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. 

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