Styles of houses

October 19, 2015
Unique styles of houses for

Ever wonder why your music doesn’t look like your favorite engraved notation? Great publishers devote a lot of time and thought to make their music look beautiful – and distinct. One glance at a score by Schott, Baerenreiter, or Henle and I immediately recognize their masterful fingerprints, which we refer to as a house style.

In addition to my role at MakeMusic, I also continue to work as an engraver. I feel that a large part of the service I offer is to encourage each client to develop their own style; through collaboration we identify a unique combination of text fonts, music fonts, and other settings to set their music apart.

All notation software comes with default settings that by nature are compromises, designed to give good results in the widest variety of usages… Part of defining your personal style is to tweak these settings for your specific use.

In this and subsequent blog posts I plan to offer some suggestions of ways you might create your own house style, regardless of what music notation software you use. Along the way I’d like to stress two points:

  1. Look at everything. Take every opportunity to study the work of a wide variety of publishers, make notes on what you like, and try to emulate them. Just as young performers mimic their favorite artists, you’ll eventually create your own style as your collection of influences grows.
  2. Software makes it possible to change every aspect of your score easily and quickly (and to change it back). Take advantage of this freedom!

Line Widths

For a starting point, let’s look at line widths, including staff lines, barlines, ledger lines, stems, enclosures, repeat brackets, etc. I see a great variety in line widths from publisher to publisher; they offer a great way to set your work apart, quickly and easily.

Quite a few publishers use a line width between .00624” and .00765.” Finale’s defaults are within that range but on the light side at .00624.” (Finale users note that all line widths are accessible from Document > Document Options.) Also note that Finale’s default line widths maintain a consistent width (.00624”) across staff lines, bar lines, stems, and ledger lines; not all publishers do this.

Take a look at a Henle score. Henle favors a much heavier barline in relation to their staff lines. They also feature a heavier ledger line. There’s a practical reason for a heavier ledger line: in sections where there are many notes on several ledger lines, making the ledger lines easily distinguishable from staff lines can be a great aid in readability.

Heavier ledger lines are also a nod to the traditions of the past: back in the engraving days ledger lines would have been struck, while staff lines were etched.

In the two examples below, compare both the widths of the bar lines, ledger lines, stems and crescendos:

Interested in the specific values I used?

  • Barlines: .01736”
  • Ledger Lines: .01597”
  • Left Half Ledger Line length: .0243”
  • Right Half Ledger Line length: .0243”
  • Stem Line Thickness: .00763”
  • Crescendos: .00833”

You may notice that the slurs were tweaked, too, but that’s a topic for a future post.

Other Lines

Let’s look at beams, too. You might want to make your beams fatter than finale’s default of.00624”. I personally wouldn’t go any thinner, but what I’d do isn’t the point: experiment! Have fun!

Stem thickness are another area to consider. Some publishers like to beef up their stems (we don’t want to call anyone out for having “fat stems”), but this is another area for you to review and explore.

If you prefer using a handwritten music font, you will likely want to make all your line widths thicker to produce a more handwritten result. Hand written line widths might start around .01215” and go larger from there.

Temporary Detour: Measurement Unit Confession

One of my goals of this blog series is to share info with fellow musicians, regardless of whether or not they use Finale. For that reason, I’ve provided all measurement units in inches. In truth, I never think that way.

Instead I think in terms of EVPUS: or ENIGMA Virtual Page Units. Isn’t that cryptic?

Okay, a little background is in order. Enigma is the name that Finale’s original creator, Phil Farrand, gave to the file format that he created for Finale. It is an acronym for “Environment for the Notation of Intelligent Graphical Musical Algorithms.”

Here’s how to convert between EVPUs and more common units:

288 EVPUs = 1 inch
24 EVPUs = 1 space

Some might think that creating your own measurement unit is an example of hubris. Others might be tempted to suggest, incorrectly, that Phil Farrand was a mad genius. In practice, EVPUS prove to be extremely handy. When I’m creating a custom template using Finale, instead of typing in values like .00624” or .00765, ” I can set my measurement units to EVPUs and enter 1.8 or 2.2.

If you’re interested, here are the values I shared above as EVPUs:

  • Barlines: 5 EVPUs
  • Ledger Lines: 4.6 EVPUs
  • Left Half Ledger Line length: 7 EVPUs
  • Right Half Ledger Line length: 7 EVPUs
  • Stems: 2.2 EVPUs
  • Crescendos: 4.2 EVPUs

I find this practice to be a convenient time-saver.


Hopefully this post will inspire some readers to look more closely at engraved music and question the line width decisions made in their creation. It is also my hope that you’ll share your opinions and reactions in the comments section below. In addition to adding additional perspectives to this article your comments are a great source of inspiration for future articles.

Mark Adler Mark Adler is MakeMusic’s notation product manager/senior editor, a professional trumpet player, and a freelance music editor and engraver.

In what little free time he can find, he’s also interested in finding and restoring vintage pinball machines; Scott Yoho’s boys are eager for him to get one up and running so they can play it.

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