Tutorial: Layout and formatting in Sibelius 5


One of the most misunderstood feature areas in Sibelius is layout and formatting, which includes things like page and staff size, the distances between staves, and things like system and page breaks. After the jump, I’ll clear up those misunderstandings.

As an example, look no further than these top page layout tips from educator and author Dr Tom Rudolph. Tom is the author of many books on using technology in music education (including one on Sibelius), and he’s an accomplished user of both Sibelius and Finale, but I would disagree with a couple of his tips.

1. Open House Style > Engraving Rules and click on the Staves tab. Set the distance between staves and systems for the entire piece. I also change the justify amount to 95% for most scores. Do this before dragging staves manually. If a staff is manually adjusted, the Engraving Rules settings are ignored.

This is actually almost completely great advice. Using Engraving Rules to set the distances between staves and systems is the most important step in achieving good page layout. However, I strongly disagree with setting Justify staves when page is n% full to a high number like 80% or above, though if you asked 10  users about layout in Sibelius, there’s a good chance more than one of them would recommend the same thing.

So why the disparity? The Justify staves… option controls staff justification, where Sibelius expands the space between staves in order to fill the page up vertically (between the top and bottom staff margins). If you don’t know about the way to set up default staff spacing in Engraving Rules, then you’re going to start dragging staves up and down to try and space the staves how you want them. And if Sibelius always tries to redistribute the space between staves down the whole height of the page, you’ll start experiencing some curious “rubber-band” effects, with staves bouncing closer together unexpectedly. So you search for a way to stop this “rubber-banding”, find the Justify staves… option, and disable it — all the while missing the correct way to change the space between staves and systems.

(An aside: I often wonder whether we were right to make changing vertical staff spacing by dragging the staves up and down so easy. On the one hand, it’s very simple and immediate, which is very much in keeping with the way Sibelius is designed; but on the other, it’s much easier to discover than the better way to change staff spacing, via Engraving Rules, with the consequence that users may discover how to drag staves around very early in their experience of using Sibelius, but never find the proper way. I imagine there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Sibelius users out there frustrated with the clumsy way the program appears to handle staff spacing. Would we make the same decision today?)

Staff justification is actually a super-useful feature, and helps to produce clean, consistent and pleasing page layouts in Sibelius. So don’t turn it off! If you’re not sure how to make it work for you, watch my detailed layout and formatting tutorial — read on.

2. Set the number of bars per line using Plug-ins > Other > Make Layout Uniform.

For me, a better way of achieving this would be to use Layout > Auto Layout, switching on Use auto system breaks and setting Sibelius to produce system breaks every (say) 4 bars.

Tom’s other recommendations are all sound enough.

A few months ago I delivered an in-depth video tutorial about layout and formatting in Sibelius 5. It lasts for about 40 minutes, and contains detailed explanations about:

  • How the Document Setup dialog works
  • The differences between page and staff margins, and what they’re for
  • How to understand the effects of vertical justification and have it work for you, not against you
  • How to adjust staff spacing for a more pleasing page layout
  • Three simple steps to better layout

I’ll put you out of your misery and reveal my three simple steps to better layout here (though I strongly recommend you watch the rest of the tutorial anyway):

  1. First, select your whole score, do Layout > Format > Unlock Format, then Layout > Reset Space Below Staff and Reset Space Above Staff
  2. Change the default staff and system spacing on the Staves page of House Style > Engraving Rules
  3. Change the staff size in Layout > Document Setup.

Watch the whole tutorial here.


  1. Martin Reisle

    Is there still somewhere this tutorial can be found? Thanks Kindly

  2. Jacob Winkler

    I agree with Martin: The need for this video has not disappeared, but apparently the link has!

    1. Philip Rothman

      I’m afraid the video is lost to time. However, see the “Get Started Fast” video tutorial I made on the subject. Also, see this blog post.

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