Today Steinberg announced details about Dorico, the music scoring software more than three years in the making. It will be available for Mac and PC computers in the fourth quarter of 2016. Pricing will be 579 € including VAT, or $579.99 for US customers, for a full professional license. Educational pricing for qualifying teachers and students will be 349 € including VAT ($349.99 USD), and a crossgrade offer for qualifying Sibelius and Finale users will be available for 299 € including VAT ($299.99 USD) for “a limited time”.
Valerio Dorico was one of the first music printers in Rome in the 16th century. In introducing the product at the MOLA conference in Helsinki this past weekend, Steinberg product marketing manager Daniel Spreadbury said that “originally Dorico was the code name for the program, but in time we failed to find a better name for the program, and the name stuck. However, please don’t pronounce it like the name of a corn chip! The emphasis is on the first syllable: DO-ri-co.”
In a press release, the company paid homage to the history of music printing: “Dorico’s graphical output is intended to uphold the centuries-old craft of fine music engraving, with attention to even the smallest of details. Taking every subtlety into account, Dorico aims to fulfill the aesthetic demands of the most discerning engravers and publishers, providing extensive capabilities for graphical tweaking and editing.”
Last year, Daniel described the five modes of the program: Setup, Write, Engrave, Play, and Print, which he says are “roughly divided up according to the different phases of working on a given project. In each mode, collapsible panels down the left- and right-hand sides of the screen, and in most cases also along the bottom too, show the main interface elements for creating and editing your music.” So we’ll begin a tour of what we know about Dorico by briefly exploring each of those modes, and then move on to other items and initial impressions.
It’s worth mentioning that no one in the audience at the May 15, 2016 demonstration, including myself, has actually used Dorico for themselves yet; the features described herein are based on information gleaned from demonstrations of the product and explanations by Daniel.
The key concepts of Setup mode are:
- Players: humans holding one or more instruments
- Instruments: flute, oboe, guitar, piano, etc.
- Flows: self-contained spans of music, such as a song, movement, piece, act or number
- Layouts: contain the music for one or more players, from one or more flows
A key difference between Dorico and its primary competitors such as Sibelius or Finale is that it is organized around players instead of instruments. “Who is playing the music? The program is designed around that concept,” Daniel said. This avoids the problem of having to add, and then hide, unnecessary staves in the case of doubling instruments, for instance. Daniel said that “staves in Dorico are transitory things; the program creates them as needed.”
In Setup mode, you first create the player and then add to it, for example, a Flute and a Piccolo. A player can be a single person or a section (e.g. for a violin or choir section):
A more clever use case of players as effective “containers” for instruments is in the case of percussion parts. In setting up a score in Dorico, one would add each percussion instrument separately. Once players decided upon assignments, one could assign those instruments to each respective player.
A flow is somewhat of an allusion to desktop publishing. Daniel said that “we deliberately chose a term that isn’t a movement, a section, or a song. It could be a 2-bar ossia or a 1200-bar movement. The existing programs don’t handle one of the simple truths very well. Much music exists in multiple sections or multiple movements. Dorico handles this all in one step.”
Once a flow is defined, it can be assigned to a layout. Generally speaking, a layout will either be a full score or a part. A layout could also be a custom score, such as a piano-vocal score or a rehearsal score, or a part with only a single movement. If a player has no music but is still assigned to a flow, it will have a tacet multirest.
Layout options can be set to have independent page, system and staff sizes, as well as margins, player order, and transposition.
Notation options are set on a per-flow basis. These include rules of meter, rest splitting, and beaming.
Engraving options, such as the visual appearance of all notations, will be project-wide.
There are no plans to be able to extract parts in Dorico. Daniel alluded to Steve Jobs when talking about a stylus: “If we make Dorico so that you have to extract parts, we messed up.”
Inputting music in Dorico is done via the mouse, computer keyboard, or MIDI input. It relies only on keys found on laptop keyboards, without a need for a numeric keypad.
Shortcuts are a mix of ergonomic and mnemonic shortcuts. These elements are also contained in the Write mode on the left side of the window:
- The letters A through G input notes
- The numbers 1 through 9 specify note duration (e.g., 5 is an eighth note, 6 is a quarter note, 7 is a half note)
- 0 represents a natural; – is a flat; = is a sharp
- The most common articulations are placed using the keys [ ] \ ‘
- Tuplets are placed using the semi-colon
- Grace notes use the slash key
- Augmentation dots use the period
- Rests use the comma
- Q is for chords
- I is for insert
In Write mode, it’s not possible to select the accidental independently of the notehead; this type of tweaking is done in Engrave mode.
When inserting notes, Dorico “grammar-checks” the music on an algorithmic basis, so that the display is different depending upon the time signature and engraving options, although the underlying note value is always retained. For instance, if you input a quarter note on the second half of the beat in 4/4 time, Dorico will change the notation to two eighth notes tied together:
However, if you continue to input a quarter note, Dorico will recognize the pattern as a syncopated pattern and change the notes back to a single quarter note:
Of course, this can be overridden. Daniel said that “we’ve tried to make it so that the intent is communicated at the highest level so that the program can have a rich enough understanding of what the music is meant to be doing. “
Tuplets and other note durations are easily reconstituted over the barline. Grace notes are laid out as if they were on their own miniature system. Processing is run on the grace notes, and then they are “glued” back in because of the spacing algorithm. It’s possible to place grace notes at the end of the bar.
Notably (no pun intended), Dorico is the first scoring program to truly support writing in open meter. If you don’t specify a time signature, you can write as many notes as you like, for as long as you like. You can also impose a time signature on the music at any time later. Polymeter is not yet supported in Dorico, although Daniel said it is planned.
The right hand side of the window contains items such as time signatures, key signatures, dynamics, and more. Dynamic expressions and hairpins in Dorico are part of the same structure, as opposed to dividing them between text and lines. Daniel said that “We’ve gone back to first principles and want objects to be organized semantically and musically, rather than whether or not the objects look similar.”
It is possible to create linked dynamics and slurs among multiple staves, (i.e. a group of horns) — if you change one of this items on one staff, it will change the item on all of the other staves.
There is no limit in the number of voices in Dorico.
The third of Dorico’s modes, Engrave, is devoted to refining the look of your score. Nothing can be created in this mode. The idea behind separating the phases of work is that it can be too easy to make an unintended musical edit while changing the finer visual details of a score.
Every graphical detail of the score’s components can be selected independently in Engrave mode. Daniel illustrated this concept in a recent blog post:
The arrow keys move the elements at a micro level, while Alt plus the arrow keys will move by a greater (but still relatively small) amount.
Properties are an important part of this mode when making fine adjustments. A properties panel is available (one appears in Write mode as well); not unlike Sibelius’s Inspector in Sibelius 7 and later, Dorico’s properties panel is contextual, displaying only the elements common to the selected element(s) at the time.
The properties panel fits neatly into a single-display setup.
Due to the music librarians’ primary interest of music notation, Daniel did not demonstrate playback in the May 15 presentation. He said that Dorico will have a piano roll and it will be possible to adjust the played duration of the notes independently of their notated appearance.
Dorico will use the same audio engine as Cubase and Nuendo, with 192kHZ, 32-bit floating point clarity and quality. There will be a full audio mixer, including a channel strip with EQ, a compressor and a limiter, and convolution reverb.
Most interestingly, independent tracks will exist for each playing technique played by each instrument held by each player, in much the same way composers score using modern sequencers and sample libraries. Presumably this will make it easier for future interoperability among Dorico and Steinberg’s sequencer and audio products.
Dorico will be fully compatible with VST 3 virtual instruments and effect processors, but it will not support AU (Mac Audio Unit) plug-ins. According to today’s press release, it will come with virtual instruments with more than 1,500 sounds, including the HALion Sonic Workstation and the complete HALion Symphonic Orchestra library. It was unclear at the time of this writing whether the user will be allowed to use those instruments outside of the Dorico environment.
Printing was of great interest to the MOLA audience, but owing to practicalities it was not demonstrated. Daniel said that there will be complete support for duplexing and bookleting — even to the point of printing parts with an odd number of pages on a combination of imposed landscape and single portrait pages, as he described here:
One neat addition that I don’t believe is supported by any other application, courtesy of an idea shared with me by a certain music notation enthusiast friend of mine, is that when printing 2-up or spreads, i.e. printing two portrait pages side by side on sheets of paper in landscape orientation, if the layout in question has an odd number of pages, you can choose to print the odd final page on a different paper size, in portrait orientation. This means you have fewer sheets of paper to tape when you’re putting the parts together.
Perhaps of interest to those in high-end printing environments was the tidbit that the Dorico developers tweaked its PDF output to be completely monochrome, instead of CMYK.
One striking element of Dorico’s interface is its generously spaced and plentifully illustrated dialog windows.
Daniel said that he got the idea from Elaine Gould’s music engraving reference Behind Bars. In Gould’s book, Daniel told me, “you almost don’t need to look in the index to find what you’re looking for. You just flip through until you find an illustration that suits your query, and then you read the surrounding text.” Dorico’s dialogs have a similar look; as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Indeed, the interface’s visual appeal is very clean, not using stock fonts from either Mac or Windows, but rather a user-interface font from Adobe, for a consistent look on both platforms.
As far as speed is concerned, Daniel said that Dorico runs more than 70 processes independently that perform defined and discrete tasks. He said that this will prevent Dorico from slowing down even on scores with large numbers of staves or bars, in contrast to the older notation programs which rely on less efficient ways of calculating how to redraw the score.
When saving a project, all the views including the score position and window position are saved with the score, allowing you to pick up from where you last left the project. There are three view types: galley view (otherwise known as Scroll View or Panorama), page view, and system view. The last of these, system view, is a page view of variable height. Daniel explains details of these in a post on his blog.
Unlike Sibelius’s Magnetic Layout feature, there will be no “off-switch” for collision avoidance in Dorico. An item’s default position is just where it is at the time, based in the program’s calculation of all the items in the music. Daniel said that “the program knows what you mean, it’s very stable, and you shouldn’t worry about things wandering out of place by accident.”
Dorico uses a system of “popovers,” little text fields where you might enter something like “4s” for a key signature of four sharps when placing a key signature, or “ppp” when entering dynamics. This appeared to make entry quite fast using the computer keyboard, once the shortcuts become familiar to the user.
Cue notes in Dorico are linked to the source material and automatically update, although we did not see a demonstration of this owing to time constraints.
There will not be an official printed manual. The Dorico reference will be standardized along with the other Steinberg help documents, as online searchable material.
As Daniel told the attendees at Sunday’s presentation, every line of Dorico’s code originated from the brains of its developers. Making professional-level music notation software is unquestionably a difficult task, and for all of Dorico’s appeal, it can’t possibly have every feature that its chief competitors have with their decades-long head start. Notable omissions from Dorico’s initial release are chord symbols and guitar tablature, which will surely be deal-breakers for a number of potential users at the outset.
The upside, of course, is a complete lack of the burden of technical debt and thus, the opportunity for a fresh approach. Marry that with the tremendous skill and experience that is the brains behind Dorico, along with the deep pockets and long-term vision of Steinberg, and the potential is indeed great for the software to become significant, if not pre-eminent in its space, in time.
Still, even Daniel seemed a bit befuddled by all the anticipation and chatter about the work of his team. “It’s just a scoring program, mind you,” he told me this weekend. “We’re not curing cancer or anything like that!” And the distinct possibility exists that most people will be just fine with their existing tools, thank you very much, and Dorico will become yet another music program that may well be superior to its peers but remains relegated to the pile of many other music notation programs that have come and gone over the past several decades.
I was reminded of this possibility yesterday, as Daniel and I gave the closing presentation at MOLA entitled “A Brief History of Music Notation Technology and Their Impact on Musicians.” It continues to amaze and perplex me to behold the dozens of technologies, computerized or otherwise, that people have created in an attempt to notate music using a machine, and persist in doing so.
— elaine (@eliviolin) May 16, 2016
Music is not just a passion, though — it’s a way of life, and a living, for a good many folks. Many of us spend more time with our notation software than we do with our loved ones. Because of that and other reasons, not the least of which is the journey that the Dorico team took to get to this point, anticipation for this release is as high as anything our slice of the field has seen in quite a while.
From the bits we’ve seen so far, Dorico looks to be sleek, powerful, and intuitive. A first release is still several months away, and as none other than Bob Zawalich recently said, “I once spent three years working on a project that was three months from shipping for the entire period.” We certainly have no reason to believe the release date isn’t realistic. But there’s a lot still to be done. Not only does the software have yet to be completed to a usable point, it then needs to be thoroughly tested in both controlled and real-world situations before the community can truly evaluate its merits and decide if it’s worth adopting it for regular use.
The Dorico team clearly have a busy spring and summer ahead of them in order to meet both their goals and the expectations of the community, which have only increased in the last couple of years. From what we’ve seen so far, count me among those with high hopes.