2.4.2 Aligning lyrics to a melody

Music Glossary: melisma, extender line.

The next line in the nursery rhyme is The moon doth shine as bright as day. Let’s extend it:

<<
  \relative c'' {
    \key g \major
    \time 6/8
    d4 b8 c4 a8 d4 b8 g4
    g8 a4 b8 c b a d4 b8 g4.
  }
  \addlyrics {
    Girls and boys come out to play,
    The moon doth shine as bright as day;
  }
>>

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We see the extra lyrics do not align properly with the notes. The word shine should be sung on two notes, not one. This is called a melisma, a single syllable sung to more than one note. There are several ways to spread a syllable over multiple notes, the simplest being to add a slur across them, for details, see Ties and slurs:

<<
  \relative c'' {
    \key g \major
    \time 6/8
    d4 b8 c4 a8 d4 b8 g4
    g8 a4 b8 c( b) a d4 b8 g4.
  }
  \addlyrics {
    Girls and boys come out to play,
    The moon doth shine as bright as day;
  }
>>

[image of music]

The words now line up correctly with the notes, but the automatic beaming for the notes above shine as does not look right. We can correct this by inserting manual beaming commands to override the automatic beaming here, for details, see Automatic and manual beams.

<<
  \relative c'' {
    \key g \major
    \time 6/8
    d4 b8 c4 a8 d4 b8 g4
    g8 a4 b8 c([ b]) a d4 b8 g4.
  }
  \addlyrics {
    Girls and boys come out to play,
    The moon doth shine as bright as day;
  }
>>

[image of music]

As an alternative to using slurs, the melismata may be indicated in just the lyrics by using an underscore _ for each note that should be included in the melisma:

<<
  \relative c'' {
    \key g \major
    \time 6/8
    d4 b8 c4 a8 d4 b8 g4
    g8 a4 b8 c[ b] a d4 b8 g4.
  }
  \addlyrics {
    Girls and boys come out to play,
    The moon doth shine _ as bright as day;
  }
>>

[image of music]

If a syllable extends over several notes or a single very long note an extender line is usually drawn from the syllable extending under all the notes for that syllable. It is entered as two underscores __. Here is an example from the first three bars of Dido’s Lament, from Purcell’s Dido and Æneas:

<<
  \relative c'' {
    \key g \minor
    \time 3/2
    g2 a bes bes( a)
    b c4.( bes8 a4. g8 fis4.) g8 fis1
  }
  \addlyrics {
    When I am laid,
    am laid __ in earth,
  }
>>

[image of music]

None of the examples so far have involved words containing more than one syllable. Such words are usually split one syllable to a note, with hyphens between syllables. Such hyphens are entered as two dashes, resulting in a centered hyphen between the syllables. Here is an example showing this and everything we have learned so far about aligning lyrics to notes.

<<
  \relative c' {
    \key g \major
    \time 3/4
    \partial 4
    d4 g4 g a8( b) g4 g4
    b8( c) d4 d e4 c2
  }
  \addlyrics {
    A -- way in a __ man -- ger,
    no __ crib for a bed, __
  }
>>

[image of music]

Some lyrics, especially those in Italian, require the opposite: setting more than one syllable to a single note. This is achieved by linking the syllables together with a single underscore _ (with no spaces), or enclosing them in quotes. Here’s an example from Rossini’s Figaro, where al has to be sung on the same note as the go of Largo in Figaro’s aria Largo al factotum:

<<
  \relative c' {
    \clef bass
    \key c \major
    \time 6/8
    c4.~ c8 d b c([ d]) b c d b c
  }
  \addlyrics {
    Lar -- go_al fac -- to -- tum del -- la cit -- tà
  }
>>

[image of music]

See also

Notation Reference: Vocal music.


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