Review: Steinberg Dorico 3.5

With its new interface, VST expression maps and other excellent features, Matt Vanacoro puts Steinberg's Dorico 3.5 professional notation software to the test.  

Steinberg’s revolution in notation, Dorico, has been progressing fairly quickly. Halfway through its third version, the good folks behind the scenes have started to drop some incredibly useful features into the scoring app. From expression maps to a simplified VST system, Dorico 3.5 offers a big jump in functionality and I was excited to fire it up.

Everything Old is New Again


Dorico was developed from the ground up to be a new approach to scoring software - something quite welcomed from a lot of us that work in writing and arranging. Much of the major players in the notation game have been working on a gradual evolution of a product that’s been around for a while - so it was really nice to see a team take on ‘what should notation software look like?’ from the ground up.

One of the things that has always impressed me about Dorico is that it’s sleek, it gets a lot of menu items ‘out of your way’ and puts the music ‘front and center’, and the user interface itself is simple with an easy to read font. That hasn’t changed, Dorico is still a pleasure to move around in.

We’re Halfway There

VST Dorico

With version 3.5, there are quite a few enhancements. Some of them I don’t use particularly much (but will likely make some of you giddy), but some of them really changed my workflow and saved me a bunch of time. I’ll start with my favorite. Stay with me here… VST Expression Maps. I work with a lot of stringed orchestra sounds, and this is huge. Most of my VST instrument libraries make good use of keyswtiches (a ‘trigger’ note that can change articulation - like from bowed strings to pizzicato). Well now, you can use an expression map to tell that VST instrument to trigger something under certain conditions. For example, if I play 16th notes in my violin part, Dorico can now ‘tell’ my string library to switch articulations to a fast attack sample set and then go back to my legato samples for the longer notes. Once you’ve got this set up, you’re going to feel like you’re finally getting bang for your buck with that $1,000 orchestral sample library you bought!

guitar notation

Guitar notation has been expanded, and as a guitar teacher, I’m very thankful. There are notations available for hammer ons, pull offs, and whammy bar pitch modulations. This makes charting out exact performances of lines for my students much more authentic and accurate.

The third feature that is in the ‘front of my mind’ after playing with Dorico 3.5 for a few weeks is the ‘pitch before duration’ control. This takes some getting used to, but it is basically a new input method that allows you to play with notes on your MIDI keyboard before you actually solidify what you’re playing, and then commit by picking a duration. So you can play with a few inversions of a chord, nail down the one you like, click on a duration, and bam - the note or chord is committed and placed on your staff. Once I got used to it, I really dug it.

Figured bass has been brought in for all you AP music theory teachers, divisi condensing adds functionality to the (already pretty awesome) conductor score generator, customized user interface with colors (ok, this was actually quite fun), and Hollywood-style parts with extra staves round out the feature set for 3.5. It really is quite the drop!


If you haven’t tried Dorico yet, this version is a great time to jump in. This latest update brings a lot of cool tools to an already robust feature set. Dorico is sleek, powerful, and quite easy to use. I highly recommend checking it out if you are a composer or use notation software at all.


Price $59.99 update from Dorico Pro 3

Pros: Excellent new features, VST Expression Maps are an absolute game changer, sleek interface, easy to read text, incredibly helpful ‘new feature’ explanation that is specific to each window

Cons: Proprietary copy protection. At this point, I wish it were iLok or something a bit more standard.




Matt Vanacoro is one of New York's premier musicans. Matt has collaborated as a keyboardist in studio and on stage with artists such as Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Mark Wood (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel Band), Aaron Carter, Amy Regan, Jay Azzolina, Marcus Ratzenboeck (Tantric), KeKe Palmer, C-Note, Jordan Knig... Read More


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