How do the experts do it?

Curious how our expert users here (h.t. @pianoleo ) use Dorico - what’s your workflow? Questions such as do you use MIDI? How much do you use the piano keyboard? Most used shortcuts? Templates? Playback libraries?


I don’t know if I fall into the category of expert, but I can heartily recommend using Dorico’s ‘sequential’ key shortcuts. You can assign a succession of keys to a command. This gives a greater combination of memorable options.

So I use Command F, followed by N for Notes, or X for Text, D for Dynamics, S for Slurs, G for Figured Bass, etc to Filter those items.

Duplicate to Staff Above/Below are essential key shortcuts. I use Shift Alt N and M, which follows the N/M pattern of other Above/Below actions. (Though that does re-assign an existing command for Markers.)

If I used dynamics more, I’d probably have shortcuts for Grouping / Ungrouping and Linking /Unlinking. (Again, sequential keys would work well here.)

Most of my work is transcribing manuscripts, so I have one monitor with a PDF of the source, and Dorico in the other. I use a MIDI keyboard (Roland A-49) to enter notes. (Duration first, dots after.)

I have my own Master Page Sets, which I load into new documents.

For playback, I use a mix of NotePerformer and Garritan GPO5 – the latter with some modifications, particularly custom vocal noises.

I create prelims in Affinity Publisher, and I have a lot of automated actions for processing the PDFs.


I’m not sure I’ve done my 10,000 hours quite yet but I guess I’ve been hyped as an expert enough times that I should accept it…

Playback and playback templates are my blind spot, frankly, so I mostly just use NotePerformer. I’ve used MIDI in terms of bringing in other people’s music from DAWs (I’m normally working on other people’s music), but much of the time I’m tidying up existing projects or starting from scratch. (For tidying MIDI, the Write > Edit Duration > Shorten to next note, extend to next note and extend to selection commands are indispensable).

MIDI keyboard: yes, absolutely. More for plunking and inputting the traditional way (duration before pitch) than real time midi recording. I do quite a lot of piano reduction that has to be playable, so for that kind of work I always have a keyboard in front of me. When polyphonic MIDI recording arrives on big Dorico I’ll try to embrace it a little more.

For shortcuts, it really depends on what I’m doing. I devised the Notation Express Stream Deck profile, which is powered by keyboard shortcuts (and traditional ones at that; the Stream Deck software doesn’t support the sequential ones that Ben referred to). I have a couple of folders on the Stream Deck that cater to particular jobs. I’ve fiddled with my key commands JSON in such a way that I can do certain things that can’t officially be programmed as shortcuts; things like hiding condensing labels and setting individual cue labels’ custom text to a zero width space - it’s all a bit geeky. And my own shortcut set contains some stuff that the shipping Notation Express profiles don’t include, some because they’re specific to my needs and others because I’ve not got around to putting together a recent update.

One thing that irritates me about Notation Express is that I didn’t really plan the shortcuts as anything but a middle-man, seen only by software, so the shortcuts themselves aren’t organised in a logical way and aren’t memorable. Still, I’ve memorised the ones that I use incredibly frequently, as keeping hands on the keyboard (if you know what to type) is always quicker than reaching out for another device.

I guess the crucial ones for me - the ones I frequently bother to do on the keyboard - are a few of the Filters, Select More, stuff to do with linking/grouping/aligning dynamics, changing/merging voices, explode/reduce, duplicate/move to stave above/below, Accidental Visibility, a couple of custom text styles. Then obviously the main options dialogues (including Note Spacing Changes and Condensing Changes), all the general lengthening shortening/moving by the caret and rhythmic grid stuff, Project Info, the mode switchers, and I have the various submodes of Engrave mode on shortcuts.
Hide Invisibles, but also the toggle for showing/hiding all signposts. Oh, and all the popovers. I honestly can’t remember the last time I used the right panel for anything other than Lines.

Like Ben, I have a bunch of templates if I’m starting from scratch. I maintain lists of font styles and paragraph styles that particular repeat clients use (when I’m working on projects that they’ve started in Dorico), as that’s the one thing that I can’t easily transfer between projects via Save As Defaults/Restore Saved Defaults.

Tl;dr: my workflow is basically a MIDI keyboard, duration before pitch, a bunch of shortcuts and sometimes a stream deck.


Please elaborate! This sounds very neat.

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I might be a bit presumptuous replying in a thread like this, especially since Leo and Ben are two guys I learn things from almost daily, but here are a few specifics about my setup:

  1. MIDI keyboard, standalone Piano VST (usually VSL Bosendorfer Upright, I have an actual 1896 Steinway Upright 10 feet behind me), MIDI Thru off, always pitch before duration. Anytime I touch my MIDI keyboard I want to hear a piano. Whatever the last staff I was inputting usually has very little to do with whatever voicing I’m currently trying to figure out so I don’t want to hear that sound. I want to noodle, figure things out, then instantly input without hitting ESC and re-entering input a gazillion times in a project, so I almost never use duration-first input.

  2. VEPro running with my standard big band libraries. Sometimes with other client specific libraries. This makes switching between projects in Dorico way faster. Current faves are SWAM Saxophones (although I recently bought the new OT Duplex Saxophones and haven’t even had a chance to make a map yet), Samplemodeling Brass, IK Hammond B-3, VSL Bosendorfer 280VC, Ample Bass Upright (pizz), VSL Double Bass PLUS (arco), and VSL Jazz Drums. For a client of mine I’ve recently been using VSL SYNCHRON-ized SE solo strings to work through his string quartet output. He seems happy enough with them so I never bought more expensive library.

  3. I always start from templates. My standard part size is 9.5" x 12.5" which I and about 20 others in the NYC scene have custom made for us. Having Master Pages set and ready to go for it and other sizes I commonly use helps speed things up.

  4. I’ve hacked my instruments.xml to have a few custom instruments. A one staff Piano is sort of my sketch default (I have chords set to show between a grand staff by default which screws things up), and I have found myself using my non-percussion one-line staff fairly often too.

  5. Lots of custom keycommands, and like Leo a few JSON hack commands too. Just realize almost anything in the Properties panel can have a keycommand with a JSON edit, even if not officially supported in Preferences/Key Commands.

  6. To change the grid, CTRL+Numpad number that corresponds to the input note value. I almost never use dotted grids so that’s a non-issue for me.

  7. I’m on Windows and often have a lot of audio programs running at once. Voicemeeter, FlexASIO, and Bome MIDI Translator all make that possible.

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Great thread.


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I recommend also listening to the “Scoring Notes” podcast - they often have some interesting people on there with all sorts of professions - all of them power users in one way or another, and most interesting to me involved in very different uses of the application.

(Also just so nice to finally have public forums for this kind of geeky work)

I wouldn’t consider myself a power user as such - always learning really. However, when I have to blast my way through some typesetting for money then I have the following setup:

  • Widescreen monitor with source usually on one side of the screen, or on an iPad propped near by

  • MIDI Step-time input using an 88 key controller (always faster IMO) (duration before notes)

  • LH on the computer keyboard, RH on the controller

  • This may be contentious, and the more I get into Dorico’s keyboard focus, the more I’m thinking of changing, but I tend to get my head down and bang all the pitches in at once, and play them through as part of the proofing process, resolving any conflicts or mis-types (and in the case of older music, adding editorial accidentals etc.).

  • Then I do a second pass of each line, adding articulation, dynamics and lyrics as I go. Quite rarely I need to dip into Engrave mode here to move symbols around, especially while typesetting baroque french music. Lyrics - I type them out into Textedit first with all the hyphens and spaces and then go back an forth copying an pasting.

  • My very last step is to consider the layout. I’ve not really had cause to fully customise with templates etc. At the moment I’m happy with the defaults, although it’s beginning to change, and I haven’t really finalised that much in Dorico yet. Most of my clients demand I use Sibelius…

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Me in a nutshell too.

All the relevant key commands that I need I have memorized. Stream deck and midi keyboard reallllllly speed things up. I have a few files that I’ve saved as “templates”. TBH, I feel very disoriented without my stream deck xl as I use it that much. My midi keyboard also has a ton of extra midi keys that I’ve assigned to a bajillion things and used a physical label maker on. (See here for a somewhat dated pic of my setup. This is also a great thread to see other people’s. Perhaps we need to do a new one of these once D4 drops. MIDI Keyboard recommendations - #22 by Romanos401)

The biggest thing for me is a midi keyboard. I truly cannot fathom how/why people try and type everything (laptop on the go is one thing, but if you’re at home or at the office, whyyyyyyyyy). Using a midi keyboard is SO much more efficient. Also, the ability to expand the caret to more than one stave is one of dorico’s most brilliant time savers.

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This reminds me: I’m almost always running the silence template, and using noteperformer in only rare circumstances. I run either hauptwerk or grandorgue in parallel to dorico, so I always hear organ when I play (to noodle, figure out voicing, etc.), regardless of whether or not dorico is “listening” for my midi input. It’s the best of both worlds: I always get sounds when I noodle, but I can still do duration before pitch (my preferred method). The overwhelming majority of my mock-ups are made by me recording all the parts live and stitching them together in StudioOne pro. Fortunately, the scope of most of what I do is choral, so this is doable. I’d devise a different approach if it was more heavily instrumental/orchestral.

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If I want to always hear a piano (or other sound), regardless of what Dorico’s currently selected instrument is, then I set up one of the many standalone players - HALion, ARIA, even MainStage! – with piano on Channel 1.

I even have a little app that plays the Roland General MIDI samples (included in the MacOS for the last 30 years…), just so I always have something.

When you type your shortcut, just press one key, then another (then another!). Dorico will show them separated by a comma.


I keep meaning to set up Metagrid, but I’m not convinced that the time saved by using it will fully pay back the time to set it up…


With the iPad I was surprised to find that keyboard only is pretty efficient. Pain to lug a MIDI keyboard with an iPad which is really for ultra-portability, but a computer keyboard isn’t much of an issue, and getting those notes out on abcdefg was really just as quick, considering that my hands stay on one keyboard the whole time instead of switching back and forth.

On audio I need to hear some beautiful instruments. Probably from being an orchestral player, I compose as much for the instruments as I do for the orchestra, they inspire me. I also need piano for figuring out harmonic ideas, so in my main studio have three keyboards. Two Doepfer across from each other, and the third is a Yamaha concert grand action saved and converted to MIDI, and installed in a writing desk. Each keyboard is channeled to something different, one is just for a piano. I should post a picture, but with covid I’ve been rather messy :slight_smile:

Otherwise am still figuring out my workflow, but do have many controllers and a stream deck. Most of the time I seem to default to computer and MIDI keyboards.

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Question for y’all, for duration before pitch, how specifically do you switch duration? Keyboard, MIDI, Stream Deck, or using the keyboard after the fact by using lengthen/shorten shortcuts?

The biggest slowdown probably is getting those duration’s right.

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In my case I labeled the midi buttons immediately above the keys on my keyboard and mapped them to the note values, so I barely have to move at all. It’s über convenient.

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I’ve wanted to do this really badly. There’s a seller on eBay who does this for you. I’ve been sorely tempted, but I need to buy a real piano before I worry about a virtual one.

Always Qwerty keyboard here. Someone on Facebook did something clever with the bottom octave of their MIDI keyboard - I can see how that could increase speed but I’m not sure the (my) brain could take it.

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It’s pretty cool for the wow factor, but it’s huge and those concert hammers have a lot of force (WHACK!). I’m still working on it to get it to work reliably and be quiet enough. Grand actions are impossible to find as they’re junked with the piano. I lucked out in that on a lark I asked my retiring piano tech if he knew of one, turned out he had one he rescued which he used as a teaching action for young techs. Beautiful one that came from a church in Alabama. Anyhow I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re really dedicated.

On my desktop, I use the numpad. It’s similar (apart from the off-by-one thing) from what I’m used to with Finale.

There are two commands: Note Value Shorter and Note Value Longer, which ‘gear shift’ up and down the durations. I use those on my laptop, with keys assigned to them. It’s possible it needs a JSON hack.

This is perhaps aimed at a different stage of the workflow than the one you are primarily interested in, but in terms of getting the music to look nice - spend time getting familiar with the available higher-level-default settings. Particularly things like staff spacing and vertical justification, master pages, notation options, engraving options, paragraph styles. Use manual staff spacing as an absolute last resort, ditto nudging items in Engrave mode - if you want vocal dynamics above the staff closer to the staff, change the default minimum gap. Etc.

Understanding what impact various settings have on projects as a whole means you can easily tweak settings in each project as it requires, and in a few steps have a layout that is pretty close to ready to give to people.

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This is awesome Ben, I am going to use the living bejesus out of it thank you :slight_smile:

Faannntastic! So obvious and simple, what I wanted is something that’s close and ergonomic to my fingers on the piano keyboard, neither of which the computer keyboard or stream deck are. I just tried a separate numpad which sits perfectly right next to my mobile keyboard for the laptop. Beautiful … and it switches to the navigation keys which are the next most used.