Engraving and PDF Guidelines

On this page we outline our guidelines for ENGRAVING music, and formatting PDFs to be submitted for publication.

These guidelines will be written from the perspective of creating the PDFs from Finale®, but the concepts are applicable regardless of which music notation program you use.

Definition of Engraving Music

When we refer to “engraving music,” we are referring to the act of putting an entire score into an engraving-capable music notation program, such as Finale or Sibelius, auditing the score to ensure that all notes are correct, that all dynamics, text markings, and articulations are properly annotated, and that each printed page of the resulting music is completely legible, meaning well laid-out, free from collisions, takes up full pages, and pays attention to music density.


These guidelines apply to full scores, compressed scores, and condensed scores. For a discussion of the usage of each type of score, please see About Scores.

In today’s technology-driven society, providing scores, particularly for large ensembles, presents a unique challenge. There are far too many parts, staves, and notes, to fit on manageably-sized paper and still be legible.

At Silver Clef, we ensure that any music our customers purchase will have a score they can use, that they can read, and that they will like.

Following these guidelines when engraving and formatting scores will ensure the best possible experience for our customers.


On all parts, if they run to multiple pages, you should pay attention to page turns.

Bear in mind that some players will have their parts printed on individual letter-sized pages, some will have them printed on folded tabloid-sized pages, and some might be reading them on digital music readers (i.e., tablets).

The principal consideration for all parts, as well as for all scores, is LEGIBILITY. We want the performers of our works to be able to read and perform our music “on the fly,” without having to stop and decipher something confusing, or to wonder what was meant by a certain annotation.

If you send us something that is not easily readable, we will probably ask you to redo it to make it more readable.


Begin With The Full Score

Because in today’s modern music notation programs we begin with all the parts together in a full score, this is where we have to start our engraving task.

TECHNIQUE NOTE: We have found it is much easier to do the actual writing of music – i.e. putting down the notes, adjusting the chords, getting the rhythms correct, etc., in a condensed score format.  If you are going to change a melody line, a bass line, a chord structure, or a rhythm, it is so much easier to do so on just three to six staves of a condensed score than it is to try to make that adjustment consistent on all 22 to 29 staves of a full score. Therefore, you might try getting the basics of your work (melody, chords, rhythm) down in a condensed score first, then moving it to a full score and exploding the parts to individual staves.


Audit for Correct Notes, Chords, and Rhythms

The first thing you must do before tackling any other engraving task is to ensure your master score is absolutely correct.

This means listening to it – over and over again – as you make totally certain that all the melodies are exactly right, that the bass line and countermelodies mesh perfectly with the chord structure, that each chord, including passing chords on non-emphasized beats, and that the rhythms depicted are exactly the way you want them to be.

Besides listening to them in real-time (meaning at the desired tempo), you should also use your notation program’s ability to scrub the score note-by-note.

If you have a good enough ear to be a composer or arranger, then you probably have a good enough ear to catch bad notes as they go by. Be relentless in identifying bad notes, go back to that section and do a note-by-note audio scrub of that passage until you figure out where that bad note is and fix it.

You do not need to worry about dynamics, articulations, and phrasings at this point. You’ll get those later. Right now, all you are focusing on is getting all the NOTES right.

DO NOT go on until you are totally satisfied with the sound of your music to this point.

If you have been doing this on a condensed score of some kind (and we recommend that you do), after you are satisfied the notes are correct, it is time to move the work to a full score, and explode the notes to the individual staves.

Once this is done, you should audition the full score again, meticulously.

Ensure Consistency of Dynamics

Few things are more confusing to a large ensemble than to have one section playing loudly while another section or individual player is supposed to be quiet.  This can be very effective when correctly planned and executed, but you must be certain that all dynamics in your work are consistent throughout the ensemble – meaning they are there purposefully, and not by accident.

This means not only the dynamic indicators such as mp, ff, or sfz, but also the hairpin marks and the text dynamics, such as cresc. and dim.

You should go through your score, measure-by-measure and top-to-bottom (or bottom-to-top), and make sure each dynamic change is indicated for each part. You should also make sure there is a dynamic marking on each part whenever that part has had more than one or two measures rest. In other words, leave nothing for the performer to guess at.

Ensure Consistency of Phrasings

Again, go through the entire score to isolate those areas where you wish to apply phrase markings, and make certain the appropriate markings are in place for each part to which they apply.

You will have very likely put in phrase markings on the original sketch score, and these markings will likely have carried over to the full score when you did the import. This is the time to be sure those phrase markings are in place for all appropriate parts.

If you omit this step, there is a danger that in performance, one player will play a certain passage legato while another player plays the same passage marcato or staccato. This is never a good thing.

Ensure Consistency of Articulations

It is very easy to put your desired articulations in some parts in your score, and neglect to make sure those same articulations are present for all parts that need to play that way.

Go through the score measure-by-measure, top-to-bottom, and locate all the places where you have already put articulations, or where you want to put them. Make sure the articulations are the same in all parts to which they apply.

Also, with articulations, with phrase markings, and with dynamics, be sure to scan the score for similar passages at a different location. If you find such passages, be certain they are marked up the way they should be, which will usually be the same way as the first passage.

Be Generous With Rehearsal Markings

Rehearsal markings can greatly ease any rehearsal of music. Some arrangers number every measure, but Silver Clef discourages this. Numbers on every measure clutter the look of the work, often collide with other more critical markings, can be mistaken for something other than a measure number, and are frequently too small to be read comfortably.

Our recommendation is to use large, boxed measure numbers at every major breakpoint in a work, such as repeat signs, double bars, key signatures, etc. Also there’s no reason not to put plenty of these rehearsal numbers. We recommend having a large, boxed rehearsal number every eight to 16 measures.

Audition The Score Multiple Times

Listen to your notation program render your work. Listen to it again and again. Also do it by section or grouping. For example, you might want to listen to it a few times playing only the flutes, oboes, clarinets, and tubas, then again with the trumpets and tubas, then again with the low brass, low woodwinds, first clarinet, and tuba… you get the idea. Isolate sections to listen to, add one or two other instruments to keep you oriented in the music, and listen. Then listen again.

This is absolutely the best way to be certain you have your score as fine-tuned as possible before going to print.

When we say “going to print,” we really mean preparing each score and part for printing,  either to paper or PDF. To submit your music to Silver Clef, you will need to make PDF files.

Ensure Common Page Elements are Present

FIRST pages must have the title and subtitle if present at the top center, author attribution and other attribution if needed (such as arranger, “setting by”, lyrics, etc.) in the right margin below the title, copyright information in the footer, and the type part (Score, Condensed score, 1st Trombone, etc.) in the upper left margin. First pages are different from all subsequent pages.

All pages except the first must have common elements: Title at the top center, usually in 14-point bold font, page number on the top outside margin, and part name on the top inside margin. There is no need for copyright information on any page but the first.

The reason this is important is because when our customers print from PDF files, they will frequently print to individual 8.5×11″ or size A4 paper, and each sheet must be easily distinguishable with the named elements. Imagine someone carrying a stack of music from several tunes, and then dropping that stack. Without that information, it would be a major chore to reassemble the pages, if not downright impossible.

When The Working Scores Are Finished, Move On To the Printables

“The Printables” means both the multiple scores and the individual parts, as applicable. The steps before this section have been performed entirely on the full score. The steps after this are performed on the different scores and on individual parts.

Always bear in mind that the bottom-line goal from all this work is readability.

If an individual part confuses the performer, either through poor design, element collisions, or other aspects of illegibility, then the part is mostly useless. We want to avoid all these issues.

PARTS – Adjust Page and System Margins

To make your work most readable, you will need to make sure your page and system margins are set appropriately. You can do this in your notation program once, and it will apply to all printables for that file.

Usually, the default settings for page and system margins are perfectly fine, both for Finale and for Sibelius.

NOTE: There is an error in Finale that has been present in every version from 2012 through 2015, in which when you print directly from Finale 2-up on 11×17 paper, you will need to adjust the margins for the page that prints on the right side of the 2-iup layout by 1/4″ to the right, otherwise when you fold the page, the music to the right of the fold crowds the center margin.

Adjust Measure Count and System Spacing to Fill Pages

This is one of those areas in which you will continue to improve as you gain experience. The objective of this step is to space the music so it fits nicely on full pages.

Create Multimeasure Rests. The first thing to do in this step is to create multimeasure rests (only on the parts – not on the scores). This will condense your music to the fewest measures.

Adjust Measures Per System. The next thing is to adjust the number of measures per system. (a “system” is one line of music) If you are very close to being well laid-out after creating multimeasure rests, you may not have much to do here. But there will be some instances where you’ll need to experiment to get close.

When we say “get close,” we mean being within one or two staves of having as many full pages as needed.

In adjusting the number of measures per system, we recommend four to eight measures per system, depending on the density of the music. For very dense music, you might go as low as two or three measures per staff system, or for many measures of whole and half notes, you might go to ten or even sixteen measures per system.

It’s a judgement call, and you will have to decide what looks good.

Adjust System Spacing. Once you have the number of measures per system set, you then adjust the top and bottom margins or the space between systems to put the proper number of staves on each page, so each page is filled and no pages are left with only one or two lines of music.

We recommend nine to eleven systems per page, although you can go higher or lower than that in special circumstances.

The Result: When you have finished, the result is that each part should completely fill up the number of pages allotted top it, and should look good and be eminently readable.

Adjust Music Size (If Needed)

While the program’s default size for music staves is usually just fine, there are occasions when you might want to make it larger or smaller.

For example, when there are fewer staves on a page, it is usually a good thing to change the zoom level of all the staves to 115% or even 125%. This will make the music easier to read, especially for older musicians, and will help the appearance of each sheet to be more balanced.

When you have a lot of music, and can find no way to make the pages fit other than to put 12 staves of music on a page, you might then wish to zoom the music smaller. However, making music smaller is never something to do lightly, and should only be done in circumstances of extreme need.

Adjust for Page Turns As Needed

Even though this is obvious, music on one page does not need to consider page turns.

Also, music that can be printed on two pages does not need to consider page turns, because it will either be printed on one piece of folded paper or on two individual sheets, and either way will allow the entire work to be displayed at once.

It is when you go beyond two pages that you must consider page turns. Ideally, there should be a measure or two of rest at the end of each page, to accommodate the player needing to turn pages. There may be an occasion when you will need to rewrite your music to enter rests to accommodate page turns.

We recognize that there simply may not be a way to accommodate page turns for every part, but you should never ignore them, and you should only omit them in the most extreme circumstances.

Adjust For Music Density

The primary reason for this step is cosmetic. It simply makes the music look better. But running a very close second as a reason is that it also improves the music’s readability.

To adjust for music density, simply scan the full-page view of the music, and determine whether one section of the music has music significantly denser than the other. If you have a lot of black ink on the top of the page, and the bottom of the page looks almost vacant, you probably need to adjust for music density.

The best way to do this is to adjust the number of measures on each staff system.

If you have a passage of many sixteenth notes, and later a passage of half notes, it would simply look wrong if you forced each line of music to have four measures. To adjust the music density, you might have the section with the sixteenth notes have only two or three measures per line, while the section with half notes could have 10 or 12 measures per line.

After the adjustment, when you scan the page, you should see a roughly equivalent amount of “black ink” on each section of the page.

Fine-Tooth Comb to Maximize Readability

This means adjusting as needed to eliminate all collisions, to re-position elements so they cannot be mistaken as belonging to the wrong parent, moving articulation marks, phrasing marks, dynamics, and text elements as necessary, flipping slurs and phrase marks, adjusting measure widths, and even adjusting note positions within measures when needed to ensure a performer can read the music “on the fly” without having to hesitate, wondering what was meant.

This, as much as any other section in developing your engraving skills, is a judgement call.

The bottom line is twofold: First it has to be easily readable, and second it should look good.

Pages – Double-Check Common Page Elements

Just as you did with the score, make sure all the common page elements – title, part name, page number, etc. are present and properly positioned on the parts.


Once you have the printables ready to be printed, you are ready to build your PDF files.

One thing to keep in mind as you create your PDF files of scores and parts is that it is critically important what you NAME these files.

Silver Clef Music recommends you use the following protocol for naming your PDF files.

There will be four segments to the filename: The Work Title, a sequencing number, the part name, and the “pdf” file extension. Here is an explanation of each.

  • The Work Title – this will be the same for every file created for this tune.  It can be an abbreviated name, but unless the name is extremely long, it doesn’t need to be.
  • A Sequencing Number. When a customer opens a file directory to find a particular file, the files will usually be displayed in alphabetical order. To achieve consistency, and to put the listings in the directory into score order, we recommend using the Instrumental Sequencing Number Chart. (Click the link to open or download the chart.)
  • The name of the part.
  • The “pdf” extension. Be certain to use all lowercase for the extension, as some operating systems see uppercase characters as a different file extension.

EXAMPLE:  Let’s say we are naming the 3rd Clarinet part to an arrangement of “Blue Socks Blues.” The file name would be BlueSoxBlues – 124 Clarinet 3.pdf – it is okay to put spaces into file names, but you can leave them out if you like. You will notice on the Instrumental Sequencing Number Chart that “123” is the sequencing number for the 3rd Clarinet part.

Once you complete the creation of all scores and parts PDFs, you should put them into a ZIP file so you can submit them to Silver Clef Music.


Once you become adept at engraving skills, you will be surprised and dismayed at how often today’s self-published music writers ignore these essential skills.

Once you learn these skills, you will set yourself well above those who do not have them.