The DIY Hymnal: Planning and Typesetting


If you’re interested in producing your own hymnal, I’ve written out a detailed description of the process. Some of these typesetting guidelines represent days (or weeks) of trial and error. Every engraver has differing opinions about nuances, obviously, but these guidelines provide a helpful baseline for a layout that is clean, legible, and consistent. Tweak as you wish.

You can download the template file here. It’s a .ftmx file that requires Finale 2014:



The template uses many of the default Finale engraving settings, with some minor alterations. The text font used throughout is Minion Pro, which is a classic but distinct serif. I based the dimensions and margins on the formats of a number of current hymnals.

Finale is an incredibly powerful music notation program. I’ve described a number of particularly helpful hints below, but you need to have a working knowledge of the program before you start. Here are the specifications:

  • page size: 6″x9″
  • page margins (top, bottom, left, right): 0.5″, 0.375″, 0.4375″, 0.4375″
  • first system margin: -1.0″ from top
  • all time signatures are hidden using the Measure attributes dialog box. (I made the conscious decision to omit time signatures completely, since singers really don’t need them. I’m happy to say nobody seems to miss them.)
  • hymn number: 0.111″ vertical offset, bold 33-pt Garamond (this is the only time I use Garamond – everything else is Minion Pro).
  • hymn title: 0.0694″ vertical offset, 28-pt (for longer hymn titles, tracking can be adjusted up to -50. learn more)
  • Scripture: -0.4″ vertical offset, italic 11-pt
  • topic heading: 0.21875″ vertical offset, all caps 11-pt
  • author/composer/copyright info: flush left with footer, 10-pt (copyright info 8-pt)
  • Lyrics: 15-pt
  • Lyric baselines: 0.21″ between each verse
  • Normal and shortened stem length: 0.25″
  • Word extensions off
  • “Adjust floating rests” de-selected for Layer 1
  • Page resize: 80%
  • Enclosure and staff line thickness: 0.00624″
  • Ledger line thickness: 0.00624″
  • I recommend using TG Tools Finale plugin to create custom hotkeys for common functions. Here are the ones I created:
    • Ctrl+F3 – Note Size dialog
    • Ctrl+F4 – Split Measure plugin
    • Ctrl+F5 – Merge Measures
    • Ctrl+F6 – Edit-Preferences (to check if “Automatic Music Spacing” is turned off)
    • Ctrl+F7 – Beam angle. Useful, since eighth notes are sometimes beamed at a harsh angle by default.
    • Ctrl+F8 – Font dialog box


Here’s the order I followed for typesetting:

  • Enter title, topic, Scripture, text/music attribution, copyright. To reduce font size one point for copyright info, highlight text and select [ctrl+shift+,]. To increase a text block by one point, select [ctrl+shift+.].
  • Enter all notes, making sure to include layer 2 for all unisons, seconds, and independent rhythms. Check layer 1 stem direction where layer 2 is included for only a partial measure.
  • Select all measures and reduce note size to 96%.
  • Enter lyrics.
    • hard space after stanza number: ctrl+spacebar
    • curly apostrophe or quotes: alt+0146, 0147, or 0148 (Finale doesn’t create smart quotes by default)
    • em-dash: alt+0151 (I prefer this to Finale’s “hard hyphen”)
    • For correct hyphenation, I use this incredibly helpful online hyphenator. Copy and paste in the hymn text, and it automatically creates hyphenation that you can consult as you enter it into Finale.
  • Decide measure distribution across each system. The rule of thumb is that you can usually fit 13 syllables on a line. For phrases that begin and end mid-measure, or to simply break up a measure for more even spacing, use Finale’s “split measure” plug-in. (note: if you have any notes in layer 2 for the measure you want to split, you have to fill the whole measure with layer two entries – you can enter rests and hide them. Otherwise the plug-in won’t work. This took me forever to figure out.)
  • At this point, turn off Automatic Music Spacing (Edit menu –> Preferences –> Edit). This allows you to make manual spacing corrections without Finale trying to “help.” DON’T FORGET THIS; it can ruin hours of manual spacing work. And “undo” doesn’t always work in this case.
  • Check horizontal spacing of notes using the Measure tool and beat spacing handles. In hymnals, space is often at a premium, and Finale usually makes spacing decisions to avoid lyric collision that are awkward. Notes – especially series of quarter notes – need to be evenly spaced in a way that looks intuitive and not confusing.
  • Check vertical lyric spacing. Rather than adjusting baselines, use the “adjust syllables” function, click and drag to select all lyric handles in a staff system, and use the arrow keys to nudge downward. Sometimes stems have to be shortened to avoid lyric collision, but it’s best to leave stem length alone if possible. At this point, you can also click and drag using the staff tool to increase distance between top and bottom staves.
  • Check lyric alignment. Lyrics at the beginning of each system should be left-aligned (ctrl+[ ), and all other lyrics should be center-aligned (ctrl+’ ).
  • Check horizontal lyric spacing. This is often very time-consuming, and may require changes in spacing. Adjust syllables left or right as needed to space notes.  The first lyrics of each stanza need to be adjusted so the word is under the first note, rather than the stanza number.

At this point, I saved each file in such a way that it was set up for eventual formatting. I named the file like this:

“#_TOPIC_Hymn Title_L”

…where “#” is the topic number, and “L” indicates “left” if the hymn takes up more than one page. If the hymn is exactly one page, it’s _S (single), and if it’s less than a page, it’s _R (right). That allowed me to combine longer and shorter hymns within a section – pairing up left-page hymns with right-page ones.

Next steps

Next, I exported all Finale files to PDF, and each song went through at least six revisions: three music edits and three text edits. Editors checked note accuracy, stem direction, spacing, typos, hyphenation, and curly quotes, initialing each staff system as they went. Don’t rush through this stage. You’ll regret it when you get the hymnals back from the printer and they have distracting typos in them. Yes, it is possible to produce a hymnal that is error-free.

Once the editing process was complete, I used Adobe InDesign to combine the PDFs into one document. As I arranged songs in their final order, I adjusted the “placeholder” hymn numbers to be correct.

I prepared indices by hand, creating a master Excel document with columns for each category and sorting and filtering as needed, then copying the info into a Word document.

For our print process, we worked with Brian Jansma at Bang Printing. This company had done a number of hymnals in the past, so we were confident that we were working with a known entity. We were very pleased at the final product.

Once you submit the final PDF, plan on a turnaround time of five to six weeks.

If you have any other questions about the process, feel free to contact me.