So, I just finished my first week of evaluating Dorico. I’m a drummer and drum teacher, and I’d been keenly waiting for the percussion support to arrive before trying it out. I’ve actually been following the development of Dorico on Daniel’s Making Notes blog from way before your first release. My first project was a transcription of a drum kit part, attached at the end of this post.
Overall User Experience
In a word: incredible! For my day job I work at a high-end digital design agency in Paris, and I have lots of years experience in UI/UX design. You guys killed it. This is one of the most beautifully designed pieces of software I’ve ever seen. It was incredibly intuitive to use, and I found myself being productive within just a few minutes of first starting Dorico, and after about an hour I was working faster than I ever have been able to in Sibelius. That said, I did notice a couple of little things, which I’ll get to below.
- The YouTube channel is fantastic. Ever since I downloaded Dorico I’ve watched a couple of videos every day and they are by far the best way to learn.
- The online documentation is clear and well-organised. I think it could benefit from more screen grabs and illustrations — pictures paint a thousand words and all that.
When I had already transcribed around 15 bars of the attached project, I was listening back from the beginning and realised I had stupidly miscounted the number of beats in the pick-up bar. I changed it by editing the time signature, and everything I had already transcribed moved one beat along. No problem, I thought, I totally understand why, I just need to go into “insert mode” and delete a beat. This is where things got very confusing for me. Dorico correctly combines rests from multiple voices so you don’t have a huge mess of rests everywhere. But because of that I assumed deleting (backspace) one quarter note rest would move everything back to where it should be. That is not the case, and at first I didn’t understand what had happened, just that my transcription now looked completely messed up. After panicking for a bit, I guessed that maybe it was moving things per voice. So I tried again, and this time things looked even more messed up. In fact you must repeat the operation for each percussion instrument in the kit that is in use. Now I know that, I won’t have the same problem again, but for about an hour I was just totally confused. Obviously from a UX perspective that’s not great, especially when almost everything else “just works”. I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any suggestions for how that could be improved, but I surely won’t be the only user to have a similar experience.
I discovered that you can’t insert a cue into an untuned percussion part (yet). It doesn’t really affect me, as I am most likely to just fake the cue like I did in the attached project, but just to add a data point: I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything other than just a rhythmic cue in a drum set part.
You pretty much nailed it! This works so much better than in anything else I’ve tried. Nevertheless, there is some room for improvement. As far as I can tell, there are really only three conventions in use: (a) everything in one voice; (b) hands in voice 1 and feet in voice 2; © cymbals and hi-hat in voice 1 and everything else in voice 2. Dorico seems to support (a) and © out of the box. (b) can be achieved by editing the drum kit and changing the direction of the stems for the instruments in question. I’m not sure why (b) wasn’t included as one of the Notation Options in the Percussion section, as it is very common. What is also great is that you have provided very intuitive ways to override the voice of individual notes via the right-click “Percussion -> Change Voice” menu.
However, what this doesn’t really take into consideration is that I might have very good reasons to change the default within a flow for a section. Consider the attached project. Most of it is written in the © style, cymbals and hi-hat in voice 1, everything else in voice 2, because for me that is by far the clearest to read. But from the middle of bar 30 almost to the end, the player is playing hand-to-hand between hi-hat, snares, and sampling pad, and if I stayed with the © layout it would be almost impossible to read, but in the (b) layout, hands in one voice, feet in the other, it becomes totally clear. Another style of playing, so-called “linear” playing, where no two instruments are played in unison and patterns are built up between the hands and feet really needs to be written in the (a) style, everything in one voice. This linear style of playing is extremely common in drum fills and short solos. My point being that one flow may require switching between these three styles for maximum legibility. I was able to achieve the layout I needed, but from bars 30 to 54, every snare drum, sampling pad, and tom hit had to have it’s voice changed manually, and when you’re talking 32nd notes in 6/4, that was extremely labour intensive.
I think that you should have a default style for a flow, but be able to override the style with one of the other two at any point.
[Edit] These have been added in Dorico 2.0.
I know that adding percussion stickings is planned, but just to provide a concrete example of why drummers need them: in the attached project from the middle of bar 30 we switch to 32nd notes played between the hi-hat, a main snare to the right of the hi-hat, and an auxiliary snare to the left of the hi-hat. You cannot play the entire part RLRL because if you did your hands wouldn’t be set up for the correct snare hits. In order for me to learn this part having transcribed it, I will need to add the stickings, and no two bars are alike.
I have so much feedback on playing techniques for percussion, a lot of it related to UI design, that I think it merits a separate post. But here are two observations:
- Bars 44-47 and 51 contain some double-stroke rolls on the hi-hat. These do not play back as expected. I would expect that to work out of the box without further intervention on my part, and if it does need me to do something to set it up then I have no idea what.
- In the Unpitched Percussion Playing Techniques side panel you have two symbols for “half-open”, a circle with a cross, and a circle with a vertical slash. For hi-hat the symbol I am most familiar with is a circle with a diagonal slash through it. But perhaps my references are old and out-of-date and your options are the preferred ones today, in which case I’m happy to adapt.
The engraving and layout is absolutely stunning. A couple of observations:
- I did think the parentheses around ghost notes were maybe a little on the thin side, a little hard to read. Perhaps it’s just me.
- One slightly odd thing to me was in the attached project Drum Set part bars 20-23 were laid out two bars per line, unlike the rest of the part, even though those bars weren’t noticeably less complex than the others. It’s not a big deal, and I know I can change it myself by inserting a system break. It just slightly surprised me.
It would be nice to be able to add non-printing comments to a flow, things like “double-check this” or “this needs more work”, etc.
PDFs optimised for iPad
[Edit] This is in fact incredibly easy to set up, I just missed it because I was looking in either Engrave or Print mode, whereas in fact it’s in Setup mode. You can either alter the layout for your entire project, or just add a custom layout so you can have both layouts for print and layouts for iPad. Go into layout options, and set the page size to custom, and then edit the dimensions for width and height. For a 9.7” iPad the screen size is 197mm x147mm.
Here’s the Dorico project. I’m still reviewing it so there might be some mistakes (if you spot any please tell me):
The-Second.dorico.zip (1000 KB)
If you’re curious, here is a link to the song. (I think the drum part will seem totally random without the music.)
I hope this is helpful in some way.