Composing in the DAW vs. Dorico

I just wanted to say, as I have some familiarity with this, that I agree with everything @andreasaaser has said. But I should bring up something else - it is extremely common when you get into media scoring that you are working on a project that is entirely synthetic and using samples, no live performers, unless it has a pretty good budget. If there are no live performers, then there is no need of notation outside of assisting in your composition process by allowing you to more easily view your music in a vertical sense. If you don’t need actual people to play the music, it is much better to just write in the DAW and not worry about the notation aspect, hands down.

In a perfect world, I do see the use of writing in Dorico even in cases where everything uses samples and synths due to the fact that it provides you with that vertical birds-eye view of the score. Just to clarify, I write directly to a DAW a great deal of the time myself, and I am perfectly at home with a piano roll, but the very real downside is that I feel I end up with a very linear/horizontal view of everything. For instance, I may play in an oboe melody first, then add a cello and double bass line, then violas, etc. Each time I am really only looking at that instrument or section in isolation - I do hear everything else, but I just can’t visually see them all together the way I can on a score. That is just an example of how working in a DAW can put horse blinders on your head and makes you focus on just one instrument/section without regard for what else is happening and the bigger picture in terms of doublings and balance and voicings. To me, those bigger picture things are always a lot easier to see from notation than from piano roll view in a DAW, and Cubase’s notation is frankly pretty terrible, so it is not very useful for this purpose. I am also not hopeful that Cubase’s notation is ever going to improve to the point where I consider it to be satisfactory even just for getting this large-scale view of what is happening.

Due to the fact that Dorico has been adding a lot of DAW features, I do hope at some point that it might get to the point where I could do media scoring directly in it even where notation is not necessary, in order to get this birds-eye view. I also think that it is the only notation program that really seems to have a chance of getting there, but it isn’t there yet. When it comes to the tools that you use, because you are composing right now, you have to choose from what is available now, vs what might come in the future. At the moment, that for the most part means Cubase, and not Dorico.


If I can cut in I would have a few useful recommendations that can offer help for those who prefer composing in an “old” way. The real problem has been already defined here, but I will rephrase it in simpler terms: time and flexibility. DAW usually is more flexible when it comes to rapid changes, but not for every type of music. If you write for media the score quite often is simpler in structure than concert music, so DAW is very suitable. If you write concert music, in my personal opinion, DAW is difficult. So what to do if you write a complex score where you prefer to read it in partition form not as horizontal bars? Use a tool called Vienna Ensemble Pro. There you can set up your orchestra outside Dorico or DAW and when you transfer MIDI from Dorico to DAW the assignment of instruments takes minutes, because everything is already there. In my practice I also sometimes use the ability of Dorico to export audio tracks of every used instrument. I export them dry, import to Cubase and do mixing and mastering there. But for me the key point addressing time/flexibility issue is VEP.


I’ve just opened in Dorico the midi file of a short piece I wrote some twenty years ago in Logic. It’s as if my eyes were finally seeing all the finer details of the imagined music, that had gone lost while composing in the DAW.



Being able to render quality mock-ups directly from Dorico seems to be the “holy grail” for a lot of composers who use notation. I think Steinberg understands this and is working towards it. I believe @ed_buller has done a great deal of work with playback templates to this end, to the point that he writes entirely in Dorico, and maybe bounces stems for mixing. But no MIDI data goes to the DAW.

There is also a contingent of users who want minimal DAW features in Dorico, and would prefer that it be focused primarily on engraving.

Dorico is starting to feel very bloated for a piece of notation software…

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You might be right, but of course that is very subjective.

I heard this many years ago on Finale’s user forums, with even its meagre playback features labelled as “bloat” that distracts from the development of ‘core engraving’ features.

It’s a rare musician who would not want any playback features; and Dorico has to cater to as wide an audience as possible, to be commercially viable – Jazzers, Church musicians, Music Theatre, Contemporary, Musicologists, and the seemingly thousands of people who are all making film music. :rofl:
Music notation is a ‘niche’ market to start with, and there are two other commercial competitors, plus MuseScore (whose version 4 beta promises significant playback features); plus surprisingly many ‘also-rans’.

The more users are attracted to Dorico, the better that is for all of us. I don’t use Guitar and Chords stuff; but I’m glad that Dorico has it, if that increases its userbase, and keeps Daniel and the team in biscuits. If I were to say “I don’t think Dorico should have features that I don’t use”…, well, I leave you to judge that.

Dorico 4 has introduced at least as many engraving features as playback features, plus many productivity features for getting the notation out faster.


Dorico is not only music notation software, but also composition software.

It is intended not only to make it possible to reproduce or originate published music notation, but also to support the creation of new music. Being able to export great-sounding audio from music notation is as much a valid use case as being able to print a beautiful score. Being able to compose and develop ideas within the software is as important as being able to efficiently reproduce an existing page of music.


I think another valid reason for working in notation first is for those of us who don’t have strong keyboard skills. That and what @mducharme brought up about being able to see the big picture are my primary reasons for working in notation first.


I have a good ear, but the finer points of orchestral color still elude me. To me, there is no substitute to hearing decent playback of what I’ve written.

And yes, I know that’s not the same as real people playing it… I experience that jarring reality almost weekly! But decent playback still is a huge help to get to me most of the way there.


I’m glad to hear that’s the philosophy, and of course you have all put tremendous effort to making this happen.

My use case for Dorico is exclusively composition at this point.

I look forward to seeing what’s in store!

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I do think that is a valid reason for many composers, but probably not for the original poster themselves and others wanting to get into film/TV scoring. If they are going into film/TV scoring and are going to be facing normal deadlines associated with this particular line of work, their keyboard skills need to be at least fairly strong, or they won’t be able to handle it. So, if they are working in notation instead of a DAW because their keyboard skills are not good, the solution there is for them to improve their keyboard skills.

That’s some good honest feedback. I would concede playing parts in results in a more natural sounding performance so the amount of time to achieve that by transferring between platforms would likely never be as quick as playing it in the first place.

I’d turn that around. The real reason that the vast majority of Film/TV scoring is so nondescript and formulaic is due to the prevalence of DAWs, the mediocre keyboard skills required to drive them and the imposition of ridiculous commercial time constraints.

If the sine qua non for the creation of quality music was keyboard skill… think how much poorer the World would be?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that virtually every single one of the ‘great’ composers was also a great, if not virtuoso pianist. Go figure.

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In my case I am a guitarist with good technical skills, but as a keyboard player I am bad, and besides, I don’t even like the instrument … :grimacing: :sweat_smile:so if the question passes through the keyboard skills, for me it would be over. I could probably get around this by playing the VSTs through a midi guitar, and in fact that’s something I might consider in the future. But having said that, I find it fantastic to compose using notation, not only because Dorico “replaces” me at the keyboard, but above all because I can often hazard things that if I had to play directly I might not even conceive.
For these reasons I hope that Dorico (and vst technology) will continue on the path it has already undertaken to become a sort of DAW that works through musical notation. Obviously the path is long but I think it’s the right path to take …

Please note that I’m not saying that composers in general need strong keyboard skills to be able to compose. I’m just stating that at least reasonably good keyboard skills are a necessity for film/TV/video game composers in the present day. I know others who would go further and say that you have to be at a level that you were able to play some reasonably difficult Beethoven sonatas as a film/TV/game composer.

I’m not a professional and I didn’t know there was so much pressure to compose, from this point of view it becomes quite important to have, as you say, good skills on the keyboard, in fact as I said I’d be curious to understand if I could use a midi guitar instead of the “classic” " keyboard. But imho from a compositional point of view, the fact of composing through notation broadens the creative possibilities a lot …

This is getting a bit off topic.

I think the reason most of it is “nondescript” and “formulaic”, and I would agree in part, is the time constraints. It isn’t that these composers are hacks and are not capable, they are often quite talented. However, composers no longer get picture lock before working on a film. It is much easier to revise music to fit a cue where the timings have changed if the music is mostly pad or ostinato and doesn’t have anything melodic, so strong melody has been avoided in part because of this. If you write a film music cue with a thematic statement and you have to remove 0.5 seconds from one spot and 1 second from another due to an edit, what do you do? It ends up being a lot of work as you can’t just chop out a couple notes in the middle of the theme for “Star Wars” or “Indiana Jones” and still have it work. To avoid this, most composers have used pads and ostinati instead of melodies. As a result, the development of film music in recent years has been through timbre, via sound design with synthesizers and unusual instrumentation and other such things. I’m also not saying that there is anything wrong with music that is primarily driven through timbre, but we can have a balance. But, saying that timbre is a perfectly reasonable musical element to construct a score upon does not mean that musical motif and melody have to be tossed out the window.

Because so many scores have been written with this pad/ostinato/timbre focus, mostly for purely practical reasons, having a melody starts to seem “old fashioned”, and then filmmakers start to prefer that composers avoid melody. This is where I think things are starting to go awry - composers with time constraints avoid melody, fewer films have melody, melody starts to sound old fashioned, filmmakers want to avoid melody as a result.

But again, I think this is starting to get off topic from the original post.


I don’t disagree with anything stated, but a “Note Data Pipeline” between Cubase and Dorico with crossgrade pricing between them could have accomplished this just as well, no?

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