I have a few very short songs (about 20 bars) that I'm trying to transcribe with LilyPond. I'd like to increase the vertical spacing, in particular the space between lines, so that they take the full page and are easier to read.

I've tried to change a bunch of variables in a bunch of different places (paper, layout, staff) but I feel like nothing changes in the spacing no matter what I do.

Does anyone have any advice?

Vertical spacing between lines

  • 3
    Are you aware of annotate-spacing (lilypond.org/doc/v2.18/Documentation/notation/displaying-spacing)? It shows you exactly which variable controls what. Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 6:28

3 Answers 3


I believe what you want to adjust is the system-system-spacing. It has four elements that you can adjust, and it's not the most intuitive of settings. Here's what it looks like with the default values:

\paper {

  system-system-spacing =
    #'((basic-distance . 12) 
       (minimum-distance . 8)
       (padding . 1)
       (stretchability . 60)) 

Here is the link for the manual section describing each element. It's a bit overwhelming, but it's a good thing to have under your belt. I find that the stretchability element is often the most important.

  • 1
    Perfect! I changed the basic-distance to 20 and now I have a full page. Thank you.
    – Bani
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 19:28

This is explained in the manual, assuming you indeed mean the distance between staff lines. If you mean the distance between staff systems, that is explained in the paper block variable section.

Now you state that you tried to change a bunch of variables in a bunch of different places and feel that to have no effect. That sounds like you are already working from the documentation.

My usual experience when nothing I try at all seems to have an effect in spite of being thoroughly documented is that I am viewing the wrong result file. The next best culprit is reading a version of the documentation not corresponding to the software version I am using, a particularly easy mistake to make when searching for information with search engines.

  • Yes I was working from the documentation, in particular the Vertical Spacing section, but it wasn't clear to me which one would help me with space between lines of a staff. So I was copy & pasting examples and changing numbers in hope that something would change, but that wasn't the case. If someone could point me to the right setting to change and an example value that I could use to 1.5x the space, I could try to work from there to figure it out. I'm sure I have the right file (I'm using Frescobaldi which auto-renders it at every change) and I've just checked that the version is correct.
    – Bani
    Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 23:56

There is one thing that is not quite obvious until you know about it (and it also applies to other notation apps, not just to Lilypond).

If you are just transcribing the melody, each system of the score contains only one staff. In that case, you need to change the space between systems, not the space between staves.

  • I'm still confused with all the nomenclature and unsure about which line I need to include in my file. It's a harp song therefore it uses a piano staff (treble and bass). I think you are right about it being a system and not a staff. I added a screenshot to my original post pointing to where I wanted the space to be added. I still couldn't figure it out after reading the "Flexible vertical spacing within systems" section.
    – Bani
    Commented Oct 9, 2017 at 0:31

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