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:

fin-normal-transposition

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?

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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:

sib-respell-remote-key-sigs

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.)


TRANSPOSING INSTRUMENT TYPES


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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The Convolutions of Hidden & Independent Key Signatures in Finale

UPDATE: If you have updated to Finale 2014, take a look at the new Keyless Scores feature which is related to the issues covered in this post.

Q: I’m formatting a Timpani part with key signatures hidden. The score contains a number of keys changes / signatures. The timpani part itself is fine with all accidentals in place.

However, I need cued notes from other parts to appear in the Timpani part. The source parts all show key signatures. I used the TG Tools Add Cue Notes… plugin to make the cues, but none of those accidentals appear in the timpani part. For example, the flute is in the key of G major, and has a passage with F-sharp in it. If I cue that passage in the timpani part, Finale doesn’t show the sharp to indicate F#.

I can’t believe this is an uncommon problem. How can I globally make these diatonic accidentals appear in a part without Key Signatures?

A: As you are already aware, historically, Classical scores displayed some instruments without Key Signatures. Timpani and French Horn are probably the most common of these “keyless” instruments, although you will find examples in the repertoire for Trumpet and even Clarinet.

For Timpani, since it is not a transposing instrument, one would think that all you’d need to do to hide the key signature is to uncheck Key Signatures in Items to Display of the Staff Attributes, and any diatonic accidentals would then automatically appear in the staff:

fin-items-to-display

However, to see how this really works (and how it doesn’t), let’s (1) define a Key Signature, then (2) set our Timpani not to display the Key Signature as above:

fin-set-key-sig-and-hide

(3) Now, enter some notes using your MIDI keyboard. If you enter a sequence of non-diatonic naturals, you get (redundant) naturals displaying on every note; if you enter notes that are diatonic to the hidden Key Signature, the accidentals aren’t displayed at all, neither of which is very useful:

fin-midi-entry-w-hidden-keysig

So, as you can see, simply hiding the Key Signature isn’t really an ideal solution at all. If you’ve already entered music in the staff with “Items to Display>Key Signatures” unchecked, there is a partial solution for showing accidentals more correctly after the fact, which I will cover at the end of the blog post. But first…

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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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