Vertical Spacing of Staves and Systems in Finale

Q: I’m working on an orchestral score in Finale, and I’m having some trouble with the vertical staff spacing. Is there something like the Space Systems evenly tool, but for staves within a system? Finale’s leaving a big margin on the bottom! Thanks!

With orchestral scores, one system very often represents a full page of music, and so in this case, we want to adjust the vertical positioning between the staves themselves, rather than the distance between systems to create the proper look. Fortunately, Finale offers some great tools for this purpose.

First, some general guidelines in common practice:

★ The top staff of the score (e.g. of each system) typically begins at a fixed point below the top page margin (keeping in mind such things as page headers and rehearsal marks and ledger lines appearing in the top staff), and the bottom staff typically extends to a fixed point just above the bottom page margin for similar clearances.

Commercial scores frequently have bar numbers appearing in every bar under the Contrabass, and if so, this will affect the amount of white space between the bottom staff and the page margin.

★ Perceptually, it is best for the top and bottom staff locations to remain at a consistent vertical location relative to the margins across all pages, unless extreme cases (such as a half page required to facilitate a page turn in a part) prohibit this. If a staff not normally visible in the score is made to be visible (such as might be required by a complex string divisi requiring two staves), a small decrease in spacing between all of the staves while maintaining the top and bottom margin is preferable.

 “In an orchestral score, it is helpful to add slightly to the space separating instrumental sections. The space between orchestral sections appears, in any case to be greater than the space between the staves within the section, since barlines do not run through this space.

The widest space should be above the strings: this will help to accommodate a high 1st Violin line, as well as the tempo indications and rehearsal marks that go above this section.” * *

Elaine Gould
from Behind Bars (page 520)

★ Determining the ideal spacing between staves is generally a balance between the number of staves, the staff size and the page size. The pitch content of the staves and associated text can also be a factor.

★ Braced grand staves are generally not noticeably vertically justified – as the distance between other single staves increases, grand staves can keep their vertical spacing.


Common practice, whenever possible, is to vertically space the staves within each instrument choir equidistantly.

Finale does this automatically when you create a new score using the Setup Wizard. The default spacing between staves is determined by your settings in Document Options… > Staves of the Finale Default File. As you enter new instruments to the score’s instrument list, you are given the option of adding vertical space between groups of instruments.

* * To add additional space between each bracketed instrument group, use the Add Vertical Space button, located beneath the Add and Remove buttons in the Select Instruments dialog of the Setup Wizard. The preference control for the amount of space that this button injects is found in Document > Document Options… >Staves.


In Finale, it is possible to change the vertical space between existing staves very precisely. To set the amount of space between all staves in the score numerically, use the Staff > Respace Staves… dialog. You can also increase or decrease the vertical space of a single staff. For instance, in a separate pass, you can increase the distance between bracketed instrument groups.

With the Staff Tool selected and the score in Page View, open the Respace Staves… dialog.

If you have specific staves selected, the settings will affect only those staves. If nothing is selected, the entire score is processed.

The dialog has settings for the Top Staff and for Space Above Each Selected Staff. For both of these, you’ll notice that you can either set a specific distance, or indicate a percentage of the current value:

The percentage setting is a handy way to quickly expand or contract the vertical spacing between staves globally to fit the current score page size. For instance, depending on the number of staves of score, and the current staff size, if your systems are extending past the bottom page margin by a small amount; you can try a reduction of 90-95% of all staves to bring the music inside  the margin lines.

The percentage setting is especially handy if you have already defined a wider vertical distance between instrument groups.  Since every distance is scaled by the same amount, the score maintains its current relationships between staff and group distances.

The percentage setting does not change the staff size, only the percentage of space *between* selected staves (or all staves if nothing is selected).

To set a fixed, larger amount of space between instrument groups,  click to the left of the first bar of the top instrument staff of a group to select it from beginning to end, then open the Staff > Respace Staves… dialog, set a fixed distance or a higher percentage, and OK. Repeat this process for each group.

The same technique of numerically increasing the space between two specific staves can also be used to increase the distance between the upper and lower staves of a grand staff, or between any staves of the score across a specific range of systems. Highlight the lower of the two staves across one or more systems or pages, and invoke Staff > Respace Staves…


Any time there are multiple staves in a system, the distance between these staves can also be changed by dragging one or more staves into a new vertical location.

When dragging, the default behavior moves the selected staff, and all staves below it up or down as a group.

It is also possible to move a single selected staff up or down *within* the system group without affecting the positioning of other staves in the system or selected region. To do so, hold down the Option key (Mac) or Alt key (Windows) when dragging.

For all of the above techniques, with the Staff Tool selected, you can either (1) drag a staff within a single system by selecting only the handle on that staff of the system, (2) select a region of several systems and drag them up or down as a group, or (3) click to the left of the system you want to move so that the entire piece is highlighted and drag it all at once. This works both in scores, and multi-staff parts.


Finale’s “Space Systems Evenly” feature, accessed from the Page Layout menu takes some getting used to, but is powerful and useful.

“Space Systems Evenly” is not a dynamically updating feature.

It’s worth noting that the feature does not change existing values for the Top or Bottom distances in “Edit System Margins”, rather, it only changes the values in the “Distance Between Systems” field.

One advantage of this, (in the absence of a proper automated vertical collision avoidance feature) is that you can precisely control the distance the lowest staff on the page is from the bottom page margin  (to clear copyright text, for instance) or to allow extra space between two systems in a tight vertical spacing situation where ledger lines are present; this amounts to a “minimum distance between staves” function.

Generally, though, you’ll want to strive for perceived equidistance between systems, so it’s typically better to set consistent top and bottom system values in “Edit System Margins” before spacing them evenly.

That’s it! That’s all there is to it.

for Joao in Portugal

2 Replies to “Vertical Spacing of Staves and Systems in Finale”

  1. How do you lock in the vertical spacing of each staff on each page of a score? Lets say I need to add a page in the middle of an orchestral score. When I do so, all subsequent page’s vertical alignment is altered, and I have to readjust each and every page again. I can send you screen shots if it will help you understand and see what I am talking about.

  2. I have this problem: first staff has lyrics, then I have a couple of staves below and then a guitar staff and bass staff.
    The score is optimized to save space on the pages.
    The Guitar notation sometime goes across the lyrics line and that’s bad. I tried to move down the last two staves but this does not seem to work. Because I have the feeling that I put the extra space: between the guitar and the previous staff and not between the guitar and the first staff. What if I want to put space between two staves which are not in sequence? Like the first and the fourth, Having an optimized layout?

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