How to copy music more efficiently

I will have to copy two movements from an orchestral score soon (each between 20 and 30 pages) and I’ve never done more than short excerpts before.

One thing I noticed doing them is that I have no idea of how to copy efficiently and if there are any particular methods best suited for Dorico. Some of it felt unnecessarily tedious; then of course I had to go back multiple times to correct mistakes. Also, I noticed I made most mistakes by losing where I was in the score. MIDI keyboard seemed faster for note entry because for some reason I made more mistakes using solely the PC keyboard. (I don’t have Stream Deck). None of this mattered at the time, but now is probably a good opportunity to learn about it.

I’m sure my questions are too basic (e.g. - is it more efficient to copy bar by bar going top to bottom, or by instrument part), but any tips, tricks and links will be gratefully appreciated. Thank you.


I tend to work from parts, not score. Galley view for me. Notes in one pass, then dynamics, then PT, then other elements. No layout yet. Carefully check bar numbers every 30 seconds.

Then I’ll work on other instruments in that section, showing all of them. Winds, for example. That helps me see how they’re interacting and makes mistakes less likely.

Then it’s full score, formatting, and proofing.


For contrast – In Dorico I like to work from full score, entering all markings along with the notes. I copy passages of material vertically as I go. This workflow is not good in e.g. Finale because you have to switch tools too much, but it’s great in Dorico.

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One of the things I find most useful about Dorico is the efficiency of using the computer keyboard without moving around and lifting your hands. While I do have a midi keyboard attached (a couple actually) which I use as seems most convenient in the moment - most of the time I just press “C” or whatever for a pitch - Dorico’s default guessing about “which C” is about 50/50 for what I’m writing, but use of the alt and shift keys to set the octave is still fastest for me. Your mileage may vary.

The reason I have two midi keyboards, is that I have one that is backpack sized with lots of Pads and Knobs. You won’t catch me trying to play in a symphony to a click. But using the Pads or keys can be faster for me to just play in certain more complex rhythms on a first pass while mostly ignoring pitch. And the pads work better for me if you happen to have a 5 line drum/percussion versus changing the note heads for a cymbal, etc. Lots of things in Dorico can be mapped to Midi, so the Minilab is sort of my Stream Deck when I want it.


I have a second monitor to display PDFs or images of manuscripts; for paper copies, I have a lecturn (actually a hollowed out ‘anglepoise’ iMac!).

But dividing up a single screen can work well: I favour a split across the horizon, so you get a full width of both source and destination. Viewing too many staves at once can lead to ‘offset errors’.

I tend to work staff by staff, then page by page: playing back always highlights any wrong notes.

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I do a lot of this and have found it best to put in all the measures (shift+B) with time sigs and rehearsal marks, then check by measure numbers before beginning note entry. Similar to benwiggy I use a desktop music stand for paper copies which I prefer to PDFs on a second monitor.


That’s actually a great idea… put in the big markers to make sure measures don’t get shifted off.

Forgot to mention I do this too. I recently recopied a large symphony movement and even added all the tempo marks along with the meters and key changes first. I did this and some other orchestra projects before I even had a midi keyboard handy. Now that I have a little one, it speeds up chord entry and entering a string of notes of the same duration.

Temporarily setting bar numbers to every bar helps a lot.

I also agree that Stream Deck is incredibly useful. The latest update to the software includes multiple left/right pages at the same “level”, which is much easier to work with the up/down menus in older versions.

On windows I find Auto-Hotkey to be a lot quicker than multiple key sequences on Stream Deck, so I quite often generate a sequence on AHK, then trigger that from Stream Deck.

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You don’t need to set bar numbers to every bar. Just turn on bar numbers in the View menu.

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Assuming I’m working off a composer’s pencil score …

  1. Music is either on a regular music stand or a K&M 124 stand on my desk.
  2. Like @dandaiuto I do all the structural work first. Checking bar #s early is important in case the composer misnumbered. That can wreak havoc if not caught early. I check rehearsal letters too, or add them for some clients. Additionally I’ll check to make sure tempos make sense and any “a tempo” or other indications aren’t missing after fermatas, etc. Having the all the measures already set in the file is also useful because I can use the scroll bar at the bottom to sort of pace my progress. Check to make sure repeats and repeat structures make sense and are logical. I usually send a list of questions to the composer/arranger in a bulk batch so any uncertainties at this stage get added to the list.
  3. Notes are input next. I use pitch first input with one hand on the MIDI keyboard and one on the numpad, so generally don’t bother with articulations yet. I do a score page at a time, starting with the entire top staff then moving to the next staff and working down. SCORE typically builds up from the bottom system so many experienced engravers coming from SCORE do it that way.
  4. Obviously with a score it’s easier to see any come sopras (copybacks) and then they can be copied rather than input. For those I go ahead and input articulations, playing techniques, slurs, dynamics, etc before copying or Alt-clicking just to save time. I hate recreating a score from parts because it takes way longer when you can’t see the whole score at once to know what can simply be copied from elsewhere.
  5. Next I enter articulations, playing techniques, slurs, dynamics, etc. Some can be applied by drag selecting a region, some can be done with shortcuts for Move to Staff Above/Below, etc.
  6. When the page is completed, I proof with playback, and then a quick proofreading check for anything that looks unusual or any elements that obviously appear to be missing. (Dynamics at an entrance after rests, unclear arco/pizz, stuff like that)
  7. When my list has gotten reasonably long with a dozen entries or so, I’ll go ahead and contact the composer. Sometimes there are recurring uncertainties that are better cleared up right away.
  8. Occasionally when the score is complete, I’ll cast it off the same as the manuscript to help with proofreading. Obviously this won’t be the final layout. After proofing I just delete the system and frame breaks and lay it out logically. I really dislike orphan bars so I generally avoid those unless absolutely necessary.
  9. For most clients, I’ll send them a proof score to sign off on before formatting parts. A coherent file naming structure is important to keep everything straight. I might send a composer a PDF titled “Title V1” for example. As soon as I get their corrections/revisions I immediately do a Save As and call it “Title V2” so I don’t accidentally write over the original file. I’ll make the edits then send the “Title V2” file off. I just keep updating the V#s as we keep revising.
  10. For orchestral parts, as a general rule I don’t use rests longer than 10 bars so I’ll add the cues at this time. Dorico’s Cue feature is really great! For jazz stuff, I use a lot of word cues too at sections and prominent entries. For jazz structures that are regular I don’t have any issue with much longer rests as long as the musicians will naturally know where they are in the form.

I was basically trained on the Schirmer proofreading system. I no longer literally do this, but these elements are still in the back of my mind. Obviously I know the type of errors I typically make with Dorico, or with Finale, etc, so I look a little closer at software dependent issues. Here are the basic Schirmer proofing guidelines:

Some of those a a bit specific to SCORE where the engraver has to manually enter some of those elements, so obviously they might not need as much attention in Dorico.


Same. Casting off the same as the original makes scanning for errors substantially easier. (And orphaned bars are the worst!)

Edit: I should also mention that I’ve learned a lot from old editions that were carefully laid out by hand. Sometimes they are worth keeping 1:1 in the new edition since the original was so carefully thought out.


If your computer is sufficiently powerful, you can cast off the bars the same as in the original, and open two Dorico windows: one in Galley view (Write mode) and the other showing the score with Condensing on (Write or Engrave mode). Place the window with the score beside the original PDF page on one monitor, and place the window with the Galley view on the other monitor. Enter the music in the window with Galley view, and enter condensing changes in the window with the score. This way, you can continuously perform a side-by-side comparison as you go.


Adding a small trick I use that involves temporary rehearsal marks.

I usually copy page by page and work in galley view. Starting with the first staff i hit shift+A to create a rehearsal mark for page 1 before I enter the music (MIDI-keyboard+NumPad). When I am done with the first staff, I hit shift+A again to create a rehearsal mark for page 2. Then I hit Escape and arrow left. This will take me back to the previous rehearsal mark (beginning of the page I am working on), then I hit enter+arrow down and continue with the next staff. Same procedure for all staves. When there already is a rehearsal mark in place, hitting shift+A will just select that one.

Sometimes it is also handy to set the rehearsal marks to numbers in the engraving options, and adjust “index” so that they coincide with the page numbers in the score you are copying.

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If you’re engraving 1:1 from an existing edition, it’s worthwhile to use the Layout, Notation and Engraving Options to adjust staff size, note spacing, and page margins. This way you can avoid unnecessary system or frame breaks (although I find I still have to put these in myself quite often, even after I’ve tweaked the options).

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This is a ton of really useful information, thank you!

Hopefully I got it right that there are essentially two fundamental approaches here. I tried them as I understood them yesterday.

First, I have a 21:9 monitor, so I set up a horizontal screen split with the PDF source on top and Dorico below. This allowed me to zoom in on one or two staves in each window and to have them at full page width with perfect magnification. I set measures, marks and then started copying staff by staff in two passes, notes then dynamics. I even tried lining up just two woodwind instruments, for example, which also worked very well. I feel this approach can be very precise and fast with practice. The one major problem was that at some point everything starts to feel mechanical. My mind would drift away and by the time I got to English Horn I started making mistakes. So the issue here is focus, probably. What do I do? Sing the notes or talk to the screen?

Then I tried the other angle - starting with the context of full page to understand the music, then copying (and copy-pasting) on the phrase or passage level. I had to rearrange the screen first, and I went bottom up from strings. This was great in the sense of seeing the orchestration and so I never lost focus. However, it was a lot slower, and on top of that I started getting lost on the page almost immediately. Unfortunately, the source is bad PDF in full score only, with condensing/divisi, and I think 70% of mistakes came from losing where I am in it. I thought about printing it and getting a desk stand but I don’t have the space to get it lined up at monitor level. Anyway, I’m not completely sure how to define the issue here, but it’s either bad screen setup or clumsy navigation or maybe both. Mark, do you also add a stand to your approach, or can you do it on monitors only?

I am re-reading everything several times and thinking through it, and I hope to adopt many of the additional tips into my routine once I’ve solved these two obstacles. It’s hard to articulate, but do you even recognize these as issues? And if so, what do you do?

For large-score copying I have been working with the source on an iPad or laptop (unless it’s on paper). Using Preview on Mac, with a non-scrolling view, allows me to go from page to page at the same zoomed-in position (e.g. just strings) for a passage of several pages. I make much use of custom-score layouts for woodwinds, brass, etc., in a separate tab to speed up access. With a big ensemble I keep the full score in Page View to save time, and enter most material on the custom layouts.

As for keeping focus while copying, it gets better with experience. Reading not only the line you’re copying but also how it fits in the full ensemble always helps. Since I started using Dorico just this August, I have really enjoyed recopying published music that I know and that I don’t know, to learn both the software and the music better.

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A couple of days later, and I’m realizing how true this is!

I am getting faster and making fewer mistakes already, but then I’ve integrated so many of the workflow elements outlined here, and their value is simply incredible. Thanks to everyone, once again, for the sharing your workflow.

If possible, I’d really appreciate your thoughts on three more questions:

  • has anyone remapped the numeric keys for note duration? I use left hand on PC keyboard for that (right hand on MIDI keyboard) and it’s very fast except for dotted notes. But I learned those keys via muscle memory only, and so get completely lost switching hands and using NumPad.

  • is there a “safe” way to remap either Ctrl key or the Shift key without destroying everything? They are so different in function but sit too close together and I often mistake them. My favorite is seeing Print window open when trying to enter a playing technique…

  • if your source is PDF full score, how do you count and mark up the bars in it? I split the screen horizontally and zoom in to one or two staves each, but of course the bar length never lines up. I tried printing but the page is too small (US letter size). This is still a roadblock and I’m not sure how to go about it.

If you have a passage of repeated dotted quaver - semiquaver (or similar), it’s often quicker to enter them as straight quavers and add the dots in a second pass.

Many PDF readers have annotation tools.

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