Request: vertical baselines for lyrics

This just came up on the FB group, actually. I know it’s been mentioned on the forum in passing, but I wanted to share my specific use case as a feature request.

It’s been about eight months since my last hymnal project, but I just got two commissions last week which will be starting later this month. Unfortunately, I’ll have to revert to Finale for them, pretty much for one reason: no manual vertical baseline adjustment for lyrics.

Here’s an example of a hymn from my last project: Dropbox - Come Down, O Love Divine.pdf - Simplify your life

You can see that the distance from the treble staff to the first stanza baseline is slightly different for each system. It’s very small, but it’s absolutely vital to have full control. While it would be nice to have an option to center the lyrics between the staves, even that doesn’t cover every scenario, because there are some instances where notes protrude above of below the staff, and the lyrics need to be slightly offset to give the impression of being centered. In fact, this is one area in which I DON’T want automatic collision avoidance–or at least the ability to turn it off. In Finale, after I have entered all the notes and lyrics, I turn off absolutely all automatic spacing, and it’s all manually done.

Part of the reason for needing this control is that hymnals are often very compact (much more so than the example I linked above). Hymnal engravers spend a lot of time working to get a hymn on a single page without it looking crowded. It’s really a tedious job, but it pays off!

I never need to vertically adjust lyrics in different stanzas, since the baseline BETWEEN stanzas always stays the same. But I constantly need to adjust all the lyrics in different systems. I can’t think of a hymn in which I didn’t need to do this.

Here’s my workflow in Finale:

  • set the baselines for a decent “global”
  • enter all notes and lyrics
  • turn off all automatic spacing
  • switch to “Adjust syllables,” which shows a handle on each syllable
  • make fine-grain adjustments to syllables horizontally. This is also a big one, and sometimes requires hundreds of nudges per hymn.
  • click and drag a marquee selection around all the syllables on a system
  • nudge them up or down, one agonizing pixel at a time
  • can’t remember, but it’s either or Ctrl or Shift that allows me to drag with the mouse while constraining on the X or Y axis. This is much faster when I need to move the baselines quite a bit, but I don’t want the horizontal position to change.

I won’t assume this is how Dorico should do it! But it does work well, and allows me to dictate every aspect of spacing.

Thanks for the consideration, Daniel. I’m fully on-board with Dorico, as you know. I have no idea how broadly needed this feature would be. But for my engraving work, it’s essential.

It’s just as applicable in “easy” pop song books, where lyrics are often written between the grand staves of the piano part.

+1, obviously!

Vertical lyrics adjustment is the last feature I‘m really missing in Dorico.
Dorico does a good job by default - much better than Finale. But there are so many situations where my publisher wants small vertical adjustments of the lyrics baseline. Even the best algorithm will never be able to handle every situation so that everyone will be pleased.

So please add this feature to Dorico!


I agree. It would greatly improve the result.

For that very reason I’d like to be able to turn off horizontal collision avoidance for lyrics both globally and locally. As I have to respace lyrics manually anyway I’d prefer starting from Dorico’s superb default note spacing over evening out all the distortions I want to get rid of myself.
Also, adjusting lyric positions is the only action that causes Dorico’s note spacing to react in a somewhat unpredictable way for me.

I didn’t mention this initially, but I strongly agree. The general principle for hymnal engraving is that identical rhythms (like 4 quartet notes) need to be equally spaced, and the lyrics have to be adjusted accordingly. The rule of thumb is 14 syllables per line, which can often be accomplished only by many, many small nudges.

It’s a bit of a mix of both. I typically turn on automatic spacing while I’m entering the lyrics, since that is indeed a factor in the spacing algorithm. But then I turn off the spacing so I can make sure there are no anomalies like the ones that Florian is describing.

Sometimes everything is said already, but I post my YES for Dans wish anyhow, because I encounter the same problem, writing ‘pop-songs’. So here’s my vote for this!

to all mentioned here.

I completely agree; I’ve been burned by this a few times. Get everything looking great, and then go to nudge a longer word/syllable just a touch and BOOM; all your other spacing work gets wiped away. Ctrl_Z, sigh, and look forward to the future.

I’ve also mentioned (and Daniel has noted) I’d like independent controls for the “distance from stave” values for lyrics above and below the stave; sometimes you add a special verse above; or due to complicated rhythms in a refrain, you put a few words above the staff; the setting for below often does not suit what you need above.

Lastly, I’d really love a way to handle psalms with long strings of text on one note. It is very common to need to split a longer line up. This can be faked if you are lucky and you do verse numbers by hand with text boxes… but it is definitely a cumbersome affair. Perhaps it is in other programs as well (I can’t remember). I know that simply pointing the chant would solve this issue; but for lesser-trained choirs, that is often not an option, especially if you want to sing a longer or lush psalm tone.

Yes. Argh!! :angry: :imp:

We will definitely add the ability to adjust the vertical position of each line of lyrics (though probably not individual lyric syllables) in the next major version.

It’s not necessarily trivial for us to disable the automatic horizontal spacing of lyrics, which we have also designed in order to have the least impact on the rhythmic spacing as possible, including automatic lateral adjustment of lyrics where possible to minimise or eliminate spacing distortion. But we’ll consider that as well. I’m less convinced of the need for that – and 100% of my own work in Dorico is vocal/choral, so it’s not something that I have limited experience of myself.

The particular difficulty of hymnals is their extremely condensed format: a 6-inch-wide page with perhaps 15 syllables per system, multiple stanzas with syllables of differing lengths, and multiple rhythms in different voices (like a dotted quarter + eighth in the tenor against straight quarters in SAB).

For my part, I wouldn’t need automatic spacing to be turned off before note entry, just the ability to turn it completely off–and have it stay off–before beginning the manual adjustment process, with confidence that it won’t attempt to “help” down the road, with unpleasant results.

For an example of what I mean, here’s an excerpt from “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” copied from a widely-used hymnal, with no manual adjustment (not typeset in Dorico):

You can see the awkward spacing of the quarter notes is due to the lyrics. It’s painful to the eye. Clearly the spacing was not adjusted by hand.

For comparison, here’s my setting. It uses manual adjustment, which acknowledges proportionate spacing (ie, a half note doesn’t need double the space of a quarter note), but adjusts the lyrics to accommodate a more even spacing of equal beats, such as successive quarter notes:

There are quite a few instances in hymns where a syllable in one stanza actually overlaps with a syllable in another stanza (though it doesn’t happen in this example), but the eye doesn’t perceive it as a collision. The bottom line is that, at least in Finale, there is no way to set an algorithm to achieve this result. It must be done manually, and it’s very time-consuming.

I tried typesetting the same section in Dorico, with comparable page size and margins (though the staff size and font were a good bit smaller, so it’s still not taxing the spacing engine as much), and I got this:

The default is subject to the same spacing issues, IMO, since it’s preferring lyrics above evenly-spaced beats. Ten minutes of manual adjustment got me here:

Again, the staff size and smaller font size really make this apples to oranges, but it’s closer.

It’s not quite what I want, because to be honest, I find manual spacing adjustments in Dorico… very frustrating. It is as other users have commented: when making manual spacing changes, Dorico keeps trying to help. I move a voice column, then move a different voice column, and everything in the vicinity shifts. Then I have to go back and move the previous column again… at which point a completely unrelated column randomly moves at the same time. Move a column to the right, and a barline moves to the left in response. No! Stop! Achtung!

Get the notes mostly where I want them spaced, and start adjusting lyrics… and the notes all shift again, presumably because Dorico’s worried about my lyrics colliding. Argh! After ten minutes, I gave up. It’s impossible to get exactly what I want. A larger font size and staff size would have rendered this hopeless for me.

In my opinion, this “automatic/helping” behavior defeats the purpose of true manual adjustment. Anyone may know my unabashed enthusiasm for Dorico, and in every other area, it blows Finale out of the water. But this is one area in which Finale’s “dumb” behavior is preferable, because it’s predictable. I can move ONE column and know that nothing else will move! If I want to squish everything together while I’m working through spacing, Dorico should let me do that.

I’m open to the possibility that I haven’t gotten the hang of Dorico’s quirks in this area. But my earnest plea would be for a TRUE manual spacing functionality, where we can move one column at a time, with no unexpected results.

Sorry for writing a novel. Hope this is helpful. I haven’t yet set hymns in Dorico because of needing the vertical lyric adjustment, but this spacing behavior is even more problematic for me. I very much hope this can be considered for the future. Thanks.

Daniel, I appreciate that lyrics are designed to have minimal impact on the rhythmic spacing, and the default results are good (certainly better than in Finale and oftentimes good enough) though, forgive me, not always excellent. I wonder if it’s even possible to solve the problem of lyric spacing with an algorithm, and I really don’t mind doing it myself. That, unfortunately, can be a real pain right now, as Dan has described. If Dorico didn’t beat Finale a thousand times in about every other aspect I would still be doing high quality vocal engravings in the latter.

(Additionally, the fact that we can’t easily get rid of hyphens in tight spacing situations makes it sometimes impossible to get satisfying results unless we input the syllables again without hyphens, which feels awkward.)

Dan, actually I don’t agree here. The way Dorico’s spacing tool works is such an incredible improvement compared to Finales’s dumb one-at-a-time approach for me. My only complaint is that the spacing isn’t stable during lyric adjustment.

When you first nudge a lyric left or right, then any “wiggling” (we don’t really have a proper term for this, but that means the small horizontal adjustment Dorico makes when possible in order to minimise the effect of the lyric on rhythmic spacing) is undone, which can indeed result in the overall width of the spacing column increasing, because the lyric is now having a greater impact on the width of that column. But that should be a predictable and “one-off” penalty for each rhythmic position, because as soon as a lyric has an overridden horizontal position, no more wiggling is allowed to take place.

So I wonder whether you would get better results for your purposes if you set ‘Proportion of lyric width for horizontal adjustment’ (in the Spacing section of the Lyrics page of Engraving Options) to 0. Or, failing that, before you start adjusting the spacing to account for the lyrics, filter for all the lyrics, switch to Engrave mode, and activate the ‘Offset’ property in the Common group of Properties, which will set the offsets to zero but again disable any wiggling. This does not, to be clear, prevent lyrics from having any effect on rhythmic spacing at all, but it does mean that a lyric of a certain width and placement will have a constant effect on the rhythmic spacing.

You should in general find that adjusting note spacing in Dorico is completely stable, precisely because it doesn’t push other things around: the casting off won’t change because it locks the format of the system as soon as you make any adjustment on that system, and you can see where the edits are going to take effect. If you adjust the circular handle to change the offset of a given voice in a situation with multiple voices, then this will potentially affect other things because this changes the overall width of the global column at that spacing position is changing, and there’s nothing much we can do about that.

I added emphasis at the end there, but Dan, I completely agree. I really don’t understand the purpose of having an engrave mode specifically to nudge things around if certain parts of the score are then going to move themselves. To me this is completely counterintuitive. If the whole point is to be able to go in and make fine-grained graphical tweaks, it is counterproductive to allow things to move themselves. This is also why I asked over a year ago for a “lock staff spacing” option. Rehearsal marks are very awkwardly implemented right now and force way too much space to occur between staves. If you get everything to your liking and then nudge a rehearsal mark, all your staff spacing is lost too. (Or at least it was; I haven’t used this feature in a while because I found it vexing.)

I agree that it would be nice to have Dorico figure things out with its (generally speaking) excellent defaults, but then be allowed to disable active input from the program once you go in to make final tweaks. Perhaps engrave mode could have two “sub modes” 1.) where Dorico continues to provide intelligent feedback in the current fashion (such as when you shift one column and the others nudge too) and 2.) full-manual.

But at least give us the option of full manual control, for those situations where the automatic adjustment algorithm is not helpful.

I tried both these, and I didn’t perceive any difference with the Offset set to 0, and negligible difference with ‘Proportion of lyric width for horizontal adjustment’ set to 0 (granted, this shot is from a piano-vocal score, where the nuances of spacing are less important). The system here was only 88% full.

Obviously I did get a better note spacing result when I set the ‘Minimum gap between adjacent lyrics’ to a lower value, but (also obviously) this caused lyrics to elide unhelpfully.
lyric spacing.png

+1 for manual control for sure. As well as Dorico does for many situations, having ultimate manual control is the difference sometimes in doing a project on Dorico or on another notation software.

Agreed. Sometimes you want to (have to) take the autopilot off and fly manually.

I’ve reluctantly returned to Finale for a hymnal project because I need vertical baselines, AND NOW IT KEEPS CRASHING.
:imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp: :imp:

I think Finale knows…