Question for Higher Ed Music Educators

Our institution is no longer financially able to support multi-dozens of "seats or computer"s for Finale, Sibelius, etc.
At last check Dorico is not yet available at discounted rates for multiple institution computers. Of course MuseScore is entirely free, and significantly improved in the latest version.
It is true the apps including Dorico have free and various levels of capabilities.
However, our composition, orchestration, and arranging students obviously need the pro-level fully-capable versions. So do yours.
Your institution probably has some kind of group-instruction piano lab, maybe with a computer including several notation apps.
You probably have numerous faculty with full Finale/Sibelius on their office computer at institutional expense.
Interesting, our university tech people report it is extremely rare when more than two faculty office computers are running any notation app at any one time. Some faculty have not opened a notation app on their office computer in literally years!
Many faculty use their personally purchased app on their school office computers, which our tech people don’t track.
Of course many if not most music students arrive on campus with their favorite pro-level notation app.
In my own classes I have seen a huge shift toward MuseScore at the expense of Finale and Sibelius in the last few years. Interesting, I have also seen Dorico emerge as the app of choice for our most serious composition and arranging students. This is likely influenced in part because I’ve been essentially a walking-talking Dorico advertisement since V1.0 after decades in Finale and Sibelius, with MuseScore barely functioning until today.
So, our school of music has decided to abandon institution support for Finale and Sibelius on all building computers, including faculty offices. We simply can no longer afford it, especially since demand is very low.
MuseScore will be available on all our building computers, but nothing else at university expense.
Actually this comes as a huge relief for me, as I no longer have to teach in 4 different notation apps, which is challenging and time consuming.
It is true many institutions do not allow 1st and 2nd-year music students to use notation apps at all. We had this policy too, which is increasingly ignored.
We are curious about how your institution is dealing with this.
Are you having these issues too? What is your institution doing?|

I’m also interested to hear from faculty and administrators about this topic, obviously!

What we are seeing, anecdotally, is wider adoption of “bring your own device” policies, and less prescription on which specific applications the students should use (though certainly some institutions are still at the very least recommending one application over others).

Although it sounds like your institution is moving away from having a site license for any commercial music notation application and instead relying either on MuseScore or on whatever your students choose to use on their own devices, for what it’s worth, we are still selling a good number of site licenses to schools, and although there is no official Steinberg Licensing support for institutions just yet, in fact we can work with institutions to help them manage Dorico 4 licenses quite successfully, so if you are reading this and would like to get a site license for Dorico 4 into your institution, please feel free to contact me directly and we will be happy to help.

Since many students are now using their own devices for college and university, we want to make Dorico as attractive as possible to them. We provide Dorico Pro at a 40% discount for students and teachers, and Dorico Elements is similarly heavily discounted (it’s just $66.99 for a student or educator). We know that, even at a 40% discount, Dorico Pro is still too expensive for a lot of students, and so we are looking at expanding the feature set of Dorico Elements such that it should be sufficient for undergraduate work for most students (though those who are really wanting to focus on composition or large ensemble arranging will ultimately benefit from the advanced features of Dorico Pro).

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I have so many questions… having dealt with teaching in other fields where there were software choices on the market. I have no experience teaching music at the higher-ed level.

I’m curious what kind of scores students are expected to produce. For example, are the Engraving options important? Or is it more about theory, the notes (Write mode in Dorico)? Do they have to conform to, say, Elaine Gould’s book?

Do students often write for more than a few instruments? I’m sure they do at higher levels, but do they for the intro courses?

Do instructors explain how to use the software? Or is it required they turn in assignments in a certain format? Could XML be that format? (Aside: I’ve noticed system text doesn’t port to Musescore, or I’m doing it wrong).

I mostly teach grad students in jazz and some undergrads. Our grad students are generally quite advanced and all are obviously planning for careers in music. For example, our top band has placed 1st or 2nd every year Jazz at Lincoln Center has held the Jack Rudin Jazz Championship, one of our saxophone players just won the Vandoren competition a couple of weeks ago, and a recent grad just won the split-lead trumpet chair with Airmen of Note. These are all very highly capable musicians.

As almost all of the grad students come in with at least some experience with notation software, I don’t require a specific program in any of my classes, although use of a notation program is required. I think it’s educational malpractice to let music students graduate in this era without at least some proficiency in a notation program and a DAW. (Semesters when I teach Improv they weekly assignments to record and mix themselves into an existing track using a DAW of their choice.) Probably 75% of my grad students use MuseScore. There are a few Sibelius users, a couple Finale, and a one or two on NoteFlight I think too. Among undergrads I would guess the MuseScore number is now 95%. I’ve had a few Dorico users in the past (the Comments feature is great for grading, feedback, and marking up a score) but don’t currently have any. I always use Dorico in class, and during an orchestration demonstration this past Tuesday the students seemed blown away by the fact that I could extend the cursor through the Trumpet section and input the entire homorhythmic section at once.

The department head is great to work for, and would probably provide software support if requested, but as everyone is using their own devices and software, I’ve never actually inquired what the official policy currently is. We have a large music department with many different majors (Music, Music Ed, Music Theory, Music Tech, Comp, Jazz Performance, Jazz Ed, etc.), but I mostly stick to the Jazz folks so I’m not really sure what the other branches of the department are requiring for notation software.

Dorico’s pricing structure is honestly problematic for grad students. Obviously if you are a student pursuing a career in jazz in the post-COVID era, you probably do not have lots of extra $$$ to spend on notation software when MuseScore is free. The educational price for Dorico is $359 while the educational price for Finale is $99. When I point out that it is cheaper for students to purchase Finale for $99, then buy Dorico with the educational crossgrade price of $179, most respond they’ll just try Finale first and see if it can do what they need. I’m not sure what the solution to this is, and obviously Steinberg has lots of market research that I’m not privy to, but it doesn’t make sense to me (or my students) that it’s cheaper to buy a competitor and then the crossgrade, than it is to buy the educational version of Dorico.

To follow up on @rubberfingers questions, I do give some basic notation instruction, but this mostly falls under a handout I have on what not to do, demonstrating common errors that I typically see students making. I’m not teaching a notation class, so I don’t grade too hard on notation mistakes, but I also want them to be taken seriously when they put music on a stand after graduation, so I do try to insist on a minimum level of notational competency. My grad students all have to be able to write at least a simple arrangement for a typical big band consisting of 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, guitar, piano, bass, and drums, so yes they write for “more than a few instruments.” I tell students Dorico, Finale, Sibelius, and MuseScore are all accepted file formats for submission as I can open all of those, although PDFs are encouraged. I find that by making PDFs they often make one more proofreading pass and the files are a bit more presentable.


Thank you Daniel for your detailed response. I will take this up with our Music administration.

If Dorico can continue the current pace of development as well as continued support of what is easily the best user forum in the business, I believe Dorico and MuseScore will be the two primary notation apps taking us into the future. (MuseScore because it is free and improving rapidly too.)

Finale and Sibelius will not disappear any time soon. There are too many loyal users unwilling to take the time, effort, and expense to switch.

As we see in this forum, it is not easy to make the move to Dorico. I likely would not have succeeded without the excellent support here from the Daniel and the entire Dorico team, plus the numerous users worldwide gifting their time and expertise to help.

In response to rubberfingers, our students have been requesting a class in music notation as their #1 request for more than a decade. So far that hasn’t happened, which verges on criminal.

Like FredGUnn I rarely ever even meet students until they are 3rd or 4th year, or graduate students. Even so, I literally “throw them to the wolves” in upper division courses like Instrumentation, Orchestration and Jazz Band Arranging, when many have near-zero notation app experience.

In Orchestration the full-feature version of the apps is necessary to accommodate more than 24 staves, plus Harp notation, the complex string harmonics, special playing techniques orchestra-wide, plus the complex world of percussion notation.

My composition students almost always have music notation experience, but “meeting Elaine Gould” is an eye-opening experience for most. Those already in Dorico have an advantage there, because Dorico code is closely aligned with Gould. (Well-done Dorico!)

Even so, again like FredGUnn I spend considerable class time pointing out poor notation choices, bad score construction, and endless layout issues.

Yes rubberfingers, the further you go in music notation, the more critical Engraving becomes, especially in the examples you create for your students.

In Instrumentation classes we generally teach in “families” of instruments as per textbooks including Adler, Kennan, and others, rarely exceeding 6-7 staves.

As for 1st and 2nd-year students, most of their work here is on pencil and paper in music theory with Bach chorales, etc. But this is changing. This year our institution removed all faculty office phones due to the expense and non-use. There is serious discussion of removing all copy machines campus-wide, and eliminating paper completely. Yes, concert band, full orchestra, and everything else on PDFs and tablets? We will see, and that would happen in 1st and 2nd year theory too.


Oof, that would be rough. Generally speaking, I tend to give students access to way more material then they can possibly master in a semester, but physical handouts mean they can come back and revisit the material should they need to in their professional future. I do have everything posted in Canvas as pdfs as well, so the students can download and save anything from me, but I think there’s still something valuable about physical handouts. Or maybe I’m just old, LOL!

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Sounds like you may be a fellow "dinosaur"in your institution too. Few understand the huge amount of information necessary in learning to orchestrate for full symphony orchestra. The Adler text spans 1002 pages. Like John Williams’ orchestrator Herbert Spencer used to say “Orchestration is easy, if you know exactly what to do in more than 500 different situations.” Sometimes I have only 27 classes to do it. The amount of information I dump on my students is staggering in addition to their digesting 37 pages of Adler + Kennan and Rimsky-Korsakov every day. We can only hope they save everything we give them.

As for removing paper from an entire campus, that may be possible in some areas of academia, but won’t work for us until music stands are 20 X 13 retina displays that somehow charge themselves continuously through the air like magic.

We dinosaurs aren’t likely to see that. : )


Technology is great… except for when it isn’t.


What?! I’ve never heard of such a thing.

And let’s not forget: paper is technology in itself.


I always consider the paper copy to be the ultimate backup. What would we have if the old masters had only kept stuff in files of MuSibFinDor version 1. :slight_smile:

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A lot of students using Sibelius will have found the plug-in that detects parallel 5ths and octaves. For a first or second year Theory student, that’s pretty dangerous thing! Hence the “ban.” Also - and I saw this more than a few times - a student will enter an assignment in a notation program using a midi keyboard. Decoding a triad spelled G-A#-D was maddening; to be fair, some students did this by hand, as well…

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LOL! How about Cb-D-Gb? In my analysis class, the students have to do a lot of score reductions. For the very first one of the semester, literally the entire class turned in something that looked like this (key sig of C minor):

That’s 3 Bb clarinets so obviously they had MuseScore do the transposition and reduction, then never bothered to clean it up to make any sense vertically. (Now that they have to provide harmonic analysis as well, they’ve all gotten much better at spelling things in a way that makes the vertical harmony more clear.)


Or this:
Slice 1

This begs the question: what do teachers do about it when student submit these illogical spellings. (I think that’s why the teachers are there.)

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Sure, one of the points of doing a score reduction is to be able to look at the harmonies vertically and see what the composer is doing. If they spell them in such a way that the harmony isn’t immediately recognizable, then it sorta defeats the purpose. It quickly gets complicated though, so I usually start the semester with some smaller ensembles where the harmony is more easily recognizable, and there generally is a “correct” way to spell it enharmonically. Cb-D-Gb is definitely not correct, LOL!

Once we get to someone like Thad Jones, who loves diminished-based harmony, there honestly can be several “correct” ways of spelling depending on how you are thinking of it. Here’s a pretty well-known passage of his where he uses an 8 note chord derived from diminished-based harmony, so 3rd, 5th, 7th, b9, #9, #11, 13th, and root, where he employs planing and just moves in parallel. Of course since it’s coming out of the diminished, the same voicing could also be used for C7+9, A7+9, and F#7+9 too, so enharmonic spelling can quickly get complicated!

Decades ago I was young and very fortunate to be in a 5-person Thad Jones arranging clinic. I was struggling to analyze Jones’ very complex full-score chords that almost defy chord symbols. I finally got brave and asked Jones to help me understand the logic in the linear movement from chord to chord, note to note, on each instrument in lines even more thick than your example.
He laughed and said something to effect : “There is no logic. I just write the notes I feel. I don’t try to analyze the chords or give them names. If I’d scored this the next day it would be completely different from this, and entirely different the next day too. I might even change the melody and rhythms.”
Not what I expected to hear. Nor could I determine if he was telling the truth, but lesson learned… I guess that’s part of the genius of Thad Jones.

As for students working on Bach chorales and figured bass, all that information is available online for all 365+ chorales. They just look it up and turn it in, or let the apps do the figured bass for them. If you want to see the look of panic in student eyes, give them something with the answers not on Google. If it is on-line it is free for their use however they please. I’ve had students turn in huge chunks of very well-known Mendelssohn and Bernstein as their own work, stunned I recognized it, and offended when they were accused of plagiarism, for which they know they can be expelled from the university.


LOL! That must have been an amazing experience hanging with Thad! I completely believe if he orchestrated something the following day it would certainly be different, as that’s just what came out that day but … there is definitely a consistent harmonic palette that he draws from. That double diminished sound comes up time and time again, even when he covers a pop tune, the saxophone voicings with 3rd and 7th in the Bari and 2nd Tenor, and then an upper structure triad in the other 3, etc. Some of that is hard to name though with standard nomenclature, so I know what he means, but they are definitely sounds I associate with him.

I’ve had plagiarism come up too, but with transcribed solos for Improv class. The students are usually pretty advanced, so if they turn something in that looks like it was transcribed by a deaf high school kid, I’ll Google it to see if they just copied it from somewhere online. They usually almost immediately own up to it though, so I generally give them a break and reassign it, but make sure the dept. chair knows in case it ever comes up again. (Most transcriptions posted online are pretty terrible.)

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I confess that I XML over to MuseScore, to use its plug-in to check for ||5ths and ||8ths. Hanging my head in shame…

Did we learn nothing from Debussy (that parallel 5ths and 8vas are actually wonderful)?

I actually think the tools for detecting these are not as pernicious as they seem at first - someone who uses them check their work is at least learning something. Maybe not how to avoid them in the first place, but at least learns to see them.

I used to tell my students, when asked why they couldn’t use the forbidden parallels, was that they could in fact use them: if they found the existence of a parallel, they could use one. If they found two, they could use them twice. And so on. Never got any takers, but at least it got them to look at some scores!