Composing / Arranging Blues Horn Section - Advantages Dorico over Cubase?

Hey there,
I am not sure if I should spend the time and money to learn Dorico so I think it might be a good question to ask users here. :slight_smile:
(I have been researching Finale, Sibelius and Dorico and think I will like Dorico the best.)

My style & current skills
I am a musician (songwriter, bandleader on vocals & guitar) and guitar teacher.
To compose my songs I use Cubase 12 Pro and record guitar(s), vocals, bass and I program / fingerdrum the drum parts. My style is traditional electric (Chicago) Blues.

For my videos and for my students I create guitar TABs in GuitarPro8 (I am a GP power user) and I am happy with the results. I wouldn’t need a more professional score editor for this.

What I want to do
Now I want to add horn sections to my songs & recordings, think Blues Brothers style.
I need to learn how to arrange for horns and I want to listen to my creations while I try to learn / arrange and then I want to record those parts.

I bought a book with horn scores of James Brown, Blues Brothers, and Soul hits
and some arranging books including “Instrumental Jazz Arranging” (Hal Leonard, by Mike Tomaro & John Wilson)
and “Jazz Composition and Arranging in the Digital Age” (by Richard Sussman and Michael Abene).
Both the Jazz arranging books include Sibelius and Finale tips and files.

I already own NI Session Horns Pro (Sample based),
SWAM Saxophones (modeling) and
V Horns Trumpets, Trombones & Saxophones (modeling).

My question is:
What would be the advantages if I start using Dorico over staying with Cubase only?
I understand in Cubase I would use the key editor to enter the horn parts and in Dorico I could actually enter the notes from the scores (like I do in GuitarPro).

Are there any other differences / advantages in using Dorico except for seeing actual scores instead of a key editor? Maybe easier / more advanced humanize functions etc.?

I understand I can use Expression maps in both programs.
Can I easily use / integrate parts I create in Dorico into Cubase?
Looking forward to your thoughts, experiences and recommandations! :slight_smile:

Welcome! This is just my tiny perspective. You know how sometimes you hear a very different style, one perhaps that you aren’t particularly drawn to at first, that you think sounds kinda all the same and maybe not so hard to write. So you give it a shot, and start to really listen to the genre and begin to realize that actually there is a whole lot more there, to the why and how and nuance and history and layers to the music to peel back? At least that describes me - most recently with electronic dance music but I digress.

IMO, Dorico is the better ( or supplemental) companion if you decide to take that deeper journey. Nothing at all wrong with adding some horn sounds in Cubase !! But I thought maybe a teacher who appreciates blues would also enjoy getting deeper into the other jazz players minds. I think that’s what it is really about- the perspective and head space that either tool puts you in. Like you said about wanting to hear as you compose - what you SEE and how you see it is also valuable feedback to what is happening IMO. Even the fonts and the way they write it down. I would propose that something like Dorico elements isn’t a major investment if you want to start there. You could spend that on two books :slight_smile:

Being around horn players - that would be my other reason, the ability to efficiently create parts for live players. That’s a fairly easy group to find here locally- many playing just for fun, and there is no comparison IMO either in sound or in understanding their way of things.


Thank you for your helpful thoughts, gdball!

I will give Dorico a try, I just downloaded the free SE version to see how the basic use of it works (will start on Monday, have a festival gig over the weekend).

One more question:
(How) is it possible to hear the other instruments I recorded (guitars, bass, vocals) and programmed (drums) in Cubase, when I compose & arrange the horns in Dorico?
I was hoping there was a plugin version of Dorico that would run in Cubase like the one Band In A Box has nowadays. Can I import the Audio and / or MIDI tracks / VST instruments from Cubase easily into Dorico?
And when I have finished the horn parts, can I easily import them from Dorico into Cubase? As MIDI / instrument tracks?

Again: Thank you so much for your helpful thoughts!
I think a helpful community is a big and important part of a software. :slight_smile:

At the moment (and speaking only for myself) the most pain free way for me to move DAW audio into Dorico is to export (or convert) the DAW audio as a video - (images not required) - and then import that video into Dorico. There are other ways, but with that one, you’ll know that at whatever arbitrary point you decide to stop or start playback in Dorico, that the imported audio in the video will be in sync with what you are writing.

Going from Dorico to the DAW -you can export either the audio or Midi for use in Cubase. There are other ways - more complex setups for syncing them by Timecode, sending the MIDI more directly, etc., but I think the export is the least complex when you are completely new to Dorico. Please do be aware that Dorico and Cubase expression maps are not exactly the same thing - not inter-changeable (yet?) and so that may affect your preferred choice of export.

Closer integration is on the roadmap if I haven’t miss-heard, and often talked about.

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I just wanted to chime in here with my two cents. My impression reading your post was that you are getting in a little deeper than you need to. If you are really just trying to write horn parts, your best bet is just listening/transcribing charts that you are trying to emulate. Mostly it is about feel and phrasing. Much of what you’ll write is going to be octaves and unisons plus a few voicing ‘tricks’ when harmonizing. You’ll be able to glean the voicings from either of those books but they are then much more geared to big band writing - which is more complex than you should probably be getting on a Chicago blues tune.

As to the notation program - I tell anyone just learning one for the first time to definitely start with Dorico. It is the most modern and has the most stable future (as far as I can tell) and is quite easy to learn when you don’t have the baggage of decades of experience with one of the others. But I also think that is overkill for the needs you’ve described. Cubase also has a notation editor if you just want to see it as notes. I have never used it but assuming it is as terrible as the one in Logic, it is still fine for trying things out and seeing how it is written. And in a pinch you can even print charts for a quick horn section session where you just need notes and not a beautifully engraved chart. You can still be experimenting with Dorico for when your needs have outgrown what you can do in Cubase. Having to go between DAW and notation program (when it isn’t really necessary) is a pain.

At least for me, I would stick with the tools you have and invest the time in creating and refining the music that is your ultimate goal.

As I said, just my personal opinion. Others will likely disagree!
Best of luck!!

ETA: there is a series of tutorials on horn part writing on youtube that is good if your more of a visual learner:

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Much of what you’ll write is going to be octaves and unisons plus a few voicing ‘tricks’ when harmonizing. You’ll be able to glean the voicings from either of those books but they are then much more geared to big band writing - which is more complex than you should probably be getting on a Chicago blues tune.

At least for me, I would stick with the tools you have and invest the time in creating and refining the music that is your ultimate goal.

Thank you, those are actually great recommendations!
As I initially wrote, I am not sure if I should spend the time with learning Dorico indepth.
So I simply start in Cubase and see how far I come. :slight_smile:

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I think you should stay with GP8. GP continues to have great new versions and it can do horns including playback of faux bends used in blues/jazz . GP will be able to indicate the bends using GP’s bend notation which indicates prebend or bend, and indicates how many steps to bend, including 1/4 bends etc.

Neither Cubase nor Dorico will offer bending sounds for the horns because no VST offers this. Some VSTs may create some bend samples but they will not sound authentic. For recordings you would want to hire real horn players, not use MIDI Playback for the backing track. Dorico will be able to notate bends, however horn players don’t even appreciate or expect these bend notations anyway. Dorico will not indicate bend length or amount as clearly as GP.

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As a long term user of Cubase, writer of horn parts, and beginner with Dorico, I would say there isn’t a great benefit in migrating to Dorico when it comes to writing for horn sections. Horn section parts are generally quite simple and the Cubase score editor and key editor are absolutely good enough for this.

For me the simplest way to do it is to use combined patches in Session Horns Pro to play around with ideas. Sometimes I even leave those patches in place for final recordings and don’t even bother to split the horns into separate instrument tracks!

Modern horn section VSTs are so good you would have to hire the best players in the best studios to get better results with live recordings, depending of course on the parts you write.

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Thank you for this helpful reply, superblonde! :smiley:
This is very good to know about GP8. which I love to use.

About the bends:
I will check if the modeled VSTs have them controllable.
The sampled “Jazz” horns (probably not the classical ones) usually have those scoops, doits etc. available - of course usually not controllable. But I assume those professional players used on the recording sessions of the VSTs probably do a better job at style appropriate playing than me anyways. :upside_down_face:

Thank you, Richard, this is what I needed to know!
One question that I have is:
How do you handle the transposing instruments?
When I copy an example from an arranging book into Cubase to play around with it, it’s usually written for Bb or Eb instruments.
But to understand what’s going on I want to see the instruments in C.

Hi Andi,

In Cubase there are lots of ways of transposing.

Transposing in cubase

Of course you can also simply move notes up and down in the key editor using the arrow keys!