Finale Concert Scores @ Written Pitch : Using Nonstandard Key Signatures

This post builds on concepts presented in these previous tutorials:

The solution of creating custom clefs for octave-displaced instruments works great for film scores where the convention is to not use key signatures. However, the first time I tried this technique on a project that did call for a key signature I realized that it was a little problematic for the glockenspiel. Other instruments like piccolo and contrabass still work fine because I simply replace the clefs that already displace by an octave, but because the glockenspiel displaces by two octaves, I ran into problems with the key signature being displayed in the wrong place on the staff.


The particular score I was working on was destined to be a transposing score, so I could have just viewed and played back the glockenspiel that way. However, when arranging or orchestrating,  I like to turn on Display In Concert Pitch until I’ve entered all the notes, and I find all of those ledger lines extremely frustrating. Also, it is not at all inconceivable that I might want to create a concert-pitch score with a key signature and hear the samples on playback.

For modern concert pitch orchestral scores, it is common practice for octave transposing instruments such as Piccolo, Glockenspiel, or Contrabass to be shown at written pitch. This practice holds for both keyless scores and scores with a key signature.

Call me crazy for thinking it should just work… Hopefully the good folks at MakeMusic will offer an option for modern clef display and playback in the near future!

There is a solution that works in the meantime, however, which is to use a Nonstandard Key Signature, allowing you to specify the octave at which the accidentals in the key signature are displayed. Nonstandard Key Signatures are often viewed as one of the most cryptic and arcane areas of Finale, but the actual process of setting up custom key signatures for the Glockenspiel is really not hard, so let’s roll up our sleeves and dig in!



First, make sure you have your custom glockenspiel clef set up, according to these instructions. I use Clef 15 for this, which is by default a “blank” clef, but it actually has the same default settings as a treble clef. Here’s a screenshot showing my Clef Designer settings:


With the Key Signature Tool, insert a key change and select “Nonstandard” from the dropdown list. Note that there is some discrepancy between versions in how the buttons in the Nonstandard Key Signature dialog box are named, but not in their layout or functionality. For the rest of the post, I will refer to first the Windows name and then the Mac name in parantheses, for example ClefOrd (Acc. Octaves).


There are two types of Nonstandard Key Signatures, linear and nonlinear. Linear Key Format means that the key has a repeating sequence of diatonic and chromatic steps, and this is what we want. You choose which Linear Key Format you want to use with the “Prev” and “Next” buttons. (e.g. as you press these, you will see the number value  following the “Linear Key Format” text in the dialog change.)

Linear Key Format 0 is hard-coded as a major scale, and Linear Key Format 1 is hard-coded as a natural minor scale. It is important to note that Linear Formats 0 and 1 are not editable. When these Key Formats are selected some buttons are grayed out, but even though it appears you can edit the settings of the other buttons any changes you make to them do not get saved! In fact, if you choose Nonstandard Key Signature and then choose Linear Key Format 0, if you exit out of the dialog boxes and then look at the key again, you will see “Major” in the dropdown list, as if you had never selected Nonstandard Key Signature.

We are going to set up Linear Format 2 as a major scale, as Linear Format 3 as a natural minor scale.

It’s pretty obvious that the Nonstandard Key Signature dialog boxes have never been a widely used area of the program. There are cryptic names and tiny individual dialog boxes that require you to hit “Prev” and “Next” buttons rather than letting you enter everything into a neat, consolidated matrix. Once you get past those limitations, though, it’s really not too bad. Select Linear Key Format 2 and get to work!


Sidebar: Feel free to skip this if you just want the settings to enter, but here’s a little background in some of the odd conventions in the Nonstandard Key Signature editor.

  • “Unit” refers to the accidentals in a key signature, in the order they are added. Positive numbers are the sharps, negative numbers are the flats. So in a major scale “Unit 2” would be C# (the second sharp added in the circle of fifths), and “Unit -2” would be Eb (the second flat added).
  • “Step” refers to the staff position, with C as 0:
Note Step
C 0
D 1
E 2
F 3
G 4
A 5
B 6


The KeyMap (Key Map) and AOrdAmt (Acc. Order) settings should be left at their default values.

For our major key, the only thing we actually need to change from the default settings are the ClefOrd (Acc. Octaves) settings. Once here, you need to find the settings for your custom glockenspiel clef with the top set of Prev/Next buttons (remember mine is set to 15). The default values for clef 15 are for the standard treble clef, so every single accidental in every key signature will display two octaves too low. Now step through all the “Units” including the negative ones (you may want to start out by pressing the bottom “Prev” button until you get to Unit -7) and add 2 to the octave field each time.


For reference, the default numbers for the major keys are:

Unit -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Octave 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 1 1 1 0 1 0

Here is what the Glockenspiel clef values should be:

Unit -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Octave  2 3 2 3 2 3 2 3 3 3 3 2 3 2

That’s all there is to it! You can change your tonic by adding/removing sharps and flats with the vertical scroll bar the same way you do with a “normal” major key.


A Minor Variation

Let’s now add another custom key signature for minor keys. Start by choosing Linear Key Format 3, and make the exact same changes to the ClefOrd (Acc. Octaves) section we made to Linear 2. To change where Finale identifies your tonic, though, you also need to edit the ToneCnt (Tone Center) settings, so click the ToneCnt (Tone Center) button.

In this dialog box, you tell Finale what note (identified by step) is considered the tonic for any given number of “Units.” For example, in C major there are no sharps or flats, so for “Unit 0” the “Step” is 0. The settings for “Unit 3” would be for a key signature with three sharps, or A major, so the “Step” is set to 5.

For our minor key we need to change the “Step” value so it is a third lower (or two “steps”) for each Unit value. Like we did in the ClefOrd (Acc. Octaves) box, click the Prev button until you get to Unit -7, then step through and enter these values:


Unit -7 -6 -5 -4 -3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Step 5 2 6 3 0 4 1 5 2 6 3 0 4 1 5

That’s it, you’re done! You can now use these custom Nonstandard Key Signatures in the place of normal keys, and in conjunction with your custom clef your glockenspiel will always display and play back correctly in score and parts, regardless of the setting of “Display in Concert Pitch.” Remember to save your custom key signatures and clefs in a Library for safekeeping!

One final note:  Use normal key signatures everywhere else in your score and set the key signature independently for the glockenspiel in its Staff Attributes, or within a Staff Style.

This was a long post diving into a pretty obscure area of Finale, and if you made it this far you deserve a reward: A Finale file with the custom glockenspiel clef and key signatures already set up, with further instructions on how to save these as a library for use in your other projects. Enjoy!



Jacob Winkler is the Artistic Director of the Seattle Girls’ Choir, and an instructor in Finale and Sibelius for the Pacific Northwest Film Scoring Program. He is frequently engaged as a choral singer for film and game soundtracks, including the Halo, Assassin’s Creed, and World of Warcraft series. LinkedIn


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *