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.



Dorico 1.2 Update Released

Today, December 5, Steinberg has released the latest FREE update to Dorico. The 1.2 update has many new features that users have been requesting for a long time, so there is a lot of excitement about this release.

The NEW DORICO BLOG is at the same address but with a facelift. Daniel Spreadbury’s complete presentation of the new features, along with demonstration videos, is available from (aka “the new blog”).

You can download the free update (if you’ve bought Dorico) from the download page. (Yes, the announcement preceded the actual link’s appearance for some of us, but it’s there now.)

If you don’t have Dorico yet, you can still work with the 30-day free trial to see for yourself what all the excitement is about. With this new update added, you have access to the best Dorico yet.

Adventures with Dorico 1.1 – The Intro

Dorico 1.1 is a huge upgrade to a fantastic program, and the changes are so vast that a single review just cannot do them justice. As if to underscore that, the email I’ve been getting has not been “Should I buy it?” but “Does it do X?” or “How well does it do Y” or even more questions about the alphabet. (OK, I’m kidding, but you see what I mean, I hope. People want to know about specifics.)

So before I start with my “adventures” using this software, I will say that YES you do want to buy it if you use or are considering a professional notation package such as Sibelius or Finale. NO, it still does not do guitar TAB so if you want that I would suggest MuseScore. It is an amazing FREE program that outdoes several paid ones.

Dr. Dave Dives In

Early in my computing career I worked for a major corporation that employed a rather strange person who seemed to do nothing most days, but when a project was ready for testing, to the distress of the project manager and entire team, she was able to break it in under 5 minutes. Virtually every time, and no matter how simple or complex the system was! She had little computer training, and as such was at the same level as the product’s customers. She had what the company began to call “tester’s mind” — an almost psychic ability to find the one flaw in a program. I tell you this seeming digression because I’m afraid I may be developing “tester’s mind”!

As my first test of Dorico 1.1 I decided to arrange a simple folk tune for various ensembles in differing styles.Unfortunately I was unable to find just the melody in MIDI, but found an acceptable version of it in an arrangement that was public domain. When I imported the MIDI file it came in as a 4-part song on a single violin in one clef. No problem, I thought, I’ll just use the “explode” feature that most of the same team had written for Sibelius years ago.

But there is no “explode feature.”

Yes, I had to select each line separately, and copy them into different instruments. OK, not much drama in that, as it’s a simple thing to do to select the whole piece, then just the top notes of the chords, cut and paste into new instrument, repeat until done. But it gave me a new appreciation for the task Daniel Spreadbury and his team have set for themselves. Not only do they have to compete with the other professional notation programs, they have to compete (in many cases) with their own work, which was brilliant in the first place! Certainly they can’t just copy what they did before because of copyright. So they would have to create a different way to do something that has one obvious solution. In this case they did just what I would do: they left it with a “good enough” solution and moved on to more innovative and important features. (I’m sure they will come back to this when the time is right.)

Exploring New Features – Chord Symbols

By now the excitement of having chord symbols has overshadowed the gloom when Steinberg seemed to be saying that they would not be in Dorico 1.1, so let’s not forget that they delivered more than they promised. Had that happen with much else lately?

I could go on about the range of chord symbols covering virtually every way of notating them in our notation, but I couldn’t do as fine a job as the folks over at, Philip Rothman’s fantastic blog that used to go under the name Sibelius Blog and was started by Daniel Spreadbury himself when he was the key member of the Sibelius programming team. Philip did a great job of covering other notation software as well as Sibelius (including Dorico) and so he changed the name to Scoring Notes ( this past April. Their look at chord symbols is here.

To get an idea of the options for chord symbols, scroll through this massive list of them from that same article (you may need to click on the “magnifying glass to see it clearly). This brings me to my next point. The choices may seem overwhelming, but remember that you only need to use the style that you prefer, and that covers virtually any style. But it can also be an educational or reference opportunity as well. If you are used to standard pop charts and for some gig you are required to read jazz symbols, you can use the different options on the menu to translate from one to the other, either to rewrite the chart or to learn a new set of symbols.

And of course this doesn’t just apply to chord symbols. Dorico is constantly surprising me with the number of ways there are to notate slurs, ties, note heads, stems, you name it.

Next time I’ll get into notating this “exploded” folk tune, but why wait for me? Download the 30-day free trial from here and try Dorico out for yourself.

Steinberg Releases Dorico 1.1

Today Steinberg has released Dorico 1.1, a major update to their acclaimed notation program. You can get all of the details from their press release here. There is also very interesting information on Daniel Spreadbury’s Making Notes blog that goes into detail on why they under-promise, so that if they can add a certain feature by release time (fully tested) they will, but they will not promise a feature if they are not sure it is ready yet. So those of you who were disappointed when it came out that chord symbols would not be included will be delighted to discover that not only are they included, but they are far more comprehensive than anything else currently available!

I will do a fuller post ASAP, but I really suggest that you go to Daniel Spreadbury’s Making Notes blog and watch the videos to get a true idea of what makes Dorico the notation package of choice for most composers, orchestrators and arrangers. If there is some way to notate virtually anything (e.g. piano pedalling) or to make workflow suit you personally (e.g. moving groups of items around together logically), Dorico has that option.

I have taken some serious flak for my unstinting support of Dorico even before it was released, and I feel that this update justifies every bit of my seemingly crazy enthusiasm. My one regret is that guitar diagrams are TAB is not ready yet, but watch the videos and I think you will have some idea of the level of detail they will have when they do arrive. Dorico marks a whole new paradigm in notation software programming (which is “under the hood” and you won’t see) as well as in features and options, which you will see immediately.

Now please excuse me as I work through this amazing software. I’ll share my experience soon.



MuseScore 2.1 a MAJOR Update

What’s better than FREE? High-quality notation software that is as good as (and in some cases better than) paid software, but still free! Welcome to MuseScore 2.1.

The MuseScore team has demonstrated their integrity with their great programming, but they have reached new heights with their announcement of MuseScore 2.1, the first major update since 2015’s version 2.0. After working for a long time on version 3.0, the enormity of the project and issues of backward-compatibility kept pushing a release date farther back than they liked, so they came up with a great idea: cherry pick the best features of 3.0 so far, make over 300 bug fixes,  spiff up the user interface and simply call it MuseScore 2.1.

That little “.1” is deceptively simple; this is an enormous “update.” There are far too many great improvements to copy here, so I’d suggest you head over to the MuseScore web site and check out the video that gives a short but inspiring look at a few of the new features, followed by a text list of many of the best new features. Don’t skip the video, because with the new support for all SFZ libraries, you really do have to hear it to believe it. You can also mix different SFZ’s to get just the instruments that you want.

You can upload your pieces to the MuseScore site, for private or public viewing. This version will also upload an MP3 of your score so that it plays back with the instruments that you chose, and now others can hear it just as it sounds on your computer. You can even keep a change log if you upload different versions of a piece.

Some of the innovative ideas go far beyond what you might expect for FREE software, such as the “swap” function that allows you to swap two sections of music by cutting the first, swapping it into the place you want it to go, while the function takes the music to be swapped out of there and onto the clipboard so that you can simply paste it into its new spot. A great time (and sanity) saver!

Of course the one feature that the MuseScore team has been working on for years is importing a PDF file as flawlessly as possible, and now with the enhanced playback options the project with the IMSLP to make thousands of classical scores available and playable is closer than ever to reality in a version that will please most classical music enthusiasts. This is a project with ambitions, and so far they have outdone themselves. Bravo!

Remember that YOU can help too. Gaze over their development page to see the myriad ways that you can help, from editing words to writing code, to testing, and yes of course to donating. Just think — you can be a part of computing history and help musicians all over the world! Even just playing around with it and finding obscure bugs is a big help.

If you don’t have MuseScore 2.1 yet, try it out TODAY. If you do have an older version, update right NOW. You will be glad you did.


Dorico Releases Update 1.0.30

The latest update to Dorico, version 1.0.30, is now available from their download site.

As I noted earlier (based on Daniel Spreadbury’s comments) this version is more about fixing bugs (about 80 of them) as well as improving performance, with a few improvements in playback, rests, and some more.

I’ll be checking it out later today and will post some comments. I’m not sure how many new users this will attract, but any current Dorico user will want to download it ASAP.

Hints on Dorico’s Next Update

First, thank you to everyone who sent good wishes to me for the surgery. It was a bit more serious than I expected but I’m pretty much back to normal now.

Daniel Spreadbury has given us some hints as to what to expect in the next update to Dorico, which will be 1.0.30. He has resumed his Making Notes column on the Steinberg blog, and you can get the full story there. This update looks to be aimed most at improving performance and fixing bugs, as well as improving work with rests and other “small features.”

The blog entry continues onto what is under development for updates farther down the road. There is detailed information on piano pedalling, enharmonic spelling for MIDI keyboard input, and finally chord diagrams. The Dorico team is aiming to provide all of the major styles of chord diagrams, but unfortunately they cannot add guitar box diagrams until later.

I strongly suggest that everyone read Making Notes to see the level of detail that is put into every feature. While it is not fully ready for guitar music quite yet, when those features are added we can be confident that they will fulfill the fondest dreams of all string players.

Dorico 30-day FREE Trial Released

True to their word, Steinberg has released a FREE 30-day trial package of Dorico that you can download from here.

For any orchestral composer, this program is a must to try. The number of options for virtually musical object can seem daunting at first, but gives you incredible power to express your music in the exact form that you want.

There are some things missing that will frustrate guitar players and composers: there is no tablature, nor chord symbols. I am assured that these will come in time, but they are non-trivial items to add to so complex a program.

You may find that the learning curve is somewhat steep due to the evolving state of the documentation. If you are new to Dorico, watch the short instructional videos that will give you an overview of the program and its five modes. Try working along with them to speed up your learning. You should check out the Dorico Help page when you get stuck. Finally, the Dorico user forum is extremely helpful with several of the Dorico team members very active in answering questions and resolving problems. I suggest that you join right away.

Have fun, and remember that learning any new software takes time, so go easy on yourself.

Dorico Saves You Time and Work

If you are interested in music notation subscribe to the Dorico Newsletter here.


My last post on Dorico praised it as a new paradigm in software programming, so today I’ll tell you a true story of how it could have saved me and my graphic designer hours of frustrating work on what should have been a trivial detail.

I composed a piano sonata which was accepted by internationally-acclaimed piano virtuoso Valerie Tryon. For various reasons which you already know if you use Sibelius (as I did) or Finale to notate a multi-movement work, I created each movement as a separate file. I enlisted the help of a graphic designer to make a presentation copy of the piece for Ms. Tryon, to whom the work is dedicated, but turning the separate files into a single work with proper page-numbering turned into a nightmare. The new complete file had to be printed double-sided, and each movement had to be continuously numbered from the previous ones, with the page number suppressed on the first page of each movement, which began at the top of a page (it actually worked out that way). This sounds so much easier than it actually was due to bugs in both Sibelius and Preview on the Mac, as well as my own lack of diligence.

I had not been careful enough to ensure that every detail of formatting was the same in each movement’s file, so I had to correct each file before joining them. Renumbering stretched (and possibly broke) the limit of sanity for me. It took several attempts before I got the numbering correct in Sibelius, but when I saved it as a PDF, Preview renumbered the score itself, creating numbers on pages that were not meant to have numbers, and even giving incorrect numbers in the later movements. We spent far too much time on this before the designer finally imported the PDF score into a design program, erased the numbers, and entered them manually. Only then did we have a finished score that could be printed on fine paper and bound for presentation to the artist.

Reading the Dorico newsletter, I learned that I could compose all of the movements of the sonata in the same file, and creating the presentation file would have consisted of simply printing it out. Right out of the box it works just as the composers needs it to (and not just in this situation).

This is just one example of how the Dorico team is re-imagining notation software to adapt to the way that composers work, and I’m really excited to discover more. While I admire the programming brilliance that is apparent from Daniel Spreadbury’s blog Making Notes, I appreciate just as much that they are keeping the composer and copyist at the centre of Dorico’s development.

There is a lot more exciting information in the Dorico newsletter, with greater detail in Daniel Spreadbury’s Making Notes. All composers, copyists, and others interested in notation will find both not just required reading, but fascinating as well. Sign up for BOTH … now!


Valerie Tryon Sets a New Standard for Ravel’s Jazz-inspired Piano Concerto

In the 1920’s jazz brought an exciting new element to the world of classical music just as that world seemed to be in chaos, searching for a new direction. Ironically, it was European composers who began to incorporate jazz elements into their compositions, even though jazz may well be, as many have said, “the first truly original American style of music.” One of the very first established classical composers to incorporate jazz into his music was Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and you can hear it clearly on a wonderful new CD performance of his Piano Concerto in G by the brilliant pianist Valerie Tryon backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Jac van Steen.

Somm CD 258

For a full review of this magnificent recording I suggest that you read this article from The Classical Review (click here).  (I will only point out the one obvious typo in that article, where the Concerto for Left Hand was finished in 1931, not 1938.) This will leave me free to dwell on the jazz influence in the Ravel Piano Concerto in G. Ravel was interested in jazz before his 1928 tour of America, and he took every opportunity to hear it while in the USA. For the rest of his life he would urge American composers to respect the value of jazz as their own musical heritage and incorporate it in their works, but his generation was slow to take it up, although Copland and Bernstein needed no external encouragement.

This concerto is an ideal piece for jazz lovers who want to know more classical music, as well as for classical lovers who wonder what jazz is all about. The piece begins with the crack of a whip (the orchestral version, also called a clapper, slaps two pieces of wood together, sparing the lives of the rest of the players), and the horns that soon follow remind me of Gershwin’s “An American in Paris” which was written when Gershwin visited Paris hoping to study with Ravel. However, as soon as the piano gets the stage to itself, Ravel introduces a chord with a flat 9th, still a favourite of jazz players. Even though it begins as an appoggiatura to the tonic, it is on the downbeat with an accent marked. Sure enough a theme follows using the “blue notes” that have become so common in all types of music now, but at the time they must have seemed strange and new in the concert hall. In fact the conductor’s score makes a point of showing that the “blue” minor 3rd over a major chord is meant to be that note by including unnecessary accidentals (in the space above the notes, drawing even more attention to them), basically saying “yes, I know the strings are playing A# but the trumpet plays A-natural here!” A close listen reveals a lot of these “dissonances” that are really staples of jazz, with flat-9ths and sharp-9ths sneaking into all sorts of harmonies, along with flattened 5ths and jazz scales.

A lesser composer might be content to incorporate so much jazz fluidly into a concerto, but Ravel investigates the individual components of  his chords and scales and creates truly amazing effects. A classic example comes in the second movement (in the bar at rehearsal number 2 if you are following with the score) where he gives the piano an F# against a D# major chord (which contains Fx). This is almost the dominant 7 with a raised 9th, known to rock guitarists as “the Hendrix chord” (from Purple Haze, although the Beatles had used it in Taxman already, and a whole generation or more of jazz players before them liked it too). Here it is the “almost” that makes it so important: Ravel omits the 7th that might “explain” its presence, and by itself the F# adds an other-worldly sense of pathos. Such an unexpected effect from what is most commonly an attention-grabbing ear-cruncher of a chord! Ravel’s genius here is in his comprehension of his materials well enough to use them in unique ways to express what is otherwise inexpressible. All three movements contain jazz elements used very deftly, some obvious, others quite subtle.

I love this piece, and I already have two very good recordings of it, but this is by far my favourite because of Valerie Tryon. Her playing is beyond magnificently virtuosic; I would imagine that it would delight Ravel himself. Certainly the tradition of how the piano and orchestra should play could only have been more closely relayed if Ravel had done so himself, since Valerie’s teacher Jacques Février played the piano orchestral reduction as Ravel coached Marguerite Long, the pianist for the concerto’s premiere, thus learning the intricacies of both soloist and orchestra. Such things as strict adherence to timing are passed along easily enough, but the particular touch on the keys and use of the pedal (known as “jeu perlé” which literally, and clumsily, translates as “pearl game”). In Valerie’s hands, and fingers, it does sound like strings of pearls floating on Ravel’s exotic sea, and it is finesse of timbre such as this that makes a CD so much better than an mp3 even at its highest transfer rate (i.e. its least compressed mode). Her phrasing and touch are a perfect collaboration with so fine an orchestra as the Royal Philharmonic and conductor Jac van Steen. At times the piano joins the orchestra as one golden thread shot through a splendid weave of colours, while when necessary Ms. Tryon brings the piano out front “large and in charge”, a true leader of a terrific assembly of some of the world’s finest players.

Full disclosure: I have known Valerie Tryon since shortly after I began work at McMaster University in 1988 and saw her in concert, or more accurately since the time I worked up the courage to congratulate her on a stupendous performance. I was honestly flabbergasted that the university could have an artist of that stature, and playing a free concert for staff and students at that.Each time I watched her perform I wondered how few peers she had at the piano, while each time I spoke with her I wondered how few people could possibly be that nice. Little wonder that she is so beloved in music circles from students to the most accomplished performers and conductors.

While she has been acclaimed and won much-deserved awards for her interpretations of Liszt, let me add that Valerie Tryon’s two CD’s of Ravel’s piano music are the finest versions I expect to hear in my lifetime, and they have helped me to understand the music of Ravel as no other performer could. Also, I am not alone in considering her CD of Book One of Debussy’s Preludes the finest ever recorded (replacing my erstwhile favourite by Walter Geiseking).

This CD is just one of three that Somm has released recently featuring Valerie Tryon with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Somm CD 253 features Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (revised version), the Burleske for Piano and Orchestra of R. Strauss, and Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Song, all under the direction of Jac van Steen.

The third CD  (SOMMCD 250) contains Turina’s Rapsodia Sinfónica for Piano and Orchestra, Franck’s Symphonic Variations for Piano and Orchestra, and de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain, again with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra but under the baton of Kenneth Woods. This CD contains “bonus tracks” consisting of two piano encores — Granados’ The Lover and the Nightingale, and Debussy’s La Soirée dans Grenade — as well as Busoni’s transcription for piano of Bach’s Toccata & Fugue in D minor. All three of these CD’s are triumphs and a fitting tribute to one of the finest pianists to grace the keys.

Valerie Tryon is a name that every music lover should know!


My sincerest thanks to Alan Walker (no relation, unfortunately) for apprising me of these fantastic recordings, as well as his generous mentoring on all things musical.