Score preparation and production notes


Listen to the podcast episode

On the Scoring Notes podcast, David MacDonald and Philip Rothman discuss the essential elements of score preparation make a difference in the perception of your music, how it gets rehearsed and, ultimately, performed. Music notation software can help — but you need to know what to look for. Listen now:

Scoring Notes
Scoring Notes
Score preparation and production checklist (encore)

This post originally appeared on David MacDonald’s blog.

Final pass

  • Rehearsal marks: My target is for the conductor to always be able to see one without turning more than a page in either direction.
  • Cues
  • Redundancies
    • dynamics
    • meter
    • key signatures
    • instrument changes/mutes
  • collisions and near-collisions
  • indicate transposed or sounding pitch in the score

Position Rehearsal Marks plug-in in Sibelius
Cues in Dorico
Check Redundancies plug-in in Sibelius
Check Open and Mute plug-in in Sibelius
Optimize Staff Spacing in Sibelius
Going keyless in your score in Finale, Sibelius, and MuseScore
Keyless instruments in a keyed score, in Finale, Sibelius, and MuseScore


  • Careful with page turns and system breaks. You may wish to adjust the page justification settings.
  • It’s usually better to have more page turns that are comfortable than fewer that are tricky.
  • Try to aim for some rest before and/or after a page turn. (Before is best, but after is ok too.)
  • Try to keep system and staff spacing consistent. If you find you’re having to make a lot of adjustments for extreme registers or intricate dynamics, just change the spacing universally.

Manually adjust staves and systems in Sibelius
Get Started Fast Video: Layout in Sibelius
Layout and formatting in Sibelius
Optimize Staff Spacing in Sibelius


  • MOLA on parts: “Do not create wind parts with multiple instruments on a single staff; for instance, flutes 1 and 2 should be separate parts.”
  • Linked/Dynamic parts. Do not create a separate file for each part.
    • If you absolutely must, you may create a separate “parts score” file.

Don’t extract parts
Smarter title pages for parts in Sibelius
Smarter title pages for parts in Finale
Using the Open Selected Parts plug-in in Sibelius
Tacet parts in Finale and Sibelius
Page Numbers plug-in in Sibelius
Creating single parts from multiple staves in Sibelius

Front matter

  • Make front matter in a regular document editor or a desktop publishing program. Do not try to do this in your scoring app! It will almost certainly end in tears.
  • Cover
    • minimum:
      • title
      • composer name
    • also consider
      • medium/genre (eg. “wind ensemble”, “percussion quartet”, or “piano”)
      • year of composition (in parens after the title)
  • Title page (right side page)
    • minimum:
      • title
      • composer name
      • medium/genre
    • also consider
      • instrumentation list (either here or on the info page)
      • year of composition
      • dedication
  • Info page (on the back of the title page)
    • instrumentation if not on the title page
      • for percussion, list each instrument played by each player
    • performance notes, if necessary
    • program note
    • approx. duration
    • if applicable, full text for vocal and choral works, printed as a poem

How to fix a common page numbering problem in Sibelius
Instrument List plug-in in Sibelius

Production and binding

  • Paper size
    • at least 9 x 12, up to 11 x 17 for scores, up to 11 x 14 for parts (though this is pretty big and should probably be avoided unless you have a really good reason)
    • common: 9 x 12, 9.5 x 12.5, and 10 x 13
    • set the documents up in Finale/Sibelius/Dorico at the final size, and export PDFs at the final size
    • margin hacking
      • If you are printing on larger paper and cutting after (common for working with local print shops who don’t have music-standard sizes), set the page up as 11×17 and adjust the margins accordingly.
      • Add the same amount to the bottom of every page and the left or right side (be sure to mirror these!) so that two cuts will get the final paper size after printing.
  • Staff size
    • min 4mm score, 7mm in parts (part size can fudge a little smaller)
    • remember that if your parts are printed on smaller paper than the PDF is prepared for, the staff size will shrink
  • Paper type
    • do not use 20lb copy paper!
    • For scores, 24–28lb bond (60–70lb offset). Go slightly heavier for parts, up to about 32lb bond/80lb offset. (This is also super weird and confusing. See below for a link to a guide by Robert Puff at Of Note.)
    • No shiny paper! Performers need to write in pencil and don’t want glare.
  • Binding
    • Short scores and parts may be tape bound
    • For 9 x 12, you can print two-ups on 12 x 18 and fold. Multiple sheets like this can be “saddle stitched” (stapled on the edge).
    • Longer scores should be coil bound when possible, comb bound if necessary
    • You may need to tell the copy shop it’s OK if the binding doesn’t go all the way to the edge of a large score. They can center the coil or comb. This may require them to use materials and equipment in ways they’re not used to. Be convincing, but always be nice. They’re not dumb; they just don’t see a lot of these kinds of documents.
  • Production
    • You may have to go to the copy shop in person rather than ordering online. Bring an example if you can.
    • If ordering online, go to a music specialist printer:

On the margins: Headers, footers, and footnotes in Sibelius
Sibelius 8.5 introduces staff sizes on a per-system basis
How to tape and fold pages for parts: a video tutorial
A few brief thoughts about the size of music paper
Music by the Pound : Types & Weights of Paper for Printing Music (from Robert Puff’s Of Note blog)
PDF apps for batch scaling, stitching, and booklet making, available for free at NYC Music Services



  1. Rob

    This is very useful but is there any chance we could have a translation of the paper sizes and weights for those of us in the metric world? (i.e. A and B paper sizes and gsm for weight). There was an article that discussed sizes before but I don’t recall weights

  2. David MacDonald

    Thanks, Rob. Take a look at the links in the article. There’s a very handy in-depth article by Robert Puff about weights, which includes a comparison chart of all the different ways of measuring paper weight, including gsm.

    1. Rob

      Thanks David – missed the weight one, although the number of ways of saying the same thing is breathtaking. It seems very complicated. I just use A3 100gsm paper for scores and everyone is happy!

  3. Andrew Savage

    I’d argue that great-looking front matter is actually easily achievable in Dorico without the need for a separate file in Word or a publishing program.

    1. David MacDonald

      Thanks for reading, Andrew. I’m a big Dorico proponent as well, and I really do love the page layout features they have borrowed from the world of desktop publishing software. Having said that, I still think that most people (myself included) are better off preparing front matter in a word processor or desktop publisher for many small reasons, especially typography: Dorico doesn’t have any controls for substituting typographical quotes or ligatures; it won’t handle hyphenation; and it doesn’t follow standard keyboard shortcuts for text. (I grumble aloud every time I’m typing in a text box and get nothing when I press ⌘I or ⌘B.) There are also a lot of layout things that Word, Pages, or InDesign do better as well: bulleted lists and tables are useful for instrument listings and notation legends; floating an image in a text block with a caption; etc. These are all certainly _achievable_ in Dorico, which is something I love about the application; but, they are much more cumbersome to do there than in a text-focused app.

      I’ve been using Dorico since before launch day, and I still wouldn’t recommend it for anything beyond the absolute simplest front matter.

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