Traditional lyrics beaming and slurs on melismas


Continuing a series of posts looking at lyrics in Sibelius, today I’m going to talk about a couple of plug-ins that can help you achieve a traditional appearance for the lyrics in your scores.


In vocal music published until the middle of the last century, it was customary for beams to be broken for every change of syllable or word, like this:

Nowadays, common practice for lyrics is that the beaming should follow the normal rules for beaming, on the grounds that beaming shows the metrical grouping of the music, and singers have as much need of this information as instrumentalists. The same passage above would look like this using modern beaming conventions:

Sibelius produces the modern convention by default, but if you want to use the old-fashioned beaming in your score, it’s easy to do by choosing Plug-ins > Text > Traditional Lyrics Beaming.

Which convention should you follow? It’s up to you, but most singers find the modern convention much easier to read.


A different convention for lyrics was to use slurs to indicate melismas, where a single syllable or word spans multiple notes, like this:

Again, one of Sibelius’s supplied plug-ins makes it very easy to achieve this: simply choose Plug-ins > Text > Add Slurs to Lyrics and Sibelius will take care of it all for you.


  1. Bob Zawalich

    Just wanted to let you know that I enjoyed reading the series on lyrics. I think it was nicely put together in useful chunks, and provides a good overview, making connections which are often missed. Nicely done!

  2. Bas

    This far I had come myself, but then you have long eight-note melisma’s in, let’s say, a 12/8 meter. Using traditional lyrics beaming produces long, unclear chains of quavers, while modern notation ignores the separate syllables within a group of 3. In Bachs Matthew Passion f.i. you will have thuis dilemma in the opening chorus on the long ‘klagen’ melusma’s. Bärenreiter uses a combination of modern andere traditional beaming here, in order tot keep track of the meter and at the same time keep separate syllables separate. Trying to do such thing in Sibelius gives me a headache. Any ideas?

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