Missing Posts

For some reason posts have gone missing lately. This is a test to see if I can get a post to stick, or even save.

OK, so far it is working. Now let’s see if it stays.

This is my THIRD try at explaining why Dorico might give you a “The video format is not supported.” error message, even though you are opening an MP4 and you can see John Barron open one in his May 2018 episode of Discover Dorico.

While most people might think that MP4 is a video format, it is actually a “wrapper” that can contain several different formats of audio and video. It was originally based on Apple’s QuickTime so for a while all were essentially the same format, but over time more variations were allowed, so that it is no easy task to support all versions of MP4. Video editors know these versions, or they rely on something like this Wikipedia page.

If you don’t want to get to that level of detail I’d suggest registering at the Steinberg Dorico forum to find people in your particular situation to see if “it’s your video OR the program.” For example, you might have a video camera that saves an odd form of MP4, so it would be nice to find someone who has the same model and may have the same issue (or not) or even a solution.

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Slash Notation in Dorico Pro 2

I am glad to see that so many of my friends from Just Jazz Guitar have taken the time to email me about this blog. I welcome all of your email, even (sometimes especially) the critical ones.

Many of you are waiting for tablature to be implemented in Dorico, and so far it is not in Dorico Pro 2. The “Clefs” menu includes “TAB6” and “TAB4” but at this time they just create the standard “TAB” as the clef but do not adjust the lines to become “strings”; if you create a guitar player you get the five line staff and notes, not numbers.

However, one new feature that you have asked for has shown up: Slash Notation. This allows the composer or arranger to specify the chord and rhythm to be used, but the voicing is left up to the player. John Barron discusses Slash Notation in the May 2018 edition of Discover Dorico on YouTube, so I thought I would show you how I used it to re-create a very interesting timing issue in a classic song, Jimi Hendrix‘s version of All Along the Watchtower. If you have tried to play this with a band, or even paid close attention to the timing, something sounds wrong when you use most standard sheet music.

The secret is that Jimi used anticipation chords on the eighth-note before the downbeat of each bar, and then accented the first three chords of the following bar. This gives the proper accent to the downbeat, which does NOT coincide with the chord change. A good place to see this (as well as the solos in the song) is in Hal Leonard’s “Signature Licks” series Jimi Hendrix: Volume 2 by Chad Johnson. Chad does outstanding transcriptions, so I thought it would be worthwhile to try to reproduce the first 4 bars of the song:

Here I created a “slash voice” from the Write menu in Write Mode. There are a couple of interesting things here. First, the slash notation displays on the middle line. Although it is displaying slashes, I am actually typing notes but getting just the slash noteheads, which I want. However, some stems go down and others go up. This might have been OK, but I have chosen to notate the guitar that plays the rhythm pattern at first, then plays the lead (the three notes at the end are the start of it). This is a great feature: you can combine slash notation and regular notation in a single voice, or so it seems when entering it. But you can see in that final bar that rests fill in the bar for the notes, while under them rests fill out the slash notation.

 

My first decision was to force all stems up. I did this from the Edit menus in Write Mode.

Next I selected all slashes and moved them up to the top of the staff. I had to choose each slash individually. There may be an easier way to select them but Select All is not it. Choosing the rests kept it from working for some reason I do not understand, but it looks OK so far.

Finally, I added the chord names. Usually you would do this earlier but since the whole idea was using slashes, I figured I’d make sure they worked OK first. I also added the accents on the first three notes of each bar. The documentation says that the accents are attached to the noteheads but you can see that in the last bar they are on top of the stems, probably because the note voice is considered the lower one (at least now that I have moved the slashes up;  it was the higher voice earlier). If you do compare this to the Hal Leonard book, you will see that the slashes in Dorico are not at such a steep angle, so that while both of them place the chord name over the notehead of the slash, they tend to cover the whole thing in the book, while Dorico puts them directly over the notehead (e.g. the B chords above).

Of course there is more tidying up you can do, like hiding some of the rests in the last bar. And I must admit that this is a bit of a “cheat” since in the HL book the slashes float above the staff and are clearly separate. In Dorico I had to move them to the G above the staff; any higher and I started getting ledger lines, which I did not want. Still, this is a constructed example, since most slash parts are just slashes, and Dorico does those very  easily. The notes are a different story. There are no guitar notations to show the slide into the first note, nor the bend to the third note.

Of course the guitar is not the only instrument that plays from slash notation, but it is a very handy feature for guitarists. Given the level of interest in guitar-related features, I thought this was a good place to start looking at Dorico Pro 2.

 

Some Special Dorico Demos

Thank you for all of the email about Dorico 2! It’s an all-time high for this blog.

A number of you asked for some specific examples of different things. I thought that John Barron did an excellent job of explaining slash notation but since I had so many questions about it I thought I’d do a few examples of tricky chord phrasings that you can do just using chord names and slashes. I have a couple in mind, one of which is a “Golden Oldie” — one of the most Golden of all — that is almost always played incorrectly, and can BEST be transcribed into slash notation.

Feel free to send in more suggestions for future demos. I have three terrific ones so far, so keep them coming. I’d prefer specific features that neither John nor Daniel have demoed, but they don’t have to be string-related (one upcoming post will feature the oboe).

Dorico Pro 2 and Dorico Elements 2 Released TODAY!

Steinberg continues to amaze with THE notation program of the future by releasing TWO versions of version 2 (yes, you read that correctly). Dorico Pro 2 is the next level of the Dorico that we know and love already, while Dorico Elements 2 is a new version of Dorico aimed at students and those with less stringent needs in notation (e.g. it is limited to 12 players, NB not 12 instruments as each player can play more than one instrument).

This is yet more vindication for those few of us who foresaw the HUGE leap in music notation technology that Dorico represented way back before the first version was released. Every new feature has the fine-grained control and options that we have come to expect from Dorico, and which only Dorico provides.

What are these new features? By now you should know that Daniel Spreadbury has detailed information on his blog Making Notes which I suggest you start with. Since you should have the most information and since I don’t have the services of half a dozen gifted tech writers, I suggest that you read the excellent review page of Scoring Notes, Philip Rothman’s invaluable blog on the world of computer music notation. Finally, today’s (May 30) installment of Discover Dorico by John Barron demonstrates many of the new features and answers the questions of those who watched it live.

There’s a lot of information out and it might seem overwhelming. Right now I want to get this news to you, but I have some advice on reading it. Remember that you will forget much of what you read, so I suggest that you first decide on your focus. If you have Dorico already, then you want to see if the new features are worth the $99 upgrade fee (easy decision – they are). If you are considering buying Dorico, then ask yourself if you need the full version; in this case you can compare Pro and Elements and decide, so you will want to read Elements very closely. (A trial version will be available in a couple of weeks.) So if you use a full orchestra, 12 players may not be enough for you. If you write for strings alone then Elements may be what you need, unless you need features like micro-tonal playback for large orchestra, say. Daniel Spreadbury’s blog gives a long list of new features that are available in both, so you definitely want to read his blog.

Enough from me for now. Read the official news.

Slate Digital continues innovation: with tech support

I have been a fan of Steven Slate‘s several companies ever since Mixerman dubbed their digital plug-ins the only ones that sounded as good as their analog originals. From such a hardcore analog enthusiast, this was a huge endorsement. And an accurate one, as usual. Steven Slate and his colleagues have revolutionized recording, from pro studios to home hobbyists. He has made the dream of working with ultra-expensive, classic gear affordable and sonically better than perfect as he often adds features that give many great pieces of classic gear some help from newer technology while retaining their vintage sound.

Slate digital

That and Slate’s continuing innovations alone would have made his name revered among recordists, mixers, producers, and musicians world-wide, but he proceeded to overhaul the way plug-ins are sold by leasing the entire set of Slate Digital effects in the suitably named EVERYTHING Bundle at a price that virtually anyone can afford. And unlike some plug-ins that leave you with buyer’s remorse when you realize that you haven’t used them in months or years (often because the upgrades were just too expensive), you pay Slate Digital only for the months that you are actually using the plug-ins; those fallow months when you are either writing or just taking a break from recording, you don’t pay a cent. And when you return to recording, you will find that all of those plug-ins that have been upgraded are ready for your use.

So what’s new? Well literally, the Virtual Mix Rack has just had a major upgrade, which Slate users (or those subscribed to Steven’s blog, now a vlog) already know. It may shock you to learn that I am not an EVERYTHING Bundle user, only because I have licenses for several individual products, but still I qualify for the upgrade, and there the new story begins. It didn’t work.

VMR 2

This is a surprise, but I admit that I am a special case and the problems arose from the upgrade including ALL of the plug-ins available to EVERYTHING Bundle users, so I just had to delete files for products I do not own. It was a simple fix, made even simpler by an excellent video showing exactly how to carry it out. I then ran into a second problem where my iLok dongle was unrecognized, and here I learned the true depth of the innovation in tech support. I received a quick reply that directed me to another video (with text and graphics for those who prefer that format) that addressed the problem (and that I used to fix it in under a minute), but the reply also included several other ways that I might have caused the error. Paying closer attention this time, I looked over the page and found an entire list of possible problems, including problems that a user might cause themselves by making a mistake during the fix or other problems that a user could run into. So beyond just having instruction on fixing problems, they have figured out issues and problems that users might run into and have pro-actively created support solutions for these! This sets an even higher bar for tech support by plug-in makers.

These DIY videos for fixing problems are great for people who can’t afford to be offline waiting for someone to possibly get back to them. This focus on video education (which it really is) may have come from Steven Slate’s vlog, where he has set aside marketing hype in favour of demonstrating how to use several of the plug-ins to fix specific problems that we all are likely to face. A “great problem to have” is still a problem, and having so many plug-ins, it can be daunting to choose among them in live situations. Steven’s demonstrations show his own working methods as he chooses effects and tweaks them, commenting on what he is doing and why. As he says, fire up your copy and work along with him to get the feel for doing it, then vary it to suit your own taste.

I’ve written more about the technology a lot already (here and also earlier in Just Jazz Guitar), so to return to today’s focus: hats off to Slate Digital’s tech support team for not only solving my problem, but telling me which pitfalls I’m liable to encounter with fixes for them when I ignore the warnings. As usual, a very welcome improvement in an often over-looked part of any business.

Looper Pedal Songbook from Hal Leonard

Chad Johnson‘s name on a book pretty much assures you of quality. His transcriptions are exact and his performance suggestions are mini master classes. His latest book for Hal Leonard — Looper Pedal Songbook — is a new concept in guitar books where you play multiple parts, forming your own band with just your guitar and looper pedal.

I’ve long been a fan of looper pedals as both a player and a teacher. They are great for practice, for writing songs, or just experimenting. Chad Johnson has put together arrangements of 50 songs that have you recording the backing tracks with your pedal. These tracks are all for guitar, but several have you mimicking the sound of bass, drums, and even percussion. For maximum effect you will need other pedals or a multi-pedal to drop the guitar an octave for bass lines, or a delay, chorus, distortion, etc. to get the exact sound of the original song, but with 50 songs to choose from there are lots that don’t require more than the guitar and looper pedal. Some specify acoustic guitar but of course you can substitute a clean electric if you don’t have an acoustic.

The songs themselves cover a wide range in both time (50’s to 2010’s) and genre, from Muddy Waters, America, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Green Day, Lou Reed, Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Red Hot Chili Peppers, CCR, Santana, Aretha Franklin, Sam Smith, and many more. The arrangements are all fairly easy, so you can concentrate on getting the loops right quickly and then just play and sing along with them. The instructions at the beginning explain all of the techniques needed, like starting and ending a loop, adding an overdub, using other pedals, and playing along with the final product. If you are familiar with your own pedal’s abilities then you may come up with more ideas on your own.

This is a great idea that is realized perfectly in the book. Not only will you learn some new songs, you will get a new appreciation for an excellent pedal that may be gathering dust on your shelf. You will also get some insight into how an arrangement is made, which can help you create parts for your own songs.

The book is written for the most basic looper pedal so that it should work with any on the market. I personally use the Boss Loop Station which is a very popular choice. If you have one and can’t quite make it work, or if you don’t have a looper pedal and are interested in how they work, here is a video by Marty of Marty Music on how to use the Boss Loop Station RC-3.

I recommend this book for its songs and arrangements, and also for helping to make practice time fun again for lots of players.

Stephen Hawking Has Died

There is more to life than music, and for me science is a big part of it. Stephen Hawking‘s death at 76 is a massive loss for the world in general, and for cosmology and physics in particular. He revolutionized our view of the universe, and yet his appearance on The Simpsons was only one example of his notorious sense of humour. Pretty amazing for a guy who was given 2 years to live at the age of 21!

I had an early interest in the Theory of Relativity, and found Einstein’s book a wonderful explanation of it. After that I increased my understanding of it and also taught myself Quantum Mechanics with the help of Stephen Hawking’s writing (as well as that of John Gribbin and Roger Penrose). After all, the point of a Ph.D. is to get you to the point where you can learn on your own without a teacher or supervisor looking over your shoulder.  You have probably heard of (and may own) Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, which admittedly is not an easy read, but if you find it too tough and yet remain interested I recommend his A Briefer History of Time, which gives the basic ideas in more detail plus updates the cosmology and includes string theory.

The cartoon above is actually the start of a short feature on Hawking’s major discoveries (here with Roger Penrose). You can watch the video and read about Stephen Hawking’s incredible life on that page as well by clicking here.

Dorico, Sibelius and the “Horrible Compromise”

Oh poor me. I am writing a string quartet and having the Vienna Symphonic Library‘s Solo Strings I + II is the next best thing to having a real string quartet on call 24/7. BUT how do I notate it? Dorico gives me unprecedented options for all sorts of notation but it does not have the capability to play all of the wonderful nuances of the VSL strings. Sibelius is much more limited in its notation but has a great interface that allows virtually all of the VSL solo strings to shine in all of their glory (the interface is the work of VSL).

It’s enough to make me want to switch to guitar music with tab and then I’d have to go with Sibelius. Easy choice. Or a full orchestral piece with lots of movements and very complex notation. Dorico wins that one hands down.  But now I’m somewhere in-between.

At least I know what I’m comparing now. Because of my dislike for the upgrading procedure from 7.x to 8.x of Sibelius, I’m sticking with 7.5. Also, with Steinberg’s announcement that the last free update was the final free update, whatever I may have been hoping for will be a paid upgrade if it does materialize. This means that guitarists are not the only disappointed ones; the playback has serious limitations, right down to the level of not playing repeat signs.

So my solution for this project is Sibelius 7.5 simply for playback. I don’t claim to have a golden “inner ear” to hear the complex interactions of four complex parts at once, and finding a quartet to play the piece even once will be challenging enough for a number of reasons.

I still think that Dorico is a brilliant piece of software with unrivalled notational options, but its playback capabilities don’t match the rest of the program. I would love to be able to keep all of the movements, and even the sketches in one single file, but that can’t happen. I imagine that the first paid upgrade to Dorico will be mind-blowing, given the huge advances in the free updates but for now I’m back to Sibelius 7.5, at least for one project.

 

Ultimate Guitar Acquires MuseScore – Win/Win/Win

It must be great to have a product that dominates its field, but how to you keep progressing when your flagship product is FREE? MuseScore2 is most likely the most popular notation software in the world, and for good reason: it is of higher quality than almost every competitor, even the commercial ones (except, of course, the highest level professional publishing ones). If you have taken even a quick glance at this blog you know that I have Dorico and Sibelius 7.5, but I still use MuseScore2 for particular projects for which it is better suited.

The huge user community can’t wait for MuseScore3 to appear, but even the brilliance of the original MuseScore team is stretched to the limit as they work on this labour of love while keeping the wolf from the door with their web site for music producers as well as MuseScore Pro. But with the amazing response from all over the world, some change was needed to keep the company flourishing. Thomas Bonte, one of the founders, explained why their joining with Ultimate Guitar was the best choice here. (Actually the note is signed by all three founders: Werner, Nicolas, and Thomas.) If you have ever searched for a guitar or bass tab, you have met Ultimate Guitar. Not only are they a similar powerhouse in the field of sharing tablature (with over 100 million guitarists reported to use the site), more importantly they have a strong business model that will help MuseScore3 arrive quicker and with the company in even better shape. Already they have negotiated several worldwide licensing arrangements for MuseScore thanks to their own relationships with music publishers. This means that MuseScore can host scores of some of the most popular music today in superb quality. And more is coming.

MuseScore fans are reassured that things will only get better from here on. Here is a post by Eugeny Naidenov, founder and owner of Ultimate Guitar on the plans for MuseScore going forward.

Note that MUSESCORE WILL REMAIN OPEN SOURCE AND FREE!

So MuseScore is on a firm company footing, Ultimate Guitar has another gem with which to share music for ALL musicians, and users can look forward to more music in more formats, while resting assured that MuseScore will remain free. That sounds like Win/Win/Win to me.

Dorico Releases 1.2.10 Update

Today Dorico announced the release of version 1.2.10, a relatively minor update except for the continuing expansion of percussion capabilities and some other goodies. Of course, for Dorico even a “minor” update contains all sorts of improvements. A great review of the complete percussion suite plus the new features is available at Scoring Notes and is well worth reading. And as usual, Daniel Spreadbury gives a detailed look at the new features on his blog here. Basically, any style of notating percussion can be used or accommodated, a tour de force of music-based programming.

Existing Dorico users can download the update here. The same page has documentation.

Here’s a sample of their drum kit editor. You can move each drum to the line or space you prefer:

A few more examples of the vast array of options in notating percussion. These features are demonstrated by John Barron on Discovering Dorico, his monthly vlog on YouTube. Of particular interest is the number of instruments that you can assign to a single player, and how Dorico can handle different notational styles within the same part. You can see this demonstrated in February’s edition of Discover Dorico here.

Possibly the most interesting note on Daniel Spreadbury’s blog comes at the very end, where he notes that this is the last planned free update, so users will have to pay for the next one. So I will say one last time: if you have not yet bought Dorico, you can download the trial version and see exactly what you will be buying if you purchase it now. Download the full free 30-day trial version here.

I regret to say that there is still no support for guitar tablature or chord diagrams. I know how disappointing that is for many of us, and it looks like we will have to pay for it when it does eventually get added to Dorico. This has certainly come as a surprise to me, and please don’t ask me to explain why (as several of you have) because I don’t know. I can guess that it is difficult to implement without infringing on the copyright of the team’s own previous work in Sibelius, but that is pure speculation. For now, I am doing my guitar and bass projects in Sibelius (7.1.3 as much as I can, 7.5 when I must).

As sad as that is for guitarists, it is the one flaw in what is truly one of the most remarkable pieces of software I have ever had the pleasure of working with. If you work with any ensemble (even one that includes a guitar part that can be expressed as chord names) you really owe it to yourself to check out this amazing program. I still can’t get over being able to keep an entire multi-movement work in a single file, and show composers must be in heaven. And that just one of hundreds of features that makes Dorico the finest notation program yet devised.

My apologies for my long silence, but health issues just keep popping up. I have been saving up some good stuff for the next week or so, including the purchase of MuseScore, some cool new Play-Alongs from Hal Leonard, and a new kind of book layout that lets you be the whole band through some clever arrangement and a looper pedal.