Working with lyric hyphens

A hyphen, yesterday.

Continuing a series of posts about lyrics in Sibelius, today I’m writing about lyric hyphens. The humble hyphen plays a central role in your lyrics… literally. It appears between different syllables to make sure that you can tell that the word is split between two or more notes.

Man in the middle

If you ever discover that a lyric hyphen isn’t correctly centred between two syllables, there’s an easy remedy: select the hyphen itself, and choose Layout > Reset Position (shortcut Ctrl+Shift+P on Windows or ShiftCommandP on Mac), and the hyphen will immediately snap back to the right position.

Squeeze me

By default, Sibelius allows hyphens between syllables to disappear if the spacing is sufficiently tight that there is insufficient room for the hyphen to appear without colliding with the syllable on either side. This is very handy in certain languages, such as English, in which it’s often acceptable for lyric hyphens not to appear, provided the end result is unambiguous enough, i.e. it’s obvious where the word splits into two syllables and which syllable is to be sung on which note.

However, in some languages, this behaviour is less than helpful, and in extreme circumstances the removal of a hyphen can change the meaning of the lyrics. So Sibelius now has an option on the Text page of House Style > Engraving Rules to prevent hyphens from disappearing, even when spacing is very tight: just switch off Hyphens allowed to disappear when syllables are too close together. (This option is only available in Sibelius 6.2 or later versions.)

Distancing yourself

For long melismas, where the same syllable is sung over many notes, there may be a large enough gap between syllables that more than one hyphen can appear. It’s important that hyphens don’t appear too close together, as they can be visually distracting to the singer, but at the same time hyphens must appear sufficiently close together that the singer can see at a glance that he or she is in the middle of a melisma. By default, Sibelius allows eight spaces between lyric hyphens, but this is easy to change: simply adjust the Lyric hyphens: n spaces apart parameter on the Text page of House StyleEngraving Rules. Useful values are in the range 6–12 spaces.

Conversely, if you want to ensure that only one lyric hyphen appears regardless of the distance between syllables, exactly centred between the syllables on either side, switch on One hyphen maximum.

Any more for any more?

That concludes this series of posts about lyrics in Sibelius. If there is anything about lyrics you’re curious about or would like to see covered in a future post, please leave a comment!


  1. Patricia DC

    Hi! Thanks for your post. It’s very useful for all Sibelius users. There’s one thing about lyrics i’m not so sure how to handle with. When I move staves in the layout, sometimes the lyrics get unaligned between each other: some are higher, others lower. Is there any solution to that problem? I always have to select one by one and move them until they’re aligned. I lose so much time! There must be a solution for that!
    I would appreciate if someone could help! I would like to share the information I have too, so we could always help each other with Sibelius. Thanks!

    1. Daniel Spreadbury

      The trick with aligning lyrics — aside from using Sibelius 6, in which Magnetic Layout makes aligning lyrics vertically a thing of the past — is to select one lyric, then choose Edit > Select > Select More (shortcut Ctrl+Shift+A on Windows or ShiftCommandA on Mac), which will select all of the lyrics across the width of the system, and then use Layout > Reset Position to put them back in their default positions. Now you can use the arrow keys to move the entire row of lyrics up and down.

  2. Andrew

    Hi! I would like to know: is there any option in Sibelius 6 to align the hyphens vertically in a column, to be centered in many verses (2-15…)?? I have to do it manually always to center the hyphens in lyrics for score with many stanzas. Thanks!

  3. Jim Johnson

    I’m trying to fit many words into some sixteenth-note exercises for my students. In order to do this I am using Ariel Narrow to make the words smaller yet readable. The problem is that the hyphens are really long! Is there a way to edit the length of the hyphens to they don’t distract the singer (plus allow me to fit all the words in?)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *