Note / horizontal spacing using a common rhythmic unit / geometrical layout


I’m looking to recreate in Dorico something I used to do in Sibelius to get a certain look and feel with note spacing, and I’m wondering if anyone has some tips - I can’t seem to find my specific question on the forum already, though this is rather idiosyncratic…

I sibelius I used to have a hidden staff with a common rhythmic unit written out continuously, usually the smallest practical value on the page, which would force the music to be spaced out evenly; long notes stretch out to be spatially equivalent to the shortest notes. I like this because in my own scores I like to represent time as evenly as possible. It looks IMO many times neater than the usual way of more elastic spacing relative to the written durations.

It might be an unconventional idea (or not?!), but I’d like to recreate it in Dorico, because I’m not satisfied with how it spaces things out (again, it’s not bad, it’s just that I’m a perfectionist or weird with my own music).

The approach in Sibelius won’t work in Dorico - if I add an extra staff to a flow, fill it with rhythms (notes or rest), for example, semiquavers, then it won’t matter, because once I hide a staff, Dorico ignores the content.

Below is an example to illustrate my point. The spacing here isn’t a problem visually (obviously it looks fine), this is just a simplified example to try to demonstrate the idea in principle and problem.

A = the musical content with default spacing
B = ‘A’ plus an extra staff with the rhythms across the page to achieve the desired spacing
C = When the second staff is hidden (after double clicking on the Staff Break), the musical content’s spacing reverts to as it was in A.

If anyone has any ideas on how I could make this work in Dorico I’d be very interested - or it would also be interesting to know whether what I’m doing is already a ‘thing’ historically in engraving-world, or just my own weird thing.

One possibility I considered was to make an instrument that is somehow invisible via scaling or opacity yet active (so it’s rhythm affect the spacing), but I haven’t yet got this to work.


If you investigate LAYOUT OPTIONS/Note Spacing and experiment with the settings there, you can come pretty close to this without resorting to “helping” staves.

This is what is referred to as Time Signature Spacing in Finale and has been available there for 30 years, but other than that, I have no idea of any historical evidence… :slight_smile:

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Hey Nick, am I having deja vu or have you asked about essentially proportional notation before? There should be at least a few threads on the forum as it’s definitely come up here and there. Here’s one example:

Thanks Lillie! I think you’re right I did ask about this when I was first getting to grips with Dorico but have left it on the back-burner until now.

I think I missed the post that you shared - I must have missed a search term.

But, it looks like for what I want I need a spacing ratio of 2, and this should do the trick (although Fred says this looks terrible! lol). I’ll experiment with this - thanks again for your royal college of knowledge

@fratveno interesting to hear that it was indeed a ‘thing’ in Finale!


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Just glad to know I’m not imagining things xD good luck with it! It might take a little bit of tweaking to get it exactly how you want but the theory should hold up. You can also use note spacing changes for sections within flows if you want to alter the ratio from the default in the layout.

Thanks - yes I just checked (I forgot about the custom ratio, sorry) and it’s already at 2, so my example above seems to suggest that this parameter alone doesn’t quite do the job.

Any thoughts on other global settings that I could tweak to try to get this to work without a ghost staff?

Good to know that you can alter settings between flows!

I expect there’s a combination of the different parameters (default space for crotchets, minimum space for short notes, and the ratio) that will get there (or at least relatively close) but I confess I’ve not really dug into it myself.

FWIW, this is what I used for the random picture above…

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You can alter settings between notes if needed! Engrave mode> Engrave menu > Note spacing change

For sure, thanks, however I’m looking for a global solution rather than altering individual notes.

Yes I don’t have the technical lingo to express exactly how to do this in engraving terms other than to use a continuous underlying rhythm to create or force a sort of grid.

I will do some tweaking - thanks @fratveno for those settings

(sorry for multiple replies) FWIW I’ve got it looking like the example using:

But this gives very squashed 16th+32nd notes… yet if I increase the minimum space for short notes then it doesn’t work proportionally - so it seems to be a trade off between strict proportionality and no-squashing.

You could try using a slightly smaller notehead if you haven’t changed that already - go to Engrave > Engraving Options > Notes > Noteheads and switch to the “Default” notehead, which is slightly smaller. (Dorico’s factory default is to use the “Larger” noteheads, not the “Default” ones. This is known by the team :wink: )

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