Bad positioning of lyrics when condensing

Dorico (Jul 12 2022)

I’m working on a project with two soloists who trade off. I thought I could use condensing, but it’s already not working well.

When that’s condensed, I get:

The clear typographic issue is that the trailing _ is continuing long past where it should be cut off. The other question that I have is if there’s a way to pull the lyrics below for condensing. They never sing different lyrics; either only one soloist is singing, or they’re singing in harmony. I can’t find any setting to adjust that.


Unfortunately the handling of lyrics in condensed music is really not good enough for production use at this point. It’s one of the areas that we need to revisit.

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Fair enough. I meant this as a bug report, so if this is a known issue then that’s fine.

Off-topic, I’m now intrigued because my instinct would be to notate “fire” as a single lyric (likewise suggested by this lyric hyphenator) but there seem to be a reasonable amount of examples of “fi-re” in lead sheets available online. Interesting!

If there are established reasons for this that I’ve missed somehow (e.g. British vs US English), please do someone let me know #EverydayASchoolDay


This is a scan and re-typeset of a current arrangement so I’m following its lead. If I were doing this from scratch, I think it would depend on the song, as I would follow the lead of how the song handled it.

One syllable: Fire and Rain ( James Taylor)
Two syllables: We Didn’t Start the Fire (Billy Joel), Fire (Pointer Sisters)
Songs that can’t decide: Light My Fire (The Doors)

The fact that the word is broken into two or more kludgy syllables when sung shouldn’t necessarily have any bearing on it being notated as a single word with multiple slurred notes. For instance, in ‘we didn’t start the fire’, they sing “fi-YER” but the word itself doesn’t change, and I doubt how it’s written should either. I’d find hyphenating it dubious. Personal opinion, but I’ve certainly never seen it hyphenated.

I’m am an amateur with all of this, so it’s interesting to hear how other people think about word breaking. Thank you for sharing.

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I asked a similar question here about how to handle single syllable words across multiple notes and was told in no uncertain terms that it’s never correct to divide a single syllable word with a hyphen.

I get why you’re asking - like in The Billy Joel song. But it seems that pro notation folks (at least the ones around here) say ‘Don’t ever divide that single syllable word’. For what it’s worth, I asked a couple of singers I gig with and they said the same thing.

I’ve had some issues with the long lines after words in other contexts. I just enter Engrave and manually shorten them

For what it’s worth, not being native English speaker, but professional singer for quite some time now, I found what you’ve written makes sense, because there really are two different sounds in that voyel, as you pointed out. And it the word needs to be spread out on a given rhythm (so that different singers keep sync) I think it’s very clear…

That particular word is often sung to two notes. Who can forget Thomas Morley’s 1595 banger “Fyer, Fyer”?


If there were three notes, and you wanted to state on which of the last two the ‘yer’ should fall, then perhaps there’s an argument for splitting it. But otherwise, I’d leave it to the singer to work out.

This falls into the gap between ‘notation’ and ‘performance practice’ - singers do lots of things that are not expressly written on the page.

English has many single-syllable diphthongs. The word ‘choir’, for instance, rhymes with fire, but it is rarely sung as two separate syllables on two separate notes.

I’m more concerned with ‘star-ting’, which is more usually split at the suffix, as “start-ing”.

As for Condensing: as you’re not creating separate vocal ‘partbooks’, then there are plenty of other tools available – divisi, staff hiding, new players, or just using 2 voices.


In Received Pronunciation and most regional accents, fire is monosyllabic and can be anything from a triphthong to a monophthong. In Wales, the word is two syllables. The same applies to words like power and hour.

Even in RP though, the pronunciation can vary; particularly if the words are said slowly or with emphasis. It’s the elongation that leads to the changes when the words are sung. However refined one’s RP (or even if one were Texan), it would sound odd to hear ‘We didn’t start the fire’ with a single vowel in fire. The changes are taken to extremes in some pop music where the Welsh-style, two syllable [faija] is used. It is odd to see fire written with a hyphen in the middle though.

Looking at Ben’s example (which takes me back), fyer is spelt in a way that allows the division with a hyphen and the pronunciation would seem to be called for by the emphasis. If Morley’s accent was anything like a 20th century Norfolk accent, he would have used a pure vowel for fire in speech but perhaps in the madrigal, that would have sounded as odd as it can to modern ears, particularly with the repetition.

Shakespeare, who had come to London from the west of England rather the the east, could write ‘The other two, slight ayre, and purging fire,’ in Sonnet 45 but also ‘Double, double, toile and trouble; Fire burne, and Cauldron bubble.’ In the chant, I would guess he’d have expected Fire to have been close to disyllabic.

It can be helpful to check dictionaries to see how official reference sources would hyphenated word; at least at Merriam Webster, there is no hyphenated variant listed for fire. Fire Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster

On the topic of layout, I ended up going with a new staff, condensing onto it, and then, depending on the layout, either hiding it or the original two staves. So that works.

As for the discussion of word division…

Yes, this document has lots of dubious hyphenation choices. This first line is just the beginning. I’m ignoring them for now.

Why? I’m doing a minor change to an existing sheet music arrangement, so I scanned in the original (PlayScore for the win) and am making the changes. I can make a sweep through the document to clean things up, but I need to get the actual required changes done by the next rehearsal on Wednesday.

I had enough time yesterday to do one cleanup pass, and I didn’t include a lyrics cleanup pass. Given the vehemence of the folks here, I probably will make time for one.

I found in some cases where pronunciation or syllabification might be in doubt, I used the Translation lyric below the principal lyric to spell what I wanted phonetically. I was dealing with amateur singers who became amazingly creative in my absence.

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It occurs to me that the ‘re’ in fire is perhaps the same as the ‘re’ in (the British spelling of) metre and centre; and the Americans ought have spelled it ‘fier’….


And have consistency? That would be far too sensible for this language.


But metre and centre are two syllable words, no matter the spelling, the difference is the consonant in the middle of the first two words. Clearly there is no standard work-around for those wishing fire to be pronounced as two syllables, but there are ways to specify it if needed.

(As someone whose spelling was always a weak point in my youth, I always bridled at the thought that much of U.S. spelling was determined by a survey–a poll–taken by Thorndike when he made his dictionary.)

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The spelling fier was used in Britain (particularly in the 16th century) and of course we still use the word fiery.

As Lillie points out, consistency is too much to expect, and rather strangely, as far as I know, the spelling firey has never been used (the more Morley-like fyery has).

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(English, you’re fyerd.)


Coming back to this, I’m currently typesetting a Spanish carol, with SATB in the chorus and solo verses. The original has the chorus start with everyone singing the same words at the same time. They then stagger that text across the parts, and come back together for the final line of the chorus. It’s quite neatly done (see pic).

I cannot see how to achieve this in Dorico – I’ve got most of it, but the alignment of the final line for all parts (centred in between the two staves) I just can’t get. Engrave mode usually allows lyrics to be shifted up or down across a system, but it seems that is prevented in lyrics on a condensed staff.