Default staff size per instrument?

I’m trying to find out if there is a “Dorico way” of handling default staff sizes for instrument parts.

MOLA (Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association) includes the following guidelines for instrument part readability:

The most readable staff size for all instruments is 8.5 mm (measured from the bottom to the top of the staff). Although 8.0 mm is readable for winds, it is less so for strings. Wind players can read music from staves that measure 7.5 mm, but this is very problematic for string players. Anything smaller than 7.0 mm is unacceptable for orchestral parts. Anything larger than 8.5 mm should be avoided, as it is distracting to players.

Let’s say that I wanted to set up my copy of Dorico so that every time a Violin part was generated it would have a staff size of 8.5mm, and every time a Flute part was generated it would have a staff size of 7.5mm. Whether these are “good” sizes is not relevant; my question is whether I can set this kind of default per-instrument staff size in Dorico.

I know I can set up a default for all instruments and that I can modify the layout for each player individually once a player has been added in Setup.

The obvious place to look was in the instrument definition, but staff size is not part of an instrument’s definition.

I’m trying to create a “house style” for all my existing compositions. I’d prefer not to have to refer to some written list and manually edit each part and then, if I change my mind, to have to go back and revise all existing scores manually.

You should be able to create Project Template to do this.

You would set the required staff sizes in Layout Options and then do File>Save as Project Template

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Yeah, staff sizes are Layout-specific. There won’t be a way to set this on a per-instrument basis, short of doing what @Janus has suggested and having a template of Layouts that are as you would like them.

A slightly helpful feature would be the Library Manager. If you change your template, you can import the Layout Options from individual Layouts into an existing project.

All my projects are existing projects.

The advice I found (by searching) is to create project templates and then import my flows from the old projects to the new ones. I had better get it right the first time, because if I change my mind about the right staff size, I’d have to repeat this with every project.

Also, the solution seems awkward. I wouldn’t necessarily want a single template for, say, a string quartet and an orchestral score, but I would want the same staff size for the violin parts in either. I would wind up with a number of project templates, many of which would need tweaking if I ever changed my mind about the staff size for an instrument. And then, I would still need to use the trick above to update the existing works.

Yes. But you asked for a way to create a House style - why would you be wanting to change your mind?

I’m using the term loosely. I’m hardly a publishing house with decades of institutional experience. It’s likely I’ll get something wrong and would need to make a change.

Even if you were able to change the staff size on a per-instrument basis (is that the correct grammar??!), I don’t think it would automatically transfer to old projects upon opening. I.E. you would still need to have a “transferring” step in there somewhere.

I could be wrong!

Antonio, I would step back from the idea that staff sizes are instrument specific.
A violinist playing a string quartet has the part for himself. A violinist in an orchestra has to share a part, thus the staff size has to be bigger (both players watch the part from further away and at the same time from a sideward angle). This is just one of very many aspects.


I’m not sure how we could best accommodate the desire to have part layouts for different instruments default to different staff sizes. It’s an attractive idea, as it would take another step closer to ensuring that things that perhaps an inexperienced preparer of music might not think of are taken care of, but there are a lot of factors that would need to be considered.

Staff size can’t be set on its own without consideration for page size and margins, for example, and if you start adding multiple instruments to a part layout that have conflicting defaults, what should Dorico do then?

Good point–thanks for the observation. Let me sum up my thoughts:

As far as Dorico 5.1 is concerned, one option would be to create a spreadsheet of instruments and staff sizes. It might have a column for where a score is shared and a column for where it is not (you imply that there might be additional columns, although I am not sure what else I would need). Then I would create template projects, using my spreadsheet reference to set the instrument part sizes, and import my existing flows into projects created using the templates.

My other option also uses the reference spreadsheet, but I skip the templates and set the staff sizes directly in each existing project. As it turns out, I have scores for odd instrument combinations and so templates don’t buy me much (e.g. one piece for cello and french horn, one for clarinet and bassoon, etc.).

As for future Dorico versions, let’s imagine that the instrument definitions were revised so that they included a part staff size setting and were also managed by the Library Manager (currently, it appears they are separate). I could then create a reference library that I could apply to whatever project I wanted. If I had a different set of defaults for when players had to share a score, I would create a second reference library and use the Library Manager to apply those setting to the instrument parts.

Any solution that requires that I maintain a master list outside of the software seems a bit of a kludge. However, I understand that that’s my only option now.

Given that it would be a pain to change later, are there any good standards I could use? I gather that there is no single, official standard. I could gather a bunch of scores and try to reverse engineer the sizes that major music publishers use, I suppose.

I just tried creating a score using Dorico’s Classical Orchestra template. As far as I can tell, it’s telling me that everything is rastral size 3, with space size 1.75mm. The size for the flute part seems the same as the size for the cello part and is at the lower end of the MOMA recommended sizes. This doesn’t seem right, but I’m no expert.

Just another observation: there are players, who play bigger instruments, like cello and double bass. Naturally they have more distance to their music stand, than - let’s say the violas. It is good to take all these aspects into consideration. Let’s not start talking about paper sizes…
It is good, that Dorico offers all the flexibility one needs to cover all these cases.

Hmm…I did some more searching and I came back to the MOLA guidelines in my OP. I went directly to MOLA to make sure I had the latest, greatest version. These were somewhat different than the version I quoted in the OP:

The most readable staff size for all instruments is 7.5 mm (measured from the bottom to the top
of the staff). Although 7.0 mm may be readable for winds as they generally use their own stands, it is less so for strings because they share a stand. Anything smaller than 7.0 mm is unacceptable, and anything larger than 8.5 mm should be avoided.

So the simplest solution might just be to use 7.5 mm for all instrument parts, period (the full score is a separate story and not part of my discussion).

MOLA also advises a minimum US paper size of 9x12. This is fine for professional publishers and people with large format printers, but not an option for most amateur production. A score produced for 9x12 paper and then scaled to 8.5x11 will shrink the staff size. And the future is people using tablet displays; I don’t know if musicians are carrying around 9x12/A4 tablets (the iPad is said to be the most popular and it has a screen size slightly smaller than letter-size).

If the composer is not in charge of the medium used for viewing a score, worrying about the staff size may be a pointless concern. Again, maybe just use 7.5mm for everything and hope for the best.

I use 7.5mm and I am quite the popular guy for it.

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Aren’t you supposed to be on holiday? :slight_smile:

I’m not sure what staff size has to do with page size/margins. You minimize page turns by making the staff size as small as possible while keeping it legible. The minimum legible staff size for a specific situation (shared/not shared score, player far or near to score) is a fixed quantity. Once you have the minimum legible staff size, page turns are minimized for any page size/margin setting. But perhaps the connection is that, with larger page sizes, one can go beyond the minimum legibility threshold.

As for default staff sizes, in my mind these were always intended for parts with a single instrument, not for the full score or for any part with more than one instrument. If you add an instrument to a single-instrument part, you are on your own.

And I realize this is complicated. What I’d like is to be able to set up a default and then change the default and magically have all my scores updated. The truth is that this still requires going through every score and checking (and probably re-doing) the entire layout.

The fallback would be to explicitly copy the new defaults into the current score. Even then, I would only want to alter the the parts that had used the prior default; anything that had been manually set would not be affected (unless, of course, I reset it to use the default part size).

As I said, it’s complicated, and I’m not surprised this feature is missing.

Or you could just send your score to Philip at NYC Music Services and let them take care of it.

Page size and margin size really do have to be considered when setting staff size, though. Readability isn’t just about staff size; it’s also to do with how the eye is drawn, and the amount of white space makes a difference.

The other thing is that in commercial music often you’ll want to try and get a (typically four bar) phrase onto each system, which on smaller paper sizes is going to mean a compromise: either a smaller staff size or narrow margins.

Here in the U.K. we print film session parts on A4, with narrow margins (sometimes 8mm) but at least 7.5mm staff sizes. I’ll bring the staff size down a touch for piano parts (as pianists sit closer) and may go down a touch for wind parts, but this is an “as necessary” compromise rather than a rule.

When working for publishers (typically Chester Novello) we print on a larger paper size, and 7.5mm staff size is perceived as smaller, just because the paper’s bigger. If anything we size up slightly for larger paper sizes, but it still gives us the advantage of being able to fit more systems per page, and thus more options for good page turns.

(Philip at NYC Music Services operates a great printing service. As an engraver, he also tends to work at around 7.5mm. I happen to have some of his Sibelius files here; again, tiny fluctuations in staff size are rare and as necessary.)


Does he work for free? :slight_smile:

Seriously, I’m an amateur composer. Composing music has been a net financial loss. No one has ever paid me to perform one of my pieces; generally, it’s the other way around. Keeping the Dorico team fed is about as far as I want to go…

Thanks for the info. In my world, the target is letter-size paper and maybe tablet displays.

Ironically, I tried to set 7.5 mm as my default. Dorico tells me it can give me 7.4 mm.

Maybe someone can explain how I should work with the Layout options.

As is probably clear, I’m just an amateur musician, and not a professional engraver. I am trying to work toward producing a consistent set of scores for music I’ve written.

My current approach is headed this way:

  • Use the factory default for most things
  • Set up defaults for anything I want to tweak.
  • When I work on an existing score, bring up the Library Manager and compare the current settings to the User defaults.
  • If there are any differences, set the current score to match the User defaults.

Page Layouts are part of the Library Manager. I created a piano score. The page layout gives me layout options I can set for the “full score” and for the piano part.

Let’s say that I want to set up Dorico so that the page layout defaults are 7.5 mm for all staffs in any part. I’m not sure how to do that. If I set the default staff size to 7.5 mm for the piano part, what does that mean? Does it mean that in new scores all parts get set to 7.5 mm? Or just piano parts?

The other thing that’s come out of this discussion is that staff sizes are at least influenced by page size and instrument. If I make a change to my “house style” by setting a new default value for something, I will go through all my scores, bring up the Library Manager, and set everything to match the new User settings–but I want to skip matching the Page Layout settings (or manually revise them if needed), which are score-specific. The defaults there appear to be just the starting point for new scores.

This is a bit irritating. Rather than quickly setting everything in the Library Manager to match my “master” settings, I have to make sure certain things remain project specific. There are a bazillion settings in the Library Manager. I am now unsure whether there are other settings in that big pile that are also score-specific. Any clues?

Firstly, just make sure the terminology is correct: they’re called “Layouts” and not “Page Layouts”.

Any score or part that you would print is called a Layout. By default there is a Full Score and a Part Layout. You can adjust settings in either of them and save as a new default. Now, any Layout that you create using the Full Score defaults will have those settings, ditto with any Layout that uses the Part defaults.

You can change the Layout Options for multiple Layouts at the same time by selecting the desired combination in the Layout Options dialog before adjusting.

Changing default Full Score or Part Layout Options will only affect new Layouts created; you need to manually change existing Layouts (or just create a new set of Layouts for all players).

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Mine too. I have a template that I constantly tweak as I’m working on a project and decide to change something. E.G. if I like a particular thing, I’ll change it in my project as well as in my template.

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