Accidentals applying only to individual note before which they stand

• Sep 9, 2019 - 16:31


I am currently working on engraving the work of a composer who uses this common convention, that accidentals only apply to the single note they are next to. For example, in one measure you might have a Bb, followed by a B without accidental, to be interpreted under this convention as a B natural, not Bb.

I haven't found a way to do this yet, could anyone help?


This is completely against the rules of writing and reading music.

However, you can put an accidental on the next note and make it invisible (with the v key on your keyboard).

...this common convention...

This is absolutely forbidden. An accidental applies to all notes on the same line or space until a barline or another accidental changes it. You learn this rule when you are introduced to flats and sharps when learning to read or play music.

For the record: while this is indeed not the norm, and would have been consider just plain wrong 100 years ago, it has become a thing in the past century. We don't support it directly, but check out the courtesy accidentals plugin (see Download menu above) for a way to add the necessary accidentals semi-automatically.

Thank you, Marc. And exactly about the convention—I'm working on engraving a score from 1933, when this kind of thing was super common in dissonant styles. I'll check out the plugin.


In reply to by Timothy Ruszala

There are actually four plugins with "Accidental" in the name or category, mostly about retuning and quarter tones. Perhaps Marc means the "Courtesy accidentals" one: I'm not sure, but as far as I can see (from the description) this is all about implementing the (traditional) system, by guessing whether a courtesy accidental is required. This is almost exactly the reverse of what you want, since if accidentals only ever apply to the current note, there can be no "accidentals".

Here is another approach. If you are engraving a careful copy of an existing score, for use as a score (rather than the view of Musescore as another device for "playing music" on your computer), then you do not need to use the playback function at all. So you simply write the notes where they are, and print out your beautiful score. You have written a Bnat where Musescore "thinks" you have written a Bflat, but Musescore is simply mistaken, because it doesn't know the rule you are working with. (As evidently some humans don't either.) For fun, you can report this as an "issue", and giggle at the responses.

Musescore doesn't really implement any "musical rules"; imagine if it did, then it would be impossible to write parallel fifths. The academy would not have needed to kick Debussy out, they simply require him to use their software. Musescore (the part that I use) is about producing beautiful engraved scores which you interpret by your rules. (But did you know it can also be used to design jigsaw puzzle pieces?)

In reply to by Imaginatorium

I did indeed mean (and say :-) "courtesy accdidentals" plugin. While it is primarily for traditional notation, it also supports a dodecaphonic mode. It's intended, I assume, for adding the necessary accidentals after the fact, not as an aid to re-copying music already written that way, but perhaps there would be a way to make use of it.

In reply to by Imaginatorium

Thanks for the information! Yes, this is definitely something to check out. The alternative method you suggest is basically what I've been using up to this point, although I thought I'd see if maybe Musescore had the capability for playback purposes. Not only would it make proofreading easier, but it would also bring me the personal satisfaction of hearing at least the correct notes of the piece. So I'll investigate the "Courtesy accidentals" plugin. And thanks for bringing up the Debussy! Much appreciated.

In reply to by memeweaver

? Can you explain what you mean in more detail? MuseScore most certainly applies accidentals to the end of a measure. For example, in an empty measure in the default empty score, in note input mote, type C Up C C C. The "up' adds a sharp to the first C. The other C's you types will be shared as well in playback, but no share appears on them - exactly the way standard notation normally works.

The plugin referenced here is for the more experimental special style used by a handful of composers where accidentals are applied to each note. If you run the plugin and explicitly check the box to enable that option, it will add sharps to the other C's in the above example.

EDIT: but no, accidentals never apply to all octaves, not sure where you got that idea. Only to same octave, same staff. I don't think any publisher has ever deviated from that standard.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I was never taught an octave* restriction, only end of measure.

As noted, I have now transcribed over a thousand pieces from dozens (hundreds?) of publishers in classical, stride, jazz and other modes. I don't think any of them have followed the musescore octave limitation. Recent work with stride piano scores where bass octave jumps are common have been particularly fraught with this.

"If you run the plugin and explicitly check the box to enable that option, it will add sharps to the other C's in the above example."
I had already written: "Tried out the plugin but can't get it to work. I would expect it to sharpen all the Cs in this measure." It didn't. I don't think that plugin is designed to do what I need.

If nothing, else this should be an option in Musescore.

*I had wondered if Musescore was getting confused about the pitch as for example it does when you're doing typed note entry and the first note of a bar suddenly appears 2-4 octaves away from the expected pitch. This happens when the clef has been altered in the stave in a previous measure.

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In reply to by memeweaver

Hmm, I wonder what makes you believe these thousands of pieces don't follow the standard rule of notation that says accidentals only apply to the octave they appear in? This is not a "MuseScore limitation" - it's the way music has been notated for centuries. Can you show any references that say otherwise, or show an example that you believe demonstrates the publisher is not following this universal rule?

For example, here is the standard rule as stated in "Behind Bars" by Elaine Gould. This is normally cited as the single most definitive resource available today on music notation:

Screenshot 2022-07-04 10.47.01 PM.png

And here is an excerpt from the Peters edition of the Mozart C major sonata, showing the editor found it necessary to repeat the F# in each octave:

Screenshot 2022-07-04 10.41.30 PM.png

If accidentals applied to all octaves, the editor wouldn't have needed to repeat it.

Anyhow, as for the plugin, again, it's not clear why you would be trying to use it - the effect of the plugin is the exact opposite of what you seem to be wanting. That is, the plugin is designed to add accidentals that are otherwise unnecessary - that's the whole point of courtesy accidentals.

So it's still not all clear to me what it is you are trying to do or why. if you attach an actual score and explain in more detail what you are trying to do, we can assist.

For instance, it sort of seems like maybe you have a measure that was originally entered incorrectly - four C naturals that you actually intended to enter as four C#'s - and now you've realized the mistake and want to correct it. So, you simply need to select those C's and raise their pitch by pressing Up.

But to be clear, this is not how you'd normally enter four C#'s. Instead, you should have entered correctly in the first place - as mentioned - "C Up C C C" will enter four C#. The sharp appears on the first but not the others, as per the standard rules of music notation.

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