Choosing a page size - A4 or Letter for scores - does it matter?

• Jan 29, 2021 - 10:52

Do you give any consideration to the page size when creating your scores, given that users of them could be anywhere in the world? While I know that larger sizes are better for music (e.g. International B4), in practical terms it is a choice between International A4 or North American Letter format. Does that make any practical difference? Is Musescore designed with defaults that fit either page format? For example, if I create in A4, will that print OK on Letter or vice versa? Thanks


You want to start a religious war? OK: go for A4 then ;-)

Serious: go for the smaller format. Scores in that should fit the larger ones, but may not vice versa

Unfortunately Letter is shorter by some 18mm, but A4 is narrower by some 6mm, so you're between a rock and a hard place here, so depending on the score neither might fix the other format

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

It will really only make a difference if you are printing from MuseScore as it will adjust layout to suit the paper size. In particular, it will fit as many measures as are possible in a system and systems on a page (unless this is reduced by manually inserted system or page breaks). This could mean that different sizes of paper would allow different numbers of measures in a system or different numbers of systems on a page. However, if you export the score to pdf, then the score layout is fixed and any pdf reader/printer worth its salt will adjust the scaling to fit the paper size.

I very rarely print directly from MuseScore and then only drafts of works in progress. For publishing scores I always go via pdf. Another advantage of going via pdf is that if I have score plus parts in a single pdf I can print the whole lot in one go, or select which individual parts to print.

In reply to by SteveBlower

That's a good point Steve. Many thanks. I will be converting to PDF. I only noticed the issue when I merged the PDF of my score with my PDF cover page. Musescore had defaulted to Letter, whereas MS Publisher (which I created the cover in) defaulted to A4, so the different page size was noticeable in the combined PDF. I guess as long as I make them consistent it doesn't particularly matter.

Really unfortunately fact of life you are trying to deal with here. I'm in the US, so I create Letter mostly, so they work if I print my music myself or the musicians I work with in person print them. But, I am sensitive to the fact that musicians elsewhere may wish to use the music too. I know A4 is longer than Letter, so I don't worry that my page breaks will cause problems of a single orphan system on the next page (which would the problem if I optimized for A4 than someone tried to print Letter). But when I think of it, I do try to avoid squeezing so much music onto a system that changing to A4 makes something not fit. At least, not in any lead sheets or parts where I've actually spend time working on my breaks - for scores I just let the chips fall.

So in practice, this means, I don't usually try to squeeze more onto a system than fits comfortably, and also, when I'm done, ai may flip over to A4 to see if it causes problems, then re-evaluate if so.

But I also know that in order to change from Letter to A4, you'll be visiting the same dialog where you could also reduce the staff space slightly, so I know that's an option for people too. And, I know it may be possible for people to scale to fit to page while printing - like if an A4 user tries to print a PDF, most PDF viewers do that by default I think.

So in the end, while I'm telling you these are the things I think about when I'm inclined to worry about it, in practice, mostly I don't.

I do still generally avoid "living on the edge" (kind of literally) in terms of squeezing measures onto a system, but that's as much to make sure I don't get bit later by small changes to layout defaults that cause something to take slightly more room than before.

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