Dorico for iPad Review

Well it appears that I will have to be changing the statements that I use to describe apps that are available on iPad. You see, I have frequently stated that there just are not many apps that give me everything I want in one app on iOS currently. I constantly find myself needing to use two or more apps to “get the job done”!

Dorico for iPad

With Dorico for iPad this is now changing!

You may be asking, “Why do we need another Notation App for iOS?” That would be a fair statement…. So let’s talk about what we have and what each lack…..

1)We have Notion from Presonus which has been my favorite because it a full featured app that ALSO has a desktop version available! Arguably the fastest way to get music notation. Has multiple ways of getting that notation input including clicking, onscreen instruments, live input from MIDI and even handwriting, which may not be the fastest way but I use all the time. One glaring issue with Notion is the fact that printing is simply OK, not beautiful. Then there are page layout issues, especially on iPad. One huge bonus point here for Notion is the integration with the DAW from PreSonus StudioOne! Another huge bonus for Notion is the integration of iCloud – it has to be one of the most flawless use cases between iOS and Desktop that I have seen!

2)StaffPad would be the next notation app to bring up. What a remarkable app this is too! Handwriting, multiple innovative notation techniques that speed the process up immensely, and most assuredly the availability of amazing sound libraries from well established companies gives this app an edge beyond belief! As well does the companion app – StaffPad Reader. StaffPad lacks the ability to get create notation in any other method though besides handwriting. StaffPad also does not focus on getting beautiful printed copies and that’s OK because that is not the focus of StaffPad.

3)There are other notable apps you can use on iPad such as SymphonyPro, MusicJot, and NoteFlight from Hal Leonard. None of which have an actual desktop app available which boils down to a non-start if you are without reliable internet on your desktop. Sometimes I just want my 32″ monitor! Being mobile is great but…

What I have wanted since day one of iPad is an app that has; 1)multiple methods of input that are super fast and reliable. 2)an app on BOTH iOS as well as Desktop! 3)great printed music. 4)amazing playback capabilities. 5)all the full featured capabilities as the desktop version. 6)

Before we start –

Important Links –

Dorico for iPad Manual
Dorico for iPad Online Help at

Let’s Take A Look at Dorico:

First up – You will need an iPadPro, iPad Air or iPad running iOS13 or higher with about 820mb of space to install Dorico.
Second – Pricing: A)Base app is free which gives you players. B)Sign up for a Steinberg account and you get 4 players for Free. Yes this means you will get an occasional marketing email from Steinberg but that is a small price to pay for this! C)Pay a $3.99 monthly subscription or $39.99 for the yearly subscription. Subscribing gives you 12 players (more on this later) PLUS more control in the Engrave Mode (Layout and such) and also allows you to use Audio Units for playback. Using Audio Units for playback opens up an amazing world of iOS apps that are available! The internal playback engine is great, in fact it is the MicroSonic Engine from Steinberg amazing Cubasis app, but there are some Audio Units that will allow you to take playback of your musical scores to a whole new level! This is GREAT news and a first for a notation app on iOS! Expect big things to come and new development on future apps that will give us greater flexibility!

When you first open the app you will see this screen which is fairly easy to figure out. The very first step for you to take is to tap on the LEARN Tab and watch the very short and concise introduction videos! THEN you may continue…

I much appreciate the fact that Dorico has chosen to NOT give us the standard iOS Files integration screen. I think it is easier to see what is going on. Plus if I want to access any file from the iOS Files picker then I simply use the Open or Import button at the bottom of this screen:

So upon selecting Create New you will get this screen which once again is fairly easy to figure out. Simply select a basic template to get yourself rolling and make sure you put in a project name to make things a little easier later on:

Let’s Add Notes

Now we are in our document! IT’s time to start entering some notes. In the screen shot below I have highlighted some important items that may or may not be obvious. First of all if you do not see the piano keyboard as you see in my screen below then simply tap the icon in the bottom left of your screen and select the piano keyboard there next to the guitar icon.

So first of let’s get the Apple Pencil elephant taken care of. No you can not use the Apple Pencil to handwrite notation in Dorico and it is not on the list to get developed either. If you want really fast note entry that is reliable 100% of the time set that Apple Pencil down. I remember the very first time that any of us even HEARD that a company might be attempting to make handwritten music notation come to iPad – none of us believed it! The kickstarter page is still live – ThinkMusic KickStarter. But even though that KickStarted failed the people behind it went on to develop the technology more and that is now what is driving the handwriting in Notion, MusicJot, and SymphonyPro – MyScript. (Thanks to Daniel Spreadbury for those links – via the Dorico forums!)

Even though David Hearns makes handwritten notation look like a breeze I can assure you that you will be able to be more precise, accurate and more importantly FASTER using other methods!

Secondly – in Dorico if you see the caret then you know you are going to be entering notes! IF there is no caret and something is simply highlighted then you are going to be changing that item.

In order to get the caret and start entering notes you simply need to double tap where you want to enter notes. Then your caret will appear as well as the note value grid above the staff. There are four arrow keys in the upper left of you screen if you need to adjust where the caret is. The quickest way to start entering notes is to tap on the note values you want down by the piano keyboard (you can see I’ve selected an 8th note here) and then tap a key on the piano. In fact if you want to enter a chord you can play two or more notes at the same time and they will show up as a chord in your music!

A few things that are not totally obvious – If you have big ol fingers like I do then you can use the two grey piano keys to zoom in/out on how many keys are shown. If you drag the little keyboard between those two grey keys then you will change the range of the big keys! There is a forward icon and a delete the previous note icon just to the left of the note values. To the right of the note values are the articulations you can apply AFTER you have entered the note on the staff.

The little floating panel that is called the Edit Notes Overlay is a very handy little tool – which is moveable to wherever you’d like it to be on the screen by the way! This panel allows us to alter the notes after they have been created – you can move notes up or down by an octave, one note or chromatically for instance. The left and right arrows allow you to move selected notes left or right a set amount according to the note value grid. Then the two arrows with rulers will lengthen or shorten notes according to the note grid.

Let’s Add Markings

Over on the right hand side of your screen is the Right Zone. Here you will find a palette toolbox and a keyboard tool. Each gives you slightly different tools underneath. Using the palette you can simply touch where you want to enter marking. So tap the palette, touch the f icon then select the dynamic marking you want and tap where you want it to go. Or you can select the note where you want the element to appear and THEN tap the element. So I could tap on the 1st note in measure 2 – the A and THEN tap the f and the forte marking will pop into the correct spot.

By the way…. you can see the Cut, Copy, Past and REPEAT icons at the top of the screen there. The Repeat option is awesome to have!

Another way to enter markings and such is to use Pop Overs – That is the Keyboard icon under the Palette icon. When you use popovers you can type instructions in to tell Dorico what to enter. Once you have these figured out it becomes faster to work! In the screen shot below I used the extend selection tool to tap on the first note in measure 3 and then the first note in measure 4 to select everything in between. Then I tapped the keyboard icon and then the f icon to get this popover. Now I can quickly enter 3 dynamic markings at once! Which will then give me the result you see in the second screen image!

A few tips for inputting and editing I will leave you with before I venture on to discuss several other features:
1)Top right hand corner there are undo and redo buttons. 2)Make sure you are in Engrave mode if you want to enter/edit notes. 3)Make sure to unselect the extend selection icon after you are done using it. This drove me bonkers many times! and last 4)For goodness sakes use the online help mentioned at the very top of this blog post if you can’t figure out how to do something!

Not everything is immediately obvious with Dorico. Use that help!

Other Input Options

So with Dorico there are so many different methods of getting your music input. You can use simply the iPad, the app, and your finger. Then you can use the onscreen Piano Keyboard, the onscreen fret board or the onscreen drum pads.

One thing that will speed up your workflow though is to attach a bluetooth computer typing keyboard to your iPad! This then allows for many shortcuts to be used! In fact here is a Quick Reference Card with commands for Dorico – most of which will work for the iPad version!

Another tool that will greatly speed up your entry of notes is the use of an external MIDI keyboard! Hit the record button and start playing! Dorico does an amazing job with this. I will say though that you need to understand where the settings are to help Dorico narrow down and interpret what you are playing! Go into Preferences and set your playing quantization options! In other words if you are not going to be playing any duplets – TUNR that off! If the smallest note value is going to be 8th notes then don’t have it set to 16th notes!

Let’s Talk About the Key Editor – (Piano Roll)

For years I have recorded and created into my DAW’s always wishing for a more competent method of seeing what I had just played. I mean the piano roll is powerful but when you have been trained to read music notation… well let’s just say it’s be nice to see music notation! Dorico has the unique advantage of being a division of Steinberg. Steinberg has already had a stellar iOS app called Cubasis which is based off their desktop DAW Cubase that has been around for many years.

As a user of Cubasis it is obvious to me that the two teams have worked well together – the playback engine for Dorico is MicroSonic from Cubasis. The Mixer is looking very familiar to me as are the abilities with resizing panels like the mixer or the piano keyboard.

The best part though has to be the new KeyEditor in Dorico!

You see the paradox has always been that there is a disparity between what I want my music to SOUND like and what I want the notation to LOOK like! So I use a DAW to record it so it sounds right and a NOTATION app to get it to look like readable music notation. This has ALWAYS been a problem since we started this journey of music notation apps. I can tell you horror stories of what the first music notation app I used gave you for output when you recorded live into it using a MIDI keyboard back in the mid 80’s!

Dorico is the only professional music notation software to include a sequencer-style MIDI editor with piano roll, velocity, and continuous controller editors — and Dorico for iPad takes another leap forward with the introduction of a completely new Key Editor, built from the ground up for the iPad, with fluid, high- performance editing. In addition to transforming the experience of working in Play mode, the new Key Editor can also be shown in the lower panel in Write mode, making it possible to work seamlessly both on conventional music notation and detailed MIDI editing tools in perfect sync.

But now with the Key Editor I can finally make the length of a note sound different from what it looks. If you look at the screen shot below you can see that by tapping on the little waveform icon vs the two 8th notes icon I can see the big rectangles are what the note will SOUND like while the little lines are the notated music will LOOK like.

So if I muck around a bit here I can change things like the length of those dotted notes. I can change how early or late a note is played is well. Look below and see if you can tell which notes I have done what to….

Galley View and Mixer

If you don’t want to view your score as a printed page would look then you may also view it in what Dorico calls Galley View. Tap the eyeball in the top right hand corner of the screen and you will find that option here. I know when I am working on a score with 4 or more parts I would rather work in Galley View. The other important option in the view settings is whether or not you are viewing your score in transposed or concert pitch.

By the way – an extra thought here – SignPosts are something that is very Dorico and I am not used to them so I am still wrapping my head around them. I know I’ve had them pop up especially when importing XML files. What ever the case though… you can turn off their visibility in the View Options dialogue. I mean…. if I can’t see them they don’t exist right?

If you look closely in the screen shot above you can see that I have the mixer pulled up here as well. A very nice touch and I can see this mixer view maturing quickly over the next updates. At least I hope Cubasis will have a positive effect on Dorico here!

Final Thoughts

There is SO much to be learned here in Dorico that I have just slightly brushed across the top of the app here. If you want to do it then Dorico will be able to do it!

Tuplets, Nested Tuplets, Lyrics, Chords Rehearsal Marks – it is all very tweak able as well!

Like the Rehearsal Marks – they can be the sort that are A, B, C or they can be Bar Numbers, or just Numbers – or words….. – I WOULD like to know how in the world you can change ALL rehearsal marks to be a Bar number though. Currently I am changing each and every one separately! Super annoying because I KNOW there has to be a global setting someplace! Leave me a comment below and tell me where to find it! please!

Chords – you can enter them as expected via typing them but you can also enter them by playing them on your MIDI keyboard!

Tempos – you can have a simple number for the tempo or you can choose from a list of tempo terms. Super cool!

Audio Units – ah yes….. the playback of your score. I do remember with not so fond memories of the days when you would just not even bother to hit the play button in a notation app because it would sound so absolutely horrid! Now Dorico with its internal sound engine sounds OK! This is a positive. In fact many times most people will be OK with the way MicroSonic sounds! For those that want to go a step further and pick even better sounds we now have access to Audio Units in the Play mode. I will write more about this possibility some day soon in a blog post of it’s own.

The Velocity Histogram – oh me oh my – now THIS is a first on iOS! Not only can we look at the velocity of our notes but we can now see a histogram of ALL the velocities in our piece of music. We can then make sweeping global changes – like bring all the softer velocities up louder. Drag EVERYTHING up louder or softer…. or spread everything out on the scale of louder to softer. It really is going to take you messing around with this power tool to fully wrap your head around it! It is found in the Key Editor underneath all those rectangle bars.

Future Development

I am looking forward to the day when Dorico figures out the use of the Apple Pencil to help us tweak, adjust, select and edit our music in Dorico. No, I don’t want to handwrite the notes….. I’ll use StaffPad or Notion for that. But my Apple Pencil is very handy and the tip of that us WAY smaller than the tip of my finger!

Audio Units – Needs a bit more work to make work as well as they do in Cubasis.

Key Editor – I look forward to the day when I open Dorico to compose and create my music instead of a DAW! We are getting closer!

Please, Please, Please go get involved in the Steinberg Forums – the development team is there, interacting, listening and answering all of our questions, comments and concerns.

Highlights To Review (OR that I may have missed mentioning)

  • Best automatic engraving of any software
  • Easy note input using on-screen keyboard, MIDI keyboard, or external keyboard
  • Intelligently adjusts notation as you write
  • Any number of movements or pieces in a single project
  • Automatic layout of instrumental parts
  • Expressive playback using included sounds and effects
  • Supports Audio Unit virtual instruments and effects processors
  • Revamped Key Editor, with piano roll, velocity and continuous controller editors
  • Sophisticated chord symbols, unpitched percussion and drum set notation
  • Unbarred music, tuplets across barlines, etc. all handled correctly — no workarounds
  • Fully compatible with Dorico for macOS and Windows
  • Transfer to and from other apps via MusicXML, MIDI, PDF, etc.
  • Built-in reader mode for performing directly from the project, using a single tap of the screen or Bluetooth foot pedal to turn pages

A Huge Congratulations

To the entire development team – which is not huge by the way…. unless Daniel has more fingers than a normal person..

CONGRATULATIONS! The iPad app is a remarkable feat! Even more remarkable that it has transpired and has matured to this point in like seven months!

now… go…. go make music people!

Or maybe even listen to Robby Burns Podcast with Daniel Spreadbury – absolutely wonderful!

Or read Chris Russells first thoughts on Dorico for iPad

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