SmartMusic Finale Garritan MusicXML

Don’t Drop the Ball when Printing your Music

If you take pride in your music notation and then print it out on cheap typing paper, you’re dropping the ball one yard from the end zone. When musicians are given loose sheets of music, printed one-sided on translucent paper, they can’t help but think (consciously or not) that the music it contains is similarly slapdash. When it comes to putting your music on paper, presentation plays a big part in perception, and it’s relatively easy to manage: your main paper variables are weight, color, and size.


Perhaps the most important element is the paper’s weight. Lightweight paper suggests that the contents are disposable, and its transparent nature is clearly unsuited for two-sided printing. It is also less durable and more likely to be blown off the music stand when someone walks by or opens a door. But you can go too heavy – card stock will also produce unfavorable reactions.

The Major Orchestra Librarians Association (MOLA) provides guidelines which suggest that “the minimum requirement is usually 60 or 70 lb. [100 gsm] offset paper.” While I might think that 70 lb. text paper is perfect, the best plan is for you to touch some paper and make your decision by feel.  Note that 70 lb. index is something different, so look for “text” as well as the weight. While you’re considering weight you might also consider “acid-free” and similar qualities attributed to archival use.


While color may be the least critical aspect, it does have an impact and should be considered. Jazz, commercial, and other kinds of music that used to be done by hand were almost always done on buff or cream colored paper. Accordingly, music created for these same genres today will likely be best received when it’s the same color – especially when working with players mature enough to recall buying buff  manuscript paper from places like Judy Green.

While concert and other music that was traditionally engraved was most often found on white paper, some might still argue that anything but white might be a little easier on the eyes. I suspect that jazz guys might complain if you print to white paper, but it’s unlikely that any legit players would complain if you print to buff.

Page Size

While I should point out that there are no universally accepted standards, MOLA guidelines suggest printing orchestra parts “on paper at least 9.5 x 12.5 inches.” They also suggest that 10 x 13″ is common, but that anything larger than 11 x 14″ is “inconvenient and unwieldy.” Jazz and commercial music is commonly printed 9.5 x 12.5″. That said, because 12 X 18″ paper is very readily available, 9 x 12″ page sizes are also very common for both jazz and legit parts.

Choral music, on the other hand, is often printed octavo size, 6.75 x 10.5″. My goal today isn’t to tell you exactly what size you should use, but simply to suggest that there are options to 8.5 x 11″. When in doubt you might look to some musicians who perform the type of music you’re creating to see what they have on the stand in front of them.

I’ll also share another professional secret: Larger page sizes can provide an informal copy protection method as not everyone can easily photocopy 9 x 12″ or larger pages.

Combining Pages

As long as none of your pieces go beyond a page or two, we’re done talking about paper. However, composers and arrangers often ramble to lengths equaled only by bloggers, so multiple pages are often the case. Printing to larger, better paper, but providing loose individual sheets is like dropping the ball a few inches from the end zone.

The first step here is printing two-up on larger paper. So if you’ve decided on 9 x 12″ pages, you’d need to print two-up on 12 x 18″ paper. (We’ll talk about printing in a minute). This starts to get involved when you decide to assemble the resulting pages to a booklet, because you may, for example, want page 4 and page 1 to print on one side of the sheet and pages 2 and 3 to print on the other. Printing your pages 2-up, double-sided (perhaps requiring you to flip and re-insert pages) can get tricky, regardless of whether you’re using music notation software or a word processing application.

Finale users can find tips for booklet printing by searching the Finale User Manual for “booklet,” which will provide specific information for both Mac and Windows users.

While booklet printing is the standard for “legit” music, jazz or commercial music is more often printed as a fanfold, so that multiple pages can be seen without noisy or interrupting page turns. This is a little easier to do and uses some old school technology: tape. Again, good materials can make all the difference, especially for charts that may be played again next year or the year after. If you use clear tape, you’ll want something that won’t yellow. If you might replace a page or change page order somewhere down the road, you might consider a “repositionable” product that can be removed without damaging your page.

Where to Find Paper

For more common page sizes, local paper stores will have a variety of precut paper options: You should be able to pick and choose among different paper types when shopping for 12 x 18″ pages. That said, there are lots of options online, especially if you plan to purchase in bulk. Here’s one option:

Printers and Printing

Okay, so your heart is set on printing 2-up on 12 x 18″ paper, but you discover that your printer won’t accept anything larger than legal. One option is a new printer. If you don’t print in big volumes, an inkjet printer might be perfect. They can be purchased very inexpensively – even for large page formats. The downside is the cost of the ink.

Laser printers, which use toner cartridges, are much more expensive to purchase, but cheaper to use. They’re also faster and capable of higher resolution output. Hey, if money is no object, buy a large format laser printer and toss in a duplexer to eliminate guessing and hand flipping when printing on both sides of the page. For the rest of us, a large format inkjet printer can produce some very impressive results.

Other options include printing 8.5 x 11″ pages at home, then bringing them, and your 12 X 18″ paper to a self-service photocopy shop and enlarging two of your printed pages to copy on one larger sheet. You can also visit self-service shops that rent computer/printer time and print directly to large pages this way as well. If they don’t have Finale Reader™ installed, or are unwilling to let you install it, you may choose to print your files to PDF and bring those files. Mac users can do this natively, Windows users will need to get additional software, http://www.pdf995.comis one low-cost option – I’ve even heard rumors of freeware alternatives. Printing to PDF can also simplify booklet printing.

Final Thoughts

The main objective of this article is to inspire those of you who currently print to typing paper to broaden your horizons. Need a place to start? Pick out some 12 x 18″ sheets of 70 lb. paper and print two pages on it – just give it a try. That said, paper alone doesn’t guarantee a touchdown. Many years ago my Broadway copyist friend Peter relayed an anecdote where some “fancy” music was placed on a stand in front of a veteran studio musician, who commented: “Looks great. Too bad it’s in the wrong key.”

*   *   *

Additional resources

The Finale Forum is a great place to find a wide variety of opinions on just about any notation-related topic, including manuscript paper. Here’s just one of the threads that touches on this topic:

Valle Music is an old-school manuscript provider. Their catalog listings of manuscript paper offer some examples of popular page sizes:


Anything helpful in this post is likely due to the patient help of Mark Adler. Any errors are mine alone.