Let's Take a Look at Steinberg Dorico, Part 1

Dorico is a brand new player in the music engraving and notation software market

In part 1 of this series about Dorico I'll relate my initial thoughts as I install Dorico and create a simple lead sheet. Dorico is a brand new entry in the field of music publishing and notation software by the people who originally put out Sibelius and is widely anticipated to rock the notation world.

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I first heard about Dorico in late 2014 when I stumbled across a development diary blog post as I searched for musicXML information.

Although I started out with Finale in the 80's, I switched to Sibelius soon after it was released and since then there haven't been any major new music notation software products released. There are some shareware and open source notation platforms such as MuseScore, but none of these are as functional and easy to use as Sibelius and even Finale.

Jump to October 2016. I'd signed up to be notified of new blog posts about Dorico and was excited to hear that Dorico had been released, and now here we are looking at a fresh Dorico install on my Surface Pro 3.

My Hardware

I'm running Dorico on a Surface Pro 3 with 8gb memory and Windows 10.


The download is over 8gb and the install goes smoothly. I was asked if I wanted to install the Aria download app and I did that.

First Run

The first time I ran Dorico it asked me for my license code. I entered the license and it asked again. I cancelled the license screen and ran Dorico again, and this time it came up as activated and all was well.

The first thing that comes up after running Dorico is the "Steinberg Hub" which looks like a spot where all Steinberg related documents hang out.

After clicking the green "new empty project" button a guided tour window opens:

  • Setup/Mode buttons: describes the five modes of Dorico. Setup, write, engrave, play, and print.
  • Players: this is where instruments are set up. Dorico treats each instrument as a "player" - as people who are playing the parts. Instruments are managed through players.
  • Flows: these are chunks of music that are configured individually. They can use any combination of players and can be dragged around. Sounds like a good place to store ideas and repeated sections.
  • Layouts: this is a pane on the right side of the screen with the full score and instrument parts. It's easy to print, view, and edit from this pane. This appears to be a sort of "master document" where you can get an overhead view of the project.
  • Layout Options: change page and staff size, spacing, and other layout options.
  • Notation Options: display control for notations and can be customized for each flow.

The main display is uncluttered and easy on the eyes, which is nice since I tend to hang out in front of my monitor notating music a lot.

Let's see how this all works with a simple chart. I always start my lead sheets out with a piano grand staff and Dorico did not disappoint - I easily added a piano part to the score.

I double clicked on the staff in the image above and the full score window opened. The layout is simple and clean, and fairly obvious. Another guided tour window opened which was useful.

Inserting/Adding Bars in Dorico

In Sibelius I usually add a bunch of empty bars so I have somewhere to put music. You can do this in Dorico as well, however, you have to enter a time signature first. CTRL-M (in Windows) brings up a time signature input area where I entered 4/4 for basic 4/4 time. When I did that I was able to enter more bars using the "insert bars" button in the graphic above.

Inserting Notes in Dorico

This is the cat's meow as far as notation software goes. Dorico has several ways of entering notes. Midi input, keyboard input, mouse input, and pen input (not drawing, more like the pen is another mouse.)

To use the mouse or not?

Using the mouse to input notes is habit forming. In a bad way. Keyboard entry for Dorico is similar to Sibelius and by the end of the lead sheet I was entering notation as fast as I do in Sibelius.

In Sibelius I started with mouse entry, but when I switched to keyboard entry, my notation input speed increased by at least 100%. Probably 200% and although I didn't actually time myself, I was entering a page of notation in five minutes, about 80% faster than mouse entry.

Creating a System of Measures in Dorico

To create staves with a certain number of measures in Dorico you go to the engrave window, select a barline, and click on the "create system" icon at the bottom of the "Format Systems" frame on the left. This makes creating groups of four easy. This can also be done in the Write window using a context menu.

I like how Dorico separates writing music from engraving music. Writing music is note entry, and engraving is making it presentable. Very cool to keep these things separate (although many functions can still be done in writing mode as well.)

Is Dorico Hard to Learn?

The initial learning curve of Dorico is super steep, and thankfully, super short.

In using Dorico on a lead sheet, it forced me to figure it out fast. Sink or swim, right?

What took the longest was hunting around for basic information, to get over that first hurdle of basically getting started. The first half hour (or more) consisted of finding out how to do basic notation: entering notes, entering rests, adding measures, time signature, deleting stray measures at the end, using dotted notes, etc... The resources listed at the bottom of this page are invaluable.

By the time I was done with the chart I pretty much knew the basics of notation with the keyboard on Dorico. Next time I'm going to try some midi input.

Dorico Stand Outs

Eye test: Dorico's music output looks great. It's easy on the eyes, the spacing is nice, I don't have anything to complain about. I'll check into the possibility of using alternate music fonts, like handwritten jazz style, in another post.

Deleting notes: Dorico fills in deleted note space perfectly. If there are two half notes in a measure and they are deleted, it doesn't leave two half note rests like Sibelius does, it automatically puts the whole rest in and adjusts spacing perfectly.

After deleting the notes in the bass clef, it automatically entered the whole rest and positioned it correctly:

Keyboard commands: There are some nice toggles in the keyboard commands. Comma toggles entering rests, period for the dotted note, "s" to slur with the previous note, and, you can hit "s" multiple times for nested slurs (and "shift-s" to back out and turn off slurs.)

Selection tool: I'm impressed with how intelligent the selection tool is. Selecting groups of notes is very smooth.

What is Dorico missing?

It doesn't have chord symbols yet and you can't delete/hide unused staves from systems (for lead sheet purposes).

In order to do chord symbols and hide the 2nd staff of a piano part, I had to export to MusicXML and import that into Sibelius.

The discussions about what's next for Dorico suggest that these features (and many others) will be added in updates sometime in the near future.

I think Dorico is a great start in the notation software world. It's tough trying to put out some software to compete with packages that have been around for decades, but the guys from Dorico have done a good job in creating a new system that puts the flow of composing music first because that's what it's all about: composing music and using software that makes it as easy as possible to do this. Dorico is definitely going to make a splash.

Dorico Resources:

Steinberg Dorico Official Documentation

Steinberg Dorico Forum

Dorico Home Page

Stay tuned for Part 2 next week when I start notating music for a new Jazz Piano Notebook and get more involved in the Dorico workflow.

If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.

by Scot Ranney on 11/02/2016, 18:41
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