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.


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.

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.

New Dorico Update Due “In Autumn”

If you watched “Discover Dorico – October 2017” live or later ( it is still up on YouTube) you will have learned some new tricks with the current version of Dorico as well as some of the features in the upcoming update which is due later this autumn.

Some of the cool techniques shown by host John Barron included setting up a song with the right number of bars and rehearsal letters using multi-rests; extending note lengths easily; and locking durations so that you can change pitches in a part that plays along with another.

The unexpected bonus that took up most of the half hour session was John’s demonstration of some new, previously unannounced features in the upcoming update, a version of which he was able to use for the demos. Some which he did NOT demo (since they have already been shared online elsewhere) but mentioned were “proper” drum notation, orchestral cues, and fingering options.

In the order they were shown, the new features include:

  1. shaped notation, where each note of the scale has a different notehead.
  2. new filter options that will let you filter individual pitches (e.g. choose all “C’s”, as well as more options for filtering vocals
  3. more flexible shortcuts, with system shortcuts stored separately from personal ones, so that new ones the Dorico team creates don’t overwrite your own (we’ll have to see how this one works out in real life)
  4. MIDI import will now let you select a split point for ALL grand staff instruments (e.g. piano) rather than forcing middle C

Maybe the most interesting new feature is Shift-I where you can enter notes above or below the entered note, several at a time. Regular numbers add notes above while negative numbers (e.g.-3) add notes below. All of these are diatonic, i.e. from the key. You can ALSO choose the type of interval, for example typing “m3” over C in the key of C will add Eb while typing “m3,5,m7” will add a Cm7 chord. You can even transpose from this box, so entering “t3” will transpose up a (diatonic) 3rd while “-t3” will transpose down a 3rd. While this is admittedly a more cumbersome way to add just one or two other notes, the flexibility that it adds will outweigh that inconvenience for many users.

The whole video is worth watching to see these techniques as well as others I haven’t mentioned.

The next Discover Dorico session is set for November 22 at the same time.

Discover Dorico September 2017

I hope you were able to attend John Barron’s live Discover Dorico presentation today. If not you can replay the session here. There was a lot of valuable information passed on with some great tips as well.

A few important notes: The cross-grade pricing for Dorico has been extended “until further notice” for the full versions of both Sibelius and Finale. (Sorry Notion users, but yours ends September 30.) Details are available here.

There is also a new Official Facebook Page for announcements and other important things at

And be at John’s next session at the same time but on WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 18 for lots of good information and to get answers to your own questions.

New Resources for Learning Dorico

If a picture can convey a thousand words, a good video can answer a thousand questions (give or take a few hundred). This figure may well be close to the truth for John Barron’s “Discover Dorico” series. This particular link is to the video from his streamed session on Dorico 1.1.10 during which he demonstrated the new features in the update as well as answering questions in real time such as the one on layout that he mentions in the title. This series is well worth watching as it is loaded with tips as well as information that will speed up your workflow and your enjoyment of working with Dorico. So far he has been conducting these sessions on the last Thursday of the month, and the next one is confirmed for September 28. For more information I’d suggest you check Facebook, where John Barron administers a group for Dorico at The posts include links to further resources as well as answers to members questions about using Dorico. Members also share tips and discoveries from their own work, so it can be a very useful resource, especially if you spend a lot of time on Facebook anyway.

UPDATE: John’s next session will be here. It starts at 11:00 am EDT.

If you have tips that you would like to share or have John demonstrate you can send these to him at, which is also the address for asking questions during his streaming sessions.

As John mentions in Discover Dorico, there is another update coming “in the autumn” which is said (at this time) to include drum notation, orchestral cues, and piano fingering.

NB: The discounted cross-grade price for users of Sibelius, Finale, or Notion has been extended to September 30. This does not mean that the update will be out before then, but even if not it will be a free update so don’t let that hold you back.

Don’t forget to subscribe to for the latest tips on new features and their use. And of course Daniel Spreadbury’s ongoing blog Making Notes will keep you up-to-date on Dorico features and updates as well as real-world users using Dorico in innovative ways.



DORICO 1.1.10 FREE Update Released

Once more Steinberg has updated Dorico with a release that only offers about 70 new features, improvements, and bug fixes! So just as I was going to post my latest “Dorico adventure” something a little more important has come along.

The biggest news is the addition of graphical editing of individual chord symbols. As if it wasn’t enough that you had every conceivable style of chord symbol in use, now you can edit every part of a chord symbol on a grid for fine-tuning. While this may not seem a big deal, think about situations where you have had a chord change on every quarter note with complex harmonies and suddenly that bar took up almost an entire line, with not quite enough room left for another bar. An extreme situation, but you get the idea. Once again Dorico scores a coup in the world of notation leaving little doubt that it is the software of choice for serious composers and arrangers.

And once again Daniel Spreadbury has outlined all of the new features in Dorico 1.1.10 on his Making Notes blog including a video by Anthony Hughes demonstrating the new editor and explaining its use. But that’s not all. In fact, if you want to know all of the new features and fixes you can consult the version history in PDF format and read the first 12 pages.

Set Final Tempo % For Changing Tempo

Just one of my favourite new features is the ability to specify where a rallentando or accelerando ends up. This is found in the Properties panel, and gradual as well as relative tempo changes now play back correctly where your beat units are not just quarter notes.

Learn By Example

There are several example scores that you can study, play back, and learn from. These are great shortcuts to learning the program and also getting ideas for articulations and even instrument combinations that you may not have thought about. If you download the trial version (and you should if you haven’t bought Dorico yet) then the examples should load for you. They didn’t for me in the full version but Daniel Spreadbury’s page tells you where to find them on either Mac or PC. I did think I noticed an odd glitch in the Rameau example, where the repeats did not play, but I had forgotten that Dorico does not play repeats yet. This is probably because of the wide variety of repeat types you can notate.  Still, this is yet another amazing update to THE twenty-first century notation program.

Calibre – The Great FREE E-Book Reader / Manager

As I’ve read more e-books, I’ve come to really appreciate Calibre. It’s an e-book reader for your computer, library manager for hardware e-book devices, and format converter for both, plus a lot more features that let you bookmark, edit, backup and more. If you are online it will even help you shop! It is open source, which means that anyone with the skills can modify it and submit their mods for testing, but it also pretty much assures that it will be around for a long time and will remain free. Big thanks to Kovid Goyal for providing the world with this free app that outshines most if not all of the other e-book software around. I can’t say for sure because after trying a couple and finding Calibre, I’ve never been tempted to try anything else.

I had to write this column because I got a request from a friend for help with a somewhat expensive e-reader that could not read the format of the book she just bought. I read the blurb (there was no user manual) and it vaguely suggested it could read all “common” formats, and her book’s format was definitely a common one. So she switched to Calibre and all is well. I suggest that you check it out at

The video on that page shows you how to setup the manager for a hardware device, and how to use it to send books from your computer to your device and bring them into the manager from your device. If you have a book that is not in your device’s format, Calibre formats it automatically when you transfer it to the device. Calibre will search online for a book you request, returning a list with the lowest-priced one at the top, a very convenient way to shop for books. It will let you edit the metadata for any book, but if you have a large collection you might want to use its automated feature that searches the internet and finds the metadata for large numbers of books, which you can edit later at your convenience, if you like. To find a particular book, or just find something to read, you can browse by cover or tags such as author, genre, etc.

Calibre also reads PDF’s, so you can manage your PDF scores, articles, etc. along with your e-books in one convenient place.

Calibre has a great way to get news: choosing “Fetch News” brings up a list of languages in which news is available with the number of sources for each (over 300 in English alone!). Clicking on the left-hand triangle opens a list of the news sources in that language. You can set a schedule for downloading news from a source, as well as a number of days before the download is deleted. Of course, if some of them are pay-only you will need to have a subscription, but most are free.

There is so much to Calibre that I suggest you check it out for what you need in an e-reader or e-book manager, and then gradually you will find more uses that you never thought of. But if you read e-books at all, you really should check out Calibre.

UPDATE: A number of people have written that they cannot get Calibre to work on their iPhone or iPad or iPod Touch. The Calibre FAQ shows how to use it with these devices.

The Calibre help page has links to the FAQ, the user forum, and their blog as well as to the user manual, which is available in several formats.

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.