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:


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:


(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:


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…


Somewhere around the time Finale was emerging from the primordial ooze, the original developer came up with a system for displaying keyless notation for specific instruments, still in use as of Finale 2012.

In theory, it’s an excellent, flexible solution centering around the concept of Independent Staff Elements. In Finale, each instrument staff has the capability of being in its own unique key center and displaying its own unique key signature, which could be, among other things, a “Keyless” or “Open” key signature with no sharps or flats.

“Open” key signatures, where there is no “key” in the score and all instrument transpositions are chromatic, rather than displaying a transposed key signature, are also used extensively in atonal music, as well as for feature film scores.

In practice, however, it’s virtually the same poorly documented, archaic implementation of the original feature from 20 years ago. In spite of that, it is still the recommended method for creating instruments with no Key Signature as of Finale 2012. The good news is that once you understand the caveats, you can get good results in your scores using it.

(Note that independent key signatures for each staff is a completely separate feature from instrument transpositions)

(1) In Staff Attributes, check “Key Signatures” in the “Independent Elements”. OK the Staff Attributes dialog:


(2)  Back in the score, select the Independently defined staff, and then Key Signature tool. Choose (sic) C Major regardless of the prevailing key center. If you’ve already entered the correct pitches in the staff, be sure to choose “Hold Notes to Original Pitches Chromatically”.


In this case, it’s just fine to leave “Items to Display > Key Signatures” checked, because the C major key signature is equivalent to an “open”, “atonal” or “white key” key signature for all intents and purposes (no sharps or flats). With this method, you won’t get any redundant naturals, and flat and sharp notes will display correctly.

However, while this feature is capable of producing correct results in a finished score, there is one GIANT caveat. Quite simply put, the current implementation of Multiple (Independent) Key Signatures in Finale creates what is called a “destructive edit”.

By defining a staff to have its own unique Key Signature, as you enter notes, they lose their  relationship to the music data in the rest of your score. Music that you copy and paste either into or from this Independent staff becomes incorrectly transposed, and will play back incorrectly as well, among other issues:


Ready to take a further step down the Rabbit Hole and see how to do Keyless Horn Parts? (e.g. Transposed Parts with no key signature in a keyed score) Fellow Finale user Michael Rosen has posted a short tutorial on creating F Horn parts with no Key Signature. Download the walkthrough – FHornNoKeySig.pdf for more information. Just remember that the notes you enter in a staff defined with an independent Key Signature can only be used in the staff you enter it in, and you’ll be fine.


As you might expect, having the music data for any one instrument so completely divorced from the score’s tonal center is a big turnoff for a lot of users, not to mention confusing. To some, hiding the key signature and then adding sharps or flats and removing naturals one at a time on the fly seems like a better solution, or at least a more coherent one.

So, getting back to cue notes for a moment: When you uncheck “Items to Display>Show Key Signature”, the resulting visibility of note data pasted from the clipboard into this staff is identical to entering notes into it from your MIDI keyboard, as shown above.

Cues are created via copy and paste in Finale, whether you create them in several steps manually, or use a plugin like TGTools to create each cue. Of course, you can add accidentals one by one to each cue note,  but this is obviously not ideal.

So, is there another option to force the accidentals to show properly after entry with “Items to Display > Key Signatures” unchecked? Well, yes, and no. If the passage is *completely* diatonic, there *is* an automated solution to get the sharps or flats of the prevailing key signature to show correctly. However, if there are natural alterations of the notes affected by the key signature, you will have to hide those naturals manually. Hopefully, the following tip can at least save you some time.

Select the Cue region you want to process, then run the Cautionary Accidental Plugin,  making sure to check only Diatonic Accidentals:


Hopefully, the next version of Finale will offer a proper feature to address this common notation requirement (e.g. a solution to show specific instruments without a key signature that is non-destructive to the notation itself). [request it] Until then, hopefully this post helps you get some work done.

for David Ross, N.Y. 


Related : Create a score without key signatures showing for some instruments in Finale

2 Replies to “The Convolutions of Hidden & Independent Key Signatures in Finale”

  1. I am trying to add a sharp in Finale on a horn part in F. I have hidden the key signature at the beginning but when I try to enter a sharp on F in the score, it indicates a double sharp. How can I do this and avoid the double sharp?


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