Gb key signature for Bb instruments

• Feb 24, 2023 - 02:15

When I am writing for Bb Trumpet, I choose a key signature from the palette. The palette is in concert, so for instance if I choose the Bb key signature, my score will display the key as C. However, if I write a piece for Trumpet in Gb, there is no choice on the palette to produce a Gb key signature in my score. The concert pitch for Gb on a Bb instrument is E, but when I choose E as the key signature in the palette, I get an F# key signature in my score. How can I get Musescore to produce a Gb key signature for a Bb instrument?


Don't think of it that way. Let the software do the work. I assume you are not just writing for trumpet. But whatever. Set up your score with trumpet in Bb. What key is the piece in? Put the score in concert pitch and make your key the key for the piece. Enter your notes. When you are done hit the concert button and the trumpet will be in its key.
Besides, I thought the concert pitch for Gb on a Bb instrument was Ab. But it's late at night where I am. Or is that the transposed pitch? I have a headache.

In reply to by bobjp

Thanks for replying. It is confusing. In order to get a key signature of C on a score for a Bb instrument, you have to choose Bb in the palette. So your choice on the palette is always one whole step below how you want it to appear. It is backwards from the way you would usually think about it, because you are going the other way.

In reply to by Polanve

It's only confusing if you imagine music that is written for unaccompanied solo trumpet. As soon as you consider that the vast majority of music for trumpet is ensemble music containing other instruments, and there is almost always a mix of different transpositions involved, it becomes more obvious why the only sensible thing when applying a key signature is for it to be concern pitch. After all, if you're writing for, say, a brass ensemble with trumpets, horns, trombones, and tubas, and you try to are a key signature of "C", whose "C" would that be expected to mean? The only sensible answer is, concert C.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I disagree with this. You are taking the perspective of a composer or conductor, which is fine if that is your role. However, it's more natural for the player of a transposing instrument to have the perspective of their horn.

To take your example of an ensemble with a mix of different transpositions, one can imagine a saxophone quartet where there is no concert key instrument involved. In this case, there's no need to ever be concerned with what the concert key transposition would be since one only needs to transpose from Bb to Eb and vice versa. So, the most 'sensible' thing to do is just ignore concert key in this case.

Logically, there's no reason one has to tie all transposing instruments to concert pitch which then maps onto pitch/Hz. You can just map each instrument category to pitch/Hz as separate relations. Choosing one category (concert key) as the primary key is due to convention. But, that doesn't mean you have to write the software in this way.

> How can I get Musescore to produce a Gb key signature for a Bb instrument?
If you want a Gb key for a Bb instrument, your score would have to have a key of 8 b, since the Bb instrument always has two b less. See the circle of fifths, this key signature is not available.
There are 8 notes in an octave, the first and the last have the same name, so only 7 accidentals are possible.

But if you want to have e.g. only one scale on paper: Change to concert pitch, choose the key of Gb and you'll see what you want. Write your notes and print them out. But Musescore then will not play the same pitch as a trumpet musician. See here:
B_ Trumpet_.png
(My knowledge of music theory is limited, however).

I would recommend checking with the people who might read this score to see if they actually prefer six flats over six sharps. That would be extremely unusual, since trumpet players are much more accustomed to sharps due to the nature of the transposition. They see 4 or 5 sharps every day of the week, so 6 is just one more. But they've very possibly never in their lives seen 4 or 5 flats, much less 6. Unless they also play C trumpet, or another instrument that isn't tranposing.

In reply to by graffesmusic

Did you read that thread? It does not support that at all. There are only three replies that directly address the question: two preferring F# over Gb, and one expressing no preference. The other replies are all off-topic - talking about keys in general, or mistaking the question as being about concert keys where of course flats would be preferred.

Anyhow, I've polled by now almost a hundred musicians across genres, and the preference for sharps is pretty clear.

In reply to by graffesmusic

I guess you're being sarcastic, but to be clear, no, I also asked saxophone and clarinet players.

Those threads are also about the totally different question that most people were responding to in the other thread - the question of which concert keys are preferable. As I said, of course flat keys will win in such a poll, for the exact same reason that F# tends to win over Gb in a question about which transposed key is preferred - it's inherent in the nature of the transposition. Flat concert keys are preferred, precisely because sharp concert keys get extra sharps.

I am not discounting your experience or your own personal preference - I'm just making an observation about musicians in general. Feel free to ignore that advice, I'm simply trying to be helpful. If you are writing music for your own eyes only, then of course, your preference rules. but if you're writing music to be read by others, it does pay to be able to step outside your own preferences and understand the bigger picture.

In reply to by graffesmusic

I said no such thing, and I think that is the point of confusion.

I said that in the specific case of a concert key that can be transposed either to a key spelled with sharps or the same key spelled with flats, then in those cases, most players of transposing instruments will prefer the sharp spellings of the the same transposed key. For the reasons I've been trying to explain: the nature of the transposition means they are already accustomed to sharps, because additional sharps are already forced upon them in other keys. Another reason has to do with key changes. One of the most common situations where you'd find yourself in E major concert (the key in question) is as a result of a modulation to the dominant key (the most common modulation in classical music) from a piece that starting in A major. So, transposed for Bb instruments, that means you'd be coming from B major. Modulating to F# is just one more sharp and is pretty easy to handle. Modulating to Gb requires a complete rewiring of the brain.

As for common references, yes, Google search will turn up many, you just have to be clear on what you're looking for - comparisons of different spellings of the same transposed key.

Your references mostly dealt with a different subject entirely, which again is part of the source of confusion I think. Again, everyone agrees brass players will tend to prefer flat keys over sharp keys in concert pitch, for the obvious reasons already stated and that you seem to understand and agree with. The question is only about alternate spellings of the same transposed key.

I've seen countless versions of this type of survey on social media etc. They are pretty consistent in their results, but as noted, there is always room for personal preference.

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to answer my question. I have learned that you can get Musescore to display the Gb key signature for Bb instruments by changing the "staff/part properties" but that changes how all other key signatures for that part are displayed. Since my score is a practice exercise following the circle of fourths, there's a different key every other measure. I think I will try to submit a request to Musescore for a feature that allows for this change. Thanks again to all!

In reply to by graffesmusic

Yes, one can do that for personal use. However, if one wishes to share exercises with the Musescore community, then you can't call the part 'Bb Trumpet' or 'Eb Alto Saxophone' within Musescore, which means the score won't be found via the search for that instrument. And, there no C trumpet or C melody saxophone option in Musescore. (At least that's how I understand Musescore and currently....)

In reply to by HildeK

Yeah, I saw it. Thanks.

I had no idea what a Pocket Sax was. If the YouTube videos of the Xaphoon Sax are the same thing, then it's not really related to saxophones. It's basically like a soprano recorder with a tenor sax reed on it. With its keyless open finger holes, it's got to be at least an order of magnitude more difficult to play than a saxophone or clarinet. It sounds like a hollow clarinet. Seems like a novelty instrument that couldn't be used to play real saxophone music.

(There's also something mysteriously called just 'Saxophone' which transposes the same as a tenor saxophone.)

In reply to by km0010km0010

> I had no idea what a Pocket Sax was.
Neither can I. :-)
I suggested it because it's a C instrument.
Write the notes in C, e.g. in MS 3.6.2 you can change the sound in the mixer to saxophones and so you've the notation of a C sax and the sound of e.g. an alto or tenor sax.
So you can use any other C instrument and modify the sound to sax - perhaps you need an octave shift.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thanks, this is a good idea, I followed these instructions:… but it seems that the "prefer sharps or flats" still affects the whole staff and not just the particular instrument. I tried various instruments, for example if I choose Piano all aspects of the score correctly change to concert, and there is no option for "prefer sharps or flats" because there is no transposition, but if I select to transpose in that same dialog box, then the "prefer sharps or flats comes up, but still applies to the whole score when I select it.

In reply to by Polanve

Indeed, you're right - seems to be a bug. Please open an issue on GitHub, attaching your score (zipped).

Meanwhile, what does work is to change the transposition interval. For instance, to get an alto sax to show Gb major instead of F# for a concert key of A, set the interval to diminished seventh instead of major sixth. A nice plus is, it also does the pitches for you.

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