We are delighted to announce, on this day of days, three big bits of news: we are intfroducing a free version of Dorico, called Dorico SE, which you can download right now; we are holding a special January Sale event for one week only, allowing you to save 30% on a Dorico Pro or Elements new license, crossgrade, or upgrade; and we are announcing the immediate availability of Dorico 3.1, the latest update to our next-generation professional music notation software – and this is another big release with some exciting new features and dozens (if not hundreds – I’ve not actually counted them all) of improvements. Let’s dive in.

Condensing changes

As ever, my honey-voiced colleague Anthony has produced a series of videos to guide you through each of the major new features in Dorico 3.1, beginning with the improvements to condensing:

Condensing – the production of an automatically condensed conductor’s score with a single click – was big news when Dorico 3 was introduced in September of last year. At the time, we explained that despite the many years of hard work that had gone into the feature prior to the release of Dorico 3, really this was just the first step in a longer journey that will play out over the coming months and years as we work to continually improve and enrich the feature.

Dorico 3.1 takes another significant step forwards in this area with the introduction of condensing changes, which allow you to have a more direct influence over the choices Dorico makes as it condenses your music. Condensing changes are created in Engrave mode: select any item on any staff at the position at which you want the condensing change to take effect, then choose Engrave > Condensing Change. A dialog appears, divided into three sections: on the left, a list of the condensing groups in your project; on the right, two collapsible sections, Notation Options and Manual Condensing. Notation Options contains all of the same options that you will find on the Condnensing page of Notation Options, allowing you to override any oif its options, for example to change the approach to amalgamating notes in areas of rhythmic unison, or to change the way unisons are handled. Manual Condensing allows you to explicitly specify the way that the instruments in a condensing group are allocated to the condensed staves, assigning each instrument to the up-stem and down-stem voices on each condensed staff.

To make a condensing change do anything at all, you first have to include a condensing group in the change, which is done by activating its checkbox in the left-hand list. This in itself is enough to potentially change the condensing result, and is generally what we would advise as the first step: when you include a condensing group in a condensing change, that will cause Dorico to start a new phrase at that position, even if it would ordinarily not consider that a phrase boundary (because, for example, there is no rest there). Starting a new phrase gives Dorico the opportunity to reconsider what the maximum condensation for the following music could be, so this is often enough to allow Dorico to, for example, produce a unison passage where it would not before.

If you find that simply including the group in the change and thereby starting a new phrase doesn’t give the result you want, the next step is to try overriding the relevant notation option. Activate the slide switch for the relevant option in the Notation Options section on the right-hand side (which you can only do once you have included the condensing group in the change), and then either choose Change to override the prevailing value, or Reset to return to the value set in Notation Options for the flow.

If you’re still unable to obtain the result you want by way of an options change, you can use the Manual Condensing section of the dialog to tell Dorico exactly what to do. Activate the Condensing approach slide switch, and choose Manual Condensing to activate the lists below. Drag and drop the instruments from the left-hand list into the list on the right, which will automatically create a condensed staff for you. There are some obvious limitations to consider: you cannot perform manual condensing for only some instruments in the group, so you can’t confirm the dialog until you have assigned every instrument to the right-hand list; you must have at least one instrument assigned to the up-stem voice of each staff that appears; and you cannot change the allocation of a player from one staff to another in the middle of a system.

With these tools it’s possible to produce any result you wish to obtain. We recommend you use condensing changes as sparingly as possible, because as with all such features, creating condensing changes forces Dorico’s hand, and it will not have the same degree of freedom to adapt its results to changes in the music as you continue to work on the score if there are lots of condensing changes. You might find that creating condensing changes too early in the score preparation process ends up costing you more time than it saves, so try to have a relaxed attitude about the condensing you see until you are close to the point of preparing the final conductor’s score.

There are some other significant changes for condensing in Dorico 3.1, chief among them changes to the way that rests are handled. Firstly, if multiple players in a group have passages of rests, those rests can now themselves be condensed, allowing more than one instrument to be allocated to the stem. This typically produces a more condensed result than you would have seen in Dorico 3.0. Secondly, there are big improvements to the handling of rests within the range of a system for instruments who are silent for part of the system. New options have been added to the Condensing page of Notation Options that allow you to balance showing rests for inactive players versus hiding them and explicitly labeling the active players for those passages.

Finally, player labels have been completely overhauled (so they will very likely appear in different places in your existing projects, but overall in better and more musically appropriate places), and some modest performance improvements have been made to editing in Engrave mode when condensing is enabled. In particular, dragging items like slurs and dynamics is now snappier. There is plenty more work for us to do in improving performance when condensnig is enabled, and we will hopefully be able to deliver further performance improvements in future updates.

Dynamics lane

We have steadily been expanding the kinds of editing you can do in Play mode. From Dorico’s first release, we’ve had a basic piano roll editor; in Dorico 2 we introduced a dedicated lane for MIDI automation editing; in Dorico 3.0 we introduced a velocity editor; and now in Dorico 3.1 we present the dynamics lane.

Different virtual instruments – indeed, different patches within the same virtual instrument, or even different playing techniques within a single patch in a virtual instrument – use different approaches to provide control over dynamics. Percussive instruments tend to simply use MIDI velocity, which is set at the start of the note and cannot then be altered over time once the note is sounding. Sustaining instruments tend to use either a continuous MIDI controller, like CC1 (modulation), CC11 (expression), or sometimes CC7 (channel volume), perhaps using MIDI velocity to provide variation in timbre or attack. Instruments that can produce both sustaining and percussive sounds, like arco and pizz. on a violin, will often use multiple means of specifying dynamics.

In general you don’t have to think about this too much in Dorico: you simply write the dynamics you want to hear in Write mode, and the VST expression maps that are provided for the built-in HALion Symphonic Orchestra sounds, or add-ons like NotePerformer, or perhaps expression maps you’ve written for yourself, translate those dynamics into the appropriate MIDI instructions automatically.

But if you wanted to tweak the playback of dynamics, you were immediately forced to think about what’s really going on under the hood, and perhaps start tweaking multiple controllers and note velocities independently. With the arrival of the dynamics lane in Dorico 3.1, all of that goes away: you can see all of the dynamics at a glance, and see how they are translated into changing dynamic levels over time. You can grab handles in the lane and edit the dynamic intensity, or the length of a gradual change, and so on. And you can use the familiar Draw and Line tools to add your own dynamics – none of which will appear in Write mode, giving you tools to add your own subtle performance details without littering the printed score with extra instructions.

As part of these improvements, we have also enlarged the repertoire of dynamics that Dorico will play back: messa di voce gradual dynamics, sometimes called a “swell” because the dynamic rises and falls within the duration of one sustained note, now play back correctly (previously, only the first half of the pair of instructions would play); combined dynamics like fp now play, intelligently determining based on the duration of the notes and the tempo of the music whether the fp should be heard within the duration of one note, or whether one note should be f and the next note should immediately be p; and force dynamics like sforzando, which provide an envelope for controlling the rise, the high point and the duration of the high point, and the fall back to the prevailing dynamic.

These tools greatly expand the expressive possibilities for tweaking performance, and they do it in a way that abstracts away all the messy details of exactly how those dynamics should be realised, allowing you to instead focus on the musical result you want to hear.

There are other improvements to Play mode to enjoy in this update, too, including the ability to convert points in the automation and dynamics editors between constant (i.e. stay at the same level until the next point) or linear (i.e. interpolate between this point and the next point), copying and pasting data between lanes, and more besides.

Bracketed noteheads

When we introduced percussion notation all the way back in Dorico 1.2 (some two years ago now), we introduced an initial means of bracketing a notehead on a percussion instrument, a common indication denoting that the note should be played quietly, often called a “dead” note. However, it was not possible to bracket noteheads on pitched instruments, because the sorts of scenarios that arise on pitched staves tend to be a lot more complicated than those that arise in a drum kit: in addition to worrying about rhythm dots, brackets might need to be moved to get out of the way of back notes, accidentals, note flags, notes in other voices, and so on.

So as is our usual approach, we didn’t provide any capabilities for enclosing notes and chords on pitched instruments in brackets until we could devote the necessary time to do the job properly, and I’m pleased to say that in Dorico 3.1, a high quality solution has arrived.

To enclose a note or chord in brackets, select either an individual notehead, or a number of noteheads, or click a stem to select an entire chord, then choose Edit > Notehead > Toggle Round Brackets or Toggle Square Brackets. Dorico will instantly enclose the selected notes or chords in the chosen kind of brackets, automatically working out whether one or more pairs of brackets is needed for a chord – it will automatically create multiple pairs of brackets for chords with big gaps in the middle, though you can also force a new pair of brackets to appear at any position in the chord – and handling all of the complicated business of avoiding collisions with the many protrusions that can be found around noteheads. You can bracket individual notes within a tie chain, which is useful for indicating optional or editorial notes, but you might also want to enclose a whole tie chain in brackets, which is easily done: simply bracket the first note in the tie chain, then activate the Bracket until end of tie chain property in the new Bracketed Noteheads group in the Properties panel.

In Engrave mode, each round or square bracket is replete with the appropriate handles to allow you to adjust their height, position, and, for round brackets, their curvature. And there are more than 40 dedicated options on the new Bracketed Noteheads page of Engraving Options to allow you to tweak every single aspect of their appearance.

Lines

It’s not every day that we add an entirely new panel to Write mode, but Dorico 3.1 is one of the blessed releases to introduce a new panel, for creating lines in your score.

One of the key tenets of Dorico’s philosophy is that it tries to model and understand the semantic meaning of every notation, so that the program can provide smart assistance as your score develops and it becomes necessary for notations to be updated, perhaps in response to a change of rhythmic position, or a change of instrument, or a layout and formatting change, or whatever it might be. There are plenty of line-like items supported by Dorico already, each of them with specific semantic meanings, such as octave lines, piano pedal lines, gradual tempo and dynamic changes, repeat endings, and, of course, most recently, playing techniques with continuation lines, which were introduced in Dorico 3.0.

The work we did on producing a generic means of drawing lines of various kinds for playing techniques has given rise to another beneficiary: a more generalised feature for adding lines to your scores. You can create three basic kinds of lines in your score, separated into two categories, each of which gets its own section in the new Lines panel: Horizontal and Vertical. Horizontal lines span a rhythmic range in the music, starting at one barline, note, chord or rest and ending at another barline, note, chord, or rest, later in the music. Vertical lines, on the other hand, occupy a single rhythmic position in the music, enclosing some or all of the notes in a chord, and possibly spanning multiple voices, or even spanning multiple staves.

To add a vertical line to a chord in a single voice, simply select a note in that chord and then click the desired line type in the Vertical section of the Lines panel. Dorico will create a line enclosing all of the notes of the chord. To span notes or chords in two voices, simply select a note in each voice, then create the line; similarly, to create a line that spans multiple staves, simply select a note on each staff, then create the line. While there are relatively few line types in the Vertical panel, all of the lines can be extensively customised once they are in the music using the Properties panel, which allows you to change the line body style, add, remove or change the cap at either end, add custom text in the middle (which can be positioned either centred on, or to the left or right of the line), even reverse the direction of the line (so an upwards-pointing arrow points downwards, for example), and so on. You can also adjust the extent of the line using properties, instructing Dorico to extend or retract the line by a certain number of staff positions at either end.

With horizontal lines, each end of the line can have one of three attachment types. The line end can attach to a notehead (like a glissando line), or to a particular rhythmic position, or to a barline if one is present at that rhythmic position (and to a note, chord or rest if no barline is present at that position). If both ends of the line are attached to notes, then you have a line very much like a glissando but with whatever appearance you choose, so there is finally, for example, a good native solution for adding voice-leading lines in keyboard music: simply set each end of the line to be note-attached, select the two notes between which the line should be positioned, and click the desired line type in the Horizontal section of the Lines panel. If one end of the line is note-attached but the other is attached to a rhythmic position, the line will proceed right from the note, and stop at the right place: if you then move the note up or down, the line will follow, remaining horizontal (though you can also specify that the end of the line should be locked to a particular position on the staff, in which case it can become angled when you move the note up or down). If a line is attached to a rhythmic position or barline at both ends, then by default it will go above the staff, and it can be flipped below with Edit > Flip, or flipped again to appear in the middle of the staff. And, like vertical lines, you can use the Properties panel to extensively customise the appearance of every line.

And in Engrave mode, as you would expect, you can freely drag lines around to tweak their position and placement to your heart’s content.

Taken altogether, these capabilities make a powerful tool for communicating more information to the performer. We can’t wait to see what kinds of ingenious and visually arresting uses our ever-creative users come up with!

Harmonics playback

Dorico 3.0 introduced support for string harmonics notation, supporting a number of different conventions as used for the instruments in the violin family and those commonly written on guitar. Dorico 3.1 builds on this by introducing automatic playback for harmonics, with no need for plug-ins or workarounds like hidden noteheads: Dorico simply calculates the appropriate sounding pitch and plays it back. If your chosen playback device supports dedicated sounds for harmonics (for example, NotePerformer does), then Dorico will also trigger the appropriate harmonic sound in your library. Simple and easy – it just works.

Per-player chord symbols

Dorico has got some of the most sophisticated and powerful chord symbols features of any music notation application, and one of its key innovations is that chord symbols need be entered only once, and will be shown automatically on all rhythm section instruments, and can be selectively shown on other instruments, either throughout the flow, or selectively in particular places, either within slash regions or dedicated chord symbol regions. This saves a huge amount of time compared to copying and pasting them laboriously from one instrument to another, as you have to in other software.

However, one thing that has historically been easy to do in other software, namely giving different chord symbols to one or two players – perhaps because you have a specific voicing in mind for your guitarist, say – has been quite impractical to achieve in Dorico, because chord symbols apply to every player.

Dorico 3.1 solves this problem at a stroke: you can now create player-specific, or local, chord symbols. When you open the Shift+Q chord symbols popover, you can type Alt+L to switch it to local input, signified by the little solo player icon that appears in the popover label, or Alt+G to switch it back to global input. You can also just hold Alt to temporarily flip it into the opposite kind of input. When a player has a local chord symbol, that chord symbol will appear at that point, taking precedence over any global chord symbol at the same position; in places where local chord symbols are not used, the global chord symbols that apply to all players appear instead.

Chord diagrams

As part of a suite of features targeted at guitar notation, Dorico 3.0 introduced chord diagrams for guitar and other fretted instruments. Dorico 3.1 goes further, with support for chord diagrams orientated horizontally (with the nut, or the first fret in the chord diagram, shown to the left instead of at the top), more flexible options for the appearance of the fret number (including both its position relative to the chord diagram, and whether it uses a Roman or Arabic numeral), and a revamped chord diagram editor in Engrave mode to make it easier to define and manage your own library of chord shapes.

There are also other improvements to the guitar notation and tablature features introduced in Dorico 3.0, including a new Guitar section in the Ornaments panel in Write mode with initial tools for the notation of vibrato arm (usually called colloquially the “whammy bar”) bends, scoops and dips. Furthermore, runs of successive guitar bends are now more intelligently notated, allowing a series of bends in the same direction to be indicated more clearly in tablature, with the end of one bend seamlessly joining to the start of the next one.

Improvements for high-density displays on Windows

As I noted in last month’s development update, Dorico 3.1 includes some significant improvements for those Windows users who are using a display with a high pixel density. To recap, Dorico has supported high pixel density displays on both macOS and Windows since its first release, but there has been a lingering issue on Windows due to a limitation in the underlying Qt framework that Dorico relies upon: it was only able to handle integral (i.e. whole number) scale factors.

On macOS, Retina Displays are simple: they provide four times as many pixels as a standard pixel density display, and are often called 2x displays for that reason. On Windows, however, things are more complicated: to support a wider variety of display types and pixel densities, Windows allows you to specify the scale factor as a percentage, with increments like 125% and 150%.

When you express 125% as a scale factor, it becomes 1.25, which is obviously not an integral value: as such, Qt has to round the desired scale factor to the nearest integral value. As such it has been difficult for Windows users to choose a single scale factor that produces good results for all applications including Dorico. Fortunately, the very latest version of Qt has removed this limitation, and now supports floating point scale factors, and Dorico 3.1 is built upon the latest version of Qt, providing beautiful, sharp scaling for music, menus, and user interface elements at any scale factor on high density displays on Windows.

We also took the opportunity as part of this work to fix a number of other little niggles concerning the appearance of certain user interface elements on high pixel density displays across the application, so Mac users with Retina Displays will also see some other small improvements around the place.

MusicXML export

It has long been the case that Dorico’s MusicXML import has been more comprehensive than its export, in terms of the different notations it can import from MusicXML files. We are finally beginning to redress the balance, and a good deal of attention has been paid to MusicXML export in the Dorico 3.1 release. MusicXML exported from Dorico 3.1 now correctly handles instrument tranpsositions, accidentals (including microtonal accidentals), rehearsal marks, chord symbols, barline types, and jazz articulations, plus some simple Project Info information is now included, such as composer, title, and lyricist.

This represents the first milestone in delivering more comprehensive MusicXML export, and in future versions of Dorico we will continue to dedicate effort to improving this important feature for interoperability with other software.

The little things

As always, there are dozens upon dozens of smaller improvements in this release. Anthony has selected a generous handful to show off in this workflow improvements round-up:

Here are a few of my own favourites among the other improvements in Dorico 3.1:

  • Additional options to control which articulations will appear inside or outside the staff have been added to the Articulations page of Engraving Options.
  • You can now determine the approach to be used for default bracketing and bracing instruments on a per-layout basis, using the new Brackets and Braces page of Layout Options.
  • Additional options to control when Dorico switches between the different brace designs intended for different gaps between braced staves have been added to the Brackets and Braces page of Engraving Options.
  • Editorial accidentals can now be enclosed in square brackets as well as round brackets by choosing Square brackets from the Accidental property.
  • It is now possible to duplicate an existing tonality system, and indeed to export a tonality system from one project to import it into another; you can also duplicate accidental definitions within a tonality system. These improvements make it much easier to base new tonality systems on existing ones.
  • New options have been added to allow courtesy or cautionary accidentals when using the Modernist accidental scheme.
  • Edits to staff spacing and the vertical position of lyrics are now much more likely to be retained when the casting-off of your layout changes.
  • When you audition notes in the score by selecting them, they will now play back at their written dynamic, and with the prevailing playing technique.
  • A new command Write > Edit Duration > Shorten to Next Note has been added, which can be used to remove overlaps between notes in the same voice.
  • You can now import and export master page sets from one project to another, and also import a master page pair from one master page set in a project into another set in the same project.
  • Dorico now imports guitar string and tablature information from MusicXML, if it is provided in the file.
  • You can hold Shift when dragging an item in Engrave mode to constrain the direction of the drag, so you can easily move an item only horizontally or only vertically.

…and there are plenty more. Do be sure to read the complete Version History PDF for more details of all of these improvements, and others besides.

Availability

Dorico 3.1 is available now, and it’s a free update for existing Dorico Pro 3 and Dorico Elements 3 users. You can run Steinberg Download Assistant and download Update Dorico 3.x to Dorico 3.1. You can also find the downloads on the Steinberg web site. The full Dorico 3.1 Version History PDF, with complete documentation for all of the new features, improvements, and fixes can also be downloaded from both Steinberg Download Assistant or the Steinberg web site, and as always, we recommend you spend some time working through the provided documentation in that PDF – there is nearly 40 pages of documentation for the changes in Dorico 3.1 included, which are not yet (at the time of writing) included in the online documentation.

If you’re running Dorico Pro/Elements 2 or Dorico 1.x, now’s a great time to update to Dorico 3.1, because for one week only there is a special January Sale promotion allowing you to save 30% off the cost of your update. Go to the Steinberg Online Shop, choose Updates & Upgrades, and choose the appropriate product, then click Add to Cart. Once you’re taken to the shopping cart page, click Redeem and enter the coupon code JANSALE30 to save 30%. This promotion is only valid from Thursday 16 January 2020 to Thursday 23 January 2020, so don’t miss out!

What’s next

Dorico 3.1 is the last planned feature update to Dorico 3, and the team is now turning its attention to the next major version of the software, which will be released some time later in 2020. We already have a number of big ideas for our next developments, plus we will continue to enrich the capabilities of existing features like condensing, guitar notation, Play mode, and more besides. Stay tuned for another update on Dorico’s development in the next few months.

In the meantime, on behalf of the whole team at Steinberg who have worked tirelessly to bring you Dorico 3.1 and to introduce Dorico SE, we very much hope you enjoy using the new features and capabilities of the software, and look forward to hearing your feedback for how we can make Dorico even better in the future.