Product reviews

Key information

  • Title: Dorico
  • What it is: Scoring software
  • Developer: Steinberg
  • Price information: Dorico Retail – (boxed) £497, (download) £480 / Dorico Retail crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £257, (download) £239 / Dorico Education – (boxed) £300, (download) £282 / Dorico Education crossgrade from Sibelius or Finale – (boxed) £153, (download) £136
  • Available from: / or music shops

Dr Steven Berryman road-tests Steinberg’s new score-writing software

The background to Steinberg’s Dorico – a new notation software to join the likes of Sibelius and Finale – has been told well in previous reviews and music educators might be interested in new software but might have plenty of scepticism towards it too.

Investing in music technology equipment and software is an expensive venture – it needs regular updates and quickly dates. I was keen to see if Dorico offered something that might tackle the frustrations that users have with other programs in addition to matching the well-used interfaces of software such as Sibelius and Finale. I have used Sibelius since the beginning and, while I was not particularly sceptical, I knew it would be a steep learning curve approaching new notation software after so many years of using Sibelius. I went in with an open mind and, thankfully, Daniel Spreadbury at Steinberg (@dspreadbury) was able to give me an introduction to the software at Steinberg’s offices in London.

Bringing it all together

To those of you familiar with Cubase, Dorico was built to make use of Cubase’s audio engine, meaning Dorico has access to the same VSTs and the various procession tools (amp modelling and synths for example). This is good news for those schools or users that might have Cubase already as now you can have the notation editor that can give you a superior result to the inbuilt notation editing facilities of Cubase.

A more intuitive approach to writing

One thing I always found frustrating with other notation software was that you needed to obey the rules of music theory from the outset. In some respects, I needed to know what I wanted to write in Sibelius before I entered it as changing musical details (note lengths particularly) would necessitate bigger changes. For students in the classroom, particularly at GCSE and beyond, I would often see a plague of common time: students entered their compositions without thought to metre but their music would be in common time (4/4) by default. Discovering that they meant their composition to be in triple time meant a hefty rewrite. This is in no way a significant criticism of Sibelius but a flaw in a software as a composing tool. You are not free to express yourself devoid of the rules of music theory. Dorico provides a flexibility I personally always wanted in Sibelius and an approach I use in my own composing: not quite knowing the metre required but writing free of bar-lines and adding in these details once the musical ideas become longer. What surprises you upon using Dorico for the first time is that you can enter notes and the ‘bar’ keeps growing to accommodate. I can add in details such as time signatures later and even change the note values without disrupting the material and necessitating significant rewriting. Daniel called these ‘non-destructive edits’ and you are pleasantly surprised by the automatic re-notation of the material as a result of any edits.

Starting the writing process

Starting the writing process

I missed the ability to move the notes around with the cursor keys as I would in Sibelius when I clicked in the wrong note. I did enjoy being able to add a bar line where I wanted, free of any considerations about my metre. Being able to add the metre later is a real joy and being able to change it and have Dorico re-notate your music correctly in the new metre is a dream. Dorico separates the process of ‘writing’ and ‘engraving’ and it is good that you can save the necessary tweaks to a separate part of the process. I think this is a clear message to students of the work process: set up your score, write your music, ‘engrave’ your music, play it and then print it. As Daniel put it, Dorico looks to ‘stretch what a scoring programme can be: out of your brain into the software’.

I can add barlines where I like, free of metre

I can add barlines where I like, free of metre

I can choose the time signatures after the notes

I can choose the time signatures after the notes

Spacing and parts

Music teachers are endlessly producing arrangements and parts for classes and ensembles and the quality and ease of producing these will be a significant concern to those working with groups. I wanted to see how Dorico would fare with scores I have already produced in Sibelius so I exported these via XML. I opened up a Bach Chorale exercise from a student and this appeared without any error and the look of the score is very pleasing. Extracting parts was easy and the look is excellent and print-ready without much editing needed – though I am looking at very straightforward material.

There are plenty of options to adjust the look of the score

There are plenty of options to adjust the look of the score

Music frames and the potential for handouts

I am probably not alone in trying to create worksheets and handouts for students that feature musical examples lovingly engraved and I have grown fond of the ability to export graphics from Sibelius and be able to insert these examples into documents. Daniel introduced me to ‘music frames’ and the possibilities are quite exciting. An ingenious way of creating a worksheet or handout directly in Dorico without the need of exporting material but also a way of replicating the various instances where you might need a small additional staff on a score (for example, if you are putting the plainsong at the start of a choral work or a small example at the bottom of a score for how an ornament might be realised) or other occasions when you might need to add additional musical details without conflicting with other material. I would need even more time to explore this feature but, already, I can see some quick ways to devise handouts suitable for teaching in a variety of contexts from school to university. Being able to create frames that can be altered in size and remain as editable music and not a fixed graphic is thrilling.

I can add additional music frames without conflict with other material

I can add additional music frames without conflict with other material


Having spent over two decades working with Sibelius and being at the stage where I felt I would not need to look for an alternative software and trying something new and learning the various shortcuts and processes would be daunting, I was pleasantly surprised by Dorico. Of course, it is different but some shortcuts were similar and I was able to discover various processes through exploring. Also, by looking at the impressive YouTube channel, you can discover more about the software and learn in a relatively short space of time how to get started. It might not have a lavish printed manual but having instructional videos is incredibly handy, particularly if you are in a class context and want students to be able to learn various features of the software independently. I recommend taking a look at Dorico – you will be surprised by the intuitive nature of the ‘write’ process and will discover some possibilities that other software has not been able to do with such ease. The Dorico journey is not quite over yet and you might find some features that do not match the likes of Sibelius but, given time, I sense we are going to have an impressive software that is going to allow greater freedom in the composing process not only for those in schools but also those working professionally. Steinberg shows a great deal of energy and support for those working in education and I welcome this as a school teacher. We often pick up our music technology skills on the job and knowing there is a good support network and a dedicated education officer who you can contact for advice is fantastic.

About the author

Dr Steven Berryman is Director of Music at City of London School for Girls and a Visiting Research Fellow in the School of Education, Communication & Society at King’s College London (2017-2019).

He previously taught at the North London Collegiate School and the Junior Academy of the Royal Academy of Music. Steven has examined and moderated for GCSE and A Level Music and contributed composition chapters to two study guides for Rhinegold Education and a chapter for an edited volume from Routledge (2016). He has been a Teach Through Music Fellow and a Teacher Advocate for Music Excellence London in addition to education projects with the Learning Departments of the Royal Opera House, London Philharmonic Orchestra and NMC Recordings.

Steven studied composition at Royal Holloway, University of London, and Cardiff University, gaining a PhD in 2010. Cypher (2010) was selected by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales for performance in their Welsh Composers Showcase and was performed by the orchestra in 2011, conducted by Jan Van Steen at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff Bay. In 2011, North London Collegiate staged Steven’s musical theatre work for a cast of over fifty girls, Juniper Dreams. Opera Holland Park commissioned Steven to transcribe arias by Donizetti for a dance performance, Dance Holland Park, in June 2012 and, the same year, he worked on music for two plays: Jamie Zubairi’s one-man show, Unbroken Line (Ovalhouse, December 2012), and Corpo: Lixa da Alma (Cena Internacional Brasil, Rio de Janerio, June 2012). Versa est in Luctum was performed in Washington DC in January 2013 as part of the New Voices @ CUA Festival and, in September 2016, LSO Community Choir and students from City of London School for Girls performed Steven’s O Come Let Us Sing as part of Old Street New Beginnings, celebrating fifty years since the joining of the St Luke’s and St Giles’ parishes.

Steven is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Art and a Freeman of both The Musicians’ Company and the Worshipful Company of Educators.



Posted In  Product reviews

Students using Cubase © Steinberg

Cubase 9.5: Review


UK Education prices including VAT
Cubase Pro 9.5 – (boxed) £308, (download) £291 
Cubase Artist 9.5 – (boxed) £171, (download) £153 
Cubase Elements 9.5 – (boxed) £58, (download) £57 
Special educational pricing is available for all Steinberg software products saving 40% off the suggested retail price. There is further discount on site license orders, updates and upgrades.
Please contact your local retailer for more information and price quotes.

Jazz musician and producer, Steve Rose, reviews Steinberg’s Cubase 9.5.

Key information

  • Title: Cubase 9.5
  • What it is: Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
  • Developer: Steinberg
  • Available from: local retailers and the Steinberg website


  • Extensive audio and MIDI manipulation
  • Integration with other Steinberg products
  • PC and Mac compatible
  • Ability to collaborate with other Cubase users over the internet


  • Steep learning curve, especially with Cubase Pro
  • Virtual Instrument sounds can be a little unrealistic

These days, choosing a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) has become a major investment – not only in money but also in the time needed to learn the considerable feature sets that today’s software offers. 

There is a wide range of rivals: besides Cubase, some of the more popular choices are Logic Pro X, Ableton Live, MOTU Digital Performer, Avid Pro Tools and Propellerhead Reason.

Each has a similar overall concept albeit with variations, providing the ability to record both audio and MIDI information, together with extensive editing and creative possibilities that grow ever more sophisticated with each software version.

So why is Cubase 9.5 a good choice of DAW?

Cubase 9.5

While Logic Pro X has become very popular due to its strong MIDI instrument set and editing possibilities, it still runs on an Apple-only platform – so if you have a PC, you’re out of luck.

Cubase runs on both platforms and because it has been around since 1989 (when it was then only able to record MIDI information), it is a mature and well-featured piece of 64-bit software. It is equally suited to recording a large acoustic ensemble, creating loop- and sampler-based modern music genres or making a film soundtrack.

Complete beginners might be daunted learning the workflows associated with such sophistication but Steinberg has various versions in its Cubase 9.5 range, starting with a very basic cut down DAW in the shape of Sequel (currently £68 from the Steinberg online store here), which provides a selection of loops and a basic ability to record audio & MIDI. Here, a beginner can get up and running in a relatively short space of time but they might feel the limitations of the software after only a few weeks of use.

For more sophistication under the Cubase banner comes Steinberg’s Cubase Elements (£85), followed by Cubase Artist (£265), with the flagship Cubase Pro (£480) offering a dazzling array of features. The system requirements obviously grow as the power features increase.

Cubase Pro

As its name suggests, Cubase Pro is aimed at audio professionals and consequently has the biggest learning curve.

As a recording musician for over 30 years, I began using various tape machines at my home studio back in the 1990s but gradually incorporated computers as their power grew. I used an early incarnation of Cubase in about 1998 together with the revolutionary Yamaha DSP Factory sound card – revolutionary because at last computers could record audio reliably, which was a major step forwards.

Now, 20 years later, I was curious to see how quickly I could become reacquainted with the software which has grown out of all recognition since those early days.

Initial setup

Initial setup took me hours when I expected it to be minutes – I can’t say Cubase Pro is very intuitive on this. The relevant ‘Audio Connections’ page required me to enter all the inputs and outputs of my Universal Audio Apollo sound card before I could hear anything at all.

Fortunately, the internet is full of useful videos and advice from many users who have come up against the same problems plus the Manual is pretty clear. Dedicated learning Music Technology sites such as Groove3 also can be worth the subscription fee for the time it takes to thoroughly familiarise oneself with a new piece of software.

I always say learning the idiosyncrasies of a new DAW requires similar dedication and patience to learning to play an instrument. Both can be very frustrating!

Fig 1: The Audio Connections page is where Cubase 9.5 is configured to work with computer hardware

Fig 1: The Audio Connections page is where Cubase 9.5 is configured to work with computer hardware

What can it do?

Having at last got everything working, I began testing out the capabilities of Cubase Pro.

There are thousands of good-quality audio loops already loaded in a variety of styles, together with the ability to slow them down and speed up, fit to a given length, play backwards, drop into a sampler for playback on a keyboard plus anything else the user can imagine.

Recorded audio can be similarly treated, tuned and quantised and Pro offers over 90 high-quality plugins to tweak things still further.

The ability to take a piece of recorded audio and replace it with MIDI blurs the barrier between the two and allows such things as the replacement of drums at a later stage of production.

I like the idea of online collaboration using Pro’s VST Connect software – getting a musician anywhere in the world to play on one’s own track in virtually real time is now a possibility thanks to Steinberg’s groundbreaking features.


While not primarily score-writing software, Cubase Pro can produce decent-looking scores and parts (although they can’t be refined as much as dedicated engraving tools such as Sibelius or Steinberg’s new Dorico).

However, writing basic parts for live performance from, let’s say, a MIDI track can be handled easily even in Elements and Artist but Pro adds more functionality.

I hear there are plans to integrate Cubase Pro with Dorico, which would be an amazing achievement, but as yet it hasn’t happened.

Fig 2: Cubase Pro’s scoring facility

Fig 2: Cubase Pro’s scoring facility

MIDI sounds

MIDI instruments built into Cubase 9.5 are largely centred around their HALion software, a sample player that incorporates over 3,000 instruments in Pro.

I find some of the sounds a little uninspiring when compared to, for example, Logic’s excellent Alchemy but nevertheless, there are plenty of useable sounds, especially when complemented by Steinberg’s other Virtual Instruments.

Certainly, Cubase has a full set of textures on offer right out of the box but for really excellent pianos, strings and other acoustic emulations, 3rd party VST instruments would be better.

Other features

Cubase Pro has excellent Video writing facilities: finished soundtracks can be exported to video directly from Cubase, which uses the same engine as Steinberg’s Nuendo (a DAW dedicated mainly to video and game audio production).

I like iC Pro’s ability to use an iPad or iPhone as a remote control for Cubase, which ends running to and from a computer when recording on one’s own.

Also worthy of mention is the seamless linking to Wavelab, Steinberg’s mastering software, for example, allowing the use of forensic editing tools to get rid of that fire engine that went past during the perfect take at the click of a button.

Who’s it for?

I would say that Cubase 9.5 Elements or Artist has a good balance of features to usability/learning time, perhaps something school students aged 14-18 might put to good use.

For University level, Cubase Pro 9.5 has all the features that would ever be needed while Steinberg’s Sequel might be ideal for younger children to learn the basics of Music Technology.

You can compare the features of each package here.

There are too many facets to Cubase 9.5 to cover in this review but I’m very impressed with the overall feel and unique workflows that Cubase offers. I’m even starting to use Cubase over my familiar Logic Pro X for some recording projects, which must mean I’m a convert!

Header photo: Students using Cubase © Steinberg 

About the author

Steve Rose is a freelance double-bass player, pianist, composer and educator with over thirty years’ professional experience. 

Steve RoseHe has worked primarily as a jazz performer, both in the UK and at festivals across the world, playing with the Jonathan Gee Trio for over twelve years and as a bass sideman for Joe Lovano, Benny Golson and numerous other musicians.

As a keyboardist, he played regularly with Paul Weller, the Fine Young Cannibals and Samantha Fox while, as a session player, he is to be found on numerous film and TV soundtracks.

He has composed extensively for theatre and dance companies, adverts, films and TV and has been composer-in-residence for theatre companies such as Major Road, Strange Cargo and Emergency Exit Arts.

As an educator, Steve has taught at Middlesex University and toured schools and colleges with Rambert, London Contemporary Dance Theatre and Northern Ballet.


Posted In  Product reviews

Nursery Rhythm Kit

Key information

Music Education UK reviews the EYFS percussion resource

There was big excitement at Music Education UK with the delivery of Drums for Schools’ and Sound Children’s Nursery Rhythm Kit. The large, square bamboo basket was a pleasure to unpack; so much so that we were tapping, banging, scraping and shaking our way through the contents within seconds of lifting the lid!

Fifteen wooden and/or metal instruments cover the basics of world percussion – from the guiro (played all over the world but used particularly in South American music) to the kokiriko (originally from Japan and Korea) – with two copies of most instruments included as follows:

  • 2 animal clackers
  • 2 horio shakers
  • 2 frog scrapers
  • 2 tiktoks
  • 2 agogos
  • 2 one-bar chimes
  • 1 cow bell
  • 1 (small) djembe
  • 1 shaman drum

There is also a book of 30 music cards with ideas for leading Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) music sessions as well as guides to ‘What’s in the basket’ and ‘Where it comes from’. The book, written by Anna Ryder of Sound Children, is not specifically related to the kit – a slight disappointment as it would have been nice to see ideas for using the actual instruments provided – but this is a small niggle given that it is bursting with creatively presented musical activities for children at EYFS.

We decided to trial the Nursery Rhythm Kit during Black History Month (which takes place during October in the UK). We took the kit to four different nursery settings and used it with groups of 12 to 15 two- to three- and three- to four-year-olds in music sessions of up to 30 minutes in length. The teacher (a peripatetic EYFS music specialist) introduced the instruments in sets of three over a number of sessions, allowing the groups to familiarise themselves with the look and sound of each instrument as individual children were invited to handle and play them in turn. This was combined with simple repeating word rhythms (using examples of fruit and vegetables from Africa and the Caribbean) which all of the children were able to join in with – first by clapping and then on claves (provided separately).

Once all the instruments had been introduced, an entire session was devoted to the Nursery Rhythm Kit which was placed in the middle of a circle of children, all of whom were invited to choose an instrument. The teacher used the shaman drum to lead the group while the children familiarised themselves with their instruments by chanting and playing the fruit and vegetable word rhythms they had learned during the previous sessions. The teacher then introduced a simple song from Nigeria which highlighted different children by name as everyone played along to a steady pulse. By the end of the session, children were enjoying holding and playing their instruments, chanting and singing in time, experimenting with pulse and rhythm, working as a group and following a leader. In some groups, the teacher was able to take this one step further by inviting a child who was able to keep a steady pulse to the front to lead the rest of the group using the shaman drum.  Children were excited to be singled out in this way and took pride in wielding the big beater and banging the biggest instrument of the lot in front of their friends!

Feedback from both children and staff was overwhelmingly positive and the Nursery Rhythm Kit was a resounding success. The teacher had a few concerns when she first saw the kit: that the younger children might find it hard to manipulate the larger instruments; that the nature of the materials used and slightly ‘homespun’ feel might result in the odd splinter (not an issue); that some of the instruments (eg the frog scraper) were not as well made as other examples on the market; and – most concerning of all – that the basket used to store the instruments might not be suitable for peripatetic use. This last was the only issue of ongoing concern: the teacher found it difficult to carry the kit with the rest of her equipment (guitar, stand, CD player, props etc) and ended up making two journeys to and from her car to each nursery and from room to room within each nursery. While this would not pose a problem in settings which purchased the kit for use in situ, it was a significant problem for a peripatetic music specialist – one which could be solved with the simple addition of a clasp, hinges and handles to the bamboo basket, preferably made of leather to ensure sturdiness, longevity and ease of carrying.

Overall, the kit is good value at £127.00 for educational use (£181.43 otherwise with a discount for online purchase) and would make an excellent addition to a set of musical resources for children at EYFS, whether that be in a nursery or children’s centre, a child’s home or – with appropriate improvements to the bamboo basket – for use by a peripatetic music teacher or EYFS music provider. Due to the nature of some of the instruments (the tiktoks and agogos have their beaters attached to them with cord), children using the kit should be supervised at all times.

Posted In  Product reviews

Review: MusicGurus’ ‘Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques’

This two-part online course taught by Stefan Grossman costs £15 per part

Key information

  • Title: Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques
  • What it is: Two-part online guitar course
  • Presenter: Stefan Grossman
  • Publisher: MusicGurus
  • Price information: £18 per part
  • Available from: Part 1 / Part 2

Guitarist and teacher, Robert Ahwai, checks out the online guitar course

MusicGurus publishes a collection of varied online courses taught by accredited performers (the gurus) on their respective instruments and available at various prices in the form of instructional videos, supported by pdf. downloads. The full range of courses, prices and levels of ability required can be viewed on the MusicGurus website.

The course that most appealed to me was the two-part Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques, partly because the acoustic guitar is going through a renaissance at the moment with many young, successful artists – such as singer/guitarist, Ed Sheeran – using fingerstyle picking in their accompaniments. In fact, I find I am teaching more acoustic guitar than electric these days because of these artists. On top of this, the course is taught by Stefan Grossman, whom I know to be a master of his craft as a blues/folk guitarist (the only other MusicGurus tutor I’ve heard of, to be honest, being the great Chet Atkins on The Guitar of Chet Atkins course). So I thought I’d check this one out at £15 per part. I will refer to the tutor as Mr Grossman out of respect for the great man.

The parts are conveniently divided into short video sections or ‘lessons’, each no more than about five minutes in length, some just two minutes, which makes it easy to go back and view the sections again to fully understand the instructions – a bit like re-reading a short chapter of a book to make sure you are following the plot. A great idea! It is also very easy to scroll back to the right place, using the small inset ‘stills’ that follow the cursor.

The quality of the video (on this course at least) is excellent, with close-up camera angles on the guitar providing a clear view of Mr Grossman’s skilful finger work. Coupled with his very precise instructions, delivered in simple terms, at a good pace and with a voice that is easy on the ear, I enjoyed listening to him and picking up new ideas. Some of the sections are just old video footage of legendary guitarists performing one of the classic tunes being taught with Stefan Grossman then playing his own interpretation in the next section. This, I found rather unnecessary as, with just a link to the video on YouTube, I could have checked it out if I’d wanted and not wasted valuable lesson time if I hadn’t. There was not much to be learnt from the old, grainy footage, I thought, and it looked like padding to me.

Although I think the course is excellently presented and taught, I’m not sure I would recommend it to my acoustic students, who are mostly in their teenage years, simply because of the very narrow style of music played. Despite a brief preview describing the course as ‘Mr Grossman explores the world of Fingerpicking’, he focusses exclusively on ragtime blues music, which was popular in the 30s and 40s and still has its niche today but which young learners will most probably find too corny to relate to. I know from experience that style is important when trying to teach music to young people and, if they can’t relate to it, they will reject the whole package (‘baby with the bathwater’). Having said that, some pupils, on being introduced to ragtime, may find the genre interesting and pick up on it and, of course, there are the more mature learners who may particularly want to learn old-style blues, as played by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee in the 40s, and even up to the 60s in the folk revival period, but, to be honest, it’s not something I have ever been asked to teach.

I would love to see a more modern version of the course with a nod to more contemporary artists who use this style in their playing. To go back a bit, I can think of the music of Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, George Harrison (Here Comes The Sun), coming right up to date with the likes of Ed Sheeran as I’ve mentioned, Jason Mratz and James Bay – to name just a few. Some of the earlier names above may not register with my students but the style of the music would definitely strike a chord. I hope MusicGurus can come up with such a course as the cost works out at about the same as a private lesson and you can watch it over again with all the extra information provided. Now that I would highly recommend!

To sum up, I think the Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques course is very well presented but, with no disrespect to Mr Grossman who is an excellent guitarist and teacher, the content is too dated for me.

About Stefan Grossman

Stefan Grossman is an American fingerstyle acoustic guitarist specialising in blues and folk music.

He was influenced by old blues recordings of artists such as Woody Guthrie and Reverend Gary Davis, with whom he studied for several years. Active in the folk rock scene in America in the early 60s, he travelled to Britain in 1967 where he stayed with Eric Clapton and began playing in folk clubs with British guitarists such as Bert Jansch and Ralph McTell. Later, he returned to America and started to produce instructional videos for his own record label, KM Records.

About Robert Ahwai

Robert Ahwai is a self-taught guitarist and teacher with over 30 years’ recording and gigging experience with artists and producers such as Chris Rea, George Michael, George Martin and Brian Eno.

He has been teaching in schools and privately for several years, in all styles, while still actively touring with Chris Rea.

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