Both melisma-underline and hyphen on the same syllable of lyrics?

• Sep 7, 2014 - 20:34

I've just learned MuseScore to work with Taiwanese cantillation texts, and am really pleased with the tool.

But here is a small problem I don't understand how to solve: the lyrics require hyphens between syllables that are part of the same word, but they also require underline for melismatic syllables. At times both marks are needed on the same syllable, but it seems MuseScore only permits one or the other. Is there a way around this?

My work-around is to insert a literal hyphen at the end of such a syllable and then follow it with melisma-underlining. But that doesn't match the formatting of other hyphens between syllables.


(Mac OS 10.9.4, MuseScore 2.0.0b rev. 1efc609)


In reply to by Jm6stringer

But again, note, this is incorrect notation. One is not supposed to ever use both a hyphen and an underscore on the same syllable. Underscores are are only for use on the last syllable of a word; that is their only function and it is misleading to use them on interior syllables. Melismas on interior syllables are supposed to be indicated by a hyphen only. Using both is like tellign the reader "see this hyphen? that means the word is *not* over yet; see this extender? that means it *is* over; you get to guess which :-)"

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

It seems to me that the hyphen is a matter intrinsic to text divided for any reason while melisma-notation pertains to the relationship of text to melody. In Taiwanese, the hyphen has functionality that requires it to be present in circumstances not found in the major Western European writing systems, so I judge it more important than melisma to the transcription of the performances I am notating. I'll leave hyphens in as a matter of textual accuracy and fudge melisma with ellipses for now.

Interestingly, MuseScore's implementation of MusicXML does not seem to encode melisma-marking right now. When I export to MusicXML a MuseScore file that contains melisma and then re-import it, the melisma-notation disappears.

In MusicXML, hyphenation in lyrics is controlled by the <syllabic> tag, containing either single for an unhyphenated item or one of begin, middle, and end to mark the syllables in a hyphenated group. Here is what the MusicXML 3.0 specification says about the <syllabic> tag:

	… Word extensions are
	represented using the extend element. Hyphenation is 
	indicated by the syllabic element, which can be single, 
	begin, end, or middle. These represent single-syllable
	words, word-beginning syllables, word-ending syllables,
	and mid-word syllables. Multiple syllables on a single
	note are separated by elision elements. A hyphen in the
	text element should only be used for an actual hyphenated

and about melisma-marking (the <extend> tag):

        The extend element represents lyric word extension / 
	melisma lines as well as figured bass extensions. The
	optional type and position attributes are added in
	Version 3.0 to provide better formatting control.

It seems that MuseScore does not currently support the <extend> tag in MusicXML output; adding <extend type="start"/> and <extend type="stop"/> to otherwise working XML fails to produce melisma-markings. I hope that when it begins to be supported, it will prove possible to use both <extend> and <syllabic> on the same <lyric> element, since the specification doesn't seem to rule out their co-occurrence — even if, as Marc says, actual practice in European languages does so.

In reply to by branner

Can you explain what unique property of Taiwanese requires the use of extenders *within* words, when for other languages, extenders are never appropriate except that the *end* of words? You say "In Taiwanese, the hyphen has functionality that requires it to be present in circumstances not found in the major Western European writing systems", but that is not the issue. We are talking about melismas within words, where the hyphen *is* found in Western langauges as well. It's only the *extender* and *not* the hyphen that you are suggesting be treated specially in Taiwanese - to be present on interior syllables. That is the part I don't understand - what unique property of Taiwanese requires extenders for interior syllables *in addition* to the hyphens that other languages would also require.

Again, hyphens are supposed to be completely sufficient to indicate melisma for non-ending syllables. This is true for other languages, and I don't understand what makes this not true for Taiwanese.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

You are saying that if the hyphen can serve to notate melisma in interior syllables, in addition to its ordinary function in any hyphenated word, then the only need for a dedicated melisma-marker is at the end of a word, where there is normally never a trailing hyphen. The melisma-marker is like a prolonged final hyphen where no hyphen ever occurs in ordinary written language. The following example from a public-domain edition of BWV 51 makes this clear:


Where German jauchzet is subjected to melisma it is represented as jauch _ _ _ zet because the melisma is on a non-final syllable, but the corresponding words in the English version praise_________ ye have it on a whole word, so word-final melisma-notation is used. Similarly al _ _ _ [len] and throughout_______ at the end of the last bar. All is clear.

My problem is with cases like cre - a - tion in English, where hyphenation is not intrinsic to the word but is introduced in order to indicate that separated syllables belong to a single word. Where this occurs in Taiwanese — for instance, the first syllable of pia̍t-sî 'at parting' — I can't hyphenate it as *pi-a̍t-sî because that would create a potentially real three-syllable word with a totally different meaning. Hyphenation is very common in romanized Taiwanese — it joins the syllables of every polysyllabic word that is not a foreign loan-word (see examples here) — but a number of single syllables are regularly sung to two notes when two vowels appear adjacently in the syllable, one note per vowel, even though for purposes of writing the language only one syllable exists.

You may object that this is not really melisma (multiple notes per vowel) in the narrow sense; technically it is diaeresis: special musical behavior of "medial vowels" (prevocalic semivowels) found in some varieties of Chinese, where what is written pia̍t or hoa in romanization is sung to two notes as two syllables, but actually pronounced as a single syllable in speech ("pet", "hwa"). In English we would put a hyphen here, but that can't be done in Taiwanese, as I've said.

So I had thought to treat this as a case of melisma on an interior syllable. But I see that the rules for melisma-notation are clear enough as they are, and I had better find some other way of dealing with these cases — perhaps a ligature between the vowels. Or — what can you or other readers suggest?

Thanks for your time.

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jauchzet_Gott_in_allen_Landen.png 49.11 KB

In reply to by branner

You wrote

"You are saying that if the hyphen can serve to notate melisma in interior syllables, in addition to its ordinary function in any hyphenated word, then the only need for a dedicated melisma-marker is at the end of a word, where there is normally never a trailing hyphen"

Yes, that is what i am saying. Hyphens serve their usual purpose to separate syllables, but if the next syllable has no lyric, then there is by definition a melisma there, and the hyphen is what clues you in to keep singing until the final syllable. Only final syllables need an explicit extender to indicate that one must continue singing. Your example illustrates this well.

Your explanation of Taiwanese hyphenization makes sense as well. At least, I *think* I understand now. In English, we can freely use hyphens to indicate syllabization, but in Taiwanese, that is not necessarily going to be OK. If I understand correctly, it's analogous to the English word "fire-fly" which is only two syllables but might well be sung across three notes, as if the word "fire" were itself a two-syllable word. In English, we might solve this by writing fi-re-fly for the lyrics, but in Taiwanese, I might have just changed the word into something else.

I'm still not totally clear on what you really want to do here, but I do get why the Western method of adding hyphens won't be so good. And hence the desire for the equivalent of "fire_-fly". You want it clear that "fire" takes two notes, so you use an extender for that even though it breaks the usual music typesetting rule, then also add a hyphen because the word itself demands it (well of course in English firefly is fine, but I assume that in Taiwanese, removing hyphens could be just as harmful as adding them.

I assume music is published in Taiwan - how do the major publishers there deal with this?

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

You asked, "I assume music is published in Taiwan - how do the major publishers there deal with this?"

Virtually all publication of any sort in Taiwan is done in Chinese characters, which presents other sorts of problems. (There's also a native format for music notation, Mandarin jiǎnpǔ 簡譜, though Western notation is used, too.)

But because I am studying prosody — the organization of literature by its sound — and cantillation — the expression of prosody in music — I need to transcribe in romanization and I want to use Western notation because I will be publishing in the West. As a matter of fact, I include the characters, too, because the texts are pre-modern poems. But the romanization is the central truth I have to include about the lyrics.

In reply to by branner

By chance this just arrived from a friend in Taiwan:


It's a picture of a traditional song text from 1929 — hazy, but I think the main points can be made out: numeric notation and only characters to represent the words. In what variety of Chinese was it actually sung? You can't tell unless romanization is used, and you can't study the prosody or the cantillation style without knowing that.

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laodongjiege.png 1.31 MB

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

Whoever composited the Bach used hyphens for the English but broken underscoring for the German. So it seems that not using hyphens in the German was done purposefully. Then again, it looks in places as though the English may have been put in on top of an older German score.

I don't know the date or place of publication, other than that it is out of copyright (I've written to the webmaster to ask for more detail). But I'm unwilling to gainsay something that is not contemporary — practices can vary without necessarily being illegitimate, and in the past they varied by place and by language even more than they do today.

It's possible things are different with Taiwanese, but in most languages, one does *not* normally combine melisma markings with hyphens. If a melismatic syllable occurs within a word, only the hypen is normally used. At most, maybe the hyphen is repeated once per measure or so if the melisma is especially long.

In reply to by branner

OK, but what about the underline? The hyphens are essential in English as well, but as I said, published music for English (and all other European languages) does *not* combine hyphens with melisma lines. Melisma lines are *only* used for final syllables of words. Melismas occur within words obviously, but we simply do not use melisma lines for this - we just use the hyphen. The fact that the syllable represents a melisma is obvious from the fact that there is a hyphen (indicating the word continues) but no syllable on the next note. The melisma line would just be superfluous - it wouldn't tell you anything that is not already obvious.

See for example:


In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

That's just a graphic I pasted from elsewhere, showing the conventional way that melisma is handled. It wasn't created in MuseScore that I know of.

There *are* ways of doing this in MuseScore - for instance, try invisible syllables in the middle of the melisma. Or use hyphen (Ctrl+hyphen) as an actual syllable.

I appreciate efforts to help me understand music notation beyond that which I already know but I think it must be difficult to explain to a non-Thai musician the intricacies of Thai music. Perhaps you can post several different examples of what you want the lyrics to look like and we can then see if there is a generic way of representing them using MuseScore? Just because Western music usually does things a certain way doesn't mean we can't do it differently using the tools provided by MuseScore.

In reply to by underquark

Musically the melodies are painless to transcribe in Western notation. They're usually in a pentatonic scale and can be fit into measures with a time signature that rarely changes. It's the romanized lyrics — Roman-letter spelling, in other words — that have given me trouble when they are notated as lyrics to the melodies.

By the way, this is Taiwanese, from Taiwan, not Thai from Thailand. Taiwanese is written in the script represented as "zh-min-nan" (Mǐnnánhuà, Southern Min) in modern computing. There's a growing semi-standard body of text at It can also be written in Chinese characters, but there is considerable ambiguity that way, so for purposes of transcription, romanization is better.

Please excuse the major cultural gaff. In my defence, I had been looking for a font with extra lines (underscores, overscores between letters) and probably had looked at a Thai one.

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