2.1.2 Techniques specific to lyrics


Working with lyrics and variables

Variables containing lyrics can be created, but the lyrics must be entered in lyric mode:

musicOne = \relative c'' {
  c4 b8. a16 g4. f8 e4 d c2
}
verseOne = \lyricmode {
  Joy to the world, the Lord is come.
}
\score {
  <<
    \new Voice = "one" {
      \time 2/4
      \musicOne
    }
    \new Lyrics \lyricsto "one" {
      \verseOne
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

Durations do not need to be added if the variable is to be invoked with \addlyrics or \lyricsto.

For different or more complex orderings, the best way is to define the music and lyric variables first, then set up the hierarchy of staves and lyrics, omitting the lyrics themselves, and then add the lyrics using \context underneath. This ensures that the voices referenced by \lyricsto have always been defined earlier. For example:

sopranoMusic = \relative c'' { c4 c c c }
contraltoMusic = \relative c'' { a4 a a a }
sopranoWords = \lyricmode { Sop -- ra -- no words }
contraltoWords = \lyricmode { Con -- tral -- to words }

\score {
  \new ChoirStaff <<
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "sopranos" {
        \sopranoMusic
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics = "sopranos"
    \new Lyrics = "contraltos"
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "contraltos" {
        \contraltoMusic
      }
    }
    \context Lyrics = "sopranos" {
      \lyricsto "sopranos" {
        \sopranoWords
      }
    }
    \context Lyrics = "contraltos" {
      \lyricsto "contraltos" {
        \contraltoWords
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

See also

Notation Reference: Placing lyrics vertically.

Internals Reference: LyricCombineMusic, Lyrics.


Placing lyrics vertically

Depending on the type of music, lyrics may be positioned above the staff, below the staff, or between staves. Placing lyrics below the associated staff is the easiest, and can be achieved by simply defining the Lyrics context below the Staff context:

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' { c4 c c c }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Here are the words
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

Lyrics may be positioned above the staff using one of two methods. The simplest (and preferred) method is to use the same syntax as above and explicitly specify the position of the lyrics:

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff = "staff" {
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' { c4 c c c }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics \with { alignAboveContext = "staff" } {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Here are the words
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

Alternatively, a two-step process may be used. First the Lyrics context is declared (without any content) before the Staff and Voice contexts, then the \lyricsto command is placed after the Voice declaration it references by using \context, as follows:

\score {
  <<
    \new Lyrics = "lyrics" \with {
      % lyrics above a staff should have this override
      \override VerticalAxisGroup.staff-affinity = #DOWN
    }
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' { c4 c c c }
      }
    }
    \context Lyrics = "lyrics" {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Here are the words
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

When there are two voices on separate staves the lyrics may be placed between the staves using either of these methods. Here is an example of the second method:

\score {
  \new ChoirStaff <<
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "sopranos" {
        \relative c'' { c4 c c c }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics = "sopranos"
    \new Lyrics = "contraltos" \with {
      % lyrics above a staff should have this override
      \override VerticalAxisGroup.staff-affinity = #DOWN
    }
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "contraltos" {
        \relative c'' { a4 a a a }
      }
    }
    \context Lyrics = "sopranos" {
      \lyricsto "sopranos" {
        Sop -- ra -- no words
      }
    }
    \context Lyrics = "contraltos" {
      \lyricsto "contraltos" {
        Con -- tral -- to words
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

Other combinations of lyrics and staves may be generated by elaborating these examples, or by examining the templates in the Learning Manual, see Vocal ensembles templates.

Selected Snippets

Obtaining 2.12 lyrics spacing in newer versions

The vertical spacing engine changed since version 2.14. This can cause lyrics to be spaced differently.

It is possible to set properties for Lyric and Staff contexts to get the spacing engine to behave as it did in version 2.12.

global = {
  \key d \major
  \time 3/4
}

sopMusic = \relative c' {
  % VERSE ONE
  fis4 fis fis | \break
  fis4. e8 e4
}

altoMusic = \relative c' {
  % VERSE ONE
  d4 d d |
  d4. b8 b4 |
}

tenorMusic = \relative c' {
  a4 a a |
  b4. g8 g4 |
}

bassMusic = \relative c {
  d4 d d |
  g,4. g8 g4 |
}

words = \lyricmode {
  Great is Thy faith- ful- ness,
}

\score {
  \new ChoirStaff <<
    \new Lyrics = sopranos
    \new Staff = women <<
      \new Voice = "sopranos" {
        \voiceOne
        \global \sopMusic
      }
      \new Voice = "altos" {
        \voiceTwo
        \global \altoMusic
      }
    >>
    \new Lyrics = "altos"
    \new Lyrics = "tenors"
    \new Staff = men <<
      \clef bass
      \new Voice = "tenors" {
        \voiceOne
        \global \tenorMusic
      }
      \new Voice = "basses" {
        \voiceTwo  \global \bassMusic
      }
    >>
    \new Lyrics = basses
    \context Lyrics = sopranos \lyricsto sopranos \words
    \context Lyrics = altos \lyricsto altos \words
    \context Lyrics = tenors \lyricsto tenors \words
    \context Lyrics = basses \lyricsto basses \words
  >>
  \layout {
    \context {
      \Lyrics
      \override VerticalAxisGroup.staff-affinity = ##f
      \override VerticalAxisGroup.staff-staff-spacing =
        #'((basic-distance . 0)
	   (minimum-distance . 2)
	   (padding . 2))
    }
    \context {
      \Staff
      \override VerticalAxisGroup.staff-staff-spacing =
        #'((basic-distance . 0)
	   (minimum-distance . 2)
	   (padding . 2))
    }
  }
}

[image of music]

See also

Learning Manual: Vocal ensembles templates.

Notation Reference: Context layout order, Creating and referencing contexts.


Placing syllables horizontally

To increase the spacing between lyrics, set the minimum-distance property of LyricSpace.

{
  c c c c
  \override Lyrics.LyricSpace.minimum-distance = #1.0
  c c c c
}
\addlyrics {
  longtext longtext longtext longtext
  longtext longtext longtext longtext
}

[image of music]

To make this change for all lyrics in the score, set the property in the \layout block.

\score {
  \relative c' {
  c c c c
  c c c c
  }
  \addlyrics {
  longtext longtext longtext longtext
  longtext longtext longtext longtext
  }
  \layout {
    \context {
      \Lyrics
      \override LyricSpace.minimum-distance = #1.0
    }
  }
}

[image of music]

Selected Snippets

Lyrics alignment

Horizontal alignment for lyrics can be set by overriding the self-alignment-X property of the LyricText object. #-1 is left, #0 is center and #1 is right; however, you can use #LEFT, #CENTER and #RIGHT as well.

\layout { ragged-right = ##f }
\relative c'' {
  c1
  c1
  c1
}
\addlyrics {
  \once \override LyricText.self-alignment-X = #LEFT
  "This is left-aligned"
  \once \override LyricText.self-alignment-X = #CENTER
  "This is centered"
  \once \override LyricText.self-alignment-X = #1
  "This is right-aligned"
}

[image of music]

Checking to make sure that text scripts and lyrics are within the margins requires additional calculations. To speed up processing slightly, this feature can be disabled:

\override Score.PaperColumn.keep-inside-line = ##f

To make lyrics avoid bar lines as well, use

\layout {
  \context {
    \Lyrics
      \consists "Bar_engraver"
      \consists "Separating_line_group_engraver"
      \hide BarLine
  }
}

Lyrics and repeats

Simple repeats

Repeats in music are fully described elsewhere; see Repeats. This section explains how to add lyrics to repeated sections of music.

Lyrics to a section of music that is repeated should be surrounded by exactly the same repeat construct as the music, if the words are unchanged.

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' {
          a4 a a a
          \repeat volta 2 { b4 b b b }
        }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Not re -- peat -- ed.
        \repeat volta 2 { Re -- peat -- ed twice. }
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

The words will then be correctly expanded if the repeats are unfolded.

\score {
  \unfoldRepeats {
    <<
      \new Staff {
        \new Voice = "melody" {
          \relative c'' {
            a4 a a a
            \repeat volta 2 { b4 b b b }
          }
        }
      }
      \new Lyrics {
        \lyricsto "melody" {
          Not re -- peat -- ed.
          \repeat volta 2 { Re -- peat -- ed twice. }
        }
      }
    >>
  }
}

[image of music]

If the repeated section is to be unfolded and has different words, simply enter all the words:

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' {
          a4 a a a
          \repeat unfold 2 { b4 b b b }
        }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Not re -- peat -- ed.
        The first time words.
        Sec -- ond time words.
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

When the words to a repeated volta section are different, the words to each repeat must be entered in separate Lyrics contexts, correctly nested in parallel sections:

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' {
          a4 a a a
          \repeat volta 2 { b4 b b b }
        }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics \lyricsto "melody" {
      Not re -- peat -- ed.
      <<
	{ The first time words. }
	\new Lyrics {
	  \set associatedVoice = "melody"
	  Sec -- ond time words.
	}
      >>
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

More verses may be added in a similar way:

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "singleVoice" {
        \relative c'' {
	  a4 a a a
	  \repeat volta 3 { b4 b b b }
          c4 c c c
	}
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics \lyricsto "singleVoice" {
      Not re -- peat -- ed.
      <<
        { The first time words.	}
	\new Lyrics {
	  \set associatedVoice = "singleVoice"
	  Sec -- ond time words.
	}
	\new Lyrics {
	  \set associatedVoice = "singleVoice"
	  The third time words.
	}
      >>
      The end sec -- tion.
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

However, if this construct is embedded within a multi-staved context such as a ChoirStaff the lyrics of the second and third verses will appear beneath the bottom staff.

To position them correctly use alignBelowContext:

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' {
	  a4 a a a
	  \repeat volta 3 { b4 b b b }
          c4 c c c
	}
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics = "firstVerse" \lyricsto "melody" {
      Not re -- peat -- ed.
      <<
        { The first time words.	}
	\new Lyrics = "secondVerse"
        \with { alignBelowContext = #"firstVerse" } {
	  \set associatedVoice = "melody"
	  Sec -- ond time words.
	}
	\new Lyrics = "thirdVerse"
        \with { alignBelowContext = #"secondVerse" } {
	  \set associatedVoice = "melody"
	  The third time words.
	}
      >>
      The end sec -- tion.
    }
    \new Voice = "harmony" {
      \relative c' {
        f4 f f f \repeat volta 2 { g8 g g4 g2 } a4 a8. a16 a2
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

Repeats with alternative endings

If the words of the repeated section are the same, exactly the same structure can be used for both the lyrics and music.

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \time 2/4
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' {
          a4 a a a
          \repeat volta 2 { b4 b }
          \alternative { { b b } { b c } }
        }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Not re -- peat -- ed.
        \repeat volta 2 { Re -- peat -- }
        \alternative { { ed twice. } { ed twice. } }
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

But when the repeated section has different words, a repeat construct cannot be used around the words and \skip commands have to be inserted manually to skip over the notes in the alternative sections which do not apply.

Note: do not use an underscore, _, to skip notes – an underscore indicates a melisma, causing the preceding syllable to be left-aligned.

Note: The \skip command must be followed by a number, but this number is ignored in lyrics which derive their durations from the notes in an associated melody through addlyrics or lyricsto. Each \skip skips a single note of any value, irrespective of the value of the following number.

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \time 2/4
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' {
          \repeat volta 2 { b4 b }
          \alternative { { b b } { b c } }
          c4 c
        }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        The first time words.
        \repeat unfold 2 { \skip 1 }
        End here.
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Sec -- ond
        \repeat unfold 2 { \skip 1 }
        time words.
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

When a note is tied over into two or more alternative endings a tie is used to carry the note into the first alternative ending and a \repeatTie is used in the second and subsequent endings. This structure causes difficult alignment problems when lyrics are involved and increasing the length of the alternative sections so the tied notes are contained wholly within them may give a more acceptable result.

The tie creates a melisma into the first alternative, but not into the second and subsequent alternatives, so to align the lyrics correctly it is necessary to disable the automatic creation of melismata over the volta section and insert manual skips.

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \time 2/4
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' {
          \set melismaBusyProperties = #'()
          \repeat volta 2 { b4 b ~}
          \alternative { { b b } { b \repeatTie c } }
          \unset melismaBusyProperties
          c4 c
        }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        \repeat volta 2 { Here's a __ }
        \alternative {
          { \skip 1 verse }
          { \skip 1 sec }
        }
        ond one.
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

Note that if \unfoldRepeats is used around a section containing \repeatTie, the \repeatTie should be removed to avoid both types of tie being printed.

When the repeated section has different words a \repeat cannot be used around the lyrics and \skip commands need to be inserted manually, as before.

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \time 2/4
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' {
          \repeat volta 2 { b4 b ~}
          \alternative { { b b } { b \repeatTie c } }
          c4 c
        }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Here's a __ verse.
        \repeat unfold 2 { \skip 1 }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Here's one
        \repeat unfold 2 { \skip 1 }
        more to sing.
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

If you wish to show extenders and hyphens into and out of alternative sections these must be inserted manually.

\score {
  <<
    \new Staff {
      \time 2/4
      \new Voice = "melody" {
        \relative c'' {
          \repeat volta 2 { b4 b ~}
          \alternative { { b b } { b \repeatTie c } }
          c4 c
        }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Here's a __ verse.
        \repeat unfold 2 { \skip 1 }
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics {
      \lyricsto "melody" {
        Here's "a_"
        \skip 1
        "_" sec -- ond one.
      }
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

See also

Notation Reference: Keeping contexts alive, Repeats.


Divisi lyrics

When just the words and rhythms of the two parts differ with the pitches remaining the same, temporarily turning off the automatic detection of melismata and indicating the melisma in the lyrics may be the appropriate method to use:

\score {
  <<
    \new Voice = "melody" {
      \relative c' {
        \set melismaBusyProperties = #'()
        \slurDown
        \slurDashed
        e4 e8 ( e ) c4 c |
        \unset melismaBusyProperties
        c
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics \lyricsto "melody" {
      They shall not o -- ver -- come
    }
    \new Lyrics \lyricsto "melody" {
      We will _
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

When both music and words differ it may be better to display the differing music and lyrics by naming voice contexts and attaching lyrics to those specific contexts:

\score {
  <<
    \new Voice = "melody" {
      \relative c' {
        <<
          {
            \voiceOne
            e4 e8 e
          }
          \new Voice = "splitpart" {
            \voiceTwo
            c4 c
          }
        >>
        \oneVoice
        c4 c |
        c
      }
    }
    \new Lyrics \lyricsto "melody" {
      They shall not o -- ver -- come
    }
    \new Lyrics \lyricsto "splitpart" {
      We will
    }
  >>
}

[image of music]

It is common in choral music to have a voice part split for several measures. The << {…} \\ {…} >> construct, where the two (or more) musical expressions are separated by double backslashes, might seem the proper way to set the split voices. This construct, however, will assign all the expressions within it to NEW Voice contexts which will result in no lyrics being set for them since the lyrics will be set to the original voice context – not, typically, what one wants. The temporary polyphonic passage is the proper construct to use, see section Temporary polyphonic passages in Single-staff polyphony.


Polyphony with shared lyrics

When two voices with different rhythms share the same lyrics, aligning the lyrics to one of the voices may lead to problems in the other voice. For example, the second lyric extender below is too short, since the lyrics are aligned only to the top voice:

soprano = \relative { b'8( c d c) d2 }
alto = \relative { g'2 b8( a g a) }
words = \lyricmode { la __ la __ }

\new Staff <<
  \new Voice = "sopranoVoice" { \voiceOne \soprano }
  \new Voice { \voiceTwo \alto }
  \new Lyrics \lyricsto "sopranoVoice" \words
>>

[image of music]

To get the desired result, align the lyrics to a new NullVoice context containing a suitable combination of the two voices. The notes of the NullVoice context do not appear on the printed page, but can be used to align the lyrics appropriately:

soprano = \relative { b'8( c d c) d2 }
alto = \relative { g'2 b8( a g a) }
aligner = \relative { b'8( c d c) b( a g a) }
words = \lyricmode { la __ la __ }

\new Staff <<
  \new Voice { \voiceOne \soprano }
  \new Voice { \voiceTwo \alto }
  \new NullVoice = "aligner" \aligner
  \new Lyrics \lyricsto "aligner" \words
>>

[image of music]

This method also can be used with the \partcombine function, which does not allow lyrics on its own:

soprano = \relative { b'8( c d c) d2 }
alto = \relative { g'2 b8( a g a) }
aligner = \relative { b'8( c d c) b( a g a) }
words = \lyricmode { la __ la __ }

\new Staff <<
  \new Voice \partcombine \soprano \alto
  \new NullVoice = "aligner" \aligner
  \new Lyrics \lyricsto "aligner" \words
>>

[image of music]

Known issues and warnings

The \addLyrics function only works with Voice lyrics and so cannot be used with NullVoice.

The \partcombine function is described in Automatic part combining.

Lastly, this method can be used even when the voices are in different staves, and is not limited to only two voices:

soprano = \relative { b'8( c d c) d2 }
altoOne = \relative { g'2 b8( a b4) }
altoTwo = \relative { d'2 g4( fis8 g) }
aligner = \relative { b'8( c d c) d( d d d) }
words = \lyricmode { la __ la __ }

\new ChoirStaff <<
  \new Staff \soprano
  \new NullVoice = "aligner" \aligner
  \new Lyrics \lyricsto "aligner" \words
  \new Staff \partcombine \altoOne \altoTwo
>>

[image of music]


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