Finale : Six of One ; ½ Dozen of the other – the Simplify Key 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 Finale’s Clarinet or Bb Trumpet staves as the key of Db (5 flats), rather than C# major (7 sharps).

This desirable behavior happens because in the Transposition Definition for these instruments, “Simplify Key” is checked by default:


Finale’s rule for “Simplify Key” 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 “Simplify Key” 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?

The secret is to create an enharmonic version of our Bb instrument which, when transposed, produces a key signature that triggers Finale’s “Simplify Key” feature.  For the key of E major, an “A# Clarinet” will do the trick, yielding Gb major, rather than F# major.

To do this in 2012 or later, type CMND-K (mac) / CNTRL-K (windows) and choose the Instrument List panel. Select your Clarinet instrument, and find the Transposition Popup in the lower right hand corner of the dialog:


In Finale 2011 or earlier, select the Transpose sub-dialog from the main Staff Attributes dialog.

Select the transposition popup, and change the transposition to Other. Now, change the interval from “1” (a positive number, up a second) to “2” (which, mysteriously. ends up being a minor 3rd). Then where it says “key alter”, you type in a negative number which represents the number of sharps you are subtracting, plus the flats you are adding to the key signature, like this:


Obscure, huh? :-) Anyway, now you know.

In 2012 and later, you can also incorporate this custom transposition as an Instrument Change and in this way, control the individual key signature display for various different keys within the same piece.

All the best,

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