscriptions (Part Two)

In my last post, I laid out a lot of subscriptions for apps that I pay for quite happily. In that article, I laid out some of the logic behind why I found those particular apps to be worth the money, and in this one, I wanted to lay out some apps I’m not subscribing to, with one in particular I want to touch on.

There are all sorts of reasons not to be willing to subscribe to an app — it’s a simple question of whether the value proposition is there. But I think it’s significant that it’s a different value proposition than whether it would be worth it to buy an app outright or not.

I consider apps that I’m thinking of buying like some people buy books or others kitchen gadgets. “Will I ever get use out of this?” I live an enchanted life in that regard — yes, I was in a dire situation in which I absolutely needed the newest version of Roxio Toast to burn DVDs once. I use all sorts of text transformation tools to make my life easier. I have silly iWork and Office templates collection apps that I will occasionally search through before being disappointed that there’s nothing quite right.

But with subscriptions, it’s a very different question. It’s really “is this functionality (or the increased functionality over the free version) going to be worth the money over the next year?” That’s a much harder yes, and while I did describe a number of my “yes”es, now I want to dig into the “no”s. Most of these are great apps, just…not great enough for me for their price. Most of these apps are also ones that I’ve actually bought prior to their transitioning to a subscription model.

Capo is the first one that comes to mind. I never had The Amazing Slow Downer or anything in that space prior to Capo, and I think it was one of the first major purchases I made on the Mac App Store after owning a Mac. It was the first app I had that could modify tempo independent of pitch or vice versa. It’s also got some neat isolation features, but at the end of the day, it’s really made for guitarists which I am not. It’s alright for identifying the chord changes of something, but that’s not a real need I have. Even independent of its subscription transition, I found that for serious use, AnyTune Pro+ was a better fit for me.[1] So while I hope the best for Capo’s team, it was very easy for me to decide not to jump onto at $20/yr.

Instapaper and Pocket are services I’ve gotten amazing use out of that I’ve never been able to justify the premium versions for. I started off on Instapaper originally during the period of time it was owned by Pinterest (well after Marco Arment sold it). At that point in time, it actually rolled in the features that had previously been on its premium tier for free, and there was no option to pay money. They’ve since gone back to that model with a transfer in ownership again. For unrelated reasons, I’ve actually moved to Pocket in the last year. There’s only one really strong reason,[2] the rest is all sort of amorphous preference, and I could easily transition back if I were so inclined.

Both offer pretty similar premium features at $45/yr on Pocket and $30/yr for Instapaper: Full text search for articles and a removal of limits to highlights and notes. Each app has a few more distinguishing features on top of that (some speed reading and text-to-speech features on Instapaper and fancy fonts on Pocket), but at those prices, those features aren’t worth it to me. I’d love to support the development of them — both show some serious age — but I can’t justify those prices for those features. Instead, if I want to mark up an article in a serious fashion or save it to search later, I’m better off putting it into DEVONThink where it can live with all sorts of other content anyway.

PDF Expert is my PDF app of choice on macOS and iOS. I bought it upfront on both platforms, and there’s actually no subscription associated with the Mac version at all. While it lacks the OCR features of an app like PDFPenPro (or DEVONThink where I’m actually doing most of my OCR these days), it’s a much smoother experience for me for just about every other kind of PDF manipulation under the sun. It kind of breaks my heart that it’s gone to a subscription model, because it’s not just not right for me, but I don’t think it’s worth $50/yr for anyone. I didn’t lose any features with its transition to a subscription model, but I did lose my go-to recommendation for a PDF app for friends and family on iOS.

There are two more apps that I hesitate to include at all, because they haven’t migrated to a subscription option — they both offer it as an alternative to buying the app outright — but I think it’s worth highlighting that I think buying them outright continues to be the best option. The first is OmniFocus, but really all of the OmniGroup’s apps. I won’t break down the full offering of their different subscription options, but I’m not sure who it makes sense for unless someone is really inclined to feel that they shouldn’t have to pay for upgrades to apps, yet they don’t mind subscriptions. I don’t think that imaginary person exists. Maybe for someone who’s using OmniPlan plus all of Omni’s other apps the math works out. I don’t know. The other is DEVONThink To Go, and the subscription is only even an option on their mobile app, and is a totally optional alternative to buying it upfront. Again, I’ve just bought each outright, but I have no objections to this model.

In a similar vein, I’ve seen lots of smaller developers who started subscription only — with prices points in the $1015/yr ranges — come out with “lifetime access” options well after the fact for about 22.5x the price of their yearly subscriptions. This is exciting to me to see, and makes me more willing to look at their premium versions in the first place if I was making do with their free versions.

But the fun is over on this post, on to the whining.

The Trouble with Sibelius

Out of the big three commercial notation applications in 2021 — Sibelius, Dorico, and Finale — Sibelius is the only one to offer a subscription option..[3] They’ve been offering a subscription version for a while now, and for a time, it was basically easiest to just ignore it if you wanted to be using a perpetual license. And today, it’s still not the only option.

The only real difference between the models for the big three programs (if you were on the perpetual license), was that Sibelius had an “upgrade plan,” rather than charging you for occasional ‘major’ version changes. You would basically buy a year of updates for a single price, and you could keep renewing that or just buy a new upgrade plan down the road when you were ready/incentivized by the features. It was frankly, very user friendly.

But in 2019, they made a change to the upgrading of perpetual licenses. If your upgrade license ever lapsed, you couldn’t get a new one without buying a brand new, full-price perpetual license. This is incredibly user-hostile.

By the time Sibelius made this change, I was using Dorico and my Sibelius upgrades had lapsed and I didn’t hop on, so I would have to buy it at the full education price of $300 again. The only benefit I can possibly get for previously buying a license of Sibelius compared to someone who has never given Avid money before, is if I’m willing to shift to a subscription at a discounted rate, and that subscription discount returns to the normal rate after a period of time.

In fairness to Avid, I understand why they did this. Before, I’m sure many users were letting go of their upgrade plans waiting for a feature that was lucrative enough to bring them current, meaning that Avid was getting very little money from most of their user base. But this is too far in the other direction.

I don’t actually use Finale for anything these days, but because I used to and because we live in a connected age, I regularly keep an eye out for deals on Finale upgrades and have given MakeMusic more money after ceasing to be a real Finale user. This is what I planned for Sibelius as well, but that’s off the table now. I’m not willing to pay full price all over again for the updates since it lapsed for me, and because of that, there’s no chance I ever become a Sibelius user again unless Dorico completely drops the ball (and I don’t see that happening — they’re the best team in this business right now).

I do want to contextualize my complaints, as being an educator and a notation software hobbyist.[4] For professional composers and engravers, it was probably much easier to never let it lapse, and the importance of Sibelius to their workflows (and the disruption that it would cause to change software) means that it’s worth it to suffer Avid’s abuse and user-hostile behavior. And I know that sounds overdramatic, but I think it’s also accurate — Sibelius is still the most popular software in the industry by my estimation, and they can get away with this solely because it’s so important to people’s work. Some people are getting by with their work on old versions, but as someone who doesn’t have a career-level dependence on Sibelius, I’m completely done with Avid.

As I mentioned, I’m using Dorico now, and I’ll be sharing soon on here just why I think it’s the best option for educators right now.

  1. Credit to Robby Burns for recommending AnyTune.  ↩
  2. I’m quite colorblind, and I also happen to prefer dark mode on just about every app. In Instapaper, the dark modes make it incredibly difficult for me to to tell links from their surrounding text.  ↩
  3. It’s actually a bit confusing keeping track of their current product offerings, but Scoring Notes has done a pretty good job of breaking it down. In addition to that podcast episode, they’ve got a number of good articles explaining it.  ↩
  4. I think they used to have a label in the DSM for “notation software hobbyists.”  ↩

Using Sibelius on a Laptop

In my opinion, Sibelius has some decent and intuitive keyboard shortcuts on a full keyboard, with its heavy emphasis around the numpad.  However, I find it to be essentially unusable on a Macbook Pro which lacks the numpad.  It has a “notebook” shortcut set, but I find that to be just as unusable, and far from intuitive.

I find it important to be able to enter into Sibelius very quickly.  I don’t use a MIDI keyboard input, and in all apps I try to minimize my use of the mouse.  As such, I’ve customized my keyboard shortcuts in Sibelius and I think they’re worth sharing.  Not just do I think they make Sibelius truly usable on my Macbook Pro, but I think they’re good enough that they could be faster for desktop users than moving their hands back and forth between the numpad.

You can download my shortcuts here.  To install them, you simply need to add them to your keyboard shortcut directory.  On OSX, this is located at:

~/Library/Application Support/Avid/Sibelius/Keyboard Shortcuts

You can open Finder, press ⇧⌘G, and paste the above path into Finder to load the folder open.  Here’s a video describing the process:

It’s worth noting that I don’t know if this shortcut file is usable on Windows because of the difference in modifier keys.  If someone would like to take my shortcuts and make an approximation for Windows, I’d be happy to link to it in this post.

I made this before I thought it would be worth sharing, as such, I didn’t document every change from the default. Feel free to share in the comments anything that’s different that I don’t mention. Maybe there’s a way to compare my shortcut file with the default with a script.

The biggest change is how I rebound the numpad.  As in Avid’s keyboard shortcuts, 1–9 on the numpad are mapped to 1–9 on the top row of the keyboard.  The top row (on Apple’s default keyboard, the characters =,/, and *, which cover the accent, staccato, and tenuto on the first page of the keypad) are bound to ⇧-, ⇧=, and ⇧⌫ on the number row.  The numpad “enter” is rebound to \ (which does ties on the first page of the keypad) between return and delete on the regular keyboard.  The forward and backward keypad buttons (+ and – on Apple’s numpad) are rebound to = and – without shift on the number row.  This lets you use the entire keypad without moving your fingers from the home row.

Other, less significant differences that I’m aware of:

  • ⌥⇧+2–9 are add below
  • ⇧, is advance caret (from when I was trying Dorico)
  • ⇧. activates the “Dot Undot Rhythms” plug-in (also inspired by my Dorico trial)
  • ⇧0 is bar rest
  • ⌥M triggers marcato accents.
  • Accidental parentheses is ⌥P (this is just a shortcut to the “bracket accidental” action on the accidentals keypad, and is subject to the same finicky behavior there)
  • Some rebinding done in the “Moving” options
  • I had ⌘P as export>pdf actually because I almost never physically printed directly from a dialog during my undergrad. It’s not the case in this file, but it might be useful for others.

There are some shortcuts that are worth noting that I’m unsure if I changed:

  • ⌥F is fermata
  • ⌥O is Optimize Staff Spacing
  • I might have moved other things around under Layout shortcuts
  • ⇧N is stop playback
  • ⌥⇧H toggles the selected “invisibles” in the View pane from showing or note showing.

The following bindings are open and might be useful if there’s something you really want bound that I don’t have bound: ⌥+0, ⌥+1, ⌘+1, ⌘+0

It’s worth noting I don’t have the following actions keybound:

  • Beaming – none of the actions on the third keypad are bound, I just change over to it
  • Breath marks – Individual symbols can’t be bound in Sibelius, but I think I’m going to use the Scoring Notes’ breath line workaround down the road.  Lines can be keybound and I think custom lines can be as well.
  • Barlines – I don’t see a way to bind a shortcut to just open the barlines pane (like you can the time signatures, etc.), and no single barline type is worth binding to me, but it might be to you.


  • When you’re entering in text, you can normally use a number of shortcuts to put in symbols (like ⌘4 for a quarter note in the text).  I believe these shortcuts only work with the numpad numbers, and I can’t find a way around this.  Would love to hear otherwise in the comments.  See below
  • I don’t know that it’s possible to do tab notation with the default keyboard shortcuts without a numpad.  My shortcuts don’t fix this and I don’t know that there’s a way to do that.

I do all of my work in Sibelius without using my MIDI keyboard.  The three main advantages of using one to me are:

  • Pre-selecting your octave instead of changing it after inputting the note (and thus hearing only the note you intend)
  • Putting in chords all at once
  • Velocity for playback

I am not so bothered by the first or third points for it to be a consideration, and I work primarily on wind parts, and the second part is fairly moot unless you’re editing primarily for piano parts.  To me, the speed of doing everything so fluidly without moving your hands from the computer keyboard makes this set-up more viable than using a MIDI keyboard.

Here’s a video demonstrating these keyboard shortcuts in action.  This video is primarily aimed at just demonstrating workflows in Sibelius for students to get a better handle on the software, but hopefully it demonstrates the speed at which you can work in Sibelius with these shortcuts.


Edit 1/26/18:
I’ve discovered that you can customize the shortcuts for inserting special text.  I have miraculously ignored the Word Menu options under Preferences since I bought Sibelius.  It’s worth noting that there is nothing visually distinguishing about the way it’s bound by default and the way it needs to be bound for use on the number row (both say, for example, on a quarter note ⌘4).  You also need to change them in each category, the most important for note values being “Tempo Words.”

I have modified this on the upload of my keyboard shortcuts I have posted, however I do not know if this is stored in that file.  You may need to fix this yourself.  Please let me know one way or the other whether this is remedied by my shortcuts file if you try it.  If it’s not working, try setting this file in:

~/Library/Application Support/Avid/Sibelius/Word Menus