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Dorico 2: New version of music notation software answers user requests

Written By | Jul 1, 2018

NORTH CANTON, Ohio. Several weeks ago we decided to follow up with Daniel Spreadbury and his team over at Steinberg to inquire as to forthcoming developments with Dorico. Their reply to our list of interview questions was a review copy of Dorico 2. Apparently trying to cement their tantalizingly unpredictable reputation, they’ve now sprung this excellent surprise on the rest of the music world.

Indeed, in this new package, there is a great deal to be excited about.

We previously noted that the Dorico team has been very diligent in responding to customer concerns and requests on their message boards. As a result, they turned many of the best requests from their customer base into reality via several massive updates. Even so, many users continued to insist that the original Dorico release was as incomplete as it seemed promising. For them, that release was a tantalizing shell of what would be yet to come.

Good news. This new Dorico 2 release is what fans of this software – and those musicians and composers on the cusp of making the switch – may have been hoping for all along.

Let’s dive more deeply in to the new software. You will recall that Dorico organizes itself into five “modes.”

  • “Setup” mode (wherein the score setting and instrumentation is defined).
  • “Write” mode (wherein the music is notated).
  • “Engrave” mode (allowing users to manipulate item positioning and spacing).
  • “Print” mode (where various powerful score printing options are presented). And
  • “Play” mode (where MIDI information is handled in tandem yet separately from the letter of the notational law).

The software offers some interfunctionality among the modes. Consequently, getting used to a quick Ctl-2/Ctl-3 key command sequence allows the user to navigate quickly among modes. True, this may involve an adjustment for those not familiar with the Dorico interface. But ultimately, the effort is worth making.

In Dorico 2, the “Play” mode embodies the software’s greatest leap forward. As if in answer to this column’s frequent suggestions, Dorico has finally delivered on its promise to be the most MIDI intelligent notation software on the market. For example, just click on the new version’s “Play” tab, or hit Ctrl-4. You will see that there is now a master tempo line (akin to a Digital Audio Workstation [DAW] “conductor” track) at the top of the page, along with the option to automatically translate tempo operations in this window into music notation.

The MIDI lanes (assigned individually to each stave) still not only allow for MIDI note length changes without changing the actual notation. Now, they also have a dedicated MIDI automation lane. The fully draw-able lanes allow you to control the various musical characteristics of your score via gradual MIDI control change (CC) messages. This gives you the same level of control found in industry-standard DAWs.

For those who wish their DAW and notation software could live under the same roof, this is as close you’re going to get. Add this to the fact that you are utilizing Cubase’s audio engine and expression maps feature, and you’ll soon agree: It’s the best such feature in its class.

The following video demonstrates starting up Dorico, setting up a score, inputting notes, deleting measures, and assigning third party virtual instruments in the “play” view.

In another highly welcome development, NotePerformer 3 – previously exclusive to Sibelius and later Finale – is now available for Dorico 2. For those who remain unfamiliar with it, NotePerformer is Arne Wallander’s brilliant instant playback software. It enables realistic dynamic performance of scores with the most convincing automatic instrument/ensemble balance available.

NotePerformer 3 is currently beta for Dorico 2. As a result, at least at this time, many of the more desired playback functions (such as bowed percussion or string harmonics) do not trigger reliably or play back at all. So NotePerformer 3 compatibility remains a tantalizing work in progress. Nevertheless for this reviewer, it is a wonderfully simple and aesthetically pleasing compositional tool. Its addition here at last allows users to finally sever their connection to previous notation packages.

The following video may demonstrate some of what is now possible in this regard.

Given Dorico’s excellent track record, we have no reason to doubt that the integration between these two packages will soon be complete.

Aside from adding the previously missing standard notation options such as the ability to create custom playing text techniques, large time signatures, slashed notation, or ossia staves, Dorico 2’s unique “setup” option makes it far easier to create true divisi parts and complex instrument and score changes without having to create visual “fakes” or resorting to different scores. The old method of having separate scores for parts and for conductor is now a thing of the past.

Above the top of the score, a partially transparent series of boxes called the “system track” appears. When you toggle these on, you can add or delete bars. Full copying is made even faster.

Holding down the Alt key allows you to select sections of music within deeper subdivisions in the measure. So imagine you select the last two beats of bar three of your score through the first beat of your fourth bar. Hitting the “+” key in the system track would then place not three measures, but three beats between the end of selection and the next notated notes, making “drop in” notation a cinch.

Dorico 2 is loaded with nifty little features such as these. They mix the fulfillment of user requests with other lovely options that most users only wish they would have thought of themselves.

Dorico 2

Dorico 2 screen capture.

Further advances in this new package include effective microtonal playback (dependent on the sound source used, of course). Also implemented: powerful composers’ tools that succeed in bringing Dorico up to par with other packages in this regard. Such tools include the “explode” and “reduce” arrangement options. Also added in this edition: Stave movement options, which also enable easy cross-stave notation.

Dorico 2 now includes the ability to import video for scoring purposes. Matched with the new MIDI capabilities in “Play” mode, the potentially industry shaking effects of this software quickly become apparent.

The import video interface is sleek and quick. However, Dorico 2 does not export directly to video. When we asked the Dorico team about this, they felt it was not (at the time) worth the resources to wrestle with video codecs. Likewise, the myriad of other concerns that arise whenever writing video is involved. So while you can export your newly realistic scores through the Cubase audio engine, you’ll have to marry them to video elsewhere.

Final observations on Dorico 2

Where the original Dorico was previously found lacking, it now matches the industry standard. The original version of this software was initially promising and potentially revolutionary. Dorico 2 Pro now leads the field with options that its competitors have, quite simply, not even begun to implement.

As a result, Dorico 2 is the most significant move forward in notation software since Sibelius first entered the market. Clearly, it deserves the serious consideration of every musician in need of such powerful tools.

For those of us who have already taken the plunge with Dorico 1, this second addition truly feels like Christmas morning in July. Dorico 2 provides us with what we had hoped for. And so much more.

(Note: A copy of Dorico 2 Pro was provided to the author to facilitate this review. All opinions herein are entirely those of the author.)

—Headline image. Dorico 2 Pro packaging. Image via Steinberg web site.


Dorico 2 Pro (full version) currently lists for $559.99. Dorico 2 Elements (Entry level version) lists for $99.99. Upgrades from previous versions of Dorico also available for $99.99. Upgrades to Dorico Pro 2: from Dorico Elements 2:  $449.99. Currently direct from Steinberg.  Upgrades, earlier versions may be be available via other sites.


Mark Nowakowski

Dr. Mark Nowakowski is a composer whose works have been performed across the United States and Europe. He holds five degrees in various music concentrations