Lyrics & Finale

Lyrics & Finale

Excerpt from the "Lizard's Guide to Music Copying" 

by Lee Monroe

Of all the things that I admire about the music notation software Finale, the way it handles lyrics is not among them. 

I do prep work for several a cappella music groups, these are high-end arrangements that are very complicated.  In addition, I do a lot of stage show work that involves solo vocals, background vocals, and piano vocals.  Some of our larger clients will do fireworks shows that are basically one long piece (300 – 600 bars).  We also reuse arrangements or pieces of arrangements for a variety of shows and the need to easily edit an arrangement is very important.  If I am not careful in how I set up my vocals at the beginning, I will certainly regret it.  This is the major reason that I personally do most of the vocals that come through my company. 

This article will describe what I dislike most about the way Finale handles lyrics and then will demonstrate what we have come up with to make our vocals easier to handle.

Here are my major complaints regarding lyrics in Finale: 

  1. No “Find Text” option – I find it unthinkable that this doesn’t exist in the lyric edit tool.  I simply can’t understand why the lyrics can’t work like a word processing program (one from the year 2000, not 1990). 

  2. No “Replace Text” option – see above

  1. No decent way to identify which verse a certain lyric is in – This usually involves using the “Type Into Score” tool to identify which verse you are in by clicking on to a note that the lyric is under and continuing to change the “Specify Current Lyric” window until you hit pay dirt.  It seems like there ought to be a better way.  (If someone has a better one please tell me, this drives me crazy)  

Actually there is and I just didn't know it.  Since this article was published Jonathan Smith of Evian, France emailed me these tips:  To find verse of a certain lyric:

1. Mass Mover and highlight section. Select plugin - Lyrics - Clear Lyric Positioning.
This will then show all lyrics, verses, choruses etc in order top to bottom.

2. Lyric tool Select Type into score. Click on a note. Then use the up and down arrow keys until the lyric gets highlighted. You can move through lyric verses easily this way.

Thanks, Jonathan

  1. Type into score – This practice should be banned and all users of it should be drawn & quartered (of course, I can only guarantee that you will never do a vocal for Express Music).  When I am editing a 250 bar vocal chart to correct a misspelling or a change (show directors are never satisfied) is needed and the arranger did it in Finale (to make my life easier, mind you) nothing pleases me more than to have to scroll, and scroll, and scroll, and scroll…. through the one verse of lyrics that contains 500 words because my friend (the arranger) used the “Type Into Score” tool.

  1. No way to globally delete lyrics – Some of you are saying, of course there is – simply mass highlight, back space and voilà – they’re gone.  They are not however, gone from the “Edit Lyric” window.  So again, my friend (the arranger) loves to use a previous file as a template so that any settings that he has changed or graphics that he has created or fonts that wants to keep remain in the new file (I do the same by the way).  This is fine as long as you do a little spring-cleaning, especially when you do a lot of vocals.  If you don’t then not only will you have trouble finding a lyric within a verse but you will also have to determine which verse the lyric is in.  Why?  Because every time you paste a lyric (<crtl+c> <ctrl+v) it adds additional verses to the end of your current verses.  This wouldn’t be so bad if it only added the 4 bars of lyrics that you intended, but if you did type into score on the first 80 bars of lyrics (so that it is all in verse one) and then you paste a four bar section of it – well, you will get the entire 80 bars of lyrics again – every time you do the paste.  I think that the current record is about 80 verses that I’ve had to try and sift through, most of the time I just trash all of it and reenter it myself.

This doesn’t happen when you use drag & drop to copy lyrics, but it does when you use the traditional way of working with text.  Besides, it has been my experience that the bars I wish to copy are invariably out of the visual range of my 21” monitor.

Now Finale will tell us to start from scratch or create our own default template – a) we do that already, but no one default file will fit every situation, b) not all of us wish to upgrade to the newest shiniest version of Finale every year, at least not until all the beta testing (done by consumers that just have to have the latest version) is complete.  Besides, many users aren’t savvy enough with the computer to do this. 

I am a big proponent of computer programs, which do similar tasks, maintain some uniformity in how its user interface works.  Most of us don’t have the time to read every manual included in the software that we buy and are anxious to start applying the program as soon as possible (the reason we bought it in the first place).  So making the interface as similar as possible would be very effective.


Express Music Adaptations

I will now step down from my soapbox to describe some of the things that Express Music does when we have to do vocals.

1.      Plan out the vocals – Take a hard look at the score and determine how you can break the lyrics up into verses.  I always use the “Edit Lyrics” tool under the Lyrics menu to enter my vocals.  This way I can make sure that a verse does not go beyond the basic window that Finale provides.  This will make it much easier to locate and edit lyrics.  I always do “Click Assign” for the simple reason that I can proof the stuff as I am doing it and I can make sure that it is assigned to the correct note.

Also, take into consideration where the baseline of a lyric will be located.  You really don’t want to have to adjust every baseline of every stave.  If you plan it out right, you will be able to use the global adjustment of the lyric baseline more effectively.

2.      Give Cues in the Edit Lyric Window – On the larger arrangements, we will actually put in bars numbers (bar 305) before the first lyric of that verse so that it is easier to locate a lyric set.  We may even add a note regarding which line it is assigned to.

3.      Use Verse, Chorus, or Section consistently – This will also help when trying to locate a lyric set.

4.      Text is the priority – When doing vocals, the clarity of the lyric is the primary issue.  They must be clear and easy to read.  Be careful about the layout in regards to this issue.

5.      Miscellaneous:

a.     If you need to add a number at the beginning of a verse, you can do it quickly by inserting a blank from the character map.  For example, you have two verses that you will need to distinguish by numbers – 1. First verse, 2. Second Verse - you will want the number and the first syllable of the first word to occupy one place hold.  Simply find out where there is a blank spot on the character map (15-32, 127-129, 141-144, 157, 158, 160, 208, 222, 240, 247, 254 in the AshAlpha character map) and type the following:

1.<alt+160>First – would appear as 1. First

This would in affect act as one syllable and would move with the balance of the lyric baseline.  Depending on spacing and layout, there may be some issues with positioning but for the most part this is a fast and efficient way to do it.

b.     After years of input from studio vocalists, I try to make the text size as large as possible.  Usually 14pt, but rarely less than 12pt.

These are a few of the most important points to make about Finale lyrics.  Good luck and I hope this helps.


Take care! Lee Monroe

Lee Monroe is the owner of Express Music Services.  He has been a fulltime copyist for 19 years and was strictly a hand copyist for the first 15.  You can check out his hand music font by following this link - LeeMusic.

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