I am looking to "design" and print some staff paper. Is there any standard regarding the distance between lines and spaces in a staff, and regarding the distance between staves themselves?

I will admit that my search pretty much stopped at wikipedia, not knowing where to look.

EDIT: I have found this information on a yale music subdomain:

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.

This answers one of the three questions: the size of a staff. It still doesn't talk about the common width of the lines and the spacing from staff to staff. This will also change for an orchestral director's score.

It just occurred to me that I can scan piano and violin music I have, then divide the number of pixels by the resolution per mm, and I should get a more or less good number. I don't have access to orchestral sheet music, though.

  • 2
    I have two or three different sizes, which get used for raw beginners, especially youngsters, up to the 'industry standard', and occasionally, the space between staves needs to be larger due to the amount of ledger lines used. 7 - 7.5mm seems to be what a lot of what I'm currently reading, although I have a 6mm copy which is very clear, possibly due to the lines themselves being thinner!
    – Tim
    Sep 12, 2017 at 13:53
  • Theory textbooks (the best ones, anyway) will have one size for examples, then a larger staff for assignments where the student needs to write in material. So I think it depends on how your staff paper will be used. Furthermore, there's plenty of staff paper online; can I ask why you want to "design" your own?
    – Richard
    Sep 12, 2017 at 15:18
  • 1
    To be honest, it's more about fun and curiosity than necessity. I bind my own notebooks and papers with glue (and I'm trying to learn how to add a leather cover). I like learning about this kind of stuff.
    – user41175
    Sep 12, 2017 at 16:27
  • @housemdwonderer Fair enough. Sounds like a fun hobby!
    – Richard
    Sep 12, 2017 at 17:23
  • 1
    As an experienced orchestra musician, I can tell you there is absolutely nothing like a nonstandard size, or font, or notation, to make our lives miserable! Sep 13, 2017 at 11:22

2 Answers 2


The easiest way is to copy an existing design. Either print a page from a "free manuscript paper" website and measure it, or get some good free notation software (e.g. MuseScore) and see what defaults they use.

Traditionally, all the spacing was relative to the spacing between adjacent staff lines (not the size of the complete staff!)

For paper that is about A4 or USA letter size, the usual standard is 12 staves per page, because 12 divides nicely by 2, 3, 4, or 6 for small ensembles.

For scores with more staves, the paper size is often doubled (A3 or USA tabloid) and traditionally the staves were custom-ruled to match the instrumentation being used. Special pens were made to draw all five lines of each staff at the same time, with consistent spacing.

The "standard sizes" for these staff-ruling pens (in points - 72 points = 1 inch exactly, taken from the setup options of a professional-standard music engraving app) were

Rastral  Space between  Size of
Size     staff lines    5-line staff
0        6.52           26.08
1        5.60           22.40
2        5.24           20.96
3        4.96           19.84
4        4.61           18.44
5        4.25           17.00
6        3.90           15.60
7        3.40           13.60
8        2.62           10.48

A common default size for computer software is staff size = 7.00 mm which corresponds exactly to rastral size 3.

Some instruments often have leger lines below the staff, others mainly above, there should be a bigger vertical gap between groups of instruments (wind, brass, percussion, keyboards, strings, etc), some percussion instruments (or groups of instruments played by one person) don't need five lines buy only 1, 2, or 3, etc ... far too many options for "general purpose" MS paper for a big orchestral score, where you can't afford to waste space on the page. Of course computer software doesn't require any pre-planning of this sort of thing - though the lack of planning can lead also to a lack of thinking about the design of the layout, which is a bad thing!

For standard combinations like solo voice + piano, a pre-printed layout with the appropriate spacing for each system of three staves is useful, and can work "better" than 12 equally spaced staves per page. Again look at what the professionals do!

I don't have access to orchestral sheet music, though.

There is a huge collection of orchestra scores (many with the parts also) downloadable free from http://imslp.org/ - and lots of other types of music besides. Look at 19th-century hand-engraved scores and parts, as beautiful examples of how to pack the maximum amount of music on a page and keep it readable - but you will often find the spacing between staves varies from staff to staff and is different on each page, which is not practical for pre-printed MS paper.

IMSLP also has facsimiles of manuscript scores, particular of earlier compositions - so if you want to see exactly how "MS paper" was designed in Bach's or Mozart's day, you can find out for yourself. (Warning - some of it is not a pretty sight!)

Note, for orchestral parts, the other issue apart from the staff size is the paper size - A4 or US letter are both a bit small and narrow. On the other hand the upper limit to the size is what will fit on a music stand without causing "accidents" when turning pages, and (for opera or theater music) the height is limited by what will fit under the lamp on the music stand, since the auditorium and orchestra pit are blacked out during the performance. 9x12 is common, 10x13 is about the biggest practical size. If you exclude the page margins (which can be the same in both cases,) a 9x13 page gives almost twice the "useable area" per page than US letter, and therefore the music can be laid out with better page-turns more easily.

I'm not entirely convinced by the recommendations of "minimum 8.5mm" for orchestral parts - unless this is specifically talking about hand-copied scores, which tend to be less neat and tidy than engraved and printed ones (whether hand-engraved or computer-engraved). For engraved scores, 7.0mm is usually quite readable. Don't forget that the professionals who hand-copied music for a living were often paid by the page, so they had their own reason to make the staves as large as possible!

For some instruments (e.g. organ music) scores are traditionally in landscape format not portrait - again, the reason is to fit on a music rest that is relatively high for the performer when the instrument has several (e.g. 3, 4, or 5) keyboards - and old pipe organ consoles usually had the music stand "inset" within the case of the instrument, so no extra vertical space was available!

  • From experience using Musescore, its defaults for piano (and other multi-staff works) are fairly unusable at times. Stuff like portato markings have real risks of colliding with crescendo hairpins with the defaults, and I often have to move dynamic markings around. These problems are trying to be fixed in the under-development Musescore 3.0, but it's still in an incomplete state.
    – Dekkadeci
    Sep 13, 2017 at 14:06

If all you want is manuscript paper, it's quickest just to google for "Free Manuscript Paper" and print from one of the found websites.

But you might have set this as a programming exercise for yourself and you specifically anticipate technical problems that you want to overcome.

  • 1
    I am sorry, but this doesn't really answer the question. Regardless of the background in my question or my intent, I am looking for the typical standard dimensions of various types of staves. I even have some scores for piano, and I can try to scan those, but I have a very limited amount, and I can't draw conclusions for more instruments or orchestral sheets. I really am interested in the information I am asking and not in help in achieving a particular goal.
    – user41175
    Sep 12, 2017 at 17:17

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