Can't change key

• Mar 3, 2019 - 00:07


I appear to be having the same problem as this guy from 10 years back, who was told it's a bug:

Perhaps the bug is back or else it's a training issue. But I'm doing just like this user: releasing the mouse onto the pink staff.

I've noticed that it seems to work fine when I craft a new score, enter a few notes, then change the key. So perhaps there is something wrong with this score? Attached. But obviously, Freddie the Freeloader must be converted to Bb!

For what it's worth, this was imported from an XML file that was exported from Sibelius.

Attachment Size
Freddie_the_Freeloader.mscz 28.53 KB


Select nothing (click in an empty spot) or everything (press ctrl+a) and use Tools->Transpose and tell it to transpose to the key of B-flat and it will change the score to the key of B-flat. Dragging a new key signature doesn't transpose and as far as I know never has.

In reply to by reggoboy

If you drag a new key to your score, MuseScore shows the change (you will see some notes with sharp, flat or natural signs according to that new key you are using).

Another very different thing is TRANSPOSE a piece and/or a section.

MuseScore can not to guess if you want to transpose notes, if you don't ask it specifically.

If you want to transpose something, you have to select it and, then, to go to the "Tools" menu, "Transpose" option.

In reply to by reggoboy

When you have dragged the key signature to the correct spot to drop it, the measure the new key signature starts in will turn pink. At this point you can drop the key signature.

If this is not happening, then my first guess is that you are dragging the wrong key signature. You have an alto sax, so to change the key to B-flat, you need to drag the key signature of Db (which is also the key you need to transpose to).

When the concert pitch is pressed you see the instrument(s) in concert pitch. When it's not pressed, as in your attached score, you see transposed (written) pitch.

In reply to by mike320

Thanks for the reply.

"If this is not happening"

To recap, it does turn pink. But when I drop the key sig, what's on the staff does not change.

"you are dragging the wrong key signature."

What does "wrong" mean? Why can't I create notation in any key I want? It may not be easy to play on a given instrument, but it can certainly be played.

"You have an alto sax, so to change the key to B-flat, you need to drag the key signature of Db (which is also the key you need to transpose to)."

So I set aside my confusion and tried the key sig of Db (5 flats), and sure enough it accepted that key and displayed it on the staff.

"When the concert pitch is pressed you see the instrument(s) in concert pitch."

I was not aware of the Concert Pitch button. Looks very useful. Sure enough it pulled the alto sax into expected concert pitch.

Part of the reason I was confused was because the piano solo is written out as the alto sax instrument. And I didn't realize that Muse treated different instruments differently.

But it still makes no sense to me that Muse won't let me change the Alto Sax key signature to Bb.

In reply to by reggoboy

MuseScore will allow you to change the key to Bb. You have to use the concert pitch key signature and MuseScore will automatically transpose it for you. I have proposed an idea to allow the user to drag transposed pitch to an instrument, but it hasn't been implemented. There was an official request at #28376: Request method to specify that key signature being added is already transposed. There was code written, but for some reason it was not implemented. (Perhaps the code caused other problems).

I would be in favor of allowing users to do something like alt+drag a key signature to an instrument, and have it interpreted as a transposed key and applied to all instruments (after automatic conversion to concert pitch). So G using this method on an alto sax would be applied as C on a Bb clarinet.

In reply to by reggoboy

Try to keep in mind, music is not normally written for a single solo unaccompanied alto sax. It would normally be part of an ensemble, including different instruments with different transpositions. That is why it does not normally make sense to add transposed keys. If you have a score for alto sax, trumpet (a Bb instrument) and piano (a concert pitch instrument), then try dragging in a Bb key signature, how would MuseScore know if you meant this to be Bb for alto, trumpet, or piano? It could try to guess based on where you happened to release the mouse, but the results would seem unpredictable to many. That's why you need to add the key signature in concert pitch - because then no guessing needs to happen.

That said, I could indeed imagine ways of telling MsueScore more specifically what you want. The older PR mentioned above tried this, I think it could be better though. That was most likely before we allowed key signatures to be added by double click. So, that's one possible way - if you click a measure on one given staff then double-click a key signature in the palette, we could choose to interpret the key using that transposition. This would surely annoy those accustomed to the current method, but maybe in the end people would find it preferable. Hard to say.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thanks for everyone's expertise and input here. I have a multi-part reply.

1) Regarding my specific issue, I did confirm that after clicking "Concert Pitch", I can definitely drag any key sig onto the staff. So that's the solution in my case.

2) Since Muse is blocking the key change on this transposed instrument, rather than passively ignoring my attempt to change keys, it should pop up a message that says "please click 'Concert Pitch' before changing keys on an instrument" so otherwise intelligent users like me don't have to go through this lengthy dialog to figure out how to get what we want.

3) If you implement some trick for changing a transposed key, that's the feature that should be somewhat obfuscated and not interfere with the expected behavior of normal users.

I also want to use the opportunity to say that transposed keys are pure evil. Whoever came up with it should taken out back and dealt with. Just because an instrument's physics is natively tuned and keyed to something other than C doesn't mean a reality-distortion field needs to be erected and imposed on all musicians everywhere so that young students of transposed instruments can learn to play their first scale without having to read a sharp or flat. Everyone should read, hear, and play the same notes. Like the metric system in the US, this idea may never get adopted. But that doesn't change that it should.

In reply to by reggoboy

I agree in principle that transposing instruments should not exists. They should all have the same key signature.

Unrelated to MuseScore (mostly), the first scale I remember learning on both the Violin and Alto sax were the G scales, both of which has a sharp as you know. While learning the sax, there was an entire concert band with Clarinets and trumpets learning the C scale, Flutes and trombones learning the Bb scale and French horns learning the F scale. Needless to say, fewer instruments were learning the C scale than others, so the reason for transposition is not due to learning the instrument, it's more about playing notes on the instrument.

After learning the Sax, it took about 2 days to learn the basics of each of the clarinet (in Bb) and flute (in C), because the the fingerings for more notes than not were basically the same on all of the instruments. Also, most symphonic clarinet players have a Bb and an A clarinet for the exact fingerings for each of the written notes. There are a lot of good arguments for the existence of transposing instruments and they will never go away.

If someone wants to learn to compose for transposing instruments, they will have to learn the basics, there's just no way around this. As with any skill, you must learn the rules to do it properly. I mostly compose in concert pitch, simply because it's easier than transposing on the fly which is the alternative. I can, but I choose not to most of the time.

In reply to by jotape1960

The reason for creating different sizes of instruments that are pitched differently is indeed to get different sounds, including better sounds in different keys. But, the people designing these instruments and writing music for them could have made it so they each use different fingerings - this is in fact the case for tuba and recorder, and may have originally the case for horns and other instruments for which we currently transpose. But eventually people discovered how much simpler it was to transpose the music rather than ask the player to learn different fingerings for different instruments.

Which is to say, there is nothing inherent in the design of an alto saxophone that says you need to transpose music written for it - that is just how the instrument is normally taught. Professionals do in fact often learn how to transpose on sight, effectively making it like having learned a new set of fingerings. So they know, when playing flute and they see "G", put down three fingers on the left hand, on tenor saxophone put down only two, and on alto, put down three plus two in the right hand. But most people know only how to read G = three fingers on left hand, so that's how we write the music.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thank you for this, Marc. For awhile there I thought we had fallen down some rabbit hole into a universe where transposing instruments are the enemy of the people.

You have nicely stated the rationale for transposing instruments. It makes little sense to learn analogous fingerings for each member of a family of instruments, particularly when you may be called upon to play different saxes, clarinets, trumpets, etc., in the same performance.

Sight transposition is indeed a handy skill, and I am thankful to have learned it while still very young. (I used to work with an accompanist who would announce a random key as he began the introduction to a piece. I had to quickly adjust my thinking by the time I had to play my first notes. Talk about baptism by fire!)

That being said, I tend to work mostly in Concert Pitch mode in Musescore, as it's much easier to keep track of harmonic spelling without having to do the transposition in my head. I do a quick proof-read of the transposed parts before printing or creating PDFs for the musicians.

Long live the Eb trumpet!

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Regarding the topic of transposition, there’s much more I could say. But I want to reply to one point that you and others have been making:

“But eventually people discovered how much simpler it was to transpose the music rather than ask the player to learn different fingerings for different instruments.”

Transposing music from concert key to another key does nothing to help the challenge of learning different fingerings. What saves musicians from having to learn different fingerings is having a variety of instruments in different keys, like Bb and A clarinets, D and G pennywhistles, guitars with capos 😉, or what have you.

What transposing keys does is save the musician from learning to read different keys. This definitely makes life easier for them. But whether you read it in concert key or transposed key, your fingering will be the same, unless you change instruments.

These two very different issues seem completely garbled together in this discussion, so I wanted to draw the distinction.

If the distinction is still not clear, simply consider the musician who plays by ear. The benefits to simplified fingering of the pitch-appropriate instrument are still applicable even if he doesn’t have to deal with the challenge of reading a variety of written keys. Two different issues.

Hope this helps.

In reply to by reggoboy

You are apparently not understanding. An A (soprano) clarinet and a B-flat clarinet have the exact same fingering for it's own note called C. The two notes are a 1/2 a step apart because they both transpose and neither is the same as a concert C played on a non-transposing instrument. This enables one musician to play both instruments without the fear that they forget which clarinet they are playing.

The clarinet is different than most woodwind instruments, but in a couple of octaves, the fingerings are basically the same as on a flute and a saxophone, which both have similar fingerings for their own C's. The E-flat alto sax plays a different note than any soprano clarinet or flute and the B-flat saxes (soprano and tenor) play the notes the same and an octave below the B-flat clarinet.

Each transposing instrument works this way. There are similar transpositions on brass instruments like most Trumpets and E-flat tubas.

In reply to by reggoboy

To add to what Mike correctly observes:

It is simply not true that transposition saves musicians from learning to read different keys. You still need to read all keys. It really is all about fingering. Playing a Bb clarinet simply means that you can finger a concert Bb major scale using your C major fingering, so music for this instrument is transposed accordingly. The written C major scale is fingered exactly the same on Bb versus A clarinet, but it sounds different. If we didn't transpose the music, then you'd need to learn one fingering to produce a C major scale on a Bb clarinet and a totally different fingering to produce the same sounding C major scale on the A clarinet.

As for playing by ear, that's not really relevant. Transposition isn't about playing by ear - it's about reading. But you are right that it is somewhat easier to play by ear if you use the appropriate instrument for the key, because you can use simpler fingering. Definitely true, but that it a function of the instrument itself, not the question of whether or not we transpose music when writing for the instrument.

Not sure if you watched the video I linked to, but it does explain things.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Interestingly enough, this all goes a little bit sideways when it comes to whistles and other "trad" instruments. The logic that defines an Eb piccolo, or Bb clarinet would suggest that a D whistle sounds one tone higher than written. This is not the case, however. Whistles are named for the scale they play with all natural fingerings. A D whistle plays D using traditional flute D fingering. My first whistle was a Clarke C, which seemed like a good place to start, but it placed me a tone lower than everyone else. I quickly ran to the store to pick up a $7 D whistle, and I've been fine ever since.

The problem is further complicated by the fact that some players in the trad world will talk in transposed fingerings, and others won't. (Many of them don't/won't read "dots" so it is a moot point for them.) A player using a C whistle might or (might not) name a note according to it's concert pitch equivalency, The argument, as told to me, is that whistles aren't really transposing instruments, as they play the key of their instrument. (True, but they must finger differently to do so.) It gets mind-bending after that.

In reply to by toffle

All good points, toffle. When a whistle player wants play in D, they grab their D whistle, read music in the key of D, use the one and only fingering that is native to any whistle, and produce tones that are actually in "concert" D pitch. Simple. A G whistle is a handy second key to have on hand. The instrument does the transposing, not the key signature.

To take the discussion a little more "sideways", as you call it, I sometimes wish the Ukulele could enjoy transposing key music. We can fortunately play all our familiar guitar chords on the uke, which is great. The problem is, they're all pitched a 4th higher, which means they're not the same chords. So if we want to play a G on the uke, we have to play what the guitarist fingers as a D. Yes, it would be a ton less mental gymnastics if the score just wrote it as a "D". The up side, of course, is that when the score or band leader says to play a "G", everyone plays the same pitch, and there's no transposing going on.

In reply to by reggoboy

It sounds like reggoboy would prefer a ukulele be a transposing instrument so the fingering wouldn't change from one instrument to another.😉

As for the whistle, it sounds like the musicians are not using the same terminology with the same meaning as the musicians in a symphony orchestra or concert band would use. Since whistle players mostly play in whistle ensembles rather than part of a band or orchestra this is not surprising.

In reply to by mike320

Whether we choose to treat an instrument as transposing or not is rather arbitrary. I absolutely agree it would be see ukulele that way, and nothing would stop anyone from doing so. So you could learn the same chord shape for both guitar and ukulele, but just transposethe music accordingly when playing ukulele. Would work perfectly.

Even though Alto recorder is not traditionally treated as a transposing instrument, it's also perfectly possible to.trwat it this way as well, and then you only need to learn the one set of fingerings. That's what I used to do - I used the soprano fingerings and simply transposed music as necessary.

In reply to by mike320

Yes, Mike, I came clean on that 😉.

But really, no. I’m happy enough that all my guitar skills works on a Uke. Playing a uke requires a mental shift no different than capoing a guitar: it feels like the same old chords, but the pitch is shifted. You could call the uke an F transposed instrument.

And I will also admit that on guitar with a capo, I sometimes write out the chords the way they look and feel (fingering), even though that doesn’t match the band’s pitch.

I just don’t know if I want my convenience to create havoc for everyone else, and vice versa.

Freud would say we all have a fear of sharps and flats 😅. And yes, this is why C is the de facto reference. And the piano’s black keys were no doubt placed to make C the native key for piano. (Why the reference key was not called “A” is another lively discussion to be had! Someone else to be taken out back! It should have been abcdefg!)

Thanks for this informative and lively conversation.

In reply to by reggoboy

Capo already does create exactly the same havoc for everyone else as transposition - really, it's very much the same basic idea. You aren't the only one who writes out the capo chords the way they look and feel, that's how everyone does capo. So you can "think" G chord and "finger" G chord, but get the sound of Ab or whatever. So when writing out music in the key of Ab, the person doing that normally "transposes" the chords to read "G" even though it's really going to sound like Ab. Luckily, MuseScore automates this (via the capo setting in Format / Style / Chord Symbols) just like it does for transposing instruments.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Yes, Marc, you are correct that this is very much the same situation.

I might suggest that it doesn't create the same havoc for the following reason. Usually guitarists grab such chord sheets for personal use. They don't share them with other band members or overlay their transcribed chords onto scores with "concert pitch" music of other instruments. At least I don't think I've ever seen that.

But I'm intrigued about the capo support in MuseScore; I'll have to check that out!

Would be really cool if the chord diagrams could automatically follow that capo or transposition setting, too :-)

In reply to by reggoboy

To be clear: MuseScore is not "blocking" anything at all. It is simy transposing the key according to the instrument settings. We can't very well warn every every time they try to add a key signature to a score containing transposing instruments. Instead, we transpose it exactly as I already described. At no time is anything whatsoever "blocked" - we always do exactly we are asked to do - add the concert key specified.

As for transposing being even ok like, you won't feel that way if you played more than one thesinstruments and realized that transposing is the key to not needing to learn a new set of fingerings for each.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Marc, thanks for the reply.

"To be clear: MuseScore is not "blocking" anything at all. It is simy transposing the key according to the instrument settings. "

I'm not sure if you read my earlier posts, but when I drop the new key sig onto the pink staff, NOTHING HAPPENS; NOTHING CHANGES. It's not transposing at all. But it works fine if I first change to Concert Pitch.

That's what I mean by "blocking".

Can we confirm that you and I are on the same page about this? You can try it with the attached score.

And so my point is that Muse should not DO NOTHING without popping up a message to the user about why it won't apply the key change.

In reply to by reggoboy

Again, there is no blocking. Your score is for alto saxophone, and the transposition is set according. The current key is G for alto, which is Bb concert. Drag in a new key and it absolutely does change, to the transposed version of the key you add. So, drag in an F, it transposes to D and that is what is added. Drag in an A and it transposes to F# and that is what is added, etc. I guess you were trying to drag in a Bb, but that transposes to G and that gets added, but you don't see the change because it is already in that key. It's doing exactly what you are asking, but are you are asking it to do nothing :-). The song is already in Bb major, you don't need to do anything to get it there.

Now, if you are suggesting we pop a message saying "that's already the key so it will look like nothing happened", I guess that' possible, but then should we pop up dialogs every time you do anything that replaces something with the same thing? Eg, entering a note B when there is already a B there, openinf a dialog box and pressing "OK" without making any changes, etc?

In reply to by mike320

Agreed! Not sure what the best trigger would be, as really, it's much more than key signatures people need to understand. We could trigger it the t first time you add a transposing instrument, or first time you load a score containing one? First time you try adding a key signature to a score containing them? On pressing "Concert Pitch"? Maybe all of the above?

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

It seems I am going to have to post a video to demonstrate the issue :-) But I can’t tonight because I will be attending a concert.

But the short version is that it fails to change anything even when trying to change to a key other than Bb.

But I will post a video to reduce the back and forth conversation.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Well, this stinks.

I am unable, now, to reproduce the problem. I tried shortly after this last past with no luck. Now, dragging a key sig onto the staff always does the expected behavior: changes the underlying concert pitch per the key dropped.

Before, as posted above, only dragging a Db key sig had any impact on the staff. Now, things seem to be working fine.

The only thing I can think of is that Muse 3 was crashing a lot, mostly (but not always) because of the issue that was apparently well-known about the Start Center. So I had reinstalled and deleted the app several times around that time frame. Perhaps something on my disk files or in memory was corrupted or confused.

At least I learned some useful things in this conversation, including the Concert Pitch feature and how it works relative to transposed instruments!

Then there are ways of using instruments where one string of (say) four becomes a "transposing instrument;", i.e. "scordatura". Bach's 5th cello suite (C minor, BWV 1011) is written this way in all published editions -- notes played on the C G D strings are written as usual, and notes on the A string, which is in this condition G3, written as though it were still A. The key signature is three flats and one natural. MuseScore can't handle this, and a good thing, too (I have posted a movement in conventional notation).

I became convinced of the merits of transposing instruments when I heard a Scandinavian violin variant tuned a tone lower than a standard violin. Transposition prevents the violinst from losing his or her mind.

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