Simple usability enhancements and documentation improvements

I started with Finale, but switched to Sibelius about a decade ago. The interface was much easier, and getting notes on a page was suddenly much faster. Things were slightly less broken. However, the menu system is horrid, and many decently common features are hidden behind impossible-to-find plugins. And while note entry is swift, formatting things to look good takes forever.

Now I’m getting into Dorico. So far, I love that the default settings create the most beautiful final product of any notation software I’ve used. Formatting with the separate Engrave tab makes so much sense, and style rules are wonderful to work with. And playback just works (in Finale or Sibelius, you basically have to map a “restart MIDI playback system” button to function). I am absolutely loving it.

However, I am always asking, what does everything do? There’s inherently a fairly steep learning curve in every piece of notation software. But at the very least, difficult software should have tooltips on every button. In Dorico, this is hopelessly inconsistent. The note input panel seems to have them on the main buttons, but not sub-menus (additionally, it isn’t immediately clear that a long-press opens these menus). The right-hand menu (with the palette, keyboard, clef, signatures, dynamics, etc.) doesn’t use them. Some of them are fairly obvious, but some aren’t. And do they have keyboard shortcuts? There’s no way to tell. It seems like this would require minimal effort to fix, and it would deliver a much friendlier user experience with no drawbacks that I can think of.

Another problem I keep encountering is ancient documentation that references the old location of random things, as well as tutorials that assume prior knowledge of shortcuts. It took me an amount of time that should be considered embarrassing to find “Engraving Options”, for example. A video would say “open Engraving Options to do such and such”, but the tutorial wouldn’t show how to get there. The dialog would magically appear in the video because the person recording used the keyboard shortcut. I looked in the documentation, and it said to look under the “Engrave menu”. Then I had to find out that the menu only shows up when you’re on the “Engrave” tab. Cool. So I look in the menu, but it isn’t there. Back to the documentation. Oh, the keyboard shortcut is Ctrl-Shift-E. Is that actually the only way to open it? You have to know the secret code? Nope. It’s just in the “Library” menu now (along with the other options dialogs). That’s possibly a better place for it (I don’t really care either way), but why not have it in both places? Would it really be too unwieldy? At the very least, the documentation should reflect the change.

I absolutely love the sheet music Dorico can create. Superior publication quality is my primary metric, and Dorico nails it. But it would require seemingly little work to elevate the user experience (especially for new users) beyond that of every competitor. I’m sure a huge portion of the customer base has, during their shopping process, seen Tantacrul’s video series where he eviscerates each notation platform. I have many of the same complaints about button selection (I still can’t figure out why selecting “Start Note Input” is so difficult to achieve, so I just spam the shortcut every time I begin) and hidden items (contextual menus that aren’t clear about being contextual, e.g.). These things may even make sense to every seasoned Dorico pro, but they’re needlessly obfuscated for everyone else.

Anyway, I am simply one user offering [hopefully] constructive criticism (and ranting a bit). I don’t know if Steinberg conducts new user focus groups, but I feel like that would be helpful. The price is already a big barrier to entry for aspiring composers (and the recent leap forward in excellence by Musescore makes justifying the price more difficult); great UX would offer an incredible competitive advantage in an increasingly saturated space. I want to be able to recommend it to my friends without reservation.

The issue with Tooltips is well-known. See this post by Daniel Spreadbury:

Buttons with long presses should have a little triangle in the corner.

I guess they could delete all the old videos from YouTube, until they’ve re-made them. But that would offer less help.

If you search the documentation using Google, then the results show the oldest versions first, because they have had the most views. Adding “Dorico v4” to your search should help.

You spoke the forbidden words!! No one knows how easy a thing is to code, except the coders.


No doubt, you will soon see the coder’s equivalent of “Every time you put cream in a carbonara, a little old Italian granny dies” or something like that!

But joking aside, yes, the tooltips, even for an advance experienced user such I would like ti think of myself, is at time time a bit frustrating. But as Ben said, they are working on it.

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Thanks for sharing your feedback, @CurtisPrevo

Agreed, and ideally they would currently in Dorico too. Unfortunately, there are some boring technical reasons for some areas of the app not showing them at the moment, but they are absolutely desired to make a welcome return as soon as possible.

If you search the forum, you should fairly quickly find responses from Daniel on the topic of tooltips in Dorico 4.

We’re aware of the issue of online searches bringing up older versions of the manual above the most recent one, due to age and historical clicks. There are a number of ways of improving this that we’re actively looking at in the manuals team.

For now, there are a few clues you can keep an eye out for to make sure you’re looking at the correct manual for your version of the app (although of course, if you are and you’re still reading incorrect information, let me know!)

  • Version number at the top-left page of the webhelp, or bottom of each page in the PDF
  • Version number in the URL (e.g. the Dorico 4 manuals will have /v4/ in the URL)
  • Look-and-feel of the webhelp (compare this page from the v1 manual to this page in the v4 manual, for example)

Incidentally, my colleague Ant is already working on updating a number of key tutorial videos, to bring them closer in-line with the Dorico of today (particularly those made a number of years ago).

You should also find in general that if Ant or John use a key command in a video, they’ll describe it and/or display the relevant keys on the screen. If you’ve encountered videos where that isn’t the case, feel free to share links to them to bring those specific instances to the relevant person’s attention.

Last year, we published a First Steps guide, aimed at guiding new users step-by-step through the process of creating a short piano piece. It doesn’t cover everything, obviously, but it should introduce you to a number of key Dorico concepts and via doing it yourself with the support of the guide, become a bit more confident to use it on your own. There are two supporting videos on the YouTube channel that work through the guide as well.

There is also the in-app Guided Tour and Guided Tutorials.

The Start Note Input button in the Notes toolbox should reliably start note input, either at the position of a selected item, or on the highest staff in view if nothing is selected.

There’s a 30-day free trial period that anyone interested should make full use of, and there is also the free Dorico SE that while limited in scope compared to Dorico Pro, nonetheless is still a wonderful notation software with no up-front cost.

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The Version History document that comes with each new version and update has comprehensive details of everything that’s been added, fixed, or changed. It’s essential reading.

Double click, Shift N, or even Enter. (The last two when a note of rest is selected.) What difficulty have you had?

That makes sense. It’s for sure frustrating. I used to do web development back in the day when “can we center this?” was one of the biggest challenges every time.

Thanks for your reply! I’ve just moved and didn’t have a chance to respond to folks for a bit. Venting after a long day in Dorico may have produced some hopefully fair criticisms as well as some unfair expectations. My apologies.

I think the webhelp page would benefit from more prominent versioning on the page itself. The only place the version appears in the v1 manual is in the URL (I think this is how I messed up when searching). The v4 manual fixes this, but that doesn’t really help anyone who stumbles into the v1 manual by accident. The screenshots give away that the documentation is outdated, but there’s no indication that it’s because you’re on the wrong help site.

I always prefer one central manual with a version toggle, but that’s probably the most work-intensive transition. I look forward to whatever solution your team comes up with.

Similarly, YouTube videos from past versions don’t include the Dorico version anywhere in the video, title, description, or comments. Here’s a video about Engrave Mode from 2017, for example: What is Engrave Mode | Engrave Mode in Dorico - YouTube

I don’t think anything is particularly out-of-date with that video, but if anything changes for version 5.0, how will users know that video is no longer relevant?

That First Steps guide is pretty good. I tend to learn software faster than I can read documentation (almost all the basics in Dorico are obvious, thankfully), so I jump in and consult manuals when I reach the end of my UX intuition. This usually works for me, so it’s extra jarring when I’m reverse engineering the experience and run into confusing resources.

The Start Note Input bug is completely gone after a software update. It taunted me through notating several pieces over the course of weeks, and it didn’t matter if I used the UI button, keyboard shortcut, or Elgato Stream Deck plugin I have. I never saw any other complaints about it, so I’ll chalk it up to my own computer playing tricks on me. If it happens again, I’ll submit a bug report and try to determine the root cause.

And finally, what I mean by the price being a barrier to entry isn’t that it costs money, or a lot of money, it’s that it costs roughly the same as other major players in the space, so it has to compete in areas other than price. Someone comparing several products with 30-day trials may make their final decision based on user experience. I made my decision based on the look of finished sheet music, the logic of note spacing, etc., and have a higher tolerance for learning curves than others may have. It means that I have some reservations about recommending it to others. It’s certainly in the running, but I think that making a friendlier first-use experience would propel it to my default, no exceptions recommendation to friends.

Again, thank you for your thoughtful response.

I do read the version history document with every update, but that’s not terribly helpful when a change was made several years before I purchased the software and I find the wrong help site (I believe I was on the version 1 help site, which doesn’t say it’s only for version 1). And I contend that help articles should also include the most recent intended behavior. The v4 help site probably does, and that’s where I need to start my search in the future.

As for the note input bug, it was definitely a bug for me (the UI button, keyboard shortcut, and Elgato Stream Deck shortcut I used all had the same frustrating problem). But I couldn’t find anyone else complaining about it. A later software update fixed it completely. For now, anyway. If the issue returns, I’ll report it, now that I know it is unintended, not just me using the software wrong and misunderstanding things.