Systems and horizontal spacing

    The horizontal spacing algorithm in MuseScore determines the width of each measure, which in turn determines how many measures will fit on each system. While this will produce good results in many cases, there are also situations where you may wish to override this and have fewer or more measures on a system, or to have them spaced differently within the system.


    The main tools used to control systems and horizontal spacing are described below.

    System breaks

    A system break causes MuseScore to end a system after a specific measure or horizontal frame, even if more measures would fit. To add a system break, select a measure (or any element within it) or a frame, and then click the System break icon in the Layout palette:

    System break

    You can also use the keyboard shortcut Enter. Both methods of adding breaks also work while in note input mode.

    After adding a break, the icon will appear above the measure you added it to:

    System break appearing in the score

    As with other formatting elements, system breaks appear in gray and will not print, and their on-screen display can be disabled via the Properties panel.

    Layout stretch

    You can increase or decrease the width of measures, and their contents will stretch accordingly. The calculated width of a measure is multiplied by a layout stretch factor that you can set numerically for selected measures, but you can also use commands to increase or decrease the stretch of selected measures directly without needing to set a specific number.

    To change the layout stretch directly, you can select one or more measures, then use one of the commands in Format→Stretch:

    • Increase layout stretch: increase the width of the measure (shortcut })
    • Decrease layout stretch: decrease the width of the measure (shortcut {)
    • Reset layout stretch: reset the width of the measure

    To set the layout stretch value numerically, you can select one or more measures and then set the Measure width in the Appearance section of the Properties panel.

    Measure width setting

    As you can see if you watch this setting, each press of } or { increments or decrements this value by 0.1.

    You can also set this value for a single measure by right-clicking it, selecting Measure properties, and setting Layout stretch in the resulting dialog.

    Horizontal frames

    A horizontal frame is a container for empty space, text, or images, that can be placed between measures in a score. Although you can place text or images within horizontal frames (see Using frames for additional content), one of their main purposes is to create empty space within systems, as shown below.

    To add a horizontal frame to your score, select a measure and then click the Insert horizontal frame icon in the Layout palette:

    Insert horizontal frame

    The frame will be inserted in front of the selected measure. If the measure is at the beginning of a system, the frame may actually appear at the end of the previous system, if there is room.

    You can also use the commands in the Add→Frames menu.

    You can then change the width of the frame using the Width setting in the Properties panel, or by selecting the frame and dragging its handle or using the Left and Right cursor keys to change the width. Keyboard adjustment occurs in steps of 0.5 sp, or 1.0 sp if you hold Ctrl (Cmd on Mac).

    • Insert horizontal frame: insert a horizontal frame before the selected measure
    • Append horizontal frame: append a horizontal frame to the end of the score

    Keep measures on the same system

    To keep measures together for the purpose of determining if they fit on a given system or not, you can select them and then click the Keep measures on the same system icon on the Layout palette:

    Keep measures

    When MuseScore is deciding how measures to place on a given system, and it encounters such a group and determines that they do not all fit, MuseScore will move the entire group to the next system.


    These features can be used in a variety of ways, but there are a handful of tasks that are especially common.

    Placing fewer measures on a system

    It is always possible to get fewer measures on a system than what MuseScore places by default. To end a system on a particular measure or horizontal frame, select it and add a system break.

    Placing more measures on a system

    While it is not always physically possible to fit more measures onto a given system at the current page and staff size and spacing settings—there may simply be “too many notes” to fit without overlapping—you can reduce the widths of selected measures.

    To place more measures on a system:

    1. Select and delete any system break that might be present already
    2. Select the measures you wish to combine onto one system
    3. Reduce stretch for the selected measures until they fit (e.g., by pressing {)

    Depending on how close it was to fitting before, it might take multiple Decrease layout stretch operations before the stretch is reduced enough for them all to fit. But it may also be the case that it just is not possible without reducing your overall page or staff size, or spacing settings. See Score size and spacing for more information.

    Changing the relative spacing of measures within a system

    The default spacing is designed to make sure that all notes of a given duration on the same system take the same amount of space, unless more space is required to make room for markings between specific notes. But there can be cases where it might make sense to increase the spacing in one or more measures, thus correspondingly decreasing the spacing in the others (or vice versa).

    To change the spacing in one or more measure, simply select them and increase or decrease the layout stretch as described above.

    Creating space between measures

    To create space between two measures, select the second measure, then insert and adjust a horizontal frame as described above.

    Creating space at the beginning or end of a system

    To add space at the beginning of a system, select the first measure of the system then insert and adjust a horizontal frame as described above. You may also need to place a system break on the last measure of the previous system to ensure that the horizontal frame does not appear there instead.

    Note that for the first system of a score, the First system indent style setting (in Format→Style→Score) automatically creates space. See Score size and spacing for more information.

    To add space at the end of a system, first make sure there is no system break on the last measure, then select the next measure and insert a horizontal frame. Then add a system break to the horizontal frame itself if needed.

    Adjusting the width of the final system

    The last system of a score will normally be right-justified (stretched to fill the width of the page) if its default width exceeds the Last system fill threshold as set in Format→Style→Score. See Score size and spacing for more information. This normally produces good results, but there may be cases where the last system is filled but would look better if it were not, or vice versa.

    For cases where the system is filled but you would prefer it not to be, you can increase the threshold. A value of 100% will mean the last system is never filled (since its width will never exceed that threshold). Conversely, if the last system is not filled but you want it to be, then decrease the threshold. A value of 0% will mean the last system will always stretch (because its width will always exceed that threshold).

    Normally, however, you should select a threshold value that will accommodate future changes to the score that might result in more or fewer measures ending up on the last system. For instance, if your last system currently has several measures and you force it to be filled by setting the threshold to 0%, this might look bad if the layout changes in the future and the last system has only one measure. Or if the last system has only one measure and you force it not to be filled by setting the threshold to 100%, this might look bad if the layout changes in the future and the last system ends up with several measures. This is why a more middle-of-the-road value usually makes sense.

    It is usually even better, however, to plan system breaks to avoid having the last system being less full than others.

    Grouping measures

    As discussed in Score size and spacing, MuseScore normally fits as many measures as it can on each system. This can sometimes result in two or more musically-related measures being split across a system break, when it might be easier to read if they were kept together on the next system. While you could add a system break to the measure before the group, this could easily turn out to be counterproductive if the layout changes later and all the measures could have fitted on that system. What you really want is to be able to specify that a group of measures should be kept together if possible, whether that means keeping them on the original system or moving them all together to the next.

    In a word processor, a “non-breaking space” character can be used to keep two words together. If the words both fit on the current line, then the non-breaking space acts like a regular space. But if the two words cannot both fit on a line, word wrap will move them both together to the next line rather than split them apart at the non-breaking space.

    In MuseScore, you can use the Keep measures on the same system icon in the Layout palette to group selected measures in the same way. These measures will be treated as a single block for the purpose of deciding whether to place them on one system or the next.

    Note that this will not allow you to fit more measures on a system than your current settings would normally allow. It simply tells MuseScore that it should keep them all together if possible.