Create true equidistant measure widths in a Sibelius score

Q: I am currently engraving an orchestral score by a living composer in Sibelius 7.1.3 and he is asking me for evenly spaced measures in the score (regardless of note content). The score itself is very complex and I would like to know if there is any other way other that filling a bar’s second voice with 64ths and then hiding all of them. This would solve the problem in the score but then I would have to repeat the process for every single separate sheet.

A: The quick and easy solution is to use Sibelius’s Auto Layout feature which locks a specific number of measures per system regardless of content. For instance, each system (or score page) can always be 4 bars, or 2 bars, or even a single bar. In Sibelius 7, use Auto Breaks in the Layout tab fix the number of measures per system / page. (Auto Breaks are found in the Layout Menu in Sib 6). You can use this feature in both the score and parts.

This “container lock” method works just fine in many cases. With this method, measure width essentially overrides note spacing. However, there are certain situations where you not only want equidistant width of the measures themselves, but also more exact control of the spacing of the notation content within these bars. (see the score example at the end of this post).

Sibelius factors the content of every staff vertically down the score into its note spacing routine, with the most active staff taking precedence. You can use this to your advantage if your goal is to create wide, even spacing in a score or part.

To see the effects of this clearly, turn off Auto Breaks in the Layout tab (or Layout Menu in Sib 6).

In a passage where you have more note density in one staff than another, (or more notes in one voice than another), the overall note spacing will adjust to accommodate the busier music. Note how the whole notes in the top staff become spaced further and further apart as the staff below it becomes filled with smaller and smaller note values:

These smaller note values affecting note spacing across all staves of the score can be in any voice:


Precisely Control Bar Width Using Hidden Staves


Not only do the staves with the greatest note density control the overall note spacing in the score, but as it turns out, *these staves don’t have to be visible* to affect note spacing.

What this means is that you can create a hidden staff containing identical small note values, each of which is effectively a marker on a ruler, which will control the overall spacing of the remaining visible staves of the score.

You can use this technique for the entire score, a section of score, or for a part (just add the hidden staff to any parts you want spaced this way).

Here is the basic setup:

(1) Create a new “instrument” at the bottom of your score (can be any non transposing staff). Rename this instrument staff “Spacing Ruler” or similar.

(2) Fill this “Spacing Ruler” staff with a string of identical short notes. (Pitch is not important. The actual short note value you choose will vary depending on your spacing requirements. For this type of spacing, typically, these notes will be of shorter duration than any “real” notes in the score.)

(3) Change the notehead type to Silent (you obviously won’t want these notes playing back!)

(4) Select this staff from beginning to end and hide the notes (CNTRL-SHIFT-H or CMND-SHIFT-H):

(5) Once the notes are silent and hidden, use Hide Empty Staves so this spacing control staff will no long show in Page View of the score (you can always see this hidden staff in Panorama View). If you respace the music at this point, you will see that the hidden staff is in control of the spacing because its smaller note values prevail even though the staff is hidden.

You can further control spacing of this “Ruler Staff” in Note Spacing Rule by changing the value of Note Spacings > Short Notes (e.g. 1 space as opposed to the default 1.41 spaces). This technique works great for creating evenly spaced measures of identical width with duple rhythms because each successive note value is one half or twice the next.

On the off chance you already have your micrometer out, note that from a strictly technical standpoint, there are two caveats to this “wide, even” spacing trick.

The first, perhaps obvious rule is that the “Spacing Ruler Staff” must always contain notes that are equal to or smaller than the smallest note value in the score for that region, or for the piece.

Secondly, tuplets can introduce spacing anomalies. For instance, let’s say you are using 32nd notes as the measurement unit in your “Spacing Ruler”.

A visible 8th note tuplet will have no visible effect on the spacing with 32nd notes as your unit of measurement. However, a 16th note tuplet  will spread out the music down the score ever so slightly, and a 32nd note tuplet will have an even greater impact on the score spacing. This is because Sibelius allows extra space for tuplets. The number of notes in the tuplet are a factor, as is the fact that most tuplets are not divisible into duple “Spacing Ruler Staff” note values; they introduce their own widths. The result is that in these cases, this bar of score will not be the exact width as the others (if we are being precise about such things).

But there are solutions to this. One good solution is to use tuplet groupings as your “control” – for instance, if you have 16th note septuplets in your hidden “Spacing Ruler” staff, adding regular 32nd notes in one of the visible staves should not increase the width of that bar.

Be aware when using tuplets as a “ruler”, the bar widths will be even, but you will need to experiment a bit if you want a precise and specific width because there is no user control for tuplet widths in Sibelius Note Spacing.

Another solution is to use shorter duple note values in the Spacing Ruler staff to rectify this. Sibelius allows you to create note values all the way down to a 512th note! (second keypad).  Be aware that each successively shorter note value increases the width of the bar by quite a bit!

To get this wide, even spacing effect in a part, use the normal process of adding staves to a part like you would for choir or percussion, then hide the notes in the “Spacing Ruler” staff, and then hide the staff in the part and you will have the same spacing widths in the part as in the score.

I recently used this technique to create evenly spaced Penderecki style “repeat phrase” marks in various staves of the score to an upcoming video game by Blizzard Entertainment (the morse-code reminiscent dash and dot are stemless silent noteheads, evenly spaced):

That’s it! That’s all there is to it.

for Michele Galvagno

3 Replies to “Create true equidistant measure widths in a Sibelius score”


  1. Thanks Robert, I will try this on Monday, when I get back to work!
    It seems great what you wrote! It will solve things for sure!

    Just to know, I’m curious, what is this upcoming game by Blizzard Entertainment? ;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.