Beyond Defaults : Take Control of Note Spacing in Finale

Music spacing (historically referred to  as “punctuation”) is controlled by a mathematical ratio in Finale. At any point in time, this equation determines the horizontal placement of notes and related musical objects within each measure and across each system to create the appropriate balance of music notation density on each page.

Note spacing is more than simply assigning a specific width for each note duration; a number of variables interact to affect how the final music music notation output looks on the page. These variables include stems, flags, accidentals, articulations, ties, chord symbols, lyrics and much more.

Finale’s music spacing acts on three key areas to achieve consistent note spacing results: (a) mathematically perfect spacing between notes of different durations (b) additional event spacing or “padding” of specific objects to prevent collisions, and (c) lyric spacing, where music is theoretically spaced to fit the words instead of the words fitting the music.

If you examine music  note spacing (punctuation) from various published sources, you’ll see that while there are definitely variations between publishers, as a general rule, all music publishers follow similar practices.

Historically, plate engravers of music measured widths from the left side of the characters. For instance, the distance between two quarter notes is measured by the space from the left side of the first notehead (or rest) to the left side of the next notehead (or rest).

Finale provides professional looking note spacing results by default, so that even casual users can achieve properly balanced looking scores and parts. However, as you might expect, Finale offers a great deal more flexibility and control than these defaults. You might be surprised at how much power Finale has under the hood here.

Let’s take a closer look…


Note spacing can either be applied automatically or manually to a selected area as you enter music into Finale.

In addition to spacing the notes themselves, Finale provides additional controls to avoid collisions of lyrics, articulations, chord symbols etc. wherever possible. These options are found in the Music Spacing section of Document Settings.

When you lock the score layout prior to spacing the music, Finale will work within the constraints of the locked layout to give you the best possible note spacing it can, following the system constraints currently in force.

Finale offers detailed customizable music spacing options, which include being able to change the Scaling Factor (width ratio between notes of different durations), or to assign individual specific widths for each note duration.

Note Spacing Libraries: Finale 26 comes with five different spacing allotment libraries; Loose Spacing, Medium Spacing, Tight Spacing, Fibonacci Spacing and Fibonacci Spacing with Edited Dots.

You can also create your own custom music spacing options, which  can be saved as a Library file that you can then load into other scores.

File Menu > Save Library… (Load Library)

You can turn off auto-spacing in Finale > Preferences > Edit > Automatic Music Spacing, which allows you to selectively re-space different sections of the music manually at any time throughout your score. With auto-spacing turned off, you apply note spacing manually only at such time as you direct.

Preferences > Edit > Automatic Settings

You can apply different note spacing widths to different areas of the same score. For instance, you can re-space a single page so that a multi rest shows at the end of that page to facilitate a page turn, then open a different music spacing library to re-space a single system wider or narrower so that a phrase appears more cohesive, or even re-space a single measure.

Finally, you can manually tweak the spacing of specific beats, independent of the software’s spacing algorithm using fine-grain tools like Measure Spacing handlesBeat Spacing handles and Special Tools. These are essentially manual “grid” controls which can either be incorporated with existing music spacing, or can completely override Finale’s spacing defaults for a page, a bar, or even a single beat. This allows you to give preference to spaces that are more important to the rhythm and the flow of music.

Beat Spacing Handles allow very detailed control.


The  JW Note Spacing Plugin by Jari Williamsson includes the five music spacing allotment libraries referred to above in an easy to use plugin. In addition, Jari has included a few other useful note spacing presets: “Square Root of 2” scaling (try it!) and also, a preset called “Optical Spacing” which replicates the spacing table algorithm used by Sibelius. (More on working with Spacing Tables in Finale in a moment).


As note values get successively  larger, they are assigned more space. But each note does not simply receive the amount of horizontal space exactly equivalent to its rhythmic duration.

This type of note spacing is called “proportional notation”. Some late 20th and early 21st-century scores use proportional notation to clarify complex rhythmic relationships or to facilitate the placement of timelines or other graphics directly in the score. While easy to create this type of note spacing in Finale, it is generally not in common use.

In Document Options > Music Spacing > Spacing Widths, Finale calculates note spacing using a “Scaling Factor” which is based on Fibonacci numbers – making each successively larger (non-dotted) note value 1.618 times wider than the previous one. Importantly, this spacing ratio is not fixed – it can be user controlled.

(For comparison, the “proportional notation” spacing referred to above would have a “Scaling Factor” of 2. Each successively larger (non-dotted) note value would be twice as wide as the previous one.)

By default, Finale assigns the Quarter Note / Crotchet to be its “Reference Duration”. This duration is assigned a physical amount of horizontal space called the “Reference Width”.

To quickly change the overall note spacing to something wider or narrower, (while still following the default “Golden Ratio“), simply change the Reference Width and re-space.

In Document > Document Options… > Music Spacing, click the “Spacing Widths…” button to open the Spacing Widths sub-dialog, then enter a smaller or larger “Reference Width” value.

For instance, if you change the reference width to 3.25 spaces, the spatial relationships between all of the different durations will stay the same, but the overall spacing will become a little tighter:

In Finale 26, under the “Reference Width”field, note the default value in the “Scaling Factor” field of 1.6179. This number rounds to 1.618.

Try changing the music spacing “scaling factor” in Finale from the default “Fibonacci Spacing” to 1.4142 which is the square root of two (e.g. √2), then respace. (This is one of the scaling factors included in the JW Note Spacing plugin referenced above).


In addition to fixed-ratio spacing, Finale has its own customizable Spacing Table for laying out your music, where each duration can be assigned a specific width, rather than using the Scaling Factor.

Dorico and Sibelius use Spacing Tables rather than a fixed ratio to create Note Spacing. Of course, Finale 26 and earlier also has this capability. Go to Document Options > Music Spacing > Spacing Widths. Select the Spacing Width Table radio button.

For now, check “Use Default Width if Duration Not In Table”.  Now, click the Widths… button. You can use the Next and Previous buttons to scroll through the table and see what widths are currently assigned to each You’ll notice that Finale allows you to set individual widths in its table for both non-dotted and dotted values from 64th notes to double whole notes:

Sibelius refers to the note spacing table which determines its punctuation as “Optical Spacing”. To  recreate this “optical” note spacing table in Finale, we first want to duplicate the widths for every non-dotted value from 16th notes (semiquavers) to double whole notes (breves). Since Sibelius does not have specific widths for individual dotted values in its Note Spacing Rule, simply delete any existing dotted note values for now and let the default width durations based on the current settings kick in. Of course, you can customize any aspect of this to taste at a later time for even more fine-grain control.

You should end up with 7 different spacing widths, plus a zero duration reference width at the start of the table. Here are the Default Sibelius values, all in spaces:

• Duration = 0, spacing width = 3.5 spaces (the “reference” width for values not listed)
• Duration (optional) = 128, spacing width = 1.41 spaces (32nd note – or “short note” in Sibelius)
• Duration = 256, spacing width = 1.94 spaces (16th note in Sibelius)
• Duration = 512, spacing width = 2.53 spaces (8th note in Sibelius)
• Duration = 1024, spacing width = 3.5 spaces (quarter note in Sibelius)
• Duration = 2048, spacing width = 5.94 spaces (half note in Sibelius)
• Duration = 4096, spacing width = 8.19 spaces (whole note in Sibelius)
• Duration = 8192, spacing width = 10.56 spaces (breve in Sibelius)

As you scroll back through the list to check your entries, you’ll notice that with the exception of the reference width of 3.5 spaces, the fractional part of the numbers appear differently after the decimal point. Don’t worry, this is because Sibelius rounds its spacing table values; these non-rounded values in Finale are very, very close. Be sure to apply the changes before exiting the main Document Settings dialog. You can also Save the table  as a Library by going to File > Save Library > Music Spacing for recall at any time into another score.


Beat Spacing: Each beat is spaced non-linearly first, then spaced within the beat linearly. Utilities > Music Spacing > Apply Beat Spacing

Time Signature Spacing: With this option, each note is spaced linearly regardless of duration according to the time signature. Utilities > Music Spacing > Apply Time Signature Spacing.

See also: Measure Spacing handlesBeat Spacing handles and Special Tools.

That’s it! If you have any questions or would like to add some info, please let me know in the comments.


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One Reply to “Beyond Defaults : Take Control of Note Spacing in Finale”

  1. A note about JW Note Spacing – it is not honoring manual placement (incorporate) in document options. This is creating a lot of extra work on my current project.

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