Is DAW or Dorico easier for orchestration?

Just to clarify, aside from a beautiful score page, is working in Dorico in notation software more flexible and easier than the sequencer when you are doing orchestration?

I have only been trying to orchestrate in my DAW (not Cubase in case you’re wondering).

I actually was just going to post that I can’t download the 30 day Demo – it keeps saying “Error” and see support, yet, I was flummoxed trying to find a way to contact support through their links, so ended up signing up for this forum, then thought of another question in the meantime.


Whether one finds starting (or scoring) a composition with a DAW or starting with a notation product is really a workflow issue and depends on each individual’s experience, talents, situation, expertise, and personal preference. There is no definitive answer.

Hi Rexwine,

To prepare an arrangement for live players, a notation program is going to be essential. For orchestrating a midi mockup of VSTi’s the choices are less clear. As Derrek says, it’s a workflow issue.

I’m classically trained in piano and know a few other instruments. For me, I usually workout a notation sketch of the piece at the piano, notating as I go in a notation program. I later take the sketch (usually just a grand staff of two lines, bass and treble clef) and then break that into a four voice harmony, often for strings (2 violins, viola, cello, bass) or woodwinds, just to get my fundamental lines down. I will usually work in a counterpoint to the melody at the same time I’m harmonizing, and try to build up some sort of rhythmic texture in the piece. (I know it’s a lot of things to do at once, but for me it’s like solving a rubick’s cube–everything impacts everything else.)

Once I’m satisfied with my “quartet”, I will then start to take the idea to full arrangement of woodwinds, strings, brass, and percussion, about 12 staves worth.

At this point, the “proof listening” tools in a notation program are often being pushed to their technical limit. It usually at this point that I do a mockup in a DAW–for me this is Cubase. This means converting all my beautiful notation into midi building blocks and assigning sounds in VSTi’s (I currently use Spitfire Audio’s samples along with 8dio’s and Orchestral Tools and a handful other suppliers) to mock up the sound as accurate as I can make it.

Some of my colleagues are so sharp with such perfect pitch memory, they don’t even proof listen (how I envy them!) They just notate into a program like Dorico and trundle off to rehearsal with live players.

Another colleague is a wizard with a keyboard and improvisation. He tends to work exclusive in a DAW, playing his virtual instruments in real time against each other and then editing the performances in the DAW until he has built up a full orchestration. He almost never looks at the music as a score, but more as a performance and sometimes a piano-roll where he cleans up little mistakes or enhances the performance.

At the end of the day, it will be what makes you personally productive. For me, the structure of a Notation program is essentially to my process. For others, less so.

What kind of error are you running into, at what point? When signing up for MySteinberg? When entering your email address into the form to request the trial download? After downloading and/or installing Steinberg Download Assistant (SDA)? If you can provide a few clues, hopefully I or somebody else will be able to assist.

After I fill in my email and check the two agreement boxes I get this “error see support.”

I go to a page with a girl writing on paper score and it says “You’re nearly done” But in the box is the above. Nothing else to do except click the general support link.

Also to the others, thanks for answers!

Also when I try to sign up for MySteinberg, it says email account already in use.

So then, when I try to have it send a new password to that email account, which is definitely mine and I can access, it then tells me account does not exist.

I’m sorry you’re having problems, rexwine! One error condition that I believe we have seen with the trial form is that you should make sure there are no blank spaces before or after your email address – do try again. If you need help recovering your MySteinberg log-in details, please email and the support team will help you.

Hi, one of your staff was able to send me an activation code for 30 days. Thanks.

Two questions- I chose the option for trial orchestra – I certainly would have preferred full versions, but I wasn’t sure if I even had a choice. Or is it just trial as in 30 days? The words trial vs full confused me. I would have expected trial vs. registered.

Also, if I end my trial early, to buy the software will it stop working if I haven’t purchased the key yet?


I think I just found the answer to license question part.

Don’t worry, your 30-day trial code covers everything: Dorico, and all of the sounds. You can buy a permanent license at any point during or after the trial.

Opinion on Tracking Style DAW vs Dorico

If you’ve never worked a DAW, nor an advanced Notation program, but are familiar with traditional notation and composing styles, then I’d say Dorico hands down. You can open Dorico and start entering and playing back music pretty much right away. Don’t expect highly polished professional sounding playback results without a bit of a learning curve, but you can definitely punch in your ideas and get results within a few short hours of playing with the software. Dorico will automatically manage the playback engine for you out of the box to a large degree, so you can start composing right away. Later, if the need arises, you can learn to dig deeper into the playback capabilities for a more polished and professional sound quality if you need that.

As for a Tracking DAW…it depends upon the DAW. If you’re speaking of a base entry level DAW such as CuBase LE, then I feel like you’re going to get frustrated rather quickly if you’re doing advanced orchestral arrangments, as the ability to use a variety of editors, establish an assortment of presets and templates, or automate various repetitive tasks will be rather limited. With the Upper Range DAW, such as CuBase Pro, it can be a toss up depending on your preferences and priorities.

Mid and Pro level DAWs will have more arranger tools and editors to make life easier, and will be VERY flexible; however, if you are new to them you’ll have quite a learning curve at first. Just learning to get some virtual instruments loaded and making some sounds can take a new user some time to figure out. You will need to prime yourself on some industry protocols, and make yourself a bit of an audio engineer. It is a POWER USER set of tools. A tracking DAW can be pretty dumb…it relies on you to tell it what to do for every detail! While it’s pretty dumb…it is super powerful and flexible.

With something like CuBase Pro, you’ll have so many work-flow options under the hood in terms of ‘entering your information’ and ‘making it play back with extreme precision and control’ that it can be mind numbing. You’ll also need to take time to get to know your instruments/plugins rather intimately to get the most out of them. Once you know your way around, and have sorted out your favorite work-flow things do become faster, easier, and quite efficient. You’ll get a good combination of ‘composer’ tools and ‘audio engineering’ tools.

When it comes to getting highly detailed scores out of a tracking DAW, your options will be much more limited as compared to something like Dorico. Where the tracking DAW gives you ultimate control over playback (and live recording), the dedicated scoring package like Dorico gives you ultimate control over notation, page layout, and engraving.

Really, the best way to find out is to get some Demos and be your own judge.

Many of the DAW demos you can download online will be the base entry level versions unless you have a dongle, so be sure to also check out the literature for all the levels available. I.E. CuBase comes in 4 different variants…

CuBase LE - Entry level, can demo and own without a dongle. This gets you a decent MIDI editor and the ability to run some virtual instrument plugins, but it’s mostly suited for someone who wants to record live audio and work with that.

CuBase Artist - Quite well suited for Composers and Arrangers in the home or office. Artist adds stacks of editors and composer/arranger tools that really enhance the ease and efficiency of ‘composing and arranging’ for virtual instruments. Artist can produce pretty nice Scores (but nothing near the quality and flexibility of Dorico in the Scoring area). Artist requires a dongle to demo or own.

CuBase Pro - All the advanced editors included in Artist, plus it piles on more professional studio level options. Has more effects, a control room section, etc. Handles more plugins/tracks/etc. Requires a dongle to demo or own.

Nuendo - Everything in Pro, but adds the tools for syncing to video/film and gaming/animation. More robust surround sound. Various encoders for film and broadcast industry, etc. Requires a dongle to demo or own.

So…Grab Demos. Look at some Operator Manuals for various DAWs and Scoring packages, watch some YouTube videos, and decide from there. If you’ve got a retail music store near-by that has demo-stations for DAWs, drop by and ask for a rep to show you some things. This way you can see some of the higher level ‘dongle ware’ systems like CuBase Pro in action without having to purchase a dongle up front. Some stores might even let you lay down a security deposit on a dongle with a demo key that you could return for credit, or your money back if you decide you don’t want/need the dongle.

Well, I thought I had made up my mind, but now I’m not sure. Let me ask a different question.

With just the base files that can be produced in Dorico alone with tools available, can they be processed, without re-recording to a high quality output as good as anything out there?

I’m talking about the sound files here, not engraving part.

I don’t mind processing the output in Dorico in post production software to improve the quality or add effects. etc., but I don’t really want to re-record, rework expressions and so forth. I want the files outputted to be usable without doing all that.

It kind of defeats the purpose I was hoping to achieve if I have to rework them completely in something else.


Dorico is still very much in a state of development. It has the groundwork in place to eventually lead to tracking DAW level precision and control over playback. It’s difficult to guess what your personal standard is for an acceptable translation of a score.

At ‘this time’, if you are looking for really high quality mock-ups with an efficient work flow from the playback engine, you’ll find yourself somewhat limited unless you are willing to compose in Dorico, export a MIDI file, and further refine in a tracking DAW. The roadmap for Dorico development indicates that there are plans to eventually give it enough DAW centric tools to do nearly everything you can do in a modern tracking DAW…but right now, we don’t have it yet in Dorico. In time, for both the included HALion engine, and various third party plugins, advanced expression maps should become available that will bring users closer to a plug and play experience with surprisingly high end results, but those developments will take some time yet.

In Dorico, if you want constant subtle changes over every individual player’s part (I.E. controlling an lfo to bring in vibrato, or subtle attack style or dynamic/pitch changes on very single note, etc.), to be able to craft complex sonic layers, humanize passages individually, build your own instrumental sections, use alternative tuning, etc…you’ll have to start building your own expressionmaps, and creating your own instruments at the patch level for whatever instrument plugins you’ll be using. These more advanced playback abilities come with a learning curve for either a tracking DAW, or for Dorico. “Currently”, the tracking DAW gives you far more power and flexibility when it comes to playback options and quality.

With something like CuBase Pro, you can choose to build expressionmaps that will lock in your favorite expressive templates and make them easy to call up from score mode, or from the key-editor, but you can also work directly with controller lanes and VST automation protocols to ‘drive every aspect’ of your instrument to maximum capability. It’s much easier to mix and match plugins to build up layers and sections. Cutting and pasting sections of music around is nearly effortless. Doing things like custom grooves, manipulating tempo, etc…can be as simple as drawing curves on timelines. Still, there is quite a learning curve to master all this sheer ‘power and control’. The DAW is not going to do it for you. You either have to ‘play it in’ with the expression and control you seek, or ‘punch it in and edit it’ to get the specific sound you are after.

Personally I like to use both…for different situations. Currently I make more money with providing scores than mixes and renderings, so I spend a lot more time in Notation applications. Scanning and OCR technologies sometimes come into play for me as well. So, if I need to provide a high quality rendering…at this time I personally get the best results, in the least amount of time exporting my scores from a dedicated Score package into a MIDI file, and pulling that into the DAW for refinement of the translation and mixing specifically for the target media. Whether I ‘begin’ my project’s foundations in a Notation package, or in my tracking DAW depends on what my end client is expecting as a delivered product.

So again. I think it’d be wise to get some demos and experiment yourself. Browse the web and listen to some renderings done by Dorico with various configurations. Download some scores and play them yourself in the Demo, etc. Browse Operating Manuals and see which features and functions jump out and grab you as things that will inspire and move your personal work-flow. Initially, the most important thing is to get something you find easy and inspiring to compose or record your ideas into, and a large portion of that is subjective.

A great DAW that has every tool you could imagine doesn’t do you much good if the UI is done in a way that you can’t see well, or gives you a headache. You’re not going to use it much if it is organized in a way that doesn’t fit, or can’t be molded towards your cognitive preferences. Other things include the way things are organized and accessed in program, budget and minimal system resources required, etc. A color scheme and layout that is an absolute dream for me, might make another individual dizzy, or even nauseated. Different people like different things…so trying demos yourself is really the best advice I can think of.

Thanks for all the input.

After using the interface a bit, and also reviewing this page…

…which I started looking through, I feel like whatever things are still being implemented, it’s going in the right direction AFAICT.

I rarely get out of typical orchestra compositions, so the notation setup seems more suitable to me. I understand some of the advantages of a DAW, but the audience for them seems to diffuse some of the characteristics trying to be all things to a wide group of people.

I like a lot of genres of music but have only been really interested in working one area for quite awhile.

That really depends on your workflow, and on the end product. If you are looking to produce something that will be played by live players, you’ll always end up using Dorico (or Finale, or Sibelius, or other engraving applications). Many DAWs have built in notation but I really wouldn’t use that to create scores and parts. If you are looking to create something that sounds as good as possible without having live players, then you will find that a DAW is more flexible and has endless options to tweak how instruments sound, use audio files, automation, and so on.

In the film music world it is customary that scores are first written in a DAW. The composer tries to make a midi mockup which sounds as good as possible (sometimes they employ people who do this exclusively, they are called “programmers” in Hollywood). Once the mockup is approved by the director, depending on the music budget, the midi files are then given to orchestrators who prepare scores and parts for live performance. Sometimes composers do their own orchestration, but more often than than this is outsources, for two reasons: 1. many film composers simply do not have the classical music training and background to create proper scores and parts; and 2. even if they do, the time pressure is so great that it’s just not feasible to create scores and parts in time for the recording session.


Okay, 99% of the time I’m going to use standard orchestra instruments.

If I am able to use outside samplers VSTs of orchestra samples, or just 4 or so of the most known ones, I’m am pretty good shape there.

I have to shape things like vibrato, cresc, attack. I think most of that is covered in Dorico, even doing customization when needed.

This product contains a mixer and buses. I am not sure about a parametric equalizer or even equalizer? Compressor, not sure either yet.

However if it allows the use of outside VST’s so if I can add those, that should take care of that.

Live playing is the biggest thing, And that is a fairly big thing as far as quality and realism, 'cause try as I might I can’t pull it off in just writing midi inputs. I’ve not see anyone doing live playing yet if possible.

I assume moving files for mastering type work might be necessary.

What am I missing? It seems like I’m most of the way there before moving out of Dorico. Perhaps the software is prone to crashing under too heavy instrumentation? These are things I don’t know.

Actually, there is no way to “shape things like vibrato, cresc, attack”. Not yet, at least: you can’t yet access or automate velocity or any controller data except via the expression map on a per-technique basis. Dynamics will work inasmuch as they’ll respond to the written indications. This is something that might be possible in the future, but not now — and there’s no official word on when it’ll be.


Some of the more critical things (at least to me) in the Dorico VS CuBase decision…

Currently in Dorico you can:

  1. Use third party VST Plugins.

  2. Build static expression maps that are attached to various score symbols or text based techniques. I.E. You can make it so a staccato mark sends a rash of commands (Usually a keyswitch, and a number of CC messages) to your plugin to call up a specific articulation.

  3. You can go over to the play mode and adjust the actual note-on and note-off events on the time-line somewhat independently of what is displayed on the score. This allows you enough control to manipulate the precise attack and release of individual notes (I.E. to build rolled chords, or make a part cheat the beat, or have some part cut off earlier/later/etc.).

  4. Enter tempo changes manually onto the score.

  5. Set a universal preference for the power curve for the translation of dynamics.

  6. Establish if dynamics should be based on key velocity or a continuous controller.

  7. Set up some default durations for various types of markings (I.E. Staccato at 50% duration).

  8. Set up the default duration for legato/slurred notes.

  9. You get a pretty impressive set of VST effects (Everything included with CuBase LE, plus a rather nice Steinberg Convolution Reverb Unit called REverence). For application of these effects, you have one Aux Send connected fader (set up with REverence Reverb by default), and something like 4 slot inserts per instrument. Included in this slate of effects are Equalizers, Compressor/Limiters, Maximizers, Tone Boosters and notch filters, stereo enhancers, Distortion/Saturation, Virtual Amps, Tuners, Reverbs, Chorus, and more. You can also use your third party VST effects in the mixer inserts.

  10. Control a power curve for humanization of note-on events, and velocity levels.

    As of the current Dorico Release, here are some things, that as far as I know, you can NOT do yet (but there are plans to address all of this in future version releases).

  11. We cannot send pitch bend events yet. Even with expression map techniques.

  12. Not everything in the expression maps are fully supported yet. Dorico uses the same expression map format from a user perspective as CuBase, but every thing about these maps are NOT fully supported by Dorico yet.

  13. We are not yet able to create our own custom techniques for the expression map system. Presently we must work with what they give us in the UI (though we can get creative and use what is provided for our own purposes). There is enough to get a decent translation for sitting there and composing all day, and for communicating ideas about your score to others…but it’s not quite enough yet (in my opinion) to do a highly detailed mock-up trying to convince anyone it’s a real orchestra performing.

  14. We cannot draw in our own controller events on the time-line in play mode. Such controller lanes are the heart-beat of automating virtual instruments in a tracking DAW. In short, it is a way of operating various controls that might exist in your instrument (filters, lfos, expressive controls, etc.). In CuBase you can do this at least three different ways (Through traditional MIDI channel lanes in the key-editor, as VST3 ‘note expression’ events attached to individual notes in the key-editor, or as VST automation lanes in the main DAW).

  15. It does not yet support any groove templates, or anything similar. I.E. You can’t highlight a section of music that is written with straight eighth notes and direct Dorico to ‘swing’ the section (doted eighth plus sixteenth) on playback. Nor can you yet establish weaker/stronger beats in the automatic translation of a score. In CuBase it is possible to quanatize playback to a particular ‘groove template’.

  16. There are not yet any type of Cue Point calculators or automatic tempo managers of that sort.

  17. Currently, you cannot directly automate things like the Mixer, or any VST controls in Dorico. In CuBase, you get lanes to automate any properly implemented VST controls, as well as the mixer itself. You simply draw dots/lines/curves into the automation lanes.

  18. Mapable percussion staves are not yet possible in Dorico. This is definitely one of the things that is top priority for Dorico, and we should get pretty soon. CuBase has one of the best, most advanced and easy to use drum mapping and editing set-ups I’ve ever seen…bar none.

  19. We do not yet have a playback-centric logic editor for doing various sorts of batch edits in Dorico. While Dorico does have the ability to run LUA scripts…it’s not yet quite as simple as using a Logic Editor in Cubase to do something like, “Find every note above middle C in this track/stave that is within 40 ticks of beat three, move it up an octave, and decrease the velocity by 50%.” or, “Decrease all CC1 events by 10.” We can do this sort of thing in CuBase with simple user created if/and/or booleen logic.

  20. You cannot yet play things live into Dorico and ‘record it’. I.E. Hit record and play in a part on your MIDI Keyboard…

Having said all that…when you start working with something like CuBase…it doesn’t do any of that stuff on its own. It’ll faithfully play back what you record in, or go in and introduce through editors. Other than ‘chord tracks’ and ‘arp engines’, It has virtually ZERO automatic translation capabilities in the box. You can build them yourself (with expression maps, and controller lanes), and you’ve got all sorts of tools at your disposal to tell it ‘exactly what you want done’, but it does not do much ‘for you’ on its own. In contrast, Dorico will do its best to load up a suitable instrument and give you a somewhat musical interpretation of what you draw onto a score right out of the box. That translation can easily be exported as a MIDI File and brought into a tracking DAW if you ever need the extra details, or power-user editing abilities of VSTi automation.

Now if we were to do this same ‘listing and numbering’ of stuff in regard to working with Notation, and page layout…the pendulum quickly swings the other way round. You can do far more with getting notes to LOOK the way you want on a printed page from Dorico. Some of it is so advanced that it doesn’t play back at all yet, but at least you can make it display and print.

Pretty much everything I’ve numbered out here that Dorico cannot do yet…seems to be in the long range development road map, with the most priority being geared toward notation and engraving.

If you want to be composing scores in no time, and having the tools to image set or print them at professional quality…and to mainly focus on your arrangements from a more traditional/theoretical point of view. Dorico will have you making and playing back scores in no time. If you want power user scoring abilities, Dorico is an outstanding tool.

If you want power user features for recording, playing back, mixing, and mastering rendered audio products, with a very usable score editor, CuBase Artist or Pro may well be a better option. Get ready to go to school on using it though. Your first few projects will involve a lot of intricate steps. It’ll take some time to develop a comfortable and efficient personal ‘work-flow’, but once you do, you’ll be on your way…

There’s no way I could list out all the things Dorico can already do, VS what it can’t as compared to a mature DAW like Cubase. Again, it’s the sort of thing you’ll simply need to try out for yourself to see what’s going to fit your needs and preferred work-flow.

Well, that’s the reality of Hollywood film scoring. Back in the Hollywood golden age film composers had a deep understanding of, and training in, classical music, but nowadays it’s all over the place – people who come from a rock band, people who come from electronic dance music. And they score major Hollywood blockbusters. Hans Zimmer can’t read notes, he creates his soundtracks behind a computer, with a big team of assistant composers and programmers. If you pay attention to his scores, almost everything is in D minor because (a) it’s easy to play on a midi keyboard and (b) you can do a C to D on the low strings for that “closure” thing (if the DB have the extensions which pro players almost all have). When it comes to recording everything with live orchestra, orchestrators are hired who do have that background, and they prepare the parts and scores.