Enharmonic spelling to include courtsey accidentals

• May 11, 2016 - 09:34
Reported version
S5 - Suggestion

The enharmonic spelling feature (J / Ctrl J) is rather good.

Would it be too silly to make it include the key signature spelling (sharp, flat, natural) with brackets to make it easier to add courtesy accidentals?

Tiny Trouble


You mean, to add the otherwise unnecessary accidental, so in the key of E, with a G# selected, the choices would toggle between plain G with implied sharp, Ab, and explict G#? I'd favor that, but not the brackets - those are not standard for courtesy accidentals. We are however considering adding an automatic ourtesy accidental tool that would probably be configurable to allow for parentheses.

I would welcome the automatic courtesy accidental tool!
No brackets for me; I use those for corrections in the music I transcribe (so that readers can see it is my decision, not the composers).

I would question the use of "standard". Maybe I am just getting old, but I was brought up on a nice divide - accidental means ALTER the note pitch in some way not specified in the key signature or in a different way from the previous occurrence in the measure - courtesy accidental means DO NOT ALTER the note pitch in some way not specified in the key signature or in a different way from the previous occurrence in the measure - the exact opposite.

Using the same notation for two opposites cannot be standard can it? I thought that leaving out the brackets was just one more example of 21C degeneracy. I recently transposed a part for a young colleague (born this century). Apparently he had never seen brackets round courtesy accidentals, but he he had no trouble grasping the principle and wondered why they were not always written like that. (Polite answer - to distinguish them from editorial accidentals).

However, that is way off topic.

If courtesy accidentals are introduced, it would seem a good idea to allow them to be styled without brackets to confuse the musician, with brackets or as small accidentals to distinguish them from editorial accidentals.


All I can say is, consult any of the standard references like Elaine Gould's "Behind Bars", or indeed consult published music from the past several centuries. You'll see courtesy accidentals are almost never printed with parentheses - mostly just for very special situations like when one is added on a second occurence of an altered pitch in the *same* measure (perhaps in a different octave). This isn't a new thing; it's pretty much the universal standard going back for century. Peruse scores on IMSLP if you still doubt.

Parens are allowed, but since they are non-standard, they simply have to be added manually using the palette.

Well, to me the thing is this: You are supposed to be aware of the key signature that is in force. When you now meet a sharp before a C in a D-Major context you (should) know it is a courtesy accidental without needing help from a bracket.
I like to use brackets for corrections by editors. That way you know what is from the editor and what is in the source.

Sorry, I honestly did not mean to re-open old MuseScore conflicts going back to 2011. When you find statements in two consecutive comments to https://musescore.org/en/node/12496 “although traditionally, parentheses are *not* used by default” and “I've always seen them with a parenthesis around them” there is clearly something wrong. As I understand it, Sibelius by default does not use parentheses. At least one Finale plug-in uses parentheses by default while for Lilypond the “cautionary” suffix for accidental styles adds parentheses.

After hours of browsing a pattern emerges. In “How to write good sheet music” Josh Fossgreen states uncompromisingly “Courtesy accidentals should always be in (parentheses)”. Dr Brian Blood’s (award-winning) wide ranging reference shows cautionary accidentals in parentheses, but qualifies this with “sometimes, but not necessarily, within brackets”. For Dr. Tom Rudolf, of Berklee College of Music and author of notation guides for both Finale and Sibelius, the parentheses are just a standard part of notation.

On the other side, we find great tomes that are strongly against parentheses. There are aggressive attacks on parentheses such as “That’s music for dummies” and https://musescore.org/en/node/110651#comment-500296 “You are supposed to be aware of the key signature that is in force. When you now meet a sharp before a C in a D-Major context you (should) know it is a courtesy accidental without needing help from a bracket.” In a slightly more moderate tone there is (I know I should never quote it – but in this case the Wikipedia article reflects a widely held view) “Courtesy accidentals are sometimes enclosed in parentheses to emphasize their role as reminders”.

The key to the different positions is that the brackets (strictly speaking parentheses) are “helpful”. Real musicians do not need any “help from a bracket”. Dr Brian Blood’s opus is aimed at amateurs, Berklee may be the world’s largest network of music schools, but this is music for the people. The “I've always seen them with a parenthesis around them” comment came from someone who arranged music for high school musicians.

Until recently you would never see a roofer wearing a fall arrestor or a jack hammer operator wearing ear defenders – they were for sissies. Likewise, real musicians do not need help from parentheses.

Perhaps the best solution would be for the () button to mark the accidental as cautionary and have a global style setting for cautionary accidentals with two values: “Pros” and “Dummies” to make the parentheses invisible or visible. This would make writing an automatic cautionary accidental audit plug-in rather easier.

Tiny (I did not mean to cause) Trouble

Since I am quoted directly I am probably allowed to answer. I don't understand how anybody could read an insult into my wording. Know your key signature is one of the very first things I learned in music lessons. Surely there are few musicians around who don't have that skill, amateurs as well as professionals.
My main point is that the parentheses are not necessary and ought therefor not be used for two reasons: a) to avoid clutter and b) to reserve parentheses for other uses (such as corrections by the editor in Urtext editions, i.e. if there is an error in the autograph or early prints that the editor works from).
My secondary point is that I have a fairly large collection of printed chamber music sheet music from many different publishers acquired over the last 45 years or so and I can't recall one courtesy accidental in parentheses in there. So clearly the no-bracket-policy is the one that a majority of publishers follow (at least in classical music).
However if some people feel more comfortable that way they must feel free to add the parentheses--which is already easy to do in MS.

Sorry again.

I was not intending to be either insulted or insulting. It is just that in one thread referred to, two successive comments stated that 1) without parentheses was standard and 2) the commentator had always seen them with a parenthesis around them. Clearly these two comments come from people who live in different worlds. Without being insulting, your large collection of chamber music puts you firmly in the professional (or at least dedicated amateur) world, while I am firmly in the dummy world (even if I would rather not be). When I am marching along sight reading - correction: trying to sight read - a baritone horn part (with too many key changes) because the baritone is sick, and I come across a sharp accidental on an F when I thought I was already playing in G, I am likely to trip up wondering whether I have missed a key change or whether I have skipped a line, even if I do not actually fall over. Reading the part at leisure I would know, reading it on the fly I need all the help I can get: i.e. parentheses to tell me that it is not a real accidental. A real pro would not need that help.

But, the feature request was not about that, it was about including courtesy accidentals in the J / Ctrl J cycling. I did make the unfortunate assumption that everyone would think it would be a good idea to put the courtesy accidentals in parentheses, not realizing there are many people who are opposed to parentheses. So, I unreservedly apologize to these people. My proposed solution is to implement the choice as a global style (as in Sibelius and Lilypond).

Tiny Trouble

Yes, I want my courtesies in brackets (parens), and I think there should obviously be a choice. But logical fallacies irritate me, including the following false statement: "When you now meet a sharp before a C in a D-Major context you (should) know it is a courtesy accidental without needing help from a bracket."

Wrong, because there may have been a C natural rude accidental earlier in the bar. Of course, if you trace through the bar the notation is unambiguous without any courtesies, but when sight-reading, just like reading a novel, we do it in chunks. On seeing an unmarked courtesy, the eye is going to do a double-take to check for a missed natural. Anyway, if you don't need no help, you shouldn't be using courtesies at all.

It's common in classical music to put both oboes on a single staff and courtesy accidentals, often in brackets, are used to let the 2nd oboe to play a note know that his F# doesn't have a natural on it like #1 did a beat ago. It is assumed each oboist only looks at his own line since he can only play one note at a time.

As far as the original request goes, I don't want to have to toggle through any more enharmonics to get to the one I want. I vote NO on adding courtesy accidentals to enharmonic shortcuts.

Yes, my comment was sort of out of place, I realised eventually. I also do not think this should be added to "enharmonic spellings", because it is something different.

To me it's a useful idea. If it were added at the *end* of the list of enharmonics, it wouldn't bother me, but I think it would make more sense to have it a separate command. I could imagine it working similarly, though - in terms of first showing the accidental with no parentheses, then you do the command again and it adds the parentheses, then again and it removes the accidental again.

I'd say there is no problem with the standard. The problem is how they taught you and I can clearly see where you coming from when expecting parentheses.

The better way to teach is that a c with a sharp in front of it is always a c sharp. If it is a c sharp already by virtue of the key signature then it is a courtesy or reminder accidental, otherwise not. But it is never anything other than a c sharp.

It is important though to avoid putting in more than the necessary courtesy accidentals, otherwise confusion about the key signature may take hold with bad results. This seems rarely a problem in modern sheet music but some people in the early 19th century sprinkled their scores and parts with so many courtesy accidentals that they become a problem.

@azumbrunn, I agree. Courtesy accidentals in that time period get annoyint. A Bb in the key signature that was changed several measure before do NOT need an accidental when it's already in the key signature, but for some reason they put them there anyway. It's annoying because it makes you wonder if you missed something.