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.



Steinberg’s Cubase Marketing Works on Me!

I can usually resist valueless marketing but Steinberg got me with a truly valuable invitation to start using the free copy of Cubase that I have gathering dust on my hard disk.

A couple of years back my basic interface died so I was looking for a replacement with two audio inputs (mic/line) and two MIDI inputs (IN/OUT); as basic as they get. The best deal I found was the Steinberg UR22, which has the features that I need plus great feedback from users and (I discovered) excellent sound. It also came with Cubase LE AI Elements 7 (the least powerful version of Cubase only available with OEM hardware) at no extra cost. Since I use Logic, I didn’t need another recording program so I let it sit. Some algorithm (or [gasp] possibly a human?!!) noticed that I had not been using it. I don’t know how. Didn’t I ask for tech support enough? Didn’t I ask questions in the forums? Didn’t I check for updates? Or something more sinister????

However they did it, I got an email encouraging me to start using it, and to sweeten the request they gave me three libraries of more modern drums, bass, and guitar sounds as VST add-ins to Cubase: Indie Rock, Dubstep, and Urban. OK, it worked. I followed the directions to download and register them, then watched a tutorial on how to use them in Cubase which was not relevant to my bottom-of-the-barrel version, but it was simple enough to figure out using the top menu bar rather than the nifty little icon that my version doesn’t have. The sounds are technically great, and depending on your taste, great as well. For free, it’s hard to beat, and very nice to get something of value that I will use in future projects because they sound so good I got ideas just running through them.

So for someone just starting out, or on a tight budget, it’s hard to beat the Steinberg UR22 and free Cubase software, especially if they are going to send you free libraries from time to time. Given the fact that this is the same company that produces Dorico I have to say that Steinberg has high standards and gives you more than your money’s worth with their products.

So the Steinberg marketing worked and I’m glad it did. This is a great model for any company that wants to get, or retain, customers. Give us something useful and if it fits our needs we’ll use it.

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.


One-Man Band LIVE (and what a band!)

A lot of us find ourselves in remote places at times, or in other situations where we ourselves are the band. It helps to be able to play a number of instruments if we want to record something “band-like”. Even those of us who are able to play a number of instruments well enough, and to sing without inspiring washroom breaks for anyone listening, it can be an exciting if somewhat nerve-wracking experience each time the red-light goes on and the recording is happening.  But of course we can always re-record, although finding the acceptable version without the need for “just one more tweak” can be a mind-killer without a producer to say “Good enough; now move on.”

So I salute all of you who produce your own music because you have to, or because you <…shiver…> want to. Now, that said, there is a level that only a few enter into, and of those who do, it is no great shock to find musicians of the calibre of Jacob Collier.

I found out about Jacob Collier from NS Design, who are stoked that Jacob plays their new NTXa bass (which I guess makes my old NXT bass a ‘vintage’ model now), but this is just one of the many instruments he has mastered, which helped him to win TWO Grammies:1) Best Arrangement: Instrumental or A Capella and 2) Best  Arrangement: Instruments and Vocals.

The NS Design artist web site for Jacob Collier says this: “Based in London, UK, Jacob has been inspired by many sounds – his music combines elements of Jazz, A cappella, Groove, Folk, Trip-hop, Classical music, Brazilian music, Gospel, Soul and Improvisation (to name a few), which culminate to create the world of ‘Jacob Collier.’ ”

Jacob’s own web site features his debut album and live dates, as well as quotes such as these:

“I have never in my life seen a talent like this… Beyond category. One of my favourite young artists on the planet – absolutely mind-blowing”

— Quincy Jones

“Wow!! Jacob, your stuff is amazing”

— Herbie Hancock

“Staggering and unique… Jazz’s new messiah”

— The Guardian
It also features his astounding “Jacob Collier and his One-Man Live Show Creature perform[ing] ‘Don’t You Know’, an original song from Jacob’s debut album ‘In My Room’; filmed live @ Village Underground, London, May 28th 2016.
This is a pretty amazing tour de force of technology, and I applaud him for being able to put it together and use it so creatively. Maybe it will inspire some of you to make music you never thought possible. Or maybe it will just make you appreciate your current band mates a bit more. Either way, you win.

Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 – Overview

I have had a lot of questions about Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 from readers, colleagues, and friends.  Garritan Personal Orchestra 5 (GPO5) is the latest version of the incredibly successful orchestra library that is the best bargain in its category.Version 5 has so many improvements and additions to its predecessor that I have decided to do a series of posts rather than write one book-length post (and yes, there is that much new and worthwhile in this upgrade).


The most noticeable and important feature is the sound: all of the instruments just sound better than previous versions. They are more life-like, react more like the physical instruments, sound more ‘present’, and in many cases include more playing techniques. One very important feature that might be overlooked is the number of different solo versions of certain instruments. This allows you to create sections of a specific size without merely duplicating the same instrument, a practice that results in phasing and gives a poor result. With different sampled instruments you not only get rid of the phasing problem, but gain from the richness of the slight differences between the instruments, just as you would with a physical group of them. This can be handy from creating duets with two different versions of the same instrument, to creating specific-sized groups. For example, say you are writing for string orchestra and want to split the strings into two groups, i.e. two sets of first violin, second violin, viola, and cello (a technique called divisi). The problem here is that you end up with a string section which is twice as large as the original, and the sudden increase in size is disturbing to most listeners. With four different solo players, you can create a section of just four violins, and use two of these groupings when divisi is called for in an eight-violin section. This is the attention to detail given to GPO5 by Gary Garritan and his team.

ARIA Player

All of the instruments come in two versions: notation and standard. The sounds are the same, but a few commands are handled differently in notation software than they are when played live from a MIDI controller. Notation programs automatically choose the correct version. When using the free ARIA Player that comes with GPO5, you would usually choose the Standard version. Playing from a controller such as a keyboard calls for the standard set, but if you choose to load a MIDI file that was created by a notation program you probably want to load the notation patches. The ARIA Player is a powerful control instrument on its own, with many subtle (and not so subtle) effects that can alter the overall sound of the instruments. Newer versions list all of the Garritan libraries on your system, making it easy for you to choose sounds. There is also a default setting that loads the instruments of your choice at startup, as well as an Ensemble section that loads full sets of instruments for many standard groupings. The Controls page has an optional 3-band equalizer with user-defined mid-range. This page also has handy access to MIDI controls that you may not be familiar with, including portamento and subtle variations in pitch and timing. You can also choose Auto-Legato to smooth out your lines, and Stereo Stage to give a wider sense of stereo to your stage. (All of these can be controlled via MIDI, and the MIDI control numbers are included beside the controls.)


Under Effects you will find the new, powerful Garritan Convolution Reverb, in addition to the standard Ambience reverb, EQ, and damping controls. The Ambience reverb is a synthesized version of the reverberation characteristics of a space: a hall, a room, a club, etc. A convolution reverb is a sampled set of “impulses” which record how a given space actually reverberates in the real world, and can give a more realistic sound to your music. Of course, each has their place, and you might even want to combine the two for special effect. There is a full-fledged mixer to set the volume for each channel as well as the master, and includes Pan and Send controls, as well as Mute and Solo switches. The Settings page is for more advanced users, but it gives you the option to change the type of tuning your instruments use as well as the base frequency; it even tells you the current versions of the player and engine and allows you to update directly from this page.

One of the most useful parts of this excellent player is the keyboard that is always at the bottom of its screen, allowing you to play any sound with the mouse, and showing you the playable range of each instrument. You can also choose keyswitches with it, which are shown in red. GPO5 uses keyswitches to change patches (or types of sound) for the same instrument. This entails hitting a key well outside the playing range of the instrument, which immediately changes the sound of the instrument. For example, a very low note might change a piccolo from a straight sound to flutter-tonguing, while a very high note might change a double bass from bowed to pizzicato.

The ARIA Player has still more to offer. You can load a MIDI file into it and play it back using whatever combination of instruments you like. I find it a good idea to delete Program Change and other Control information unless it was created with GPO5 because it can cause unwanted effects. You can also record from the ARIA Player, either a version of a MIDI file you have loaded or yourself playing. I will use it for later posts to demonstrate instruments, keyswitches and other goodies.

User Manual

If you have specific questions about GPO5 or just want to see the entire list of instruments before you buy, you will be glad to know that the GPO5 User Manual is online at This is a change from GPO4, which had a downloadable PDF manual. While this is a problem if you have a question when you are not online, it is a benefit in that it can be updated immediately if problems are found, information is missing, or new features are added.