Note spacing on the computer is basically achieved by a mathematical formula. But music spacing is more than just notes – at any point in time, it’s a complex pairing of notes and various other musical information. Think of all of the variables that affect how the music looks on the page: stems, flags, accidentals, articulations, ties, lyrics, chord symbols… the list is a long one.
In order to give the best and most flexible results, the software’s music spacing feature should be able to provide three basic things : (a) mathematically perfect spacing (b) additional “event” spacing or “padding” in order to prevent collisions of specific objects (c) lyrical spacing, where music is theoretically spaced to fit the words instead of the words fitting the music.
If you look closely at how music is spaced by various music publishers, you’ll see that while no proportions are universally accepted, as a general rule, all of them follow similar practices.
In traditional plate engraving, music spacing is called “Punctuation”.
Even though Finale and Sibelius do a fair job of music spacing, there is definitely room for improvement. Hopefully, understanding how music spacing works in both programs will result in better looking scores and parts, regardless of which program you are working in. Of course, you may find yourself wishing for improvements you didn’t know you needed!