Instrument Name Positioning in Finale

As a professional music copyist, I’m always interested in the alternate solutions and workarounds that composers and arrangers use in Finale to achieve specific tasks. Instrument names is an area where I’ve seen a number of interesting workarounds.

If you review typeset works by different publishers, you’ll discover there are several different concurrent standards for placing instrument names in a full score. My goal with this blog post is to show you the proper way to achieve these standard placements in Finale, and hopefully, ultimately save you some time in the bargain.

In older publications, instrument names are traditionally centered in a column, to the left of the system. While this placement works nicely for a string quartet or quintet, consider a piece which has both “Flute” and “Contrabass Clarinet in Bb”. Shorter names to appear too far from the left edge of the system if other names on the system are much wider. For this reason, right – alignment is increasingly becoming more common, at least in large orchestral scores:

You also occasionally see instrument names left-aligned, for instance in band music, but this is much less common.

In Finale, you control staff name position (including justification) globally from Staff > Set Default Name Positions. You can globally change the positioning of both the Full Staff Names and the Abbreviated Staff Names here:

Finale also allows you to override the global staff name positioning settings on a per staff basis. While the Staff Attributes Dialog looks a bit different in Finale 2012 and Finale 2011, you can change the individual staff’s Full Staff Name Position and Abbreviated Staff Name Position here:

For both the Staff > Set Default Positions and the Staff Attributes Dialog, the actual numerical positions relative to the staff will of course depend on justification, font size, number of lines and other factors.

Let’s take a look at the common instrument name placements / formats you might find in a published score:

Single Line, centered vertically with the staff. This is the default produced by Finale for a single staff. This can be used for one or more of the same instrument type on the staff:

  • Flute
  • Flute 1
  • Flute 1&2
  • Flute 1, 2
  • 2 Flutes

In Finale 2012 or later, go to the Score Manager by typing Control-K (Windows) or Command-K (Mac), select the instrument and type the name in a single string, without carriage returns.  To align all instrument names right (or center), exit the Score Manager, then choose Staff > Set Default Name Positions as outlined above. In Finale 2011 or earlier, enter the names in the Staff Attributes dialog for each instrument.

Multiple lines, centered vertically with a single staff. – To achieve this, simply add a return between each name as you type (e.g. “Flute 2 <carriage return> Piccolo”.

To vertically center the multiple line name with the staff, after you have entered the name, choose the Selection Tool, click the name then Shift Drag (to constrain to one direction) up or down to center it to the staff. As you do this, you will auto-update the numerical positioning within the Staff Attributes dialog. (you can also make exacting placement adjustments numerically there.)

Numbered staves, with the instrument name centered between the staves. This is done with a combination of Staff Names and Group Name. We use a Group for the instrument name, which allows us to have the sub-bracket, and also insures that the instrument name stays centered between the staves regardless of vertical staff spacing.

First, rename the two staves with their respective number for both the Full and Abbreviated name. Now, with the Staff Tool selected, highlight both of the staves, and go to Staff > Groups and Brackets > Add. Double check to make sure the All Measures radio button is selected, and click the Edit buttons to add the Full and Abbreviate Group Name.

Optionally, select the thin sub-bracket, and for Distance to the Left of Staff, choose a placement value for the sub-bracket that is greater than your main bracket distance. For instance if your regular bracket is -.5 spaces from the staff, you’ll want a sub bracket of something like -1 space, so it is visibly separate.

Group name positions are set globally @ Staff > Set Default Name Positions > Full Group Names… or Staff > Set Default Name Positions > Abbreviated Group Names… very similarly to Staff Names. If you need a positioning for one specific group of instruments that is different for that one specific group, you can change its positioning right in the Group Attributes dialog.

Vertically centered name and stacked numbers on a single divisi staff. The key to this effect is that it works in connection with Right Aligned staff names.

  • Enter the Instrument name, followed by the number “1” or “I”
  • Press Return and type the second number; “2” or “II”
  • Highlight the “1” or “I” on the first line.
  • From the main Text menu, choose Baseline Shift, and Shift the selection up.

The actual amount of Baseline Shift you need to add depends on your font size. For instance, I use Times New Roman 14 Bold for this example, and the amount of Baseline shift I used is .75 spaces.

  • Select the “2” or “II”
  • Choose Baseline Shift from the main Text menu.
  • Enter a Baseline Shift that is approx. twice the Baseline Shift value of the first number.

So, for instance, if I Shift the “1” up by .75 spaces, as a starting point, I will shift the “2” up by 1.5 spaces. This is usually pretty close, and can be adjusted to taste.


In certain choral scores, the instrument names do not appear to the left of each staff, but instead, appear above each staff (starting over the clef) at the start of the piece, and then again, wherever the singers used on that system change, much like an Instrument Change label. This convention is often found in earlier choral publications.

While these labels can be created with Technique text, a more consistent way is to create them with Staff Styles. Since the Staff Styles Editor is basically a version of the Staff Attributes dialog itself, we can create individual S, A, T, B Staff Styles, and then as needed, we can create combined SA, TB etc Staff Styles and show these at the points of change.

Instrument names for choral singers are usually written in capital letters.

for Gray Sutherland

3 Replies to “Instrument Name Positioning in Finale”

  1. About 2-3 weeks ago, I decided to condense the score of my Symphony from a line-per-instrument explosion down to Flute 1/2 staves, etc. It took me hours to figure it out, but I landed on a method that was somewhat of a hybridization of your last two flute methods above.

    Every multi-instrument stave had a name of “1 2” that was baseline-shifted until it was centered and then I created single-line groups for the instrument names. It took finagling, but I managed to get it to work.

    I’m quite intrigued to play with this last (non-choral) method you suggested, though, as it seems slightly simpler. The only instance where I could see using my stumbled-upon method more efficiently would be in cases of (semi)frequent transitions between condensed and exploded staves for a part.

    I love following this blog and learning little tricks and notational methods here and there. Great job!

  2. Great trick! For the numbered staves, with the instrument name centered between the staves, I think you meant 0.075 for upper number and 0.15 for the number below. That’s how it worked for me.

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