Some thoughts on Engrave Mode

I am sure that some variant of this has been asked 100 times already but my searches are coming up empty so I just want to throw it out there—not as a complaint but more just as a discussion/conversation.

I’ve been using Dorico for a few weeks and I generally find that it works incredibly well for most things, it lends itself well to real-time writing and handles a lot of things automatically for which other programs require “workarounds.” This is great.

However, it occurs to me that if the underlying philosophy of the software is to support every conceivable notational practice as a “feature” with a specific implementation (which is how the feature-set is currently being presented and updated), that the development team will always be playing catch-up. There are just too many notational practices and idiosyncratic engraving styles out there. You can’t effectively create a software that purports to produce the most aesthetically pleasing graphic notation on the market and simultaneously approach the development of that software with a function-over-form philosophy. At some point, in some situations, form has to take precedence.

So, what I’m wondering is if there are plans to introduce a kind of catch-all functionality that will allow the user to place notational elements freely within engrave mode—much like the “symbols” or “lines” menu in Sibelius, which allows the user to simply place a graphical element into the score without it necessarily having a prescribed “function” that is baked into the software. Those two menus, for me, were really game-changers when using Sibelius, because they were what allowed the software to be so flexible notationally—allowing the user to quickly and easily produce unusual notations like musica ficta, boxes for aleatoric passages, brackets for mensural music, etc. etc. etc.

I almost feel as if having an “Engrave Mode” is a misnomer because the mode doesn’t really behave in any way like actual “engraving” within Dorico. Most of what happens in Engrave Mode is still heavily restricted by what happens in Write Mode.

What I would really like to see is a Write Mode that works pretty much like it does right now (I think Write Mode is great!) but an Engrave Mode that allows the user to literally place elements into the score the way one would in a real-life engraving situation—with those elements tied to a particular graphical position relative to the passage of music they are attached to, rather than relative to their rhythmic position.

Thoughts? Is this asking too much? I know the way Sibelius handled this was often headache-inducing and sometimes resulted in elements jumping around a la MS Word, but it was still better than handling everything in a program like Illustrator after the fact, which makes revising a score in the future really really tedious.

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Philip. Although I’m sure you’re right that we cannot possibly anticipate and then accommodate every possible idiosyncratic notation, I think we can go a long way, and our philosophy is certainly to try to handle these things as semantically as we can rather than falling back on simply adding symbols. That said, there is also clearly a need for generic “symbol” and “line” (and probably “drawing”) features to allow you to do things that are not directly within Dorico’s capabilities, and I anticipate that we will add these over time. For now, you can do quite a lot with using Shift+X text and the ‘Music text’ character style and copying and pasting symbols from the SMuFL web site, or with importing graphics into graphic frames (though these of course are page-relative rather than music-relative so should probably only be done near the end of the process).

Thanks for your thoughts Daniel—this is encouraging to hear. In general I am loving Dorico so far, and the overall elegance of the software’s handling of basic notational necessities (many of which your competitors still struggle with or outright ignore) far outweighs the few “missing” features as of v. 1. Shift-X text works for most things for now for me, with a few exceptions, though I’ve only completed one full composition within Dorico. I suspect larger-scale projects will present other challenges and will invite creative solutions.

I’m thrilled with the work your team is doing, and especially with how communicative you are with your user base as things unfold. Keep up the good work!