Finally! The great minds who have created such depth and detail in so many areas of music notation have turned their skills to the guitar and what an amazing result we have. Dorico 3 IS the program I have been waiting for since I started to write out guitar music.
For all of you who have been writing to me since Dorico was first released, I can finally say “YES! It supports TAB.” In fact it’s actually better than that. Dorico stores music in an “abstract” form so that TAB or notation (or piano roll or whatever) are just display options that represent the music. So now you can use one or the other, or both. Better yet, change one and the other changes to match it. Enter notation and Dorico translates it to TAB based on the information it has about your stringed instrument (guitar, bass, banjo, etc.). No more mis-matched notation and TAB because I forgot to update one of them. Dorico usually places the music in open position but you can change the position you like, or just enter the music in tab. Like the rest of the program, you have choices to work the way that you like to.
There are a huge number of options for inputting TAB so I will cover just some of the most basic ones. Anthony Hughes, UI Designer at Steinberg for Dorico, has an excellent video on tablature here. I highly recommend spending the 9 minutes to watch it at least once.
If you choose instruments via Layout options (Cmd-Shift-L, Ctrl-Shift-L on Windows) the Players section has presets for guitar, lute, and banjo for Notation, Tab, Notation and Tab, and Tab (no rhythms). Obviously Tab assumes with rhythms. Oddly, there is no selection here for Bass Guitar and Tab, but it is a simple task (and good practice) to create one and save it as a template. From the instrument name in Setup mode you can open Edit Strings and Tuning which allows you to set the open pitch of the string, set its starting fret (as in the highest-sounding string on 5-string banjo), the number of frets, and even irregular fret spacing.
If all you need is guitar notation with tablature you might find the easiest start is (in Write mode) File > New from Template > Solo > Guitar with tablature; or from the Hub choose Solo > Guitar with tablature.
Lute tablature, with all of those strings, looks most impressive and yet it is the one that is arguably incomplete. You can get an idea of why just by selecting “lute” and seeing how many Dorico lists for notation. There are several different tunings and styles of notation to go along with the varying number of strings, some of which use letters as well as or instead of numbers; some even use letters off the tablature, while others reverse the order of the strings. This makes complete support for all lutes in tablature an enormous project on its own, but even as it is Dorico’s lute tablature is a big advance.
When editing TAB you can change the position of a note by changing the string it is on by selecting it and typing m to go one string lower (in pitch) and n to go one higher. It may sound confusing at first but most of the time only one direction is possible and if you type the wrong one, nothing happens. So type the other; it soon becomes second nature.
Bends are a thing of beauty in Dorico. Simply choose two notes (they can even be in chords), click on the bend icon in the ornaments panel (under Glissandi) and Dorico creates terrific-looking arrows in TAB, calculating the bend distance for you based on the notes involved. Even easier, you can call up the Ornaments popover (Shift-O) and type “bend”. Pre-bends are easy too, with their accompanying release notes. In fact, Dorico has two motions that are often grouped simply as pre-bends: a “release” where the first pitch is a regular duration but has been bent and the second is the release note, and regular pre-bends where a grace note shows the starting point for the pre-bend (which Dorico lets you choose in the lower panel) and the sounding pitch, which Dorico then changes to the correct notation and TAB. If this sounds confusing, check out Anthony Hughes’ video at 6:40, just after he shows how to notate a held bend. All usual bend types are supported although they don’t playback (yet). This is no big deal for me because I am not a fan of the sound of most guitar bends played back on other notation programs.
OK, there is no big difference between TAB and notation so it’s hard to break this into sections. Slides are next, and these I really like. You can show slides from note to note, and even my own favourite “slide to nowhere” or “slide from nowhere”, where the end note is indeterminate (think of Joe Walsh) or the beginning note is not clear (you just slide into the note). What may be confusing is that although you can enter slides in Write mode you edit the type of slide or the line itself in Engrave Mode. You get used to it.
One fun bit of terminology is that what are usually called “muted” or “palmed” notes are here referred to as “dead notes.”
One unique feature that breaks “tradition” is that by default Dorico 3 deletes the staff line behind fingerings, making them much easier to read. If this bothers you, just go to the Fingering > Design > Advanced Options section and turn it off and check the box to Allow Left Hand Fingerings Inside The Staff For Fretted Instruments. You can even change the scale of fingerings here if you like. This and much more is covered by Anthony Hughes’ video on Guitar Fingering and String Indicators.
String indicators are one example of Dorico 3’s “detailed knowledge” of the instrument. First select a note or some notes and in the properties panel check the Show under the String Indicators (on the far right). Dorico will automatically calculate the best string for the note, although you are free to change it in the Notes and Rests group to the left of the same panel. You can select a single string for a range of notes by selecting them then use the Shift-P Playing Techniques popover and type string 1 (or whichever string you want) and the string number will show outside the staff with a dashed line indicating the range of notes on that string. Of course you can lengthen or shorten the line if you need to.
One of the best uses of the detailed knowledge of the string instrument is with harmonics. You can choose between natural and artificial harmonics, and Dorico 3 takes care of the notation. Since it is the most common, harmonics are by default an octave above (the 2nd harmonic or partial). However, you can change this to whichever harmonic you need (or can play) and Dorico 3 will calculate the correct notation! No more rushing for that reference book which you can never seem to find. You can also notate pinch harmonics. What more do you need?
There is much more to Dorico 3’s support for guitar notation, TAB, and techniques. I urge you to watch the two Hughes videos I mention above as well as his series of 14 tutorials on the new features in Dorico 3. (Due to external forces I am a bit rushed to get this out to you, so when I get the inevitable corrections or amplifications I will correct this post. I will continue with a series of posts on some of Dorico 3’s other features too.)
The new features make Dorico 3 THE notation program for guitar and other modern fretted instruments.
ONE MORE BONUS
One bonus that is not mentioned in any of the documentation on Dorico 3 is the disk space you may well save. I speak from personal experience as I can now delete Sibelius, which I have been using solely for guitar and bass. First, though, I have to make music .XML files from all of my Sibelius files, and maybe MIDI ones as well. I did an important one yesterday and was reminded that Sibelius has some peculiar “quirks” in its export options in both 7.1 and 7.5, so it may take you some time to be sure that they have exported and then imported correctly. The first file I did this with yesterday surprised me by interpreting a “leggerio” marking as “change tempo to quarter-note – 132”! That took a little bit of time to figure out since the tempo seemed to change randomly and who would have thought of that particular “glitch”? I will be greatly relieved to be done with that project, but it may be some time before I realize all of the disk saving I hope for (even after burning my .sib files to DVD “just in case”).
This was written a little light-heartedly but more seriously, Dorico has now reached the stage where it is by far the finest notation program available. I stopped using Finale a few years back and have restricted my use of Sibelius to guitar and bass scores that required TAB. Now that Dorico goes far beyond Sibelius in supporting TAB my days of using Sibelius are over. Considering that Dorico charges only for major upgrades with several free updates per version, Dorico is a better deal financially. Being able to save money by using the finest program available is a rarity in any field, and we are indeed lucky to have just that choice in music notation!
Need I say it? Dorico 3 has my VERY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.