Page Formatting for Staff Notation

Readability is not subjective. It’s not in the eye of the beholder. It’s not a matter of opinion. Readability is measurable and verifiable. That’s why I believe bad page formatting is a bigger problem for students than most people realize. When you correct for bad page formatting, students suddenly turn into better readers. Over time, they turn into much better readers.

Sometimes, I teach from store-bought sheet music and lesson books. Other times, I teach from music I write for my students. In Musescore, you can set the size of the notes in page settings. So the music I write is printed larger than most sheet music. That makes it a lot easier for my students to read, and that makes a big difference. The student doesn’t look back and forth as much. There’s less extraneous motion. Bigger notes help to ease the psychological stress of the lesson. The overall mood is more laid back.

Here’s an example of music that’s formatted for maximum readability.

In the next example, the music is not formatted on the page properly. You can use a copier to print enlargements of music that’s printed too small. But it’s not always possible to format an enlargement on standard copy paper. Here’s a fix that involves saving your music as an image in a graphics editor like Windows Paint. The problem with enlargements is they make each line of music longer, when the real problem is that the notes just need to be taller to make them easier to read.

In a graphics editor, if you select a line of music, then you can grab the top tab of your selection box and stretch it up, so that the box gets taller without getting any longer. You’ll have to experiment with this. It’s a good idea to make multiple backup copies of the graphic file you’re working with, because it’s easy to mess up.

The notes may look a little funny, but making the individual lines just slightly taller can make them easier to read. This is not a great fix, but it makes it a little easier to tell which note is which.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much else you can do with music that isn’t formatted properly. The only other alternative to bad page formatting is to rewrite the part. If you’re good with Musescore, then it’s often not that big a project.

Where possible, it’s best to learn to read with large print. It will improve your chances of becoming a good reader. You will get better faster if you practice reading notes that are easy to read. Even if you’re practicing for reading competition, it doesn’t make sense to strain your eyes when all you’re trying to do is practice reading.

© 2019, 2020 by Gregory Varhaug