Episode 13: Adventures with Dorico, Part 2

Part 2 of 2 of Lori’s adventures with Dorico notation software. Here I’ll talk more about using the software and some of the cool things it can do.

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Episode 13: Adventures with Dorico, Part 2


Hello and welcome to Tonal Diversions. I’m your host, Lori Archer Sutherland, and this is my journey as a multifaceted musician. I’m a composer, clarinetist and more who is navigating the world of is classical music, and I’d love to share my adventures with you.


Episode proper

Welcome back to part two of my adventures with Dorico. Let’s look some more at how the software works. I won’t get into too many details since I’m not doing this as a video, and there are some really good tutorial videos out there already.


Like with the previous episode, there will still be a lot of comparisons to Finale since that’s what I’m used to.


The Screen

First, we’ll look at the screen real estate. There’s the top menu bar, which is fairly standard in any Windows program, and it has a lot of what you’d expect—File, Edit, Help, etc. This selection will change depending on what mode you’re in. So, if I’m writing, there will also be a Write menu option. As I mentioned in the previous episode, the LibraryàOptions menu is really good to remember.


The right menu option has things like Transpose, but it also echoes what you’ll find in what Dorico calls “popovers.” I think that once I remember that popovers exist and I get used to them, I will love them. If I’m trucking along with inputting notes and want to insert a dynamic marking, I just hit ShiftàD and type in the little box that pops up. So, if I type F, the forte symbol appears in the music. There are a ton of popover options: key signatures, time signatures, repeats, and more. I can see how these would save a lot of time during input. It might not be quite as fast as some of Finale’s hotkeys, but time will tell for me. And if I save time in other areas because of the popovers, then not saving time for other things, it might be a wash.


The left panel has things like: select note, input chords, articulations, and more. There are some things that can be used together, and some things are affected by whether the Select icon is active. I haven’t quite learned all the ins and outs of this yet, so we’ll see how I feel later on with all of these processes. For icons on the left panel that have the little corner arrow, either long press or right click to access the rest of the options. I will admit I actually had to look that up because I felt like you just had to click on the little arrow part and it would open, and it didn’t. But luckily, the answer was out there very easily.


The right panel has things like clefs, key and time signatures, tempo markings and stuff like that. A lot of these things can also be accessed via popovers.


The bottom panel is for properties of certain things, plus it has more of the DAW interface options for those unfamiliar. A DAW is a “digital audio workstation.” I know there were a few notation things that happen to be hidden down there, so I do need to remember to check here when I’m searching for things. I haven’t yet played around with the drum pad, piano roll, fretboard, or virtual piano keyboard to know exactly how to use them. I’m firmly planted in the notation world, both for composing and engraving. Someday I might tinker with these other options, but I think my first priority is learning the notation side of Dorico.


Jump (Awesome) Bar and Undo

Dorico 4 introduced the jump bar. I think the jump bar should be renamed the “awesome bar.” All you have to do is hit J on your keyboard and this magical little box appears where you can either launch a command or find out where an option lives. It also lets you navigate to various bars, pages, or flows within your project. Plus, you can create your own jump bar aliases. So. if you know you use something frequently via the jump bar, you can set an alias to that. I think there’s a lot of possibilities for this, and I’m excited to start finding little shortcuts that I can do via the jump bar.


While this doesn’t have to do with the visual of the workspace, I miss the undo and redo lists from Finale. I appreciate that there’s an undo function because I use that all the time in pretty much any program that I use. But Finale let you access a list of actions, and it was so much easier to go back to a much earlier point instead of hitting undo twenty times and sometimes kind of guessing if you went back far enough.


Note Input

For note input, there are several ways to do it. You can use the mouse, keyboard, MIDI keyboard, and probably some of the DAW features I mentioned earlier. I’ve been using a combination of the computer keyboard and my MIDI keyboard, and it’s going pretty well. There is enough that’s like what I’m used to in Finale that I feel like I’m getting the hang of it pretty quickly, at least for doing one note at a time in one staff.


I like that Dorico seems so much more intelligent about rests than Finale. With Finale, you start at the beginning of a measure—period. If you need rests at the beginning of a measure, you input those first before entering the notes that follow. With Dorico, your notes get input wherever the cursor is. So, if you’re in common, 4/4 time and you put an eighth note somewhere other than the beginning of the measure, Dorico understands that and fills in the appropriate rests at the beginning of the measure. And that is really cool, let me say! I do have to be careful though, as I’ve meant to put notes in the beginning of the measure and not realized that my cursor was not there. So, I end up with rests at the beginning, and that’s where that undo key comes in really handy. I’ll get used to it, and ultimately, I do like this way better. It also understands more when you shift notes rhythmically regarding how rests and even other notes should adjust.


There are a couple of different ways to input multiple notes at once, and I’m still figuring out the ins and outs as to when you need to activate the chord function in order to add notes and when you can just input them all at once via the MIDI keyboard. And then also what might work best with the popover. I need to look at more tutorials or articles on how to do that. It also seems to be picky about what you can do with note input if “select” is still toggled on. I haven’t figured all of that out yet either.


Can I just say that I love that tied notes move together if you have to change pitch? That’s always been such an annoyance with Finale, and while I realize that this is an episode about Dorico, I’ll add that StaffPad also moves tied notes together. In Finale, it never made sense to me that you had to change the pitch of all the tied notes, which was especially annoying if you had a lot of measures of the same tied note, which I’ve had to do before. I’m guessing it’s an old programming thing, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.


Then there’s insert mode. This is another thing that I am still learning my way around and how best to use it. I do like that Dorico is more intelligent about how the notes you insert affect the rhythm of the measure. It seems like you don’t have to do as much deleting and re-inserting overall. But again, I’m still getting used to this, so I still have to delete and re-insert. But along with this, there’s also a stop bar, and this is where you can essentially lock a measure so that alterations you make before that don’t affect things beyond a certain point. That will definitely be helpful!


Articulations and Dynamics

Moving on to articulations, dynamics and more. With articulations, I like that there seems to be a mix-and-match as opposed to just a really long list of all possible articulations. So, if I want the staccato and the tenuto, I just click both of them instead of finding the specific staccato-tenuto marking. And “paste articulations” is awesome! Yes, there’s a similar feature in Finale, and I used that a lot. But this one is so straightforward. When you’re pasting, you just right click and choose “paste special” and one of the choices is “paste articulations”, and that is all you have to do. There’s more magic in that “paste special” option, and I’ll get to that in a bit.


But first we’ll talk about dynamics. There’s both an option on the left panel, but also remember that this is a popover option. There are a couple of things that I still need to figure out, like pretty much everything in this program, there’s still a lot I need to learn. For example, I needed to do fortissimo, then a decrescendo hairpin to piano. I had trouble getting it to work until I was able to click the dynamic without first choosing a note. It’s just another thing I have to play around more with to see what I was really doing. Overall, I feel it’s easier to switch between things like dynamics and articulations, between the popover option and having more of these buttons in the side panels. It just seems like there are fewer clicks overall to input these things. And again, some things may still be a touch faster with Finale’s hotkeys, but that’s not a deal breaker for me.


Paste Special Menu

And back to the “paste special” option. This might be tied with the jump bar for helpfulness. If you right click to paste something, you can access the Paste Special menu. This lets you do things like copy or move to the staff above or below, paste articulations, explode music, reduce music, and swap music. There’s some really handy things that live just in this easily-accessed option. Exploding means you can take chords in one staff and have the notes move into their own separate staves. So, the bottom notes of the chords move to one staff, the middle notes to another staff, and so forth. And while I know you can do that in Finale, I seem to remember it’s hidden away in a plugin. So, if you don’t have the plugin, you might not even know that you can do this.


The other thing I’m really excited for in the Paste Special option is the swap feature. And this lets you swap music between two staves, possibly more, but definitely two staves. I’ve only played with it a little bit, but oh, it’s going to be so helpful for me when I compose and arrange. Because there are times where I decide, no, this really needs to be in this other voice or staff. And so I end up copying it to a new blank staff in order to paste everything and it’s just convoluted. So, to be able to just, with only a couple of clicks, tell it to switch staves, that’s going to be so, so nice.



So we’ll move away from note input and go into engraving. Engraving is separate from writing mode. Overall, I think that’s probably a good idea, but like with everything else, it’s going to take time to get used to it. Because when I’m doing initial input of the music itself, I don’t necessarily care how it looks yet, and I don’t want to have to think about that at that point. I just want to get the music into the program. Dorico has an interesting concept of assigning whatever parts to whatever layouts. That should provide some really good flexibility for certain pieces and ensembles. I haven’t necessarily had to do anything with that yet in the music that I write, but I see where it could be a really helpful thing.


And as with the write mode, some things are definitely different than Finale. For the purpose of the first couple of pieces that I needed to print, I got things where I wanted them, even though some of it was kind of “by guess and by God.” I know once I’m looking at publishing stuff that I’ve produced in Dorico, I’m going to need to do a lot more learning in this part.


Playback and XML

With playback. I played the sample files and they sounded pretty good. We’ll see how it sounds when I get a completed piece of my own in there. It does have a built-in DAW, and I have really no experience in using those. It seems like it would help those who want more control over their playback, but I don’t know for sure. Eventually I will poke around in that section, but in the meantime, if any of you have used the Dorico DAW, I would love to hear from you and how it works and whether you like it.


And finally, I do want to touch on importing from MusicXML. For those of us coming from different programs, this is a really nice feature to have and pretty much all the programs have some sort of XML import/export feature. From StaffPad, I imported a short duet and it seemed to work out okay. The most complicated thing in that piece were some grace notes and they came over fine. They weren’t slashed, but I was able to figure out how to select those and get them slashed in Dorico, so it wasn’t an issue. The instrument transposition also went well, and it honestly went a little better than when I imported from StaffPad into Finale.


I also imported XML from Finale on a file that I’m working on and it came over just fine. I did have a couple of issues with instrument transposition and display, specifically contra alto and contrabass clarinet, but I did do a little bit of internet searching and I was able to solve that problem. It had to do with a forced clef versus letting Dorico do what it needed to do for those instruments. And once I found out how to get rid of the forced clef, things went fine. And now it transposes and displays just like I’m used to.


What will be interesting is I do want to try importing the ocarina octet that I did into Dorico. I used Finale for that project even though I already owned Dorico, because writing for ocarina was completely new to me and I was learning how to write for that instrument so I decided I didn’t also need to learn new software at the same time. Plus, that was a commissioned project, so I didn’t want to add on extra time just so that I could learn how to use the software. But now that the project is finished, I’m looking forward to importing that into Dorico and see how it interprets what I did to make all the different ocarinas sound and display like I wanted them to.


Finale just had one ocarina option for an instrument. I needed eight different ocarinas of various transposition and range. So, yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how Dorico handles that.



And that concludes my adventures with Dorico. I’m enjoying the program. I do think it was a good step to go ahead and buy and start using it. I think they have done a lot of rethinking of how to get music into printed form. I’m looking forward to learning a lot more about it and just getting used to using it, and I think I’ll be very happy with it. I plan to still keep Finale around for various reasons, partly because I have so much work that was created in Finale that it’s just easier to go ahead and at least keep that alongside Dorico. I won’t necessarily upgrade Finale every time, but I already wasn’t upgrading all the time anyway. It all kind of depended on budget, but also what was actually getting fixed or improved in the program.


As always, I would love to hear from you. Do you currently use any notation software? What do you use? Do you like it? Are you thinking about switching to anything else? That kind of stuff? So feel free to email me, and I’d love to hear from you. Until next time.



Thank you for listening to Tonal Diversions! Subscribe wherever podcasts are found and share with a friend until next time. Bye!

Lori Archer Sutherland

Lori Archer Sutherland earned a Bachelor of Music in Theory and Composition degree from the Ohio State University and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She composes, performs, and teaches clarinet. She plays bass clarinet with the Crystal Lake Community Band and the Woodstock City Band, clarinet with Winds Off the Lake Woodwind Quintet, and is the founder and organizer of the Knock on Wood Clarinet Choir, where she plays an even bigger clarinet. Check out her site and podcast at tonaldiversions.com