Non tonal scores

• Apr 4, 2011 - 20:09

I want to write a work for Bb trumpet and piano, but non tonal. When I select the instruments, I had to select "C major" as key signature, not for tonal reasons but for non tonal objectives. When I choose the Bb trumpet this always shows D major as key signature, but I want the Bb trumpet without key signature because it is a non tonal work.
How can I get the Bb trumpet without D major key signature? Is it possible?


Maybe use a Flute instead. Change the name (right click on a staff -> staff properties) and change the sound in Display -> Mixer ?

Just to understand your point:

Do you want your Bb trumpet to be transposing or not? In other words:

A) you want to write D and have it played as a C (usual way of writing: transposing instrument), but without any key signature.

B) you want your written D to sound D (non-transposing instrument).

I do not think A) can be obtained with MuseScore (but I fail to understand in which way such a way of writing could be useful).

To obtain B), use the Bb Trumpet as MuseScore provides it, without any key signature (i.e. C major), and simply activate "Concert pitch" (menu "Notes | Concert Pitch" or the toolbar button if shown).

Or am I missing something?


In reply to by Miwarre

I can't speak for the OP, but A) is absolutely crucial. It is how non-tonal music (eg, most of what I write) is written for transposing instruments. Notes and chord symbols are transposed, but no key signatures are used at any time. Key signatures only make sense for tonal music. Finale implements this by allowing you to specify "chromatic" as opposed to key-based transposition on a staff-by-staff basis. Sibelius does it by allowing for an "open" key signature, which is distinct from "C major" in that it doesn't tranpose. Here's the feature request issue I created for this:

To me, this is on my short list of half a dozen or so most crucial features for MuseScore to implement. It looks like it might be coming in 2.0, though - I see there are new key signature controls on a per-staff basis. But they don't (yet) seem to do anything, and the "concert pitch" control also seems broken right now - it changes pitch but leaves key signatures intact.

Meanwhile, the crude workaround I've been using is to write the trumpet part with a key signature of Bb in concert key, so it turns into C on transposition.

Perhaps I misunderstand, but you can remove a key signature very easily at any time.

Say you are creating a score which has both concert pitch and transposing instruments. When you set your score up, you specify the key of no sharps or flats, which is what the concert pitch instruments will show.

But the transposing instruments will show key signatures. Let me use the example of a Bb trumpet part; it will show two sharps. All pitches will be correct (they will display up a major second from concert pitch), but you have two unwanted sharps as a key signature. What you desire is that, where a written F- or C-sharp is required, you would want it indicated with an accidental.

If I understand correctly that this is what you want, then there is a simple way to achieve it.

You merely open up the Key Signatures menu in the Palette and drag the “C major/A minor” key signature (no sharps or flats) over the existing two-sharp signature in the first measure of the trumpet part. The key signature disappears. By the way, if there are any existing notes in the trumpet part, once you remove the signature as above, MuseScore will instantly supply any needed accidentals for F-sharps and C-sharps. The written pitches will remain correct.

Once you extract parts, the transposing instrument may again show key signatures (I'm not sure about this because I haven't tried it). But if so, you simply repeat the above dragging process. As before, any needed accidentals will immediately be supplied by MuseScore.

Hope this helps. It is a very simple and quick process.

In reply to by Bill Watkins

Thanks for the suggestion. Sounds this is basically another way of doing the same thing I am - by using C major as the transposed key, you are basically making the concert key Bb (or whatever is appropriate for the instrument). You're correct that it gives you the right result in the parts, but then a concert key score has undesired key signatures for the transposing instruments. I've been either putting up with that, or else putting up with transposed scores (a personal preference, but I prefer concert), or else I have to maintain two separate scores (concert key and transposed). None of which are ideal.

BTW, I realize that for some, the word "non-tonal" may sound like we're talking about some rare corner case atonal "crazy people music". But by non-tonal, I really mean, anything that doesn't have a clear center and hence might be better written without a key signature. It's not actually a particular uncommon thing in jazz and even pop, and in classical its been standard practice for the last 100 years or so. You can even find this style of notation Beethoven (the development section of the first movement of the Pathetique sonata,for example - at least in the Schnabel edition I have). Music like this might not be atonal at all; it just meanders about from one temporary key center to another quickly enough that it would be counterproductive to use key signatures.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Yes, I have some familiarity with “non-tonal” music and the lack of key signatures. A number of years ago I studied composition with *Dr. Nelson Keyes who had been, incidentally, Arnold Schönberg’s last student before Schönberg’s retirement from UCLA.

I agree that it can also be very useful in tonal music where it “meanders about from one temporary key center to another quickly enough that it would be counterproductive to use key signatures.”

And I hope my suggestion on how to eliminate the signatures was of some help.

*Actually, by the time I studied with Keyes, he had abandoned Schönberg’s atonal, “12-tone” technique, despite having used it extensively in earlier years. I never employed it myself either, but have a familiarity with it.

In reply to by Bill Watkins

Very cool that you studied with Keyes (an ironic name - kind of like the baseball pitcher Bob Walk)! My general comment about non-tonal music, BTW, wasn't directed at you. or anyone in particular. I just wanted to make sure people understood that we really are talking about a fairly common situation.

And yes, your comment was helpful. As I said, it's really another way of doing the same thing I was already doing, but since I hadn't really explained myself, I'm sure most people reading this looking for help would find your description much more useful. So thanks!

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Your observations about non-tonal music are interesting.

Of course, I am more or less familiar with the concept; but for the last decades I have mostly frequented kinds of music at the other 'end of the spectrum': modal or not-yet-clearly-tonal music (approx. speaking, XVI-XVII c. music).

So, the notation details involved were not obvious to me, as it was not evident its diffusion (it always surprises me when I think that, for instance, Debussy is already one century away...)



In reply to by Miwarre

Re: Debussy - what always gets me is the realization that the time that has passed since John Lennon was shot is greater than amount of time that had passed from the birth of the Beatles to the death of Lennon. That is, the world at large has now known John as a dead man longer than they knew him alive.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I, on the other hand, am an old geezer who well remembers John Lennon alive, starting with such tunes as “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “*She Loves You (yeah, yeah, yeah).”

*Which ended on an added 6th chord, which was unheard of in the old rock and roll “three-chord” days -- the sanctified key of E, and the triads E, A, and B.

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