Quickly specify measurement units in Finale


In music notation, it’s common to have to work with multiple units of measurement in a single project. Because the most fundamental element of conventional Western music notation is the five-line staff, a space is a unit of measurement that is defined as the distance between two of those lines, and it is an essential component of figuring out good music engraving settings.

But because a music staff can practically appear at any size on the page (or screen), a space is not a fixed unit of measurement. There is no standards bureau that has agreed on its equivalence in other measurement systems; indeed, even among Finale, Sibelius, and Dorico, each of those programs have fixed the space differently, relative to other units of measurement.

In this first of two articles, we’ll explore the various measurement systems in use, how to set the global defaults in the various programs, and show you how to quickly override those defaults in Finale.

Then, in a following article, we’ll show you how to quickly override those defaults in Dorico.

The measurement systems

Speaking of those other measurement systems, they can include:

PointsTypically used to measure font sizes, these days, 1 point = 1⁄72 of an inch. A font size often used in a default text document is 12 pt.

Picas — Not often used in music, but related to points and inches, 1 pica = 1⁄6 of an inch, in modern times. It can be useful for horizontal measurements like the width of a column in a newspaper (remember those)?

Millimeters — Often used to set the staff size, and thus the space size; for instance, a typical staff size in Sibelius and MuseScore is 7 mm, and thus the space size is 1.75 mm, because there are 4 spaces in a staff, and 1.75 x 4 = 7. Millimeters are also used to measure page sizes and margins for ISO sized-paper (A4, A3, B4, etc.); A4 size is defined as 210 mm × 297 mm.

Centimeters — Any schoolchild will know that moving the decimal point of a millimeter reading one column to the left will result in the centimeter equivalent; often helpful to think of in manageable units that can be more easily converted to inches in one’s head: 1 inch = 2.54 cm.

Inches — A standard unit of measurement in the US, it is still used globally in some instances, and is the basis for other units of measurement (such as the point, above). It is also the basis of paper measurement, mostly in North America and some South American countries (“Letter” size paper is 8.5 x 11 inches), and used for margin sizes and other page-related document settings. Sometimes referred to as ANSI, for American National Standards Institute.

Changing the preferred unit of measurement

Now that you know what each of these measurement units are, it’s easy to see how you can easily encounter several of them repeatedly in the course of working within a single document. You might change the point size of a font; then adjust the staff size in millimeters; and then adjust your page margins in inches.

Finale and Dorico allow you to set the preferred unit of measurement on a global basis; in Finale, it’s in a Measurement Units submenu, which will be in the Finale menu if you’re on Mac, or the Edit menu if you’re on Windows:

The Finale menu on Mac; Windows users will find it in the Edit menu

This will propagate to all areas of the program where measurements are displayed, as well as controlling what unit is used for the page rulers.

In Dorico, it’s in Preferences > General > Preferred unit of measurement:

In Sibelius and MuseScore, it is not possible to set a preference for a unit of measurement, although you can do this in certain specific areas like the document/page settings, and, in the case of Sibelius, setting the measurement unit for Rulers in Preferences > Other:

Changing the unit of measurement on a case-by-case basis in Finale

Even though you may have set your measurement unit globally in Finale, it’s easy to change it elsewhere without needing to frequently revisit the Measurement Units submenu.

For instance, you may prefer to work in spaces when setting your engraving rules, but that’s not helpful when setting up your page format (in Document > Page Format), which is most likely set in inches if you’re working with US/ANSI-sized paper.

The Page Format dialog has a special Units drop-down menu in which you can change the measurement units while you’re working in that dialog, without disrupting your global preference setting.

You’ll also find the Units drop-down in the Document Options dialog, the Smart Shape Options dialog, and probably a few other places, if you look carefully!

But that’s not all. You can append the measurement unit to any numerical value you type into Finale.

For example, say you’re mostly doing page layout and are working with a default measurement unit of inches. But then you decide you need to quickly change the thickness of the staff line, which is measured in spaces, because it’s relative to the staff. This is found in Document Options > Stems.

Not only are Finale’s default staff lines too thin, especially at smaller staff sizes (in my opinion), but a value of 0.0076 inches is not particularly meaningful:

No problem. As a seasoned music engraver, you’ve found that a staff line thickness of around 1⁄8 of a space, or 0.125 spaces, works well for your life and lifestyle. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just type in 0.125 spaces and Finale would understand?


You can! Finale will automatically convert and apply the correct value as soon as you click Apply or OK.

Now, typing spaces over and over can be tiring, and let’s not even bother with typing centimeters or have the debate about the correct way to spell it. Fortunately, you can simply enter 0.125s— “s” for “spaces” — and Finale will get along just fine.

Here are all of the measurement units and abbreviations that you can use in Finale:

EVPUsEVPUs, evpus, e
inchesinches, inch, in, i, ”
centimeterscentimeters, cm, c
millimetersmillimeters, mm, m
picaspicas, p
pointspoints, pts, pt
spacesspaces, sp, s

By the way, did you notice that you can use millimeters with this method? When you’re overriding the global setting by including units, you have a millimeters option, even though that unit is not available in the Measurement Units submenu.

What is an EVPU, you ask? That’s an enigma

In a following article, we’ll show you how to quickly override the measurement unit defaults in Dorico.



    Awesome post ♥♥♥♥

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Enrique, always much appreciated!

  2. Ben Byram-Wigfield

    One other place in Finale where measurements are important is the pagesizes.txt file. You can set the available page sizes and their default margins sizes using a variety of units.

    (Putting A4 first will also make it the default in the Setup Wizard.)

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