Spacing of Lyrics

• Nov 27, 2022 - 22:31

Good morning,
as you can see from the attached score, the spacing of the lyrics could be better. Are there any global settings which can address this or would undesirable instances need to be dealt with individually from a near final layout?

Attachment Size
Good Christians all, Rejoice.mscz 27.57 KB


Simply click and drag any of the notes with the "tight" lyrics slightly to the right. There are options in the Format->Style->Lyrics window but frankly I have always found it far quicker to just drag the few offenders to the right spot as I see them.


  1. I would not use system breaks, except at the very end at the necessary places.
  2. Without them, you can use '}' to increase the layout stretch of the score for selected measures. Even with little change, the spacing would fit in your score. Therfore select the whole score (Ctrl-A).

Beside the drag of a note you may select the note and modify the segment leading space in inspector by 0.1sp steps which provides the same modification.

Can you say which lyrics specifically you are concerned with? Different techniques might be appropriate for different cases, so it's tough to give general advice.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thanks JoJo and Marc, I apologise for the late 'Thank you', other stuff got in the way. I played with some of the suggestions and had some successes; reducing the Stave space was the most effective, although not in all places. System breaks occurred in more suitable places except after bar 26. My best fix in this instance was to change the 'hear__' to just 'hear' and make that right-aligned: bar 27 moved up to the end of that line and the very short underline, which had appeared like a full-stop disappeared.
While playing around I noticed some weird behaviours:
When editing lyrics, the visible cursor is not necessarily in the same location as to where the action happens, annoying but easily corrected.
Trying to shift notes in the melisma (?) in bar 23 let me not adjust the beam length between notes, i.e., the ends can only be moved in the Y-direction.
The printed PDF version has different spacings on lyrics compared to the edited score version.

In reply to by elmar@vonmural…

It's hard to say what went wrong from just the picture, but those melisma lines are wrong. They were correct in your original score. Whatever adjustment you did here broke them somehow.

Note that there is a known bug where very short melisma lines will still be drawn and appear like a period as you mentioned. That's fixed in MsueScore 4. So, by all means, you could eliminate the melisma line on "voice" since it's too short to display. But there shouldn't be all that space between "all" and its melisma line, or with "rejoice".

In reply to by adamglazier

I'm pretty sure it was deliberately chosen to be tighter by the engraving team, in accordance with a desire to try to fit as much music on a page as reasonably possible. I'm not sure what you mean about it being a "common issue" to want more space - actually it's rather more common to see people trying to figure out how to fit even more measures on a system (and thus wanting tighter spacing). The current value seems to me to be a reasonable compromise. But feel free to suggest a change if you see evidence that standard practice among publishers really is to have a larger minimum.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I'm jumping into this thread, simply because the screenshot up top illustrates the issue. Notice in the last measure, lyric soul, that the lyric is centered on the note, except in the Alto line, where it's offset to the left. This seems to be standard practice, where a word with an extension is left justified under the note, where the others are center-justified. Can this be overridden, so all lyrics are centered? I didn't see anything in Style > Lyrics.

In reply to by mikey12045

There is no specific setting to force non-standard alignment. However, you can select all lyrics (eg, right-click one, then Select / Similar), then force center alignment in Properties. I definitely wouldn't recommend this, though. Singers are very accustomed to seeing melisma laid out this way and it's a subtle but significant subconscious cue that can aid in sightreading.

In reply to by mikey12045

Well, if they read much published music, they are also accustomed to seeing the extension suppressed where the syllable itself overlaps the next note, since many if not most publishers do that. That's why the additional cues of the left- lignment (and also slurs) are so important. But, if you do wish to force the melisma line to appear, you can also simply insert an underscore directly into the syllable, instead of moving notes around. It would important to be sparing with the manual adjustment approach and avoid actually creating the illusion of any such syllable being centered.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I'll try that. But I have to keep in mind that almost all of my copywork is for the Barbershop Harmony Society / Sweet Adelines. We're not writing for the "trained" singers, so one of our guiding principles is to keep it simple and consistent for the amateur. Yes, sometimes we break Elaine's rules!

In reply to by mikey12045

It's not really about being trained or not - hardly anyone except professional engravers are ever trained in these details. It's more about one learning by experience, often subliminally. If people are accustomed reading music written according to one set of rules, then music that breaks those rules causes a cognitive dissonance and interrupts the processing of the material. So even if some particular notation seems logical and even "simple", it is vitally important be sure it won't violate the user expectations based on their prior experience. Which is to say, of "simple and consistent", the latter is actually more important. So definitely check the published BHS arrangements to be sure you are consistent with that body of work. If so, then great!

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

That's a good point Marc about fit efficiency. I checked some of my books and the word spacing was never confused with letter spacing.

Here are examples of different spacing. I find the default to be a bit difficult to tell words apart from one another (see the words "...the same as the..." in my visual as an example).

I also did a few tests to see if it effects the fit on a page and it doesn't really matter. The measures never go to the next page unless it's a rare case with loads of lyrics on 16 notes or something.

Because of this, I still feel like 0.40sp would be the minimum for me, and not much is lost in fit efficiency.

I'm curious what others think.
lyric min distance.png

Attachment Size
lyric min distance.png 69.83 KB

In reply to by adamglazier

If you aren't seeing min distance affect how much fits on a page very often, you haven't tried it on enough different scores. It might not happen on every score, but it's not uncommon.

Anyhow, as I said, if you find good evidence that most major publishers are going out of their way to avoid spacing of less than half a staff space, by all means, feel free to open a feature request issue on GitHub requesting the default be changed. Just keep in mind, whatever the default is, it's right for some cases, wrong for others. So if the changes is made, scores that currently rely on the tighter spacing will be the ones needing to override it. There can't be one default that works for all scores; it's just a question of which scores will require overrides.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

That makes sense. I’ll try the looser spacing and see how it looks. Thanks for all the input.

EDIT; I’ve spoken to other BHS copyists and arrangers. Centered lyrics, even with a melisma, is our desired style. So: Is there a way to set that up in my template in MSS? If not, what is the proper way to submit it as a feature request? I would like it to be an option, since, obviously, it won’t be right for everyone.

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