Why I use Dorico (or how NOT to notate)

Over the years, there have been many threads about Dorico versus “Product X”, comparing features and workflows. To me, it is really simple. A person who deeply understands music notation and is willing to immerse themselves deeply into Product X, Y or Z can probably eventually produce professional-looking results, or at least music that is halfway readable.

As a musician who plays a lot more than he writes, I can’t tell you how many times I have been handed music that looks something like this:

In every case that I can recall, it came from one product in particular, which I will not name, but you all know which one it is. And always, the person scoring the music was well-intentioned and tried their best.

To me, the fundamental difference with Dorico is that, if you work really hard at it, using Force Durations and every other trick, you can probably produce something completely illegible. But the default result from Dorico is usually decently notated, despite the limited skills/experience of the writer. The default for the other products seems to be gibberish, and non-trivial scores only start looking good after the writer has gained considerable experience the hard way.

That’s all. Just a word of thanks to the team, taking a moment to observe the big picture.


That is horrible notation. My composition teacher’s mantra was “don’t put sh*t in front of the players”. I moved from Finale to Dorico just under a year ago and I’m very happy with it.

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As the old saying goes - “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”.


One of the big things for me with Dorico is that I no longer dread doing parts! If I am on a deadline and don’t have time to work on any parts, I am not ashamed to give musicians the default parts.



In my opinion, the real problem is that some people have been given powerful tools that are beyond their ability and knowledge. So I wouldn’t blame the software for the user’s ignorance. And I don’t think it is the job of software to educate. That’s something users need to do for themselves.


Perhaps. But even if the user is knowledgeable, it is surely helpful if the software reduces the time required to present musicians with decent parts.


Dorico still manages to notate some oddities by default.
This is a 5/4 measure I had a LOT of trouble with. The trumpets have the correct division of beats.
I added the same rhythm to the woodblock (bottom staff of image) and THAT is what I had to correct for every instance of that rhythm showing up (all the woodwinds, the brass, and in multiple measures)

Yeah, Dorico’s handling of 5/4 I still don’t like.

I think I usually make the time signature [1+1+1+1+1]/4, which beams it to the quarter.


it not only beamed everything together, it consolidated two 16th notes that should be separate (end of 2nd beat, beginning of 3rd beat).

Cparmerlee, how should the example be notated? Thanks.


I think any of the 4 examples below would achieve the desired results without making the musicians insane or really angry.
Improved notation

I would probably go with “B”, but I like “C” as well because it elegantly shows the musician the emphasis should be on the B on beat 4 and not on the C that is 1/16 ahead of 4… I would probably take the liberty to put marcato marks on the two 1/8 notes (B & Bb) because they are obviously the heavy notes in the measure. It is a “big-4” figure and they are the only notes on the beat. The last note in the second bar is also on the beat, but that will naturally be played with enough emphasis, so I wouldn’t marcato that one.

My general rule is to go with the minimum number of notes and rests necessary. The staccato mark (and there are several variations of staccato if you please) is your friend. There is NEVER, NEVER, NEVER a justification for adding rests in order to indicate the previous note is short. That’s what staccato is for.


As Leo noted below, My first set of examples (above) was not the correct figure, which is the whole point here. As originally notated, it was nearly illegible, certainly impossible for good musicians to sight-read. Here is the corrected figure.

In this case, I rather like “C” because that’s really how it should be played, but the grace note might confuse people, “A” makes it easiest to see the beats, but I have never liked how staccatos look on tied notes. That seems like a contradiction. So I think I would probably go with “B” for a high-school level student and “C” or “E” if it is written for pros.

There is plenty of room for debate on these things, which makes notation an art in itself. The person doing the notation can make the difference between a good sounding ensemble and one that isn’t tight at all.

Also, if there is a lot of this 16th note syncopation throughout the arrangement, one might consider writing it in cut time with twice as many measures – the 1/8 notes becoming quarter notes. People are generally more relaxed reading that.

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It’s telling that none of these are the same music as the original. Look at the last four notes of the first measure again :wink:

Thank you, Cparmerlee.


You are so right. I actually had worked out how it was supposed to be played, but I entered it from memory, incorrectly. See revised version above.

I find C the easiest to read. I would not have been able to think of so many alternatives!

I rarely see engravers use grace notes for these rhythmic things. But they really are magic. In this example, the grace note says EXACTLY how that note should be played – like a grace note. It isn’t a note in its own right – more like a drum flam. A jazz musician would probably use the right feel if the note is expressed as a regular 16th. But classically oriented players will invariably give that note too much emphasis, making the 3 big notes late.


Going back to the original example where the 3rd note is long, I would notate it like this:

At least in a jazz/pop/commercial/theater context, in 4/4 time I never use a staccato on a note that’s tied or has an augmentation dot as it gives the player conflicting information, (Make it longer! Make it shorter!) and virtually assures it won’t be sightread correctly. At a rehearsal it almost always will provoke the question, “how do you want this played?”


I mostly agree on the first measure (tied), not so much on the second measure (augmentation dot). Looking at the second measure in all of my examples. I realize that classically trained musicians are likely to come back with “My teacher said that ‘staccato means play exactly half the notated length’ – and that means all three notes are different length.” And perhaps that is how classical music is most often interpreted. But people playing pop/rock/jazz charts generally (IMHO) understand a figure such as I wrote means “Play all the notes the same length unless the leads are playing it differently, and then do whatever the leads are doing.” I don’t want to leave any rests “hanging off the end of the beat” because then it becomes less clear whether or not the next note is on the beat. In the ideal case (just my opinion) I only want rests that happen on the beats so that the player can quickly intuit that a rest indicates the note is off the beat. That isn’t always possible, but I do it whenever it is possible. I realize this isn’t a majority opinion. But try it. You may be surprised at how much better people sight-read the charts.

In other words, the most important thing is for the attacks to all happen exactly together. The notes are so short that one can’t really differentiate between “short” and “shorter yet”, but you can surely tell if one musician is hesitating on the attack because he/she can’t read it correctly at a glance…
Regardless, all these examples are a big improvement over the original, which is what I see coming out of Product X far too often.

Yeah, if I were actually arranging this myself I’d probably leave out two staccatos. The one on the “e” of 3 in the first bar would only be played short if this were a really corny straight passage, and the one on the 16th in the 2nd bar is completely unnecessary as the note is already short.


It is interesting that there are so many choices, even in one 2-bar figure as in this case. It truly is an art. We can all agree that the original Product X example is wrong on every level. But in many cases there are several “right” answers (or “less problematic” answers,) and that can depend so much on the targeted musicians, the genre, even the local customs in a region. E.G. there are so many people in the NYC area influenced by Broadway books, that the “community norm” might be considerably different from elsewhere. Certainly we see an entirely home-grown system of chord notation in Nashville. I occasionally play with a wonderful group of people who have created a binder of about 250 Dixie tunes. Their system of notation is like nothing I have seen anywhere else. One does recognize some of the chord names, but the structural items (bar lines, repeats etc) are totally foreign to me. Fortunately I already knew most of the tunes so I didn’t have to try to learn this system.

One thing I have noticed is that with the explosion of options for computer-based notation (MuseScore et al) there are many more people engaging in this art now. I personally know only one guy who still writes big band charts by hand in my area. This is a blessing and a curse. It is bringing more “play by ear” musicians into the realm of reading and writing music. That’s surely a good thing. But it does sometimes lower the standard for the quality of notation that pro and semi-pro musicians really deserve to see.

No grand point here, other than to observe on the state of humanity. Maybe we can all do a little to help others along the path toward better notation.