Sibelius : 6 of 1 ; ½ Dozen of the other – the Respell Remote Key Sigs Conundrum

When working with scores in keys of four sharps or more, it’s frequently desirable for transposing instruments such as Bb Clarinet or Trumpet to show their respective transpositions in flat keys. For instance, the key of B major concert (five sharps) will automatically display in Sibelius’ Bb Clarinet or Bb Trumpet staves as the key of Db (5 flats), rather than C# major (7 sharps).

This desirable behavior happens because “Respell remote key signatures in transposing score” in the Clefs and Key Signatures panel of the Engraving Rules is checked by default:


Sibelius’ rule for “Respell remote key signatures in transposing score” is: always show the enharmonic key signature which displays the fewest accidentals when transposed. For concert keys of five sharps or more, Bb transposing instruments will always show flat keys (which, coincidentally, many wind and brass players prefer).

However, you may have noticed that “Respell Remote Key Signatures” doesn’t work in four sharps concert, because, technically, the two possible enharmonic key signatures of six sharps or six flats, are equally “simple”.

That being the case, how can we coax a concert key signature of four sharps (E major or C# minor) to appear as six flats (rather than six sharps) for Bb instruments?

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Concert Pitch, Transposing and Octave-Displaced Instruments : A Prelude

Music scores, whether orchestral, concert band, big band, or a pop chart etc. typically contain a variety of differently pitched instruments. Because factors like instrument length, size and acoustical properties affect each instrument’s range / tessitura, certain instruments need to be written transposed, in a different octave, or both to produce pitches in common with other instruments.

This system of written pitch notation allows the music to remain largely within the staff for each part as well as the transposing score. Instruments written in a different octave than where they sound are referred to as octave-displaced instruments.

Additionally, it is common practice in Concert Scores to show octave-displaced instruments at written (rather than concert) pitch. This allows these instruments to be notated largely within the staff. (For Finale users, more on this later.)


Regardless of whether a pitched instrument produces its sound by vibrating metal, membranes, strings or air, it falls into one of the following four transposition / octave displacement types:

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Transpose by Interval in Sibelius

Q: I play Alto Sax in a (small) big band. We’ve purchased Superstition by Stevie Wonder, arranged by Mike Tomaro. It’s a nifty piece of work and quite a challenge. I used Photoscore to enter my Alto Sax part into Sibelius 6, which appeared to go quite smoothly. But, Photoscore apparently didn’t spot the fact that it was a transposed part.

Is there a way that I can correct this in Sibelius and not lose all my sharps and flats? When I play it, I hear the correct notes but not at the right pitch. It would be nice to be able to change them, without having to alter each sharp or flat by hand. I’ve been trying to find an anwser but I have not been successful so far. Can you help me? Thanks very much.

A: Fortunately, this one is pretty easy to set right by (a) first making sure that the score in concert pitch is set to the correct key signature (in this case, your “score” can also be a single part) and (b) transposing the notes to the corresponding concert / transposed pitches. You can do both operations from within the Transpose dialog in Sibelius.

Let’s say you have a chart in three flats concert. The corresponding Alto Sax part is going to appear as C maj / A minor:

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Alternate Key Signatures for Transposing Instruments

One thing we take for granted with music notation programs is that, for transposing instruments in a transposing score, the software automatically displays the correct key signature and transposes by the appropriate interval.

Most of the time, we don’t have to think about it. Both Sibelius and Finale will even, by default, “wrap” the key signature of the transposing instrument to prevent unnecessarily complex or remote key changes, ensuring that, for instance, an Alto Sax playing in the concert key of B major will display the key signature of A flat instead of a very unusual G sharp.

Occasionally, though, we need to display an enharmonic key signature other than the one the program chooses. Consider a B flat Clarinet playing in the concert key of E major. Both Sibelius and Finale will show the transposed key as F sharp (6 sharps), but we may want the key instead to be G flat (6 flats). Here’s how to do it:

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Creating a New Score from Transposed Parts in Finale or Sibelius

Q: I’ve got a chart with just the parts and I’m re-constructing a score. I want to enter the notes as they are without going through transposing. Is there a way to just enter the notes onto a transposed score? It seems like there must be an easy way to do this. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks . . .

A:  I’ll walk through the steps for creating a score from an existing set of printed parts in both Finale and Sibelius. You can create a new score from existing transposed parts in either program, but as you’ll see, one notation program has a clear advantage in this particular area.

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