Note Spacing in Finale & Sibelius : Matching Music In Print

Q: While I was reading your article about note spacing in Sibelius and Finale, an interesting idea came to mind: Do you think it is possible to recreate the exact note spacing of a certain publisher from a printed page or pdf file in Sibelius?

A: Great question! I assume you are referring to punctuation (the word used to describe the horizontal spacing between music characters).

Note spacing, or punctuation,  works in tandem with the physical layout of measures on the systems / pages, which is historically referred to as “Casting Off”.

For starters, it’s worth noting that duplicating a publisher’s *exact* horizontal music spacing (punctuation) involves more than consistent numerical settings. This is partly because there have been so many different types of processes for engraving music over the years:

  1. Punched on plate
  2. Lithograph
  3. Autographed (drawn)
  4. Stamping
  5. Photomechanical
  6. Music Typewriter
  7. Acetate and Rub-off sheets
  8. Computer

…and partly because punctuation, as it turns out, isn’t necessarily an exact science, and can fall into three basic categories:

  1. Mathematically perfect
  2. Mathematically imperfect
  3. Lyrical

In addition, other factors besides notes can affect note spacing. For instance, accidentals, note flags, articulations, material in other voices etc …

However, in spite of the variations which are inherent in all of the above  processes and categories, it should be possible to closely approximate the punctuation (horizontal spacing) of a particular published piece in either Sibelius or Finale by taking some measurements and setting up your software to duplicate these.

Note that you can  even apply different rules to different sections of a score to increase or decrease spacing widths, or approximate the “mathematically imperfect” and “lyrical” punctuation categories above, or address a specific concern where some circumstance requires a special consideration. More on that in a moment…

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Sibelius Quick Tip : Change the Number of Staves Per Page

In every score, Sibelius allows a specific number of staves to show on each page. Sibelius formats page one with the first stave lower than all subsequent pages by default, to allow for the title and composer credit. There are two places to overrule defaults, to allow you to fit more systems on the first page as well as subsequent pages.

If your title and composer text placement and size will allow it, the one method to allow more staves on the first page only is to change the margin of the top staff on page one. In Sibelius 6, choose Layout>Document Setup. In Sibelius 7.x, choose Document Setup… from the Document Setup Group of the Layout tab.

When the dialog comes up, reduce the distance in the Top Staff margin box for the first page:


If you want to generally have more staves on every page, you can reduce the distance between *all* systems (and / or staves).

In Sibelius 6, go to House Style > Engraving Rules > Staves. In Sibelius 7.x or later, choose Staves Engraving Rules from the Staff Spacing Group of the Layout Tab.

In the Layout section, for a part, look for “spaces between systems” (you would start here for a single staff part, for instance). Lower the value to make the systems appear closer together so more will fit per page. For a score, you might want to reduce the value of “spaces between staves”.


Note also that there are settings here for allowing extra space based on certain criteria, such as whether or not a staff has lyrics under it, or tempo markings (system objects) above it.

The measurements in these fields are in spaces.

Controlling Grouped Magnetic Layout in Sibelius

Q: I’m trying to move bar numbers on a score in Sib 7 (mac) independently. I’ve got them centered on every measure below the last staff (bass)and below the winds so they show up sort of in the middle of the score as well.

I’ve assigned them a distance that works for the most part, but there are a few that need to be wiggled to avoid collisions. When I move them on one staff, they of course move on the other thus causing a collision on that staff. Is there a way to assign a row differently on a score so they can be controlled independently?

A: In addition to being able keep individual objects from colliding with each other, the Magnetic Layout of Sibelius has the ability to group, or “lock” similar types of objects together, so that they avoid collisions as a group.

Generally, when preparing music, it is desirable to keep similar types of text, such as Tempo Marks, Rehearsal Marks or Bar Numbers in the same vertical and horizontal location relative to the staff for every occurrence wherever possible. In addition, lines such as piano pedal lines are typically grouped along a common baseline, as are dynamics or chord symbols, if the music is inside the staff without ledger lines. Placing these objects at a consistent location relative to the staff or note allows the musicians and the conductor to focus on reading the music without distraction.

The Magnetic Layout Feature of Sibelius automatically groups a number of similar Text and  Line objects together:


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