Vertical Spacing Between Staves in a Score & Working @ 100%

Q: What is the ideal space between staves in a score? I know this can vary but I would like to make the systems as big as possible without too much crowding.

A: The ideal distance between staves is based on the number of staves, the page size and the system size / number of systems on the page – as you’ve discovered, it varies; each situation is a little bit different.

A good starting point for understanding vertical staff spacing might be to consider the braced Grand Staff. In the Grand Staff, the ledger line on middle C is, for all intents and purposes, a staff line. The braced grand staff functions as is a bridge between the two different clefs.

As you move the treble and bass clef staves closer together, there will be a point when the middle C ledger line is directly centered; there are two staff spaces between the clefs, with one staff space above and one below middle C:

Finale and Sibelius measure this distance differently, but the end result is the same. Sibelius measures this distance from the outside staff lines and so, calls this 2 spaces. In Finale, vertical distance is measured from middle staff line to middle staff line, and so this distance is measured as 6 spaces.

(If you were to drop the middle C in the treble staff an octave with the staves in this position, you would see the note from the treble clef as if it were in bass clef, much as you would with cross-staff beaming).

In the score, change the vertical distance globally for all staves. To change the vertical space between staves:

  • Finale: Staff > Respace Staves
  • Sibelius: Engraving Rules> Staves>Layout

Thinking about how the space between staves corresponds to the distance between staff lines is a good way to visualize ideal and appropriate distances.  For instance, for orchestral scores, a global starting point for vertical staff spacing might be 8 ledger lines:

This distance in Finale is measured as 12 spaces (measured from midline to midline). Sibelius calls this same distance 8 spaces (measured between the bottom and top staff lines of the two adjacent staves).

Note that the Sibelius measurement corresponds to the number of ledger lines, which helps with this association.


If you didn’t already add additional space between groups of instruments when you first added the instruments:

  • Finale: Setup Wizard>Select Instruments>Add Vertical Space
  • Sibelius: Engraving Rules> Staves>Layout

In both Finale and Sibelius you can do this after the fact:

  • Finale: Staff > Respace Staves
  • Sibelius: Engraving Rules> Staves>Layout

In Page View, you won’t need any staves selected in either program to make this global change.

Once you have set up the global space between all staves, you’ll can increase the spacing between each group of instruments:

Sibelius: Engraving Rules> Staves>Layout>Extra Space Between Groups. Add 1 or 2 additional spaces here to your liking if this isn’t already in your template. With tempo and rehearsal marks showing above the strings as well as at the top of the score, you may want to increase the space above the strings a bit more with “Extra spaces above for System Object Positions”.

Finale: Click to the left of the first bar of the top instrument from each group (e.g. horn 1, timpani or percussion 1, choir, violin 1 etc) one at a time run Staff > Respace Staves to increase the space between instrument groups by a couple of spaces globally across the score. With tempo and rehearsal marks showing above the strings as well as at the top of the score, you may want to increase the space above the strings a bit more.

If you have additional lines in the score which you know will consistently need more space between staves, you can select the entire staff across the score and drag it down (Finale or Sibelius), or do this numerically as you did for groups in Finale. For instance, you might want an extra space or two between vocal staves with lyrics, or below the tuba.

Now, the vertical spacing should look balanced, but depending on the size of the page, the size / percentage of your staves and the number of staves, the score’s staff systems might either not fill the page, or flow outside of the margin boundaries.


If the situation is that the staff sizes look right for the page size but isn’t quite filling the page properly, you might want the staves to remain the same size, but spread them out a bit more vertically  to fill the page.

In Finale, without any staves selected (or *all* staves selected) in Page View, use Staff>Respace Staves> Space Above Each Selected Staff>Scale To % to increase the space between both the staves and the groups equally and simultaneously. This maintains the distance ratio between the staves and the groups. Try a small percentage like 105%; if too much or not enough, simply Undo and try again. You’ll get a feel for this pretty quickly.

In Sibelius, the staves will vertically auto-justify automatically (unless the value is set to 100%). Decrease the threshold percentage value in Engraving Rules>Staves>Justification>% full until the staves vertically justify to fill the page.


Sometimes, the most practical solution is to increase or decrease the staff system size itself:

  • Finale: Percent Tool>Click between system staves>Resize System
  • Sibelius 6: Document Setup>Size>Staff Size
  • Sibelius 7: Staff Size in the Document Setup Group of the Layout Tab
With a little practice, you’ll be able to quickly determine and set the appropriate balance between staff and group vertical spacing and staff size for any instrumentation.

That’s it!


If you are a Finale user, I strongly recommend working at 100% for both Page Size and initial System Height. These settings are found in Document>Page Format>Page Format For Score and in Document>Page Format>Page Format For Parts. For Resize Staff System, set your initial Staff Height in this dialog to 4 spaces (.3333 inches).

Unless a staff is specifically a cue staff, always keep individual staves at 100%. Use the staff system sizing to resize groups of staves consistently, rather than individually resizing staves.

Values for these are also changed for an existing score with the Percentage tool when you click on a Page or a Staff System.

Once you get this set up, working with 100% page size and System Size will require fewer mental gymnastics to accurately figure actual staff size, vertical spacing, font sizes and everything else you work with in Finale.  Initially, you’ll have to adjust these values in Page Format for Score / Parts, and then, using  the Percent Tool, change your existing score pages as well as your system percentages.

A good rule is if your score Page Percentage is currently at some arbitrary page percentage like 47%, when you set your page size to 100%, setting your system size to 47% will produce a similar system size to what you had. Think of the page itself as a container for the notational data, and, just as if you were in any desktop publishing page layout program, you’d make adjustments to the size and location of the objects *on* the page; the page itself should show these changes accurately.

Something that will change dramatically once you make the above adjustment is the size of on-page text (Text Blocks). You will need to change the size of on-page text blocks, which will look huge initially if your page percentage was set lower than 100%, or too small if it was set higher than 100%. Once you make this change, however, when you specify 18 point type, you will actually be seeing 18 point type, rather than 18 point type divided by whatever percentage your page was set to.

Why do we want to set the initial Staff Height in the Resize System dialog to 4 spaces (.3333 inches)? The reason is that the values for Resize System percentage and the Resulting System Scaling should be identical: That way, when you want system scaling of 85%, just type 85%.

The Finale default is confusing, in my opinion, because with the initial Staff Height set to something other than 4 spaces or .3333 inches, then to get *actually* get a 75% staff system size, I need to type in 88% (huh?). Simplify your life – set Resize System percentage and the Resulting System Scaling to be identical by using 4 spaces for the initial Staff Height.

It may take a few minutes to get your scores set up this way, but the results are well worth it.

for Steve V.

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