Specifying key signature in an instrument definition

• Aug 9, 2022 - 06:44

Can you specify a key signature in an instrument definition?

Native American flutes are a family of transposing instruments. The flutes come in a variety of keys.

However, all Native American flute scores have a key signature of four sharps, regardless of the key of the flute, or the key of the music. The lowest note of the flute is represented by the lowest space on the treble cleff staff (F#).

Is there a way to specify that in an XML instrument definition?

P.S., This is referred to as "Nakai Tablature" (not to be confused with Clint Goss' fingering diagrams).
For Musescore 4, it would be great to have a special text element called "Nakai" that forces the key signature to be four sharps, and to remain four sharps (overriding the "Transpose key signatures" checkbox in the Transpose tool).
That might be a better solution than specifying it as part of the instrument definition.


There's no way to specify this in the instruments.xml file, and if it's literally only for NAF, probably not too likely to be added, although you never know. But if I'm not mistaken, you can simply create a custom key signature of four sharps and get that behavior - conveniently enough for this purpose, they don't currently transpose. For MuseScore 4, they will, however, and I'm not sure what plans there are to provide controls over this.

In reply to by dddiam

Well sure, but it’s not standard to actually place the accidental there in the key signature, which is what I thought you were saying you wanted. Really, I think we’d need a lot more explanation of how this is meant to work to be able to offer I really good advice, or to understand the best way to support this more directly in the future.

Here is the first line of a Native American Flute Score:
Sample NAF score.jpg
The key of the instrument, in this example, is unspecified, so that it can be played on a NAF of any key. For MuseScore playback purposes, though, one would need to specify an instrument that is the key of the NAF that you personally are playing. Also, if it is a multi-part score with other melodic instruments such as a piano.

The first and last note of this line is the lowest note on your flute (with all finger holes closed). That is true whether you have a Key of 'A' flute, a Key of 'G' flute, or any other NAF flute.

The four-sharp convention was chosen, because it is F# Dorian, alluding to the flute's native pentatonic scale, and because, with this key signature, the notes of the flute range fit nicely onto the staff. (I personally would have preferred no sharps or flats, with the lowest note's being one leger line below the staff. But I have no say in the matter. The convention is already established).

The Native American Flute is gaining worldwide popularity. Many groups and flute circles that support worldwide indiginous flutes focus primarily on the NAF. Their are millions of NAFs being used worldwide. Businesses selling NAFs abound, and new NAF schools and course offerings are popping up on a regular basis.

What is new, though, is trend to communicate music compositions using Western music notation. Supporting Nakai notation would draw an additional population of users to MuseScore. (I would certainly help promote it with appropriate posts and emails to related groups).

One of its reasons for growing popularity is that it is easy to learn and play. It is a pentatonic, double-chambered, fipple flute with a beautiful tone. It has five or six finger holes. The sixth hole (3rd from the top) is always kept closed for pentatonic or Native American style music. (Some flutes cover it with a removable leather strap). The extra hole facilitates one's branching out into other modes, scales and styles. Shading holes easily provides accidentals, bends, portamentos, etc.

Note that, legally, it may only be called a "Native American flute" if it is made by a Native American. Otherwise it must be called a "Native American style flute".

Attachment Size
Sample NAF score.jpg 16.4 KB

In reply to by dddiam

Thanks, I think I understand better now! If so, then perhaps the most straightforward way to implement this would be as a setting in Staff/Part Properties that says "don't transpose key signatures". With that set, and with the playback transposition also set (whether set within the dialog or in instruments.xml), all you'd need to do is use Ctrl to add the local E major signature to the staff. To me this makes more sense than actually specifying the key in instruments.xml, that seems too specific.

Meanwhile, after doing a transpose, it will affect the key, but you can always use Ctrl to re-add the E major key. At least, I think the bottom line would be the same. If not, posting a sample score and describing the desired transposition could help.

In reply to by dddiam

Note that, legally, it may only be called a "Native American flute" if it is made by a Native American. Otherwise it must be called a "Native American style flute".
So a "Wagner Tuba" needs to be made by Wagner, else it'd be a "Wagner style Tuba"??? A "Chinese Cymbal" needs to be made by a Chinese, else it'd be a "Chinese style Cymbal"?

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