In a hymn I am working on, the first measure is partial and has only an eighth note, but the Time Signature is 6:8. Someone told me that the ending measure should also be offset in reverse to make up for it so that the first and last measure add up correctly.

[Disclaimer: I'm learning music theory as I go...]

First measure:

first few measures of hymn, with anacrusis

Last measure:

last few measures of hymn, missing final full bar

Is that right?

Problem is that in Lilypond if I do that, the measure never closes with a full bar. Isn't it supposed to end with a full bar?

Here is the alternative:

last few measures of hymn, last measure spilling


Dave's answer below solves the display issue for Lilypond, whilst MattPutnam's answer described the use of the partial measure in the Finale. I wanted to post the results of the output, though:

last few measures of hymn, corrected

  • I've had lots of issues with this in Finale as well. Everyone will know what you mean if you either: 1) use first and second (...) endings 2) just fill the final measure with 6 beats, which is easier but less accurate.
    – Josiah
    Jul 20, 2015 at 21:33
  • I've tried a measure with 6 beats, and I've tried a measure with 5. If I use a complete measure it serves the me the double bar.
    – bgmCoder
    Jul 20, 2015 at 21:42
  • For a hymn where the music will be repeated, it makes sense to follow this traditional practice of balancing the opening and closing bars (it really is a convention from Haydn-era dance music, like minuets). Jul 21, 2015 at 4:03
  • 1
    Every modern hymnal would put a double bar at the end of the hymn (and no repeat sign, ordinarily). Compare #218 in The United Methodist Hymnal (1989), "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." Jul 21, 2015 at 4:07

4 Answers 4


You can use an s8 to fill out the measure, and cause the barline to draw. The s a spacer note -- it takes up time, but doesn't result in anything displayed.

As far as requiring the partial bar at the end: it is my impression that the degree to which it is required is somewhat genre dependent: I've never seen traditional music, or hymns for that matter, where the partial bar wasn't used, however, MattPutnam is (probably) right in that it isn't always required, and probably wouldn't be too confusing.

  • I was thinking of doing this, actually. A spacer note allows for the proper (? aesthetics only according to MattPutnam's answer) display of the offset, and still fills the measure for Lilypond. I think this is the right answer.
    – bgmCoder
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:24
  • Actually, when I do this, it completes perfectly - even better than using the half note like in my example.
    – bgmCoder
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:25
  • I'm not an expert, but I think you are right about it being genre dependent.
    – bgmCoder
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:30
  • Escept, I guess, that I'm supposed to have a double bar at the end!
    – bgmCoder
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:45
  • 1
    You could put in an explicit \bar "|."
    – Dave
    Jul 21, 2015 at 1:22

LilyPond places bars automatically on full measures. The partial bar at the end of a stanzaed piece with pickup, however, wants a double bar line (different from the default) anyway.

So you'd write it: d4.~ d4 \bar "|." and LilyPond will place the ending bar line wherever it currently happens to be within the measure. You don't need to fiddle with the timing in any way. Just be sure not to write the usual | bar check at the very end of the music. It does not produce any graphical output but just is in the music in order to check that a full measure has been completed regularly. And at the very end, it hasn't.

Are you sure you'd not rather consult the LilyPond user list?

You are likely to ask a lot more questions where the answers are just part of your general learning curve, covered already in LilyPond's introductory tutorial and will not really help others in any manner since they do not rise to the level of an actual problem not answered by reading any introductory text.


I disliked the aesthetics of using the spacer method, because it left too much space at the end of the measure. So I wrote this function:

end =
    (parser location signature)
    \once \omit Staff.TimeSignature \time #signature

and then all I have to do is, for example:

\end 3/4 g4 g r \bar "|."

and it displays the last measure correctly without extra space at the end:

Partial measure at the end

I'm not sure what that will do to beaming, to be honest, but I haven't run into problems yet. Presumably the some code can be added to the function to get correct beaming.

Thanks to MattPutnam for the inspiration.


I think it's not essential that the last measure compensate for the pickup. I certainly wouldn't be confused or bothered at all by the lack of it, and it might actually confuse people who are new to music. It doesn't provide any benefit other than aesthetics.

In Finale I would do this by making the last bar a 5/8 bar and having it display as a 6/8 bar so it doesn't generate a time signature change. My Lilypond skill is weak, but according to this you should be able to make the tine signature invisible.

  • Is there a rule for the pickup? How important is it (you said not essential)? Really, its just aesthetics!?
    – bgmCoder
    Jul 20, 2015 at 22:22

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