My "review" of Dorico

Hello all,

Following is my “review” of Dorico, or perhaps my impressions. I was able to use the trial version 1.10. I did not spend much time with version 1.20. Caveat lector: I only spent 3 or 4 days with the software, and did not use all of Dorico’s features. My use case is a bit particular as I specialise in edition of old music (read baroque and earlier). Therefore this cannot be called a comprehensive review.

TL;DR summary: Wow! Dorico is a spectacular achievement that will revolutionise digital music notation. Already, in its first publicly available version, Dorico is already in many ways leaps and bounds above and beyond any serious competitor in the field, namely Finale, Sibelius and Lilypond. However, Dorico still has a long way to go to offer a complete professional solution for music engraving.

The following is just a list of observations and remarks I wrote down while working with Dorico. Basically I wrote down what bugged me, and tried to provide suggestions and solutions to the problems I found. To test Dorico, I attempted to produce a score of Bach’s cantata BWV 12 (I only had time to typeset the opening sinfonia and half of the ensuing choro), of which I prepared an edition using Lilypond some time ago. I enclose both Dorico and Lilypond output files. It’s a long post, so please read to the end. I may very well have missed stuff or gotten things wrong, so I’ll be happy to stand corrected on any of my points.

Downloading and installation

  • I already wrote about it in a previous post here on this forum, but I’ll repeat it: a 9GB download for trial software seems to me excessive, and having people download a “download assistant” is only making it worse. I understand that the orchestral sounds library bundled with Dorico is a heavyweight, but there should have been an option to download Dorico without it, just as there should have been an option to download it directly, without the download assistant (Daniel has already provided direct download URLs on this forum). Living in the countryside I have a very slow internet connection and it actually took me a few days to download Dorico.

  • To install both the download assistant and Dorico itself I had to enter my admin password. Do you really have to install stuff outside my home directory? Why should I trust you with that? Please respect my machine.

  • I received the trial activation key on November 30th, but have only managed to install Dorico a week later. However, I just got an email yesterday notifying me my trial period will expire on the 30th of December. I would have expected the trial period to end one month after starting to use the software. A bit of a disappointment but not really surprising in view of Steinberg’s heavy-handed licensing scheme (more on that below).

User Interface

  • The user interface in general is aesthetically pretty and pleasant, though I wish it would take less screen real estate (I’m working on a 13" laptop with retina display). For example, in write mode I had very little use for the vertical toolbar on the right edge, but could not find a way to make it disappear. I also could not make the window small enough so as to fit a PDF reader on the top half of the screen, and edit in Dorico on the bottom half. Since Dorico relies so much on keyboard commands and shortcuts, I really wish Dorico would offer a “no distraction” mode in which the only thing visible is the music.

  • The custom UI is a bit rough around the edges. For example, drop down lists do not highlight the current selection when showing the list, nor do they auto-scroll to allow quick selection using the trackpad/mouse, as with stock macOS controls. Double clicking an instrument name allows in-place editing, but the editing box does not use the same font, nor the same font size. Implementing a custom UI is not necessarily a bad decision, but you do need to put in a lot of effort to match the usability offered by stock UI controls.

  • The properties panel only displays property values when they are overridden (i.e. when clicking the little on/off switch left of the property name). This makes it harder to understand what the property does, and keeps the actual property values opaque, as the user has no way of telling what they are by quickly glancing at the properties panel. For example, adding a trill ornament and selecting it, if I want to hide the trill line (BTW no way to enter a simple trill without trill line?), I need to click the on/off switch next to the “Has trill line” checkbox. There are a few problems here:

  1. It is not apparent at all that this is a checkbox (these are custom-UI controls, which a priori makes them less intelligible to users than stock MacOS/Windows controls).

  2. The values of the various properties is shown only for those for which the override switch is on.

  3. In order to effect a change to a property, the user needs to first turn on the override, then select the appropriate property value.

  • On macOS at least, the Window menu should be for managing windows and tabs, and for showing other special purpose non-modal independent windows. Controlling visibility of the various panels should be done in the View menu. Dorico could benefit from rearranging and streamlining some of its menus.

Note entry

  • The note entry interface is inconsistent. Some things, like duration, ornaments, holds, and accidentals should be entered before the note is entered. Other things, like slurs, ties or octave displacement should be entered after the note is there.

  • Entering rests requires first activating “rest mode”, then entering a pitch (!), then deactivating rest mode. I get that I can use the arrow keys to move forward or backward, but sometimes I need to enter a 16th rest or a maybe a dotted 8th rest, and it feels kinda clumsy. I would have expected to be able to just press r and get a rest with the currently selected duration.

  • When entering rests, sometimes (depending on the rhythm) they would not appear until a subsequent note is entered, which is confusing.

  • There are a lot of “modes” involved in note entry (e.g. tie, slur, rest, selected accidental etc), but it is not always clear what mode we’re in. The highlighted mode buttons on the left panel are useful, but the user will probably keep her attention on the music itself. It would have been useful to show the selected modes next to the caret. Besides, when the left panel is hidden, there’s no visual feedback for slurs, accidentals and durations.

  • If the tie button also displays a mode, why is it placed in the “toolbox” panel (extreme left), instead of together with the other mode buttons on the left panel (like slur etc).

  • Not being able to slur a tied note is a serious limitation, caused apparently by the underlying musical representation. The software thinks it knows best, but for a musician it’s just silly. I understand there’s a workaround for that: enter slur first, then tie:, but still… (see oboe part in 1st movement of enclosed file).

  • When entering ornaments or holds using the popup widgets, there’s no auto-completion, so the user has to guess what input will work (or consult the docs).

  • Accidentals need to be spelled absolutely rather than relatively. For example, when in the key of F minor, entering an E natural can only be done by setting natural accidental, not sharp. I find this to slow down note entry. It would have been nice to have commands to chromatically raise or lower the natural pitch according to the key signature.

  • There’s apparently no way to turn off secondary beaming, apart from beaming manually, but:

  • Trying to beam together a group of notes with secondary beaming, where the first note is a tied note (that is, tied to the note preceding the beam) is not possible. Again a case of the software knows best. Again, see oboe part in 1st movement of enclosed example.

  • When entering a slurred group of notes, if the user made a mistake and deleted a note, a slur will not be added, though the slur mode button will remain highlighted.

  • Dorico allows multiple (at least double and triple) slurring by repeatedly pressing s, but there’s no indication in the UI of how many slurs are active. This got me a good number of times.

  • When pasting a piece of music, the caret stays at the point of insertion. It should move past the pasted material.

  • Not needing to repeat accidentals while in the same bar is just fantastic!

  • Many properties or settings related to notes, beaming etc are not accessible from the properties panel, but rather from the Edit menu. Why?

  • Command for centred (“knee”) beam found in Edit->Stem, rather than the more logical Edit->Beaming. Similarly, in the Engraving options window, settings for centred beam are found in the Notes section under the Stems sub-section, rather than in the Beams section.

  • There’s no way to locally control extender lines and hyphens for lyrics (nothing in the properties panel).

  • Extender lines are normally automatically created when a whole word is entered over a melisma, but if the same is entered in the middle of already existing lyrics, the extender lines will not be created.

General Interaction

  • There’s no way to select basso continuo “instrument”, or maybe just a generic single-staff instrument. Personally, making me choose from a list which does not include what I need is kind of a put off.

  • There’s no way to set transposing for a specific instrument. For example, in early Bach cantatas (e.g. BWV 131, 106, 150 etc), woodwinds including oboes, bassoons and recorders would transpose, either a major second or minor third above, depending on the piece.

  • The transpose dialog should offer a preview. It should also retain the last used settings.

  • The preferences dialog should retain state - section selection, selection inside key commands etc.

  • Selecting a slur or note in write mode and switching to engrave mode will maintain the selection, but will not scroll to the appropriate position so the selection would be visible. The different modes each retain the view position, but when making a selection it would be better to make it so the selection is displayed at the center of the screen.

  • After selecting the “hide empty staves” option in layout options dialog, one needs to switch to Engrave mode in order for the score to reflect the change.

  • In Setup mode, selecting multiple players and right-clicking cancels the multiple selection and only lets the user perform operations on a single player.

  • Ditto for selecting multiple layouts in layout panel, then right-clicking to show context menu.

  • The interface doesn’t help the user much in understanding the various properties in the properties panel. Tooltips would be helpful.

  • In Setup mode, players panel, to show the player context menu one needs to right-click the player or the instrument. To show the instrument context menu (for changing instrument, edit names, move instrument etc) one needs to left-click the arrow next to the instrument name.

  • In Preferences dialog - Key Commands, when searching for a command, the list of found commands should be automatically expanded.

  • In Layout settings, page and music frame margins must be expressed in points, disregarding the “Preferred unit of measurement” setting in Dorico Preferences. Margins do not accept decimal fractions.

  • In layout settings, staff size is displayed in pts and mm as a derivative of Space size, but it can not be set directly. Setting the staff size rather than the space size is arguably more practical, since that’s the reference measurement used by publishers.

  • Steinberg Hub is displayed on startup even if Dorico was invoked by double-click an existing file.

  • The Engraving options window should provide a search functionality. Lots of different sections, lots of sub-sections within each section, navigating is difficult. Also, it would have been fantastic if the actual music examples showing measurements actually responded to changes in settings. The various numeric settings should have individual “Revert to default” switches.

  • Coming from Lilypond, this last point I think is important, because there’s when adjusting numeric values such as slur thickness etc, some trial-and-error is involved. The engraving options window is big, it actually does not leave much space to look at the music. Add to it the fact that at least some of these numeric settings can not be locally overridden, so there’s no good way to play with them before setting them globally.

  • Master pages panel - scrolling is buggy. Sometimes it works OK, sometimes it is unresponsive.

  • After making edits to master page frames, the frame’s vertical alignment reverts to Center.

  • No way to make graphics frame keep aspect ratio or auto-adjust size.

  • No way to enter absolute width and height for frames.

  • No way to set line height for text in text frames.

  • No way to set small caps or other OpenType features.

Output - Engraving Quality

  • Slurs are disappointing (at least compared to Lilypond) - using the default settings, they look like they’re made up of three segments. The ends have are non-tapering, i.e. they have a uniform thickness, and have sharp edges. The middle becomes gradually thicker like it should, but has a curve markedly different than that of the ends, both on the outside and inside of the slur. Compare to Lilypond slurs which show a single curve on each side of the slur.

  • Slur placement leaves a lot to be desired - when slurring grace notes, or when slurring two notes with a large interval between them. Default slur placement seems to be always symmetric, which doesn’t really work for large intervals.

  • I found tweaking slur settings (actually any settings) in Engraving options to be tedious and confusing. I understand placing a slur is complicated business, but Dorico could make that easier perhaps by showing an excerpt (perhaps the current selection) in the window and immediately applying any changes to settings to it (a sort of preview), so the user gets an immediate feel for how the settings affect the look of the music.

  • There’s no way to set slur thickness proportional to slur length. Same for tie.

  • Stem ends have sharp edges. Beam corners have sharp edges. Slur edges are also sharp as I wrote above (in the end I made slur edges very thin in order to arrive at something resembling Lilypond’s slurs). All these should be somewhat rounded (compare Dorico and Lilypond - you really have to zoom in to see that, but still to me it makes a big difference in “feel”).

  • The edges of systems (corners at beginning and end on top and bottom staves) are also sharp. They should be somewhat rounded. Ledger lines also have sharp edges.

  • There’s no way to locally control slur thickness. Same for tie. Same for things like beams or any number of things. I would have expected to be able to locally override any setting which does not relate to placement (that is, which could be overridden using the mouse or trackpad).

  • Changing vertical space settings in order to maintain vertical justification (filling vertical space), and balancing the inter-system space and inter-staff space was also a bit finicky, and involved too much trial and error to my taste.


All of the above does not mean to say I’ve had a negative impression of Dorico. On the contrary - I’m really impressed. Note entry is generally very efficient, the quality of typesetting is way better than both Finale and Sibelius (but not as good as Lilypond in my opinion). The use of frames and master pages is fantastic (even if it needs to mature in terms of features and usability). Other features like 2-up layout etc can be very useful in professional workflow. All these things already put Dorico way ahead of any of its commercial competitors.

But nevertheless, I ask myself if I’m willing to take the plunge and buy it, and the answer is no, at least not now. Here’s why:

  • Steinberg’s licensing scheme to me seems somewhat hostile. Other people have already complained about this, and Daniel and team seem to be somewhat understanding, so I won’t repeat the arguments. But this is an obstacle to taking the plunge. I would have expected Steinberg to offer a license that allows you to use Dorico on any one machine at a time (a lot of us have more than one machine). Nobody wants to walk around with USB dongles, so you can either check license usage by having Dorico call home, or maybe just trust your users?

  • I’d expect Dorico to be at least on par with Lilypond when it comes to typesetting quality. To me the small details (like those nasty sharp edges) matter a lot.

  • Some features I need are still missing, like figured bass, arbitrarily transposing layouts or custom instruments. Those will come, no doubt, but I need them now to do my work.

  • There’s currently very basic support for scripting and for developing plugins. I would like to have access to the musical document and its various parts (notes, frames, settings etc), in order to be able to manipulate it programmatically.

  • I’d also like have documentation for the Dorico file format. This might seem an unreasonable request, but hey, I was spoiled by Lilypond.

I really hope Dorico would some day offer most if not all of what’s currently holding me from committing to it. Until then, congratulations to the Dorico team on a fantastic achievement!

Here are links to the BWV 12 examples:



Sharon Rosner

You should have one more week, look at Daniels comment:

Just a quick comment on “Download and Installation”. First of it’s not necessary to install the download assistant and secondly, more importantly, you can simply deselect the Halion library for installation. I did that too but later curiosity got the better of me and I reinstalled it adding the library. No problems in either case. Imo if you have professional library already, there’s no real point in installing Halion unless you want to monitor the progress of the playback engine’s development.

I’ll leave comments on the engraving etc to others – as long as it looks good, which in general it does to my eyes (certainly better than Sibelius and on another planet from Overture), I’m not very bothered at this stage about the niceties.

I think this was great! I’m in the camp that would prefer to mostly let Daniel and the team handle things without endless, mostly redundant feedback from us but you’ve addressed lots of little things that I think would make things much smoother and I personally appreciate them being brought up. Just a couple comments:

I received the trial activation key on November 30th, but have only managed to install Dorico a week later

It begins once you activate it, this is just a poorly-done email notice.

After selecting the “hide empty staves” option in layout options dialog, one needs to switch to Engrave mode in order for the score to reflect the change.

Unless I’m misunderstanding, this is perfectly logical. In Write Mode, whether you’re in galley view or not, you need to be able to see all of the staves in order to quickly go to them to enter more music if you’d like. Engrave mode no longer cares about empty measures though, thus its ability to hide the empty staves.

I can’t possibly reply to every point you have made, though I appreciate you having taken the time. I am only going to reply to the bits where I actually said “no” out loud or started physically shaking my head while I was reading.

Again, since I’m only going to reply to the bits I most disagree with, I don’t want you to think that I don’t appreciate some of the nice things you’ve said about Dorico, which I do.

This is by design, of course, and we approach it from absolutely the opposite direction. It is more important that you can see which items have properties set (and which properties are set) and which items do not, so that you can (a) easily remove any properties that have been set, either individually by switching off the override checkbox or en masse using Reset Appearance/Position, and (b) tell why a particular item does or does not change when you make a global change in one of the options dialogs.

This isn’t really a valid criticism, since there has to be a deterministic order in which these items are chosen, and not everything can be specified either before or indeed after the pitch itself.

Golden rule of note input in Dorico, number 1: don’t input rests. Just hit Space to advance the caret by the right duration, or move the caret with the arrow keys, and input the next note.

This I find very peculiar. You want to input a natural by specifying a sharp accidental. I don’t think too many people would agree with you. If you really want to do it this way, you can enter an unadorned E, which will produce an E flat, then type Shift+Alt+up arrow to raise it by one semitone.

The Properties panel can only show properties that can be set atomically on a single note or other event. Things like beaming and stem direction have to be set on a number of notes at once, and often indeed need to set properties to conflicting values. Dorico goes to some lengths to make sure that stale property values that no longer apply get cleaned up, and if you were to try to set e.g. beaming properties by going note to note using the Properties panel, each note’s properties, viewed in isolation, would not make sense and hence would be cleaned up. The design here is that you have to perform a single edit that puts things into a consistent state.

No, that’s not true, but you do need to be in page view, which you can use in either Write mode or Engrave mode. When you’re in galley view (which of course you cannot use in Engrave mode), no staves will be hidden, because (obviously enough) there is only a single system.

Unless I’m misunderstanding you, you can do this using the Frames section of the Properties panel, though you do need to understand the constraints-based layout system enough to know which of the locks in the left-hand panel need to be set or unset in order to set both width and height for the same frame (and you rarely actually want this anyway).

That’s not true, either. You can set it for the paragraph style you’re using in Engrave > Paragraph Styles.

I don’t think it can make any difference at all when printed or when viewed at normal reading size on even the highest resolution display, since typically staff line thickness is around 0.22mm or less (assuming rastral size 3 or 7mm staff height, and staff line thickness of 1/8 space). If we were able to show you two pages that were absolutely identical except for whether or not e.g. the end of a stem uses a rounded corner rather than a straight edge, would you really be able to tell? I’m pretty sure I would not be able to.

No, that’s incorrect. You can change the thickness of the ends and middles of individual ties and slurs using properties in Engrave mode.

With the exception of to the extent that this might be documented incidentally as part of the API documentation for scripting, I can’t see this ever happening.

I have briefly compared the look of the two scores and, as a performer, find Dorico much more sight-readable. At the beginning of bar 13, the other score does, however, have a much better solution to the slur-shape problem when the two notes are widely separated. I would welcome this as a Dorico default in such cases, as I have spent a lot of time in Sibelius prettifying similar solutions.


Hi Daniel, in a post above you responded to this statement:

ciconia wrote:
No way to set line height for text in text frames.

That’s not true, either. You can set it for the paragraph style you’re using in Engrave > Paragraph Styles.

Me: I don’t see how one can change the height of a text line. I went into the engrave paragraph styles and don’t see it. I want to be able to decrease the space between the two lines of text - see attachment. I want to have the two lines of text closer together. Can I do this? If not, I hope this is something you are considering.

Screen Shot 2017-06-06 at 1.22.20 AM.png

Adjust the Leading value…

You mean the leading value in the paragraph styles, that you can access through the Engrave menu in Engrave mode ? I wouldn’t have thought about looking there :wink: I suppose that is why David could not find it !
It actually works perfectly ! Thanks for the tip :slight_smile:

First of all, hats off to Sharon for creating beautiful scores in both programs! :stuck_out_tongue:

I do, however, have to agree with David that to my eye, I quite prefer the Dorico version. While the Lilypond version is lovely, there’s something almost clinically sterile. I don’t know how to describe it. Maybe this is a bit of that “je ne sais quois…” that Daniel was searching after by designing Bravura on old hand-engraved editions. The short-note-valued beaming (or more accurately, sub-beaming) is absolutely better in the Dorico version. And while the measure 13 passage is more elegant in the Lilypond version, Dorico produces a more consistent slur behavior throughout the whole score and actually excels in clarity elsewhere. Of course, in the end this is all very subjective and both editions are quite lovely and useable.

There were definitely a few good and interesting observations in the OP however, as with Daniel’s initial reply, this does seem to be a classic case of approaching a new software with an old workflow habit. I encountered similar frustrations until I “reset” my thinking and decided to embrace “the Dorico way” and alter my perceptions about how things “should” work. As soon as I did that I found more things made sense and I enjoyed using the program more.

I’ve found there is something a bit odd about Lilypond with relatively small staff sizes and PDF output. Something isn’t being rendered quite right, which results in “spidery” looking fonts (note heads a bit too small) and uneven spacing of beams, etc.

Things look nicer in Lilypond with the default 20pt font size (= 7mm staff size, almost exactly) or larger.

Of course you can now use Bravura in Lilypond instead of its own default font, and doing that will get easier in the next Lilypond release.

Marc, thank you for explaining where to find that. But this will work on all default text, not only this one instance.

However, there is a problem here . . . I adjusted the leading and it worked fine while the text is selected (in orange 3rd attachment) but when the text is de-selected it goes back to the default (2nd attachment). And when I go to print it it’s in a different position (1st attachment). What’s going on here?
Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 12.33.56 PM.png
Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 12.29.03 PM.png
Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 12.28.41 PM.png

The idea is that you make up your own paragraph style (perhaps based on default text…) and adjust the leading there… not on the default text itself…

Couldn’t reproduce your problem with the line spacing reverting… did you make sure all the text is selected before applying the style…?

Thank you very much. This makes sense now. I was able to do it. Sometimes the changes don’t take effect but they are there if I save, close and open the file again.

Installed Dorico 1.1 around July 1 for a 30 day trial period. I must congratulate Daniel and his Dorico Team for an outstanding notation program even though it is still in infancy. To become acquainted with the program, I created short, exploratory projects just to get used to inputting notes, rests, articulations, etc. I have had extensive experience with Finale (since inception,V. 1.0) and a short run with Sibelius. I never use a notation program for audio auditions, just for their manuscript capabilities and an idea of how the created music will sound regarding instrument layout, etc. For audio, I use Digital Performer 9. So, a notation program that can export an SMF that demonstrates a fair replica of a project in its new environment (DAW or other notation program) is important to me.

Learning to input notes, articulations, etc. in Dorico was a new experience for me and one which I soon felt comfortable with; however, there were some harassing moments when using the computer keyboard for input:

Dynamics and cres/decres marks wouldn’t playback and still don’t
When, in 4/4, inputting a note followed by two rests of equal value, the second rest didn’t appear, even though the caret was on beat 4.
The mouse still had a note attached to it although, in Prefs, inputting notes with the mouse was unchecked.
Some notational functions, like articulations, still required a note to be highlighted in order to attach an articulation (not visible on mouse). Slurs and
Dynamics were attached to the mouse as set in Prefs.

Just a few of the little problems I encountered; but, the biggest was that I could not EXPORT a MIDI FILE that was even close to it’s original appearance in either Finale or Digital Performer. MusicXML files were very close to the original score as shown in Write Mode. I didn’t venture into Engrave Mode as I was just interested in being able to perform basic functions in Dorico.

Playback was a nightmare. The Halion SE selection loaded “solo” players when, in Dorico, I loaded “section” players. When this was corrected via the cog wheel listing, sometimes when going back in forth between Write Mode and Play Mode, I had to re-enter the instruments in the Halion SE listing. I only used 5 instruments in my short project, but the list would sometimes revert back to it’s 16 blank selection boxes. As I stated above, I’m not too interested in Dorico playback, but would like a fair representation of what a new composition would sound like before exportation.

Also, an interesting thing happened on the 10th day of my trial period. I had the Dorico icon in my Mac dock and when I dbl-clicked on it to open the program, a question mark appeared superimposed over the icon. At that point, I received no response from Dorico. The icon didn’t start bouncing up and down and the program didn’t open. My next thought was to go to my Applications Folder on the hard drive and open Dorico from there…which it did. I then re-entered it into the dock and Dorico has opened normally since that time (3 days and counting). No irregularities were noticed regarding any function I performed within Dorico.

In summation, I feel that Dorico is an outstanding notation program and can’t express my appreciation enough to Daniel and his Team for the work and ingenious design that they have created. What troubles me is that it doesn’t always perform tasks consistently; however, I will keep creating short exploratory projects to test my ability in using it correctly. In that way, I will gain the confidence needed to become a registered owner.


Welcome, dpjackc!

This usually happens when, for some reason, the application (or other file or folder) has been moved, deleted, renamed or similar and its link in/to the dock has ‘lost’ its relationship with the original. The easiest thing to do is usually to drag the ? away from the dock until you can remove it in a puff of smoke. Then redrag the original application’s icon back into the dock.

What you experienced was probably unrelated to Dorico itself.

Thanks, DpJackC for your feedback on your trial experience with Dorico. To address a couple of the specific points you raise:

Please see this thread.

In general you don’t need to input rests in Dorico: if you’re using the mouse to input, simply click at the right position in the bar where you want the note to appear, and Dorico will fill in the rests for you once it knows where you want the rests to go.

Yes, that’s true: you can’t “load” the mouse pointer with an articulation, at least not at the moment. It may be possible for us to change this in the future, but it’s not something I would expect to see change any time soon.