extensive sound library expression maps vs. just using Note Performer (opinions sought!)

Just started diving more into Dorico 3.5’s Expression Maps/Playback Template functionality - definitely very extensive. But I keep coming back to the same question: is it “worth” the investment of time to try to get Dorico to behave like a “proper” DAW in terms of being able to easily tweak and get a realistic playback using my more extensive, sizable sound libraries, etc.? Or (after all of this), is it still better just to use a DAW to achieve my desired realism, export the project’s MIDI to Dorico to help create the corresponding score (if I need it for live instrument playback), then use Note Performer in Dorico for playback reference? Certainly, I’m still quite impressed by Note Performer’s interpretation algorithms and would love to be convinced that there is some equivalent, equally musically-expressive interpretation possible using my “better” samples in Dorico that doesn’t require a crazy amount of extra setup and programming time (time that I could otherwise spend just doing it the “old” way - in a DAW, exporting the MIDI to Dorico later for the notation component).

I also question the value of trying to achieve this in Dorico since I’ve lately also been doing detailed mock-ups in my DAW (Logic Pro in my case), exporting a stereo audio bounce and attaching it to a static video image, importing the same Logic project’s MIDI into Dorico as a starting point for the corresponding Dorico score, then attaching that video so I can combine the audio from my Logic session with what I’m doing within Dorico (for reference, and - in some cases, so I can get the best of “both worlds”).

But I AM, again, intrigued by the prospect of trying to do something completely in Dorico using my same plug-ins, etc. (instead of NotePerformer), if it’s “worth” it and people are finding they’re getting “mock-up” type results, etc., so I do welcome any further thoughts, with thanks in advance.

  • D.D.

This interesting thread seems to have split a bit into two, namely a discussion about Note Performer v other VST’s and Dorico v DAW. They are linked by the theme of ease of use v best quality.

NotePerformer is easy to use because it’s (pretty well) fully integrated into Dorico. The major downside in terms of ease of use is the read-ahead latency which makes it impossible to play in a new track synchronized with the existing parts. A big plus point is the note duration automation but now in D3.5, we can automate this for all better libraries in the Expression Maps. Both will require a little touching up but as the Note Length feature develops, it’s quite likely to ultimately give actually superior results in terms of articulation choices (though obviously NP is so different in concept, it is a bit of an apples v oranges comparison). NP, as a number have said before, excels in instrumental separation in the orchestra mix and it’s not at all groundless to claim that it sounds more like a well-conducted real orchestra than most others. There is also a certain energetic dynamism with this library which makes it particularly useful for strongly rhythmical orientated pieces yet there is a certain amount of passion in the lyrical string sound as well.

The downside in quality is simply that on the individual instrumental tonal accuracy, it can’t compete with the more detailed purely sample- based libraries. I’ve found it generally unusable for chamber music yet in certain symphonic works, I simply can’t generate the drama any other way.

DAW v Dorico. As someone with no up to date DAW other than Cubase Elements 10.5, I’m not very well placed to comment. Certainly there are are still MIDI editing features yet to make it into Dorico but the question is, are they sufficient to spend time using two different applications which are so far not much integrated? My current judgement is probably not as Dorico increasingly has its own playback features, particularly with 3.5 which don’t feature in a DAW. DAW’s are ever more devoted to audio processing and overall studio production and those who require this will no doubt continue to use a DAW.

The short answer (at this time) is that for fine control over many controller or VST lanes, YES.

Cubase 10 (yes, even the Elements version) has some of the best MIDI editing capabilities in the industry. In time, the Dorico play tab, in combination with lua scripting abilities may catch up, but for now, the difference is huge.


Imagine you want increase the velocity of every note that falls within half a second of beats 2 and 4, from measures 17 to 30 by a random amount between 10% and 20% of the current value.

In Cubase you can build a ‘logical editor’ that can do this in less than a minute. (Dorico will probably be able to do this someday, via lua, and tools added to the play tab, but it’s not there ‘yet’).

Now imagine you want to do a Trio section for a march where the melody will rise in volume as pitches to higher, and lower in volume as they go lower, and you also want to fire a couple of CC’s that will change the attack style on every note with a duration of less than a full beat.

Again…you can do this rather easily via automated processes in a good tracking DAW. Logical editors make quick ‘batch work’ of tasks that can take many hours attempting to do one note/event at a time with your mouse and keyboard.

The keyboard editor in something like Cubase is very advanced in terms of the ability to lasso and edit/scale/side/normalize/quantize/dequantize/etc. batches of events in one relative move. Dorico’s play tab isn’t quite up to that level yet.

The percussion editor in Cubase is truly amazing. It makes quick work of getting fine control over every event and velocity. Again, you can also apply logical editors to these tracks.

There’s a whole lot more as well…the ability to work with sysex data. Having fine precision control over things like rpn/nrpn manipulation.

I do understand that expression maps are one way in Dorico to sketch in some pretty good defaults for articulations and other expressive information…but every score is going to have unique sets of needs. What works great for a baroque concerto can sound like garbage with a Romantic Tarantella. So…until Dorico sends tempo information and such…and instruments come along that can get and use things like tempo, style markers, etc…and expression maps get smart enough to go there, it can require MUCH manual labor to fine tune expression maps to go well with different types/styles of music.

With Cubase Pro, you can also opt to keep your controller data in the form of VST Note Expression events that are ‘note bound’ rather than raw channel CC data. It’s pretty easy to convert controller information back and forth as needed. How is this helpful? Well, it’s easier to move notes around, do custom grooves, and more…if the expression data is note bound rather than channel bound.

Real Time expression control…
For some types of scores, there’s no substitute for just muting out whatever the score interpreter engine did to some phrases in terms of expression data (subtle dynamics, smooth crescendo effects, etc.), starting a new track dedicated to controller data alone, and recording that expressive data in real time…with a wheel, breath controller, whatever. A tracking DAW makes it bonehead easy to punch in/out and cycle takes…after a few passes your bound to get one that fits…and you can save your variations of expressive data, even cycle among them at random, and so forth.

Custom grooves…
In time Dorico will get smarter and smarter, and offer a wide array of groove tools and templates, but at this time, if you truly want fine control over the groove of a piece, or sections of a piece, a good DAW (and practice with its groove making/editing features) can make rather quick work of it.

If you also need to sync your music up to video, game engines, audio tracks, external hardware, lighting rigs…the power tools in this area for a high end DAW like Cubase or Nuendo are simply amazing. Cubase (and even better, Nuendo), has the tools to set cue points, and auto stretch-shrink tempo to hit cues with precision.

Monitoring and Mixing…
The audio matrix is far superior in terms of how you can hook things up…route signals…drop in plugins to get data about the mix to scientific precision, and more. Group buses, the ability to bind groups of faders together and automate those in real time, and more. The box of processing plugins is going to be more loaded as well.

Again, a good tracking DAW is more receptive to being ‘remote controlled’ using your favorite controller devices. Nice to be able to try things in real time…and keep up with all your takes of everything you do on the mixing consoled to later edit and/or choose the best one.

Legacy Support…
Cubase has been around almost as long as the MIDI standard itself. It supports hardware and sets of instruments going way back to the late 1970s and early 1980s. So much of what Cubase in particular can do, even today, on a modern PC or Mac…other DAWs and/or Notation packages never have been able to do, and never will.

If you require surround sound…again, Dorico isn’t ready to tackle that beyond some basics yet.

Finally, when it comes to doing the master mix-down, and even mastering an audio mix…the assortment of tools in a higher end tracking DAW are going to much more complete.

Don’t get me wrong, a rather large number of people don’t really need, nor care about super high quality mock-ups. If it’s good enough to compose with, and get the idea across…many will be more than happy.

For high end mock-ups, mixes, and mastering, it’s probably going to be a while until Dorico’s play back engine, mixing console, and editing page(s) catch to what a good tracking DAW can do with relative ease. I think we’re a few years away from Dorico being a true one stop shop for this type of user. The main factor being…how much is your time worth? Once the score is done and looking perfect…then the issue becomes…if a sound shaping task takes several hours in the Dorico, or Sibelius, or Finale, etc., but you can do it in 2 or 3 minutes in a tracking DAW…well, it’s worth it to move the project over and get to work.

This is the ultimate question I’m asking myself as Dorico increasingly adds DAW-functionality (including better Expression Map control and Playback templates, etc.) to the program. It just feels like the combination of using my DAW (Logic in my case) for detailed mock-ups, exporting MIDI to Dorico to do the score (with Note Performer as reference), feels infinitely faster than trying to get Dorico to program my DAW virtual instruments effectively from the start instead. But I’d love to be proven wrong by someone who has truly found a way to program their DAW’s effectively/expressively right in Dorico in a manner that feels at least competitive with working directly in a DAW, and also in a manner that sounds better than just using NotePerformer in Dorico (I’m also exploring the different viable ways people work since I’ll be teaching a course related to this in the Fall :slight_smile:)…

  • D.D.

There are a lot of examples and challenges from Brian here and, rather against my better judgement, I’ve decided to rise to the bait just a little…

  1. The logical editor in Cubase can do a lot and by downgrading from Studio, I’ve lost it. The random presets which replace it are largely a waste of time. However things like random variations in duration, pitch, dynamics etc are supported to some extent both by Dorico and by the competent VST’s like VSL. Things like rising in dynamic as you go higher and falling as you go lower --well there are hairpins for that can be matched exactly to the music and easily toned to the exact context. There are some situations where a good logical editor could come in useful but unless the Cubase one has had a major facelift in recent years, it’ll still be klunky and far from user-friendly imho
  2. Piano roll editor. Yes, here Dorico lacks elegance but with v3 and especially 3.5, the functionality is already close to being fully serviceable (even if probably still behind my Atari’s Cubase 3 in around 1993 but you can’t have everything :wink: )
  3. Custom grooves, stretching/shrinking tempo. The former is a big area of Cubase expansion at all levels. But it’s of little interest if you write “straight” music. If you’re going to write film scores or anything that must fit in to exact time points then you still need a DAW. For me, even small changes to tempo can totally ruin the music.
  4. Monitoring and Mixing --well my understanding of this is rudimentary at best and need equally so.
  5. I do need high quality mock ups. Most of us who try to write serious but non-commercial music will probably not have the chance to get orchestral work performed by a major professional symphony orchestra. After all, even the few well known contemporary composers barely manage. The chance is slightly improved by having an impressive mockup. Quite apart from anything, it makes for much more pleasure for the composers, friends and family to listen to.
    The main requirement for this is a VST that can produce this and of course some ability to programme it. Features like patch automation according to speed/duration, intelligent dynamic control and random variability are increasingly built into Dorico and/or the VST’s. This is precisely the sort of sound shaping I’m looking for and is actually more useful and time-saving than anything I can think of in a DAW for pure instrumental music.

Multimedia production is a completely different ballgame, of course.

re: dko22’s note - it feels intuitively like Dorico SHOULD be able to function pretty adequately to do mock-ups (depending upon one’s needs) as dko22 suggests. It has access to the same potential VST’s I have in my DAW, it has functional Piano Roll and CC editing and expression map control. I’m just wondering if anyone is really doing mock-ups IN Dorico using such extensive VSTs (vs. just using NotePerformer or doing it in a DAW). Is it “worth it” (time and programming-wise)? Does it save time in the end (vs. doing a mock-up in a DAW and then the score later in Dorico?) I guess I’m waiting to be fully convinced as I always thought by now I’d be doing it also but I instead keep defaulting to the DAW plus Dorico/NotePerformer combination instead since it seems so much easier…

  • D.D.

I agree that Dorcio is quite good, and getting better with each release. When looking at other ‘scoring’ software…it truly holds it own.

No way, it’s far from klunky, and it’s SUPER user friendly. There isn’t a single aspect of the key editor UI that you cannot remote control, key-bind, and more. It is LOADED with power user tools (requires reading the manual, as well as primers on MIDI and VST protocols though). It makes quick work of quantizing/humanzing/overlapping. It’s loaded with power tools for selecting things based on conditions, micro-sliding, working with grids, and so much more. You get dozens of ways to deal with velocity and controller data…including double clicking a note and drawing it right into a graph there in NE format. I can’t think of a single MIDI key-editor on the market that comes anywhere close to the power and efficiency of the one in all versions of Cubase, from version 5ish, through present day 10.5.

If they start dumbing it down, and filling up the screen with idiot boxes and taking away the 30+ year old tried and true UI, it’ll be the day I stop upgrading and stick with legacy options. Cubase is a solid leader when it comes to working with anything MIDI or VST, bar none. I would however like to see improvements to the logic editor. The UI is perfect as it is, just add more types of events that it can work with (such as score editor symbols). Add the ability to easily generate arbitrary events. Make a few minor improvements to the expression map interpreter. But…please, please, please, leave the UI alone for the most part, and make any changes to it (optional).

See…I’d rather not have to waste half a day drawing in hair pins and hiding them (it’s a characteristic of March Trios…the hair pins are not wanted on such scores, but we do want the effect on play back for the melody and counter melodies).

In Cubase I select the range of events in the part I’d like apply this effect, and make a simple logic editor (or just call it up since I already have it made):

If event == note
then insert a CC1 (or 11, or whatever) with a value equal to the MIDI note number.

Optionally I might also copy the MIDI note number over to note-on velocity.

Poof, in less than a second it’s done.

Next I run another pass that scales each octave into a common range. Again, taking less than a minute.

Next, I can pull up a CC lane in the in-place key editor and easily do batch scaling and sliding with lasso/drag tricks (or opt for more passes with the logical editors).

For things I find myself doing often, I can build macros that combine as many project and track logical editors as I like into a single command.

Note, Dorico does have scripting abilities in the works…which might eventually make this batch processing thing a mute point, but for the time being, for precision work in a fraction of the time, the tracking DAW is still king.

Also, in the Cubase track inspectors you can ‘stack’ humanizing or quantizing effects, plus doing your destructive edits with the logical editor. Plus easily micro slide any individual, or groups of events in time VERY easily. You can instantly do length humanization/quantization. Force instant note overlaps, and so much more.

Doubling parts/building layers, etc…very fast and intuitive in the tracking DAW. Add our custom user track presets and such to the mix, and it’s often no more than a simple key combo and a click or two…and poof…I’m doubling the horns, or building a textural layer for the strings, and more.

I agree, it’s already in or above league with other ‘scoring software’, and it will improve with each release, but for now, it is a LONG LONG LONG way from even remotely matching the power and flexibility of CuBase.

I’m optimistic that someday Dorico’s play tab will make it a true one stop shop for working with, and mixing down virtual instruments. It’s just not there yet, and it ‘seems’ to me to be a few years away from being powerful enough to replace the DAW in terms of ease and speed in sound shaping tasks.

Again, that’s part of the problem. We get used to sitting in front of a machine and hearing what it spits back at us. It’s often WRONG if a realistic mock-up is the goal. Before doing a mock-up, it’s a good idea to force yourself NOT to listen to ANY computer generated music anymore than you MUST. Take LOTS of breaks in a TOTALLY different room from your rig, and only work on the project in chunks of about 15 minutes at the time. Listen to real musicians playing in real rooms. Heck, even set up some mics and just record the room when it’s totally empty…and work that into the mix later. SOMETIMES we even resort to tricks like playing the mock-up in a real room, and recording that with mics (especially brass tracks).

It’s easy to fall into a habit of sitting in front of those monitors and grinding for hours at a time…playing it over, and over, and over. We learn to ‘like’ things that should not be there, and stop missing the things that should be, but aren’t there.

The room helps shape a realistic groove, and groove is more than just tempo change.
There are three major dead give aways that a score is being played back by a computer and not real musicians.

  1. Unless you jump through extra hoops, everything is more often than not tuned to bloody equal temperament. It’s annoying, and unrealistic. Orchestras rarely play in equal temperament…period…and there is usually a bit of detectable tug of war going on in the group where tuning and locking chords is concerned. A good mock up ditches equal temperament unless it makes sense to have it there. It’s MUCH easier to pull off different tuning schemes, and nuances in pitch shifting using a tracking DAW. Yes, it’s possible with a lot of extra staves and such, and the CC lanes in something like Dorico…but in my experience, the entire tuning scheme thing is multitudes easier in Cubase.

  2. It often sounds like a robot. The tempo is ‘too perfect’. The random humanization can be a help, but it’s going to be a little different every time you play the score. Sometimes you want that effect when doing a mock-up, but sometimes you really need it to be static…so you can control and forge it as required.

  3. The groove and spacial delays for the various instruments and sections do not fit the chosen reverb settings for the virtual room. Again, when in composing mode, we sit there with the score for HOURS, and learn to ‘like’ things that are pretty ‘bad’ in terms of realism. It’s often to perfect, and too machine like…without natural variations that meld in ways similar to musicians sitting on an actual stage or in an actual rehearsal hall.

And in my experience, that’s the most important element to getting a good mock up. Mixing is 90% of the battle. How and where to toss a notch filter, or when to give a little compression to given frequency band, how to isolate and place things in the sound field, etc…

Again, Dorico already has one of, if not THE BEST mixing console out of the ‘scoring software’ currently on the market. Still, the mid-range or high end DAW is light years ahead in all aspects mixing/processing.

I agree that this is the ultimate goal, and every few months developers, and users are making significant contributions towards this becoming a reality. As a collaborative tool, it’s more than amazing…great technology.

It still has a long way to go to be as efficient at shaping sounds as a user controlled DAW though…

I’ll say it one more time. Every year more and more scores played exclusively by computers hit the streets. Most of them are pretty BAD, and sound terribly ‘fake’ (even when the instrument libraries are high quality…the reverbs/mixing/groove-feel/dynamics, and most importantly THE TUNING is a lazy mess. None the less, people are getting ‘used to it’.

To me it is not so much a question of the relative benefits of Cubase vs. Dorico. Of course Cubase beats Dorico hands down as recording, mixing and playback platform. But for me it is more a matter of which type of platform do I feel more comfortable working on composition, a DAW piano roll or notation. In this regard notation wins hands down…for me, not necessarily for others. Therefore for me as Dorico has over the last several versions begun to come into it’s own as a composing platform using VST’s, it has caused me to increasingly leave Cubase behind.

As others have said above, the last few Cubase versions have been oriented to a different market than orchestral composers and arrangers. I stopped upgrading after Cubase 9.5, but I’ve purchased every Dorico upgrade. I plan to continue this path as the platform matures.

Obviously, Brian and I see many things (though not all) rather differently. This is partly because he has much more detailed knowledge of DAWS than I do and knows how to get the best out of them but it may also simply be that we are looking for rather different things from our music. First of all is the actual process of composing where DaddyO really hits the nail on the head. My ability to compose immediately took a considerable leap forward the minute I could use notation software to do it because I could see visually how the individual lines flowed in and out so it became much easier to write contrapuntally in a semi-competent manner. It’s possible to see immediately in an orchestral setting how various instrument combinations can sound together, assuming a decent VST.

On mixing being 90% of the battle, I see no evidence for this with the best modern libraries. With Sibelius, I did use Cubase’s mixer for modest adjustments to sound but as Dorico has the main essentials built in, this is barely necessary any more. How to isolate things or best place in the field has far more to do with good orchestration and a decent supplied acoustic – here the VSL Synchron stage player is close to outstanding in my view. As for shaping sounds, this is mainly down to the recorded samples. Of course if you’re using Halion or other basic libraries which do little shaping then it’s pretty difficult but why make things hard for yourself?

Pitch and rubato are two other things which have quite correctly been mentioned. Advanced libraries have random pitch imperfections built in so why would we want to waste time creating them with a DAW unless there are very specific requirements? Rubato has been supported in notation software packages for quite a while. Ok, the quality is open to debate but will continue to improve, particularly when the tools can be applied to selected passages. As two live performances are never alike, then why should computer ones be? Where tempo changes are explicitly required, they can of course be marked and exactly calibrated in the score.

On this March Trio thing, we’re talking about a) dynamics and b) patch change if we really want to completely change an attack. Dorico’s Note Length feature could easily be programmed to use a particular switch for notes of a certain length. Assuming you really want to use a specific cresc/dim combination for different notes (which to me sounds rather crude) then you can make it in one and then duplicate it in the automation lane. However, you can’t do all the parts at once and Note Length programming cannot yet be used for selected sections only. So yes, of course there are many things which can still be more flexible and faster with a DAW even within my sort of composing environment-- I doubt anyone disputes that!

I would agree that the majority of scores created by composers don’t sound that great. In general this is a mixture of lack of expertise in the composer of how to use the libraries or simply using ones which can’t by their nature sound decent in the first place. However, we sometimes forget that only first class musicians can really make music come to life as well – others can be struggling to play the piece at all.

No, we’re not at odds on initial workflow choices.

When doing through composed music, I do 99% of the composition in a Score Editor as well. Which one I fire up first depends on the client, or collaborative group’s demands of course.

More often than not, I don’t even need a high quality mock-up. I’ll get the score playing the best I can in what comes natively with the target user’s system (typically using what comes with Dorico/Sibelius/Finale/MuseScore/Etc., in the case of Dorico perhaps with some of my own HALion SE vstsound additions that the user can just double click to install real quickly). It’s going to a conductor, or to an individual playing musician, who will decide how s/he wants to interpret and play it.

It’s pretty rare I pull it into the DAW until the score is done (or mostly done), and then only if extra/intensive sound shaping that I can’t do natively and efficiently in the initial workflow is required. In that case, I just save the slate of sounds required in each plugin, export the MIDI tracks, pull it all into the DAW, and get to work ‘sound shaping’.

As for those libraries with many gigs of ‘sample choices’…no, those don’t really cut it for me in any out of the box ‘automated’ form yet. I’ve looked into building some of my own expression maps for nice libraries, and there are just too many variations required across different scores/tempos/etc. to have a single plug and play map. No scoring package on the market sends the information required to the plugins yet (time signature, tempo, key signature, etc.) to script up a library that can decide on its own to shift tuning schemes on a key change, if it should pick martele, or sautellie based on the marks on the score…and it takes all kind of time to poke them into a score manually, or sort out the logic in expression maps on a score by score basis to get it right…force overrides…etc. Spreading it out in a tracking DAW, in contrast, make it pretty simple…and there is visual order to the game plan. And don’t get me started on the nightmare of dealing with legato phrases via expression maps.

Interestingly enough, HALion 6 has the capabilities to build some very smart instruments that could get a lot of this correct on the fly, and in real time…but the signals the plugin needs to get that information aren’t hooked up yet in any premier scoring package I know of.

With the monster libraries that have a fresh sample for every attack and release style…One still has to relentlessly audition all the options, and manually plug them into expression maps. Few of them are the correct length for contexts, and they don’t include a standard for time stretching/shrinking them in real time. They STILL require tweaks (often even outright resampling them, and pasting the results into the mix on an audio track). They are still tempo/style dependent. They still need micro slides on the time-line to fit the chosen virtual room and seating arrangement (plus to offset cancellation effects inherent in sampled music and loud speakers), and often even require quite a bit of custom tuning throughout the passages. They still require user intervention for sound staging and ‘mixing’.

Cause and effect variations relative to a group of performing musicians aren’t just ‘random’. There are physiological, and physical reasons for them. Instruments respond to temperature, pressure, etc…and musicians adjust as they play. Different instruments have specific tuning characteristics that are important to address in a high quality mock-up.

Most of these things ARE POSSIBLE to achieve in Dorico, but with a lot more time consuming manual labor at this time. It’s labor intensive in the tracking DAW as well; however, the DAW has tools to automate redundant sound shaping tasks, and build up a personal library of macros/presets/etc, to brush up and reshape every aspect of the virtual ‘performance’…from almost any level from the point a sound is generated to the point it hits the speakers…all spread out over as many monitors as you can afford to plug into the PC. In the DAW, we stop being a composer/musician, and shift into the role of the audio engineer. That’s the point where at this time, it’s still a major time saver to move the project into sound engineering software.

Actually, this paragraph does nicely illustrate what we’re still lacking in notation software. I guess that I have found it worth spending the time on Expression Maps with the aim of learning how best to utilize what we have and you already know many of the tricks for doing it in a DAW. But I really can’t say I’ve found anything seriously missing with the string quintet I posted elsewhere for instance which requires a DAW. No, not even the question of legato phrasing which is a real, though imo much exaggerated issue.

I don’t really think we do really have differing views in any radical way – simply differing areas of experience and perhaps also differing aesthetics and tastes.

It’s enough to make you want to go out and hire an orchestra!

This gets me back to the other parallel discussion I first raised in this thread re: Note Performer. What I’m finding is that after trying to program my “better” virtual instruments in Dorico, I get bogged down in the technical part of building appropriate expression maps, programming appropriate sound choices, etc. and it just feels easier to do it in a DAW to get the expression and realism I need (as Brian has also suggested). The only exception to this I’ve found is to simply use NotePerformer in Dorico for playback which - while sacrificing some depth vs. the deeper libraries, etc. - offers the advantage of effective, expressive interpretation of the score automatically based upon the notated articulations and dynamics.

So will it ever be fully “worth it” to extensively program all one’s virtual instruments in Dorico? Is it worth going down the “rabbit hole”? Or should Dorico perhaps be trying to find a way to expand the NotePerformer concept instead, somehow? (licensing Arne’s technology but building richer “built-in” libraries, expanding to other musical styles like jazz more effectively, etc.?) Again just curious what people think.
Thanks -

  • D.D.

it often seems to come down to whether one wants to invest more time in learning how to programme a VST or in becoming an expert in the many features which a DAW can offer. With a VST, much time will inevitably be spent learning and trying out all the available articulations to see which are the most valuable and how they work together. Until this is done, there’s no point in even trying to write Expression Maps. I can’t see how a DAW can be a substitute for properly learning your instrument but then I’ve already admitted that I don’t know by far all the features with modern DAWs.

NotePerformer, which was of course the original subject of this thread, is indeed a possible model for the future but currently has two major weaknesses – the read-ahead which precludes even step time input being used properly among other things and the quality of the sound which is generally too crude for chamber music (which is irrelevant for those who don’t write any). Of course there’s nothing to suggest that both issues cannot be overcome with the onward march of technology. NotePerformer brings a kind of vitality which was often missing in the sample world and the arguments that sampled libraries are simply too sterile to work without a lot of manipulation still have some merit. Only some, though, as leaders like VSL have ever more scripting and “intelligence” built in. The most prominent all-in-one competitor these days, the Spitfire BBC Symphony, prides itself on the organic feel of its output and yet NotePerfomer seems still unrivalled for biting rhythmical drive in certain contexts.

Ideally we all want to just type standard instructions into the score and let it then just get on with finding the correct patches or modelled algorithms to produce human-like output. Until this state is reached, which could be decades away, we simply have to decide which compromises are acceptable for the kind of music we’re trying to produce.

This has led me over time to lean further and further on modeled instruments and highly expressive controllers (wind controllers). The burden of dealing with massive systemic programming is, in the end, not worth it for me, particularly when I can “play” a modeled instrument with a small set of switched articulations and get far more human results. If Dorico would allow recording live performance data for exisiting passages that would make my workflow much easier and eliminate the need for a DAW. Example:

  1. Write a passage in Dorico Write mode
  2. Switch to Play mode
  3. Enable recording for 1 or more CCs of a given track and record live performance with breath controller
  4. Bonus: enable recording for note start/end bound to a single key (rhythmic values only, no pitch data) and allow tapping in a human performance rhythm without changing pitch and notation.

As I continue my post-3.5 efforts to finally implement VSL in Dorico, I find myself listening to the results with satisfaction in what I have accomplished so far. But the effort is daunting and the results, though the quality of the instrument sounds is better than Noteperformer, are in some ways a step back.

I simply have to compose in notation, but I’m beginning consider whether the best solution for me might be to have Dorico with Noteperformer for experimentation and composition on my left display and Cubase on my right for a better audition. Notes on the left, play it in on the right. Make a change on the left, make a change on the right. This way I’m not fighting Dorico to make it a DAW, and I’m not lost compositionally in Cubase’s piano roll environment.

Many others have expressed the strong desire for more integration between Dorico and Cubase. To me the idea of transferring MIDI or XML files assumes one is the kind of composer who hears everything and just notates it. That’s not me. I have to try an initial idea in notation, then audition it, then make changes because what I hear is not quite what I want. It’s a constant, repetitive cycle for me.

Perhaps for me the solution is not export and import, it’s a simultaneous process with both Dorico and Cubase at the same time, using each for it’s strengths.

I have no idea if this would work, but I’m thinking about it. I left Cubase behind with version 9.5, but 10 introduced high-res support, and since I now have two 4k displays that are identical (I didn’t have a single one three months ago) I might want to upgrade if I decide to try it out.

Comments appreciated.

It would be nice if one could retain the best of both worlds by having a DAW (hopefully not just Cubase but Logic as well :slight_smile:) and Dorico directly “talk” to each other via some sort of enhanced, super-charged, new “rewire” protocol, etc. but where changing something in one program affects the other in some way (and I know another thread has also mentioned the idea of a Dorico “plug-in” for notation). This way those of us used to micro-tweaking a mock-up in a DAW can continue to do so, but connect it to Dorico for notation. If this was offered I might even consider switching to Cubase (even as a long-time Logic user) if needed :slight_smile:

Barring this, I DO think that NotePerformer feels somehow like the “future” of notation playback if there were some way to improve the depth of sound playback and the diversity of algorithms beyond more classically-oriented scores. It’s just so “idiot-proof” to use and is such an excellent trade-off vs. the time I’m finding it’s taking to try and program Dorico with my other virtual instruments. I’d be curious if Dorico might have plans down the line to integrate some sort of automatic expression with an enhanced built-in library similar to what Note Performer has done, since many who use notation don’t necessarily have the computer-programmer mindset (or patience!) to tweak our libraries along the lines of what’s lately been suggested, Expression Map-wise, etc., which requires some serious “down in the weeds” thinking.

As far as the NotePerformer “look ahead” feature making it hard to do step or realtime MIDI input, maybe there would be some way to temporarily turn off the “look ahead score interpretation” when you’re recording/entering something in, similar to the “Low Latency Mode” button in Logic Pro (where invoking it turns off all plugins, reducing system latency when you record but - of course - also temporarily bypassing the overall sound of your mix until you turn it off again).

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Once these signals are connected, more instruments will come about that can better sort options automatically.

  1. Time Singature
  2. Key Signature
  3. Tempo/bpm
  4. Anything else helpful that the VST protocol has to offer.

Note Performer won’t need the delay anymore to attempt to ‘calculate’ these things on its own.

HALion, and other sound engines with scripting abilities can use that data to make more, and better choices out of the box.


For a bowed string player…sometimes we want a dot over a note to mean staccato, sometimes it should mean martele, and so on. In general, tempo is what a musician uses to choose what that dot means. Often the time signature can play a role in the better articulation for that dot. Sometimes velocity or level of aggression comes into play. If the dot also lives under a slur it can give yet more hints, Etc. Expression maps can also stack even more clues to help the plugin’s scripts make smarter choices, through attaching events to instructions like Dolche, Rubato, and so forth.

The same goes for using alternate tuning schemes. If one wants to use just tuning, then the plugin needs to know the key signature so it can make adjustments if that changes. Yes, there are ‘work-arounds’ to use CCs and what not to convince a plugin to bounce to a channel that has the proper tuning set and ready…but the way expression maps work…we end up having to duplicate a LOT of entries in our expression maps, but with that one extra node (a good xml editor can help automate some of this, but even so, it’s a lot of work).


Once those VST pins are wired, and Dorico keeps that information updated in all the plugins as a score plays, library developers can use the scripting abilities of their plugins, and get to work sorting and building intelligent expression maps and marry those to scripts in the plugin.

It’ll take time though! Making scripts to rough in the choices might be relatively simple for someone who is quite intimate with the library and knows the samples and parameters provided inside and out, but running lots of scores though it, for various styles/tempos/grooves and tweaking it out will take loads of time. Note Performer has been working on theirs for many many years now. It didn’t just happen over night.

A DAW doesn’t negate the need to become very familiar with your plugins, at every level possible. Especially if you plan to invest in the more expensive higher end libraries. This is something you’ll need to do regardless of the host you plan to use it in. The DAW just makes it easier to get at all your plugins bells and whistles, and to SEE what you’re doing…stretched out before you on the timeline.

Keep in mind that you can do alot of these things in Dorico by using multiple staves, channel bouncing around in plugin instances, and so forth, but it doesn’t look much like a score anymore…it gets cluttered FAST (a tracking DAW can get cluttered as well, but it has features to easily show/hide, swap focus, tuck things out of the way…shift it to folders/groups/etc…assign different colors to anything on the screen…store and swap between many visual or page modes at any time…spread it out over multiple screens, etc).

The main advantage to working with the tracking DAW in the final most stages of doing a realistic mock-up is that you can lay it all out in a way that makes visual sense. You aren’t ‘stuck’ in a single work flow either…you always have several ways to attack an issue. Think of it like the play tab in Dorico, but many times more powerful, and much easier to control with pin point precision. It’s going to have all the tools to do micro bumps and slides on the timeline down to the millisecond if you need that. If not, then you get nice configurable timeline grids to ‘snap’ events up against. You can work in meters/measures/etc., or you can shift over to a time code (both come in handy).

You can start your score playing with the plugin open and shape up your downbow with the ADSR controls, key-switches, etc…provided in your VST plugin. Go to another channel in the plugin and shape up your sustained sound, etc…

In a serious mockup, it’s not unusual at all to have two or three instances with nothing but choices for the first violinist’s long bowing options! Sometimes they’re even based on the same sample, but you might do things with the attack/sustain…or simply use a comb filter to excite some frequencies to emulate a little more bow pressure for a given note, and so forth.

Changing sounds in the tracking DAW is as simple as snipping the part with a pair of scissors and dragging it to a track pointing to the proper plugin and channel. Rather than trying to teach your expression maps to send massive slates of events to ‘drive’ it all on a single channel (I.E. Before Dorico would let us channel bounce…my Garritan GPO expression maps for Dorico were sending something like 12 CCs, plus a key-switch for EVERY NOTE it played! Same for some of the HALion stuff I was working on before we got channel bounces)…you can spread it all out, try things in real time as the score is playing.

You can tweak the actual dials and sliders in your Plugin directly…with your mouse, or even via remote control on your MIDI controller.

You can keep up with many variations as you go…muting things in and out to see which works best for your ultimate mix. If sections repeat in your piece, you might even cycle the variations so it’s a little different on each repeat.

We haven’t even gotten into expression controller data yet…but again, you can spread it all out in front of you, at whatever resolution you want visually, and take very fine and efficient control of all this ‘data’. Again, conditional editors, or scripting tricks can help you automate redundant tasks.

Please understand. I’m not suggesting that every composer should become an audio engineer. Spending too much time trying to master the process of making mock-ups…well, you’re getting less music written then!

Which brings us back full circle to Note Performer.

It’s perfect to sit down and compose a piece of music from beginning to end. It’s good enough to test ideas, collaborate, and show off your skills as a COMPOSER/ARRANGER. Dorico will spit out beautiful scores and parts for printing, or electronic displays.

If one has time, and ENJOYS the processes involved, then pick up a DAW, a nice library or two, and learn a little as you go. If not…GET HELP. You can hire people to do mock-ups (or record real performances with the real instruments)…and there are also students and hobbyists out there that’ll help you for FREE. Universities, community groups, even local music stores/studios can usually help.

At this time…IF you have already invested in some higher end sample libraries, and don’t already have a DAW, I highly recommend picking one up. Even if you go for a scaled down version like Cubase Elements or Artist. Load your fancy library in the thing, and just play with it. Load some scores you are familiar with into the DAW, and spend a little time auditioning your library’s potential.

Why? Even if you intend to work the library into Dorico…using expression maps and whatnot…having it spread out in a tracking DAW should help you get to know the library much better. It can give you many good ideas on how to lay out a plan to get the types of sounds you require at your fingertips, and teach your staves to happily bounce around among the many options at you fingertips. It can help you get a visual in your imagination to go with all those ‘numbers/values/parameters/dials/etc.’ It’ll also help you find the annoying flaws inherent in the library…so you’ll know better what to avoid or work around those flaws.

Excellent post, Brian. So - given the detailed, numerous advantages you’ve rightly outlined that DAW’s have to allow us to micro-tweak mockups, etc. and milk maximum expression, do you think it’s more realistic to try and get Dorico to adopt more of this sort of functionality - or, instead, for them to find a way to achieve it using a (currently non-existent) “superchanged” Note Performer approach, where a lot of the fussiness is taken care of automatically, but perhaps with better built-in samples “tuned” not just to classical but other styles of music, etc?’ My instincts are that it’s too much trouble to try and re-produce what I do in a DAW in Dorico as things now stand - I’d rather stick to Logic, export MIDI (and maybe sync to Dorico a bounced Logic audio track from the same session, attached to video) and use Note Performer/Dorico to check my work as I notate the score afterwards. But I COULD envision Dorico “running” with Note Performer to offer something much easier to use, with great expression, but without the intense programming currently required to achieve these results…

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