OpenScore: Matching the layout of the source edition

Posted 5 years ago

It is extremely helpful if the layout of the transcription matches the layout of the source edition as closely as possible. This means that the transcription and the source edition should have:

  • The same number of measures per system.
  • The same number of systems per page.

This makes it much easier to spot any mistakes when it comes to the review, but don't wait until the last minute to make these changes! If you ensure the layout matches the source edition from the beginning then it makes it much easier for you to do the transcription, and means you are less likely to make mistakes in the first place.

Layout breaks

There are three kinds of layout break. You should:

  • Add a system break to the final measure of each system in the source edition.
  • Add a page break to the final measure of each page in the source edition.
  • Not add any section breaks at all!
    • Instead, start a new score for each individual song/movement/section, all based on the same template score.
    • Remember to hide (NOT delete) any instruments that are not used in the current movement.

Having added layout breaks in all the proper places and hidden any instruments that are not needed, you may still find that:

  • there are some extra breaks (automatic breaks) in places that you don't want them
  • there are some pages with lots of blank space (i.e. wasted space)

We will deal with these in the next section.

Optimizing the layout

The priorities are:

  1. Ensure the layout matches the original.
  2. Ensure as little space is wasted as possible.


MuseScore has a feature called "stretch" which is used to control how tightly notes can fit in a particular measure. DO NOT USE THIS FEATURE FOR TRANSCRIPTIONS! The stretch feature is useful to control how much music can appear on a given line, but we are already using layout breaks for that purpose.

If you have already adjusted the stretch then follow the steps in the handbook to reset the stetch to its default value.


Spacing is similar to stretch, but it controls all measures at once rather than just a few of them (it is like a "global stretch"). We want to set the spacing to its minimum value so that we can fit as many notes as possible into each measure. To do this:

  • MuseScore 2: Go to Style > General > Bar and set spacing to 1 (the minimum).
  • MuseScore 3: As above, but Style > General is now called Format > Style.

Lowering the scaling reduces the need for automatic breaks, so it is more likely that pages and systems will only be broken in places where you have added a system break or a page break.


Scaling adjusts the distance between individual lines of the staff, which affects the size of noteheads and other musical symbols in proportion. We want the scaling to be as large as possible so that the music is easy to read, but not too large otherwise the notes will no longer fit and we'll start getting breaks in the wrong places again.

  • MuseScore 2: Go to Layout > Page Settings and look for the setting called "staff space (sp)".
  • MuseScore 3: As above, but Layout > Page Settings is now called Format > Page Settings.

The trick to finding the optimum scaling is as follows:

  1. Set the staff space to a very small value (e.g. 0.1 mm).
  2. Check to see how many pages there are in the score.
  3. Increase the staff space to the highest value that doesn't increase the number of pages.

This guarantees that there are no extra page breaks, but there may still be a few extra line breaks so you'll need to look out for these and further reduce the scaling as necessary to remove them.

Hide empty staves

Many editions temporarily hide instruments that are silent for a whole system, so some systems have fewer staves than others. In MuseScore, this feature is known as "hide empty staves", and it is found in the following places:

  • MuseScore 2: Go to Style > General.
  • MuseScore 3: Go to Format > Style.

However, you should wait until you have entered all of the notes in the score before you consider enabling this feature as it is difficult to enter notes in a staff that is hidden!

If you do enable "hide empty staves", make sure you also enable the option "don't hide staves in the first system" as it is helpful if each movement has a list of all instruments that appear in the movement. You should also check the scaling (staff space) again as the optimum value might have changed now that some staves are hidden.

Further adjustments

You should not make any changes to layout settings other than those mentioned above. Some editions may require further adjustments to be made before they are ready to be published, but these will be made after the score has been reviewed. If you think further adjustments are necessary then feel free to experiment and make suggestions when you submit the score for review, but make sure you submit a copy without them.

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When I adjust the layout this way, there is not enough room for slurs/hairpins/expression marks without significantly overlapping the notes in the instrumental parts. (Many ledger lines on most staves, and score full of hairpins.) My usual thought would be to decrease the staff space and increase the distance between staves in a system to allow for more legible music; can I do this on my score or should I leave it until after review?

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In reply to by mindspillage

We don't want to increase the distance between staves everywhere, just in the places where it is necessary to avoid a collision. The way to do this in MuseScore 2 is to add stave spacers, which is a long and thankless task! Happily, MuseScore 3 will adjust the distance automatically, so I'd just add all the notes and symbols for now and ignore the positioning until MuseScore 3 is released (not long to wait now!).