Dorico 4 Manual Key Concepts

I have worked my way through all the YouTube videos for Dorico 4 and through Daniel’s blog post - and it’s clear that a mountain of impressive work has gone into Dorico 4.

My favourite feature - at this stage only on the basis of what the YouTube videos reveal - is the Library manager and Library menu - what a brilliant way to ensure that the enormous power of Dorico doesn’t end up becoming a weakness instead of a strength. And the MIDI import stuff looks like it will greatly improve workflow for people who work in DAWs. I also thought that the interface changes to Insert mode and the stop feature are excellent features - each of these three features show that much thought is going into the user and how to best help them.

I confess though that whilst the introductory concepts section of the Dorico 4 manual has been revised I believe it falls far short of what will most help a new user become attuned to Dorico.

Here for example are the first paragraphs - they are focused on other apps - they don’t get to the key concepts which must be understood to begin to work with Dorico:

“Deep design considerations are required to create a notation software like Dorico, which might be of particular interest to users familiar with scoring applications. Dorico has a forward-thinking design that is led by musical concepts rather than computational convenience, and this provides many benefits.
In most other graphically-orientated scoring applications, the highest-level concept is the staff or the instrument definition that creates a staff or staves. When setting up your full score in such programs, you start by adding the correct number of staves, and you are immediately forced into making decisions about the layout. This means that you must know in advance whether two flutes share a staff or have their own individual staves, or whether there should be two trumpets or three. Many of these decisions have significant effects throughout the process of inputting, editing, and producing individual instrumental parts.
Typically, every system of a score must contain the same number of staves, even if some are hidden on particular systems. This requires the user to manage common conventions for themselves, such as multiple players of the same instrument sharing staves. This can be time- consuming and is naturally error-prone”.

This is far too much content before getting to how Dorico works. But even when the manual turns to Dorico’s key concepts it contains too much content which should not exist in a pithy introduction.

I believe that an introduction that helped new users could be something like this:

“Because Dorico works in significantly different ways to other popular music notation apps on the market you may find reading this section is helpful in ensuring you become quickly attuned to the way Dorico works.

The key concepts which you must understand in order to work with Dorico are:

Modes - Dorico is a feature rich program. In order to ensure that Dorico present only the tools that will be helpful at each stage of completing a project Dorico has five modes which the user must move between - each mode’s name giving insight into the kinds of tasks that are done in that mode - Setup, Write, Engrave, Play and Print. While learning Dorico it will be helpful to ask yourself which of these modes best describes what it is that you are seeking to do.

Projects - a project is everything that a user can do within a single Dorico file. It could be anything from a single music class worksheet, a pop song or an entire symphony or even a musical. Whether or not to create one or more projects in completing your task should become clearer as you read about more key Dorico concepts below.

Layouts - Typical score programs have in the past provided a single full score and a single part for each instrument or player. Dorico allows the same musical content to be displayed on any number of layouts - all the layouts existing in a single Dorico file. Each layout has whichever instruments the user desires and has individualised formatting.

Flows - Flows are individual silos in which musical content exists. Music only ever exists inside a single flow. However the one flow’s content can be displayed on any number of layouts. A layout consists of one or more flows - one by default but you can add additional flows. Why would this be necessary or helpful? Because:

  • flows enable bar numbering to restart at 1 or any other number
  • flows enable titles on pages to have their own specific content and style
    All other formatting is linked to layouts not individual flows.
    Flows are therefore similar in what they achieve to sections in a word processing document. With these things in mind here therefore are reasons why one might choose to enter music into more than one flow:
  • when creating a work with multiple movements, sections, or musical numbers.
  • when wanting different parts of the same movement, section or number to be formatted with different title content or title style.

Players - Typical music notation apps think only in terms of instruments - it is up to the user to group two or more instruments which must be played by a single player on both the score and the player’s part. All the work of merging the content of all the Player’s instruments must be done by the user. Dorico instead adds the concept of Players and allows one or more instruments to be allocated to a Player - that information is all that is necessary for Dorico to knows how to automatically create a part for the Player which merges the content from all the Player’s instruments and even adds instrument change indications. Right from the beginning in Setup mode it is players that you will be adding - unless you need a player to have more than one instrument allocated to them.

Views - Dorico has two views - Page view - which shows the chosen layout’s flows on pages - and Galley view which shows all of a layout’s flows in a single stream from left to right. If a Player plays more than one Instrument the individual instruments staves are hidden in page view - merged into one - but in Galley view it’s possible to see the individual instrument staves.

Instruments - There are a large range of Instruments that a user might wish to write for. Dorico provides a very large catalogue of instruments (instruments are even divided by their key such as Trumpet in Bb or Trumpet in C) which only need to be chosen for Dorico to handle instrument labels, clefs and notation styles appropriate for the instrument.

I can’t see why an introductory section needs much more content than this. The detail should be in the body of the manual not the introduction.

If my posting this on the day of version 4 seems very unsubtle I point out that it was more subtle when I made these suggestions eighteen months ago.

The work of creating, adding to, and maintaining the enormous Dorico manuals is huge - and requires a range of skills which may not all exist in one person (this is no doubt true of how the rest of Dorico’s team contributes). I am just persisting in my hope that you will more effectively lead new users.

PS If I have misdescribed something above I am sure that Lillie will know - but if you really have to chime in to correct me because what I write is harmful in its current form then I guess you had better do so.

And my suggestion in 2020 was as it is now - that you make content similar to what I just wrote also available in a single introductory video that appears boldly when the program is opened for the first time.

Hello again @substanceoverstyle. I’m sorry to hear from this post and your reply to your earlier thread that you look back on that discussion less than fondly, as this forum is on the whole a very kind and supportive place. To me at least, there seemed to be some responses there genuinely seeking to engage with and help you, myself very much included.

There aren’t all that many changes in the Dorico concepts chapter of the manual, it’s true. I certainly read as much of your feedback as I could, as I do for many users, and considered your suggestions. However, this must also be balanced against other documentation priorities and indeed the translation efforts required to re-translate re-written topics. Where such rewrites are necessary, absolutely they go ahead. I hope you can forgive me though for not significantly revising material in response only to your comments, especially when you shared your belief that your preferences are likely not widely shared by others. If more people give feedback that its current form is lacking or not helping them as much as it could, then revisions could well be in order.

In the intervening time since your first post, my manuals colleagues have implemented some excellent improvements to the presentation of our manuals, including more disclosure arrows – making it clearer which topics have sub-topics. I remember this being an issue for you in finding the other topics in the Dorico concepts chapter before (all the topics in there are now also at the same depth-level and hopefully therefore more discoverable in the first instance).

We also published a new, separate guide for new users last year called First Steps – in its introduction, there’s this page that introduces the key components in a Dorico project, informed by user discussions I’d seen, including yours.

Finally, I would like to encourage you again (as was suggested by others back on your old thread) that if you want to present your understandings of how Dorico works in your own guide, blog, book etc, please do go ahead. Other users have done so, and there are some published examples as well. As much as I work hard to make Dorico’s manual as clear and comprehensive a guide as possible, it’s never going to be the only useful resource and nor should it be: some users learn better from tutorial videos, some from the tutorial-style Discover Dorico sessions, some from forum discussions. You clearly have an interest in describing and explaining: go for it!


@styleoversubstance, I agree we all have views on how the documentation might be better tailored to help us learn faster, but everybody is different and so I’m not sure one particular view of how it should be done is useful for everybody. For example, I’m a written word person, and can’t stand the proliferation of video learning content. Most often these days people have abandoned written word documentation.

The Dorico team however gives us a great variety - video, curated docs from our dear Lillie here, and the forum for more freestyle. For me that works perfectly, but I don’t see a need to nitpick the videos and how they could be done differently to accommodate my learning style.

Appreciate your apparent frustration and you’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but I for one do not want the doc style changed one bit, as it’s so perfectly well written already. I think we also need to chalk up any difficulty to the fact that learning high end creative software like this is just plain difficult any way you cut it. For comparison, I’ve spent three years daily spending hours learning Blender (a 3D application) and I just now have basic comprehension. Compared to that Dorico is child’s play and trivial to learn.

Well, add to that the time it takes to learn about music in general (since without which Dorico is utterly useless…), and you’ll be one order of magnitude above Blender concerning time spent, I’d wager… :wink:
As in: The “childs play” is only the software part… :sunglasses:


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True enough! Been doing music for 45 years now and I’m still learning. Tacking on digital art is much easier. Dorico was relatively easy with an abundance of resources. But I appreciate frustration when trying to learn something!

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Your précis suggests that you’ve understood the material well, so it can’t have been that bad to comprehend.

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I think Lillie has a point there. Producing your own manual can be very useful. I helped Dan Kreider when he wrote his Beginner’s Guide and I suggest you talk to him to see whether we could issue a new version — the last one was about Dorico 2.2 and we can say that the program has evolved significantly, even though the philosophical paradigms are still there.
I’d be glad to make the French version out of it.

The attitude here is truly bizarre.

I quote the first words that someone will read in the manual - the words that people will read at the moment they are asking themselves “will I turn to this or something else in order to get into this program?” - I show that they are off on a tangent - that they fail to win the user at the very moment the user must be won - and you reply by saying “Why don’t you write your own manual?”

The reason I persist is there is a need for you to succeed. I mean how many potential users do you have the opportunity to alienate? How many users do you have? From the look of the number of views on the Dorico 4 YouTube videos - not many. Your response feels very British to be honest - you are unwilling to be honest about your shortcomings for fear of offending someone - for fear of the discomfort that will create. I create a moment of discomfort for you now only in the hope of being a blessing to you.

You’ve had eighteen months to prepare a new version and it’s clear from the forum that you have released a product that is not well prepared. That takes effort with a version 4 release - it’s obvious that earlier versions will have issues - but you were adding to a version 3 code base that was reliable from what I can tell - and yet the result is that people can’t even start the app. But whatever - if these are words that threaten the harmony of your tiny tribe just ignore them.

From where I sit it’s like you are begging to remain the outsider. You manage to do things only you can do - some of the stuff in version 4 shows just how much your expertise is needed - but then you fail to do things that every software developer in the world manages to do (I am not saying that everyone can write a manual for a sophisticated product - I’m saying that you either lack the desire or understanding as to how to best help new users - every user of your product being at some point a new user).

Steinberg is holding all the aces from where I sit - you have Dorico - which is a world leading product - and you have in Nuendo a potentially market leading product - but the problem with Nuendo is there have been too many breaches of faith with users - professionals - even while they are being screwed by Avid they won’t turn to you. Considering how Avid behave that’s a pretty revealing thing about how they see you, yes? Yet that trust could be won back - if you wanted to win you could win. You could be the future - you could be where both Avid users (who have never been the most important to Avid) and Apple users (who have never been the most important to Apple) turned - but you are acting as if you are content to be bit players.

When you are running a software development company caring about users is more than responding to each of their comments on a forum. That is the LEAST important form of care for users - it is what happens when something has gone wrong. Instead you care for users by doing as much as possible to help them never need your help. Take the CEO of a company of five hundred employees - he may not be able to celebrate everyone’s birthday - or buy people a Christmas present - but if he makes sure that the stairs between office floors are not slippery then he or she is looking after his or her staff. It’s not as sexy - it doesn’t fulfil anyone’s need to be constantly appreciated - but it is care.

Maybe the problem is that right from the start you were in joining Steinberg choosing a context in which you were required to be only as good as Steinberg is willing to let you be - maybe that’s why you didn’t build a more DAW style music notation app - because if you had given customers what it was clear they would be wanting you would end up making Cubase look bad. Maybe there is in fact a glass ceiling over Dorico.

I realise that the issues I am drawing your attention to aren’t only related to your attitude - it’s easy to get lost in all the endless detail that must be dealt with to produce your product - I do this in my life - I get focused on the detail and have trouble changing gear and looking at the big picture. To the extent that that is your problem consider this only the observations of an outsider who isn’t so involved. But clearly this isn’t the only situation - I know from the nature of your replies to my observations here.

Why don’t YOU write your own manual?

PS The users on this forum are so self indulgent they cannot manage to remain on the topic of a thread. Writing comments as stupid as “well if you managed to learn Dorico its help can’t be that bad”. Thanks for that. Or “How do you know the paragraphs you quote aren’t the best way for Steinberg to help some users?” Call me arrogant if you want - I guess I just have a hunch.

PPS When Dorico is so much better than Finale and Sibelius why don’t people switch? I believe that the issues I am pointing to are part of the reason. You are giving off messages that you aren’t after them.

I think your point has been heard. You’ve received considerate responses, and even offers of help. Whether any of us decide to do anything is up to us, and no amount of re-posing will accomplish anything more other than making you look like a Karen, so my gentle suggestion is your best course is to leave it be.

Let’s keep the discussion well away from name-calling please.

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I’m genuinely sorry to hear this feeling, when your previous visits to the forum sounded so positive and engaged. Your earlier sharing of your perspectives were genuinely interesting and received similarly interesting responses.

I can’t myself comment on or reply to many of the things you touch on here, as my primary remit of responsibility is for Dorico’s documentation. Suffice to say, I have heard your feedback, done my best to digest your comments and suggestions, and will remember it. Like all my colleagues, I do my absolute best to produce something good and that does what it needs to do – although I can only aspire to go so far beyond such levels as my Dorico colleagues do. I can’t see that changing any time soon.


I don’t withdraw from what I have said above in any respect however I don’t want to miss the opportunity to comment on a positive development. I have only now looked at the web version of the manual (I had looked at the PDF version) and agree Lillie that the disclosure triangles in the web version of the manual are progress.
They are however only as helpful as the manual is in grouping related topics - only as effective as the manual is in creating a helpful hierarchy.

What a setup!


Thank you, I appreciate that and I’m sure my colleagues responsible for the formatting of webhelp pages would as well.

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I’m going to close this thread now as I think the participants have said all that needs to be said.