MIDI files can include song lyrics and some (certainly not all) MIDI file players and/or sequencers can display them as a file is played. This includes newer ``arranger'' keyboards and many software players. Check your manuals.

The ``Standard MIDI File'' document describes a Lyric Meta-event:

FF 05 len text Lyric. A lyric to be sung. Generally, each syllable will will be a separate lyric event which begins at the event's time.9.1

Unfortunately, not all players and creators follow the specification--the most notable exception are ``.kar'' files. These files eschew the Lyric event and place their lyrics as a Text Event. There are programs strewn on the net which convert between the two formats (but I really don't know if conversion is needed).

If you want to read the word from the source, refer to the official MIDI lyrics documentation at In addition, you may want to look at which discusses valid character sets in MIDI. For the most part, MMA doesn't care what character set you use. But, to be safe, you should restrict yourself to using US ASCII (CP-1252).

Lyric Options

MMA has a number of options in setting lyrics. They are all called via the LYRIC command. Most options are set as option/setting pairs with the option name and the setting joined with an ``=''.


By default the setting of lyrics is enabled. You can toggle this behavior with the ON or OFF option. For example:

Lyric Off

disables the setting of lyrics, and:

Lyric On

restores lyric creation. This option may be handy when you are inserting automatic chord names into the lyric track.

Event Type

MMA supports both format for lyrics (discussed above). The EVENT option is used to select the desired mode.


selects the default LYRIC EVENT mode.


selects the TEXT EVENT mode. Use of this option also prints a warning message.

Kar File Mode

As noted above, Karaoke or .kar files use a slightly different MIDI format for their lyrics. MMA supports kar file creation with this mode:


When this mode is entered the following changes are made:

You can turn the mode off with:

Lyric KarMode=Off

Repeated mode switching is quite acceptable and may be useful in generating proper lyric breaks.

Word Splitting

Another option controlled by the LYRIC command is to determine the method used to split words. As mentioned earlier (and in various MIDI documents), the lyrics should be split into syllables. MMA does this by taking each word (anything with white space surrounding it) and setting a MIDI event for that. However, depending on your player, you might want only one event per bar. You might even want to put the lyrics for several bars into one event. In this case simply set the ``bar at a time'' flag:


You can return to normal (syllable/word) mode at anytime with:


Chord Name Insertion

It is possible to have MMA duplicate the current chord names and insert them as a lyrics. The option:


will enable this. In this mode the chord line is parsed and inserted as verse one into each bar.

The mode is enabled with ``On'' or ``1'' and disabled with ``Off'' or ``0''.

After the chords are extracted they are treated exactly like a verse you have entered as to word splitting, etc. Note that the special chord ``z'' is converted to ``N.C.'' and directives after the ``z'' in constructs like ``C7zCS'' will appear with only the chord name.

Chord Transposition

If you are transposing a piece or if you with to display the chords for a guitar with a capo you can tell MMA to transpose the chord names inserted with CHORDS=ON. Just add a transpose directive in the LYRIC command:

Lyric CHORDS=On Transpose=2

Please note that the Lyrics code does not look at the global TRANSPOSE setting.9.2

MMA isn't too smart in it's transposition and will often display the ``wrong'' chord names in relation to ``sharp'' and ``flat'' names. If you find that you are getting too many ``wrong'' names, try setting the CNAMES option to either ``Sharp'' or ``Flat''. Another example:

Lyric CHORDS=On Transpose=2 CNames=Flat

By default, the ``flat'' setting is used. In addition to ``Flat'' and ``Sharp'' you can use the abbreviations ``#'', ``b'' and ``SPMamp;''.

You can (and may well need to) change the CNAMES setting in a number of different places in the song.

This command supports the use of interval settings like the global TRANSPOSE (detailed here) setting does; however, you must use hyphens to join the words (eg. Up-Perfect-Fourth).

If the keyword ADD is included in the transpose value the current setting will be incremented or decremented. To add this, use a comma separated string:

Lyric Chords=On Transpose=3,Add


Lyric Chords=On Transpose=Add,Up-Maj-2

Setting Lyrics

Adding a lyric to your song is a simple matter ... and like so many things, there is more than one way to do it.

Lyrics can be set for a bar in-between a pair of []s somewhere in a data bar.9.3 For example:

z [ Pardon ]
C [ me, If I'm ]
E7 [ sentimental, \r]
C [when we say good ]

The alternate method is to use the LYRIC SET directive:

Lyric Set Hello Young Lovers

The SET option can be anywhere in a LYRIC line. The only restriction is that no ``='' signs are permitted in the lyric. When setting the lyric for a single verse the []s are optional; however, for multiple verses they are used (just like they are when you include the lyric in a data/chord line). The advantage to using LYRIC SET is that you can specify multiple bars of lyrics at one point in your file. See the sample files in egs/lyrics for examples.

The lyrics for each bar are separated into individual events, one for each word ... unless the option SPLIT=BAR has been used, in which case the entire lyric is placed at the offset corresponding to the start of the bar.

MMA recognizes two special characters in a LYRIC:

When a multi-verse section is created using a REPEAT or GOTO, different lyrics can be specified for different passes. In this case you simply specify two more sets of lyrics:

A / Am / [First verse] [Second Verse]

However, for this work properly you must set the internal counter LYRICVERSE for any verse other than 1. This counter is set with the command:

Lyric Verse=Value | INC | DEC

This means that you can directly set the value (the default value is 1) with a command like:

Lyric Verse=2

And you can increment or decrement the value with the INC and DEC options. This is handy at to use in repeat sections:

Lyric Verse=Inc

You cannot set the value to a value less than 1.

There are a couple of special cases:

At times you may wish to override MMA 's method of determining the beat offsets for a lyric or a single syllable in a lyric. You can specify the beat in the bar by enclosing the value in ``< >'' brackets. For example, suppose that your song starts with a pickup bar and you'd like the lyrics for the first bar to start on beat 4:

z z z C [ <4>Hello ]
F [ Young lovers ]

Assuming 4/4 the above would put the word ``Hello'' at beat 4 of the first bar; ``Young'' on the first beat of bar 2; and ``lovers'' on beat 3 of bar 2.

Note: there must not be a space inside the ``< >'', nor can there be a space between the bracket and the syllable it applies to.

Only the first ``< >'' is checked. So, if you really want to have the characters ``<'' or ">'' in a lyric just include a dummy to keep MMA happy:

C [ <><Verse_1.>This is a Demo ]

This example9.4 shows a complete song with lyrics. You should also examine the file egs/ for an alternate example.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star
Tempo 200
Groove Folk
  1 G [Twinkle,] [When the]
  2 G [Twinkle] [blazing ]
  3 C [little] [sun is]
  4 G [star; \r] [gone, \r]
  5 Am [How I] [When he ]
  6 G [wonder] [nothing]
  7 D7 [what you] [shines u-]
  8 G [are. \r] [pon. \r]
  9 G [Up a-] [then you]
  10 D7 [bove the] [show your]
  11 G [world so] [little]
  12 D [high, \r] [light, \r]
  13 G [Like a] [Twinkle, ]
  14 D7 [diamond] [twinkle,]
  15 G [in the] [all the]
  16 D7 [sky! \r] [night. \r]
  17 G [Twinkle,]
  18 G [twinkle]
  19 C [Little]
  20 G [star, \r]
  21 Am [How I]
  22 G [wonder]
  23 D7 [what you]
  24 G [are. \r \n]
  Lyric Verse=Inc


A few combinations are not permitted:


... time.9.1
I am quoting from ``MIDI Documentation'' distributed with the TSE Library. Pete Goodliffe, Oct. 21, 1999. You may be able to get the complete document at
... setting.9.2
This is a feature! It permits you to have separate control over music generation and chord symbol display.
... bar.9.3
Although the lyric can be placed anywhere in the bar, it is recommended that you only place the lyric at the end of the bar. All the examples follow this style.
Included in this distribution as songs/
Bob van der Poel 2017-03-25