Composing: Best strategies and tacticts for song-development with Dorico?

Hi, being new to Dorico, I wonder what good or best strategies and tactics might be for the following.

I wrote a simple short phrase (4 bars) a while ago for several instruments. Now I want to build on it and develop the phrase into some song. Knowing, there are several ways to do it, here’s my current approach. It’s both a test and something I wanted to do anyway for a while. Please feel free to direct me to more efficient ways : )

INTENDED structure: INTRO- A - B - A - OUTRO

a. Flow 1: indicating the original phrase, which happens to have 5 players, one being Piano /* I'm a conservation nerd */
b. Flow 2: only Piano, with one staff being the melody, bass being some preliminary chords /* simplification */
~~~ compose ~~~~~~
c. Flow 3: copy of Flow 2, using the phrase as INTRO, for INTRO-development (so it already had some change)
d. Flow 4: only Piano, for developing part A
e. Flow 5: only Piano, for developing part B
f. Flow 6: only Piano, copy of part A, perhaps with minor changes
g. Flow 7: only Piano, for OUTRO-development
~~~ consolidate ~~~~~~
later: perhaps Flow 8 to consolidate best parts from above (probably by lot's of copy and paste of many bars)
later: perhaps Flow 9 to spread the Piano part again to some players
E.g. in Flow 3 (INTRO) I spot several motives, which I'd like to develop further in part A and/or B. So I pondered using Lyrics, just to indicate "m1", "m2" etc. for the different motives, so it's easy for me to see.
... what I'm trying to do is some creative work, like brainstorming. Like doing pottery you add and remove material, try this and that, and gradually something takes shape which you like for yourself. Lot's of hay, with some needles hidden, with several versions or branches, choices, possibilities. Only a few bars will survive, and the final song will probably need some final makeover.
Also probably the development flows will contain many good and bad ideas lateron. So I certainly will want to mark, highlight, comment which ones to try for consolidation in Flow 8. And yes I expect some clutter in those Flows ; -)
So, I'm happy to learn from you.
Thanks + best, Michael


  • coloring notes and using multiline Lyrics works fine for me to distinguish motifs and spot its components

  • using double bars and text (Shift + x) works fine for me to compile them into new motifs

Nice tool.

I think that’s a good use of flows. I’ve not used so many in projects, but certainly have used flows as a way to jot down ideas and “play” with them. Typically I’ve had 3 flows in a project like yours. The first is the “best” version, then the second might be a version I’m saving in case I mess up and want to get the original back.

For the third flow called, say, “ideas” and I put a few blank measures in between each thought. I might have multiple versions of the same phrase.

Typically each flow starts on its own page, but sometimes I’ll have multiple flows per page. This is handy because I can see multiple ideas on one page.

I’ve used both lyrics and text to write myself notes. Text is a little more flexible (I keep forgettinug what the blank space character is, so I use underscore) and easy to change the font, etc. Try both and see what you prefer. Also, I really like the new “comment” function, which doesn’t show the comment on the score but just a flag you can click on.

Anyway I’m sure you’ll have your own system figured out after a few projects. Enjoy!

Thanks for sharing, @rubberfingers : )

Good ideas the way you use flows. From my attempt I think I will use several files and a folder in future for composing, like:

  • excessive use of flows for analysis and creations, see my opening /* analysis (Piano) */

  • at least one for trying selections into a song /* flows for INTRO-A-B- etc. */

  • a final file, which has probably only one flow left /* final song, at least a specific version */

  • perhaps another one for assigning voices of the “final” to a band or orchestra /* probably 1 flow, many Players */

Thanks, I enjoyed developing my song more than ever : )

Given any layout can show any combination of players and flows, you may as well keep everything in one project.

Sure, but navigation and retrival gets harder quickly right now.

To illustrate, let’s assume I place N items in a file, which can be Players, Flows, Layouts, Ideas, Phrases, Textnotes, whatever. Then complexity will rise at least with N^2, and so will retrival effort (“where did I put xyz ?”, “did I modify in the right place?” etc.).

So doubling N to 2*N will make things worse by about a factor of 4. Splitting 1 file evenly into 2 will reduce N to N/2 per file, which makes things easier by about a factor of 4 per file, and in total by about a factor of 2 for 2 files: So still a gain is to be expected.

Meaning, “division and conquer” still holds …
… which is the background of my consideration above ; -)

However, one can expect an N_crit, after which any Dorico file becomes far too complex for 50 % of its users. E.g. 100 Players x 100 Flows x 100 Phrases_per_flow_with_100_bars_each x … will probably be above N_crit. Which again is more of a user-issue, i.e what people do with a product.

Of course, there may be ways to deal with this user-induced rise in complexity within a single file, like hierarchical flow (retrival), indexing, searching, linking, self-discipline and such. However, file splitting will always work as a remedy to over-complex creativity ; -)

So it’s a generic consideration, no specifics of Dorico 3, which remains a wonderful and useful program. File splitting would even remain being worth a thought, when complexity management improves in Dorico over time. (Which is meant as a neutral statement and prediction, not as hidden critics.) While in the ideal, utopic case in far distant future this difference may tend towards zero.

Sure, but your initial example only uses eight or nine flows and it’s a pain in the backside to switch between open projects to copy and paste. If your use case stretches to 100s of flows, by all means use multiple projects.

(Oh, and while it’s not currently possible to split a file, it’s incredibly easy to import flows from other projects via the File menu, or to duplicate a project then delete some flows from the original file and some other flows from the duplicate file.)

I think your questions will sort themselves out after you do a few projects. Try them in different ways and report back!

Thanks @pianoleo and @rubberfingers.

I would encourage you to try to keep related material in a single project. As Leo pointed out, switching between projects is slow (I believe it’s because the audio engine reloads each time). Feel free to conduct the experiment yourself, of course – I suspect you will soon be frustrated.

Beyond the practical aspect of avoiding audio engine reload time, keeping your material in a single project lets you make effective use of the powerful player-flow-layout relationship in setup mode. Here are some examples:

Create separate layouts for ideas vs compositions. These are effectively different “buckets” to view your flows, and you can configure them differently. So maybe you have an ideas layout that allows multiple flows on a single page and doesn’t show flow headings. Then you have a compositions layout that puts flows on separate pages, and shows flow headings. You’re able to quickly navigate to individual flows and compositions by pulling up the correct layout and scrolling around. Caveat: Dorico will play the flows in the order they’re listed in Setup – which means if you have an “Ideas” layout, and your flows are laid out “Idea 1” “Composition 1” “Idea 2” and you play from the beginning, then Dorico will play “Idea 1”, then be silent as it passes over “Composition 2” (which exists on the playback timeline but isn’t viewed in the “Ideas” layout), and then play “Idea 2”. This is confusing at first but you get used to it (and it has to do with how it handles playback associated with videos). So the basic rule is, if you want two flows to play in succession, they need to be next to each other in the flows setup – regardless of how they appear in the layout.

Create “compose” and “arrange” layouts for different perspectives of the same flow data. To use this, make a new flow. Open the “compose” layout, which only has pianoforte* instruments, and write the tune. Now open a new window / tab / panel, and view the same flow in the “arrange” layout, which has the different instruments involved in your arrangement. Copy from the “compose” layout into “arrange”, or simply use it as a guide to write new parts directly in “arrange.” All system information that you create in “compose” (meter, tempo, system text, chord symbols, bar lines, etc) will carry over into “arrange.”

  • I use pianoforte instruments in my “compose” layouts because under the hood, Dorico considers “pianoforte” as a separate instrument from “piano”, even though they sound the same. This is a useful trick so that when importing a flow into a different project, I can use the “merge into existing instruments” option. If I set the compose instruments as piano, then the first track would merge into the first existing piano track in my score. But because I use pianoforte, the full score piano stays untouched, and my compose tracks will be merged into any existing pianoforte parts, or new ones created if necessary.

Create layouts / flow configurations for different ensembles in the same project. Did you know you can create solo piano, big band, and orchestra arrangements all in a single project? Use the “Add Ensemble” option in setup to build up a mega orchestra: Triple Woodwind, Big Band Horns, 4321 Brass (delete the extra trumpets and trombones), Harps / Celeste / Piano, Jazz Rhythm section, String Section. Now when you make a flow, you de-select all of the players, and add only the ones you want to participate in the flow. You have all the players at hand, and can configure a piano solo, big band, tuba concerto, woodwind + string orchestra, whatever your heart desires.

Create “focus” layouts as needed. Sometimes I just want to zoom in on how the flute and strings interact. Create a “Custom score layout,” select the flow(s) that you’re working on, select the players to focus on, and there you go. Now you are focused on a single group of instruments in a single flow, but you can switch to a different layout to see / hear the full arrangement (or a different focused selection!)

Only add complete, keeper flows to “Full score” layout. Most of the stuff I have in Dorico is transient, and is only used for building up a finished piece. Anything complete that I want to keep goes in the “Full score” layout so that I can easily see what’s done, without all the mess getting in the way. It feels really good to add a flow to “Full score”!

Print ideas to paper. Dorico is pretty comfortable to write in, but I usually prefer to write away from the computer, at the piano. Dorico’s beautiful notation makes it really slick to print out some ideas and bring them with me to the piano to play with. At first I printed to PDF and viewed them on my iPad, but it’s a pretty small screen and can only show one page at a time. So by printing to paper, I can have as many pages as will fit on my piano stand, or I can tape to the wall and use the ideas as guides for improvising.

I hope you find some of that useful. Whether you use any of those specific ideas or not doesn’t really matter… my point is to illustrate that the relationship between players-flows-layout is really powerful. Once you wrap your head around it, you can use it to organize a ton of music if you want to, including all aspects from initial ideas to full-blown arrangements.

Also I just want to shout out the other composers a bit. Dorico really works as a compositional tool and I hope it gets some more love for that use case going forward – it doesn’t have to just be about notation :slight_smile:

1 Like

A handy advice:
Create keyboard shortcuts for the tedious “Edit->Go to->Next Flow” and “Edit->Go to->Previous Flow”. I use alt+6 (numerical keyboard) and alt+4 (numerical keyboard), respectively.
You do this in “Edit->Preferences->Key commands->Edit” (long way to go to go to “go to” preferences).