Typing a natural sign in a chord symbol

• Dec 21, 2016 - 14:57

I am creating lead sheets for a group of songs. I need to type in a chord symbol that includes a natural sign. I know that you can create a flat sign using the lower case "b" and a sharp sign using the pound sign (#). Is there a similar method for the natural sign? I tried "h", which is the natural sign when using figured bass, but it doesn't work.


As far as I know MiseScore has no provisioning for a natural in chord symbols. 'h' would also be a bad choice, as that is a valid note name in German settings

In reply to by Jojo-Schmitz

And actually, there have been requests to use "h" as an abbreviation for half-diminished which to me might make sense. Context would make it obvious which meaning is intended, just as for the letter "b" which can be a note name or a flat sign. So I'd be fine with that use of "h" if not for the conflict with figured bass - see #23784: support use of "h" to produce "half-diminished" sign in chord symbol. But since music is essentially *never* published with natural signs in chord symbols, I'm not crazy about making it easily to accidentally create one when something standard is intended.

That said, it should probably be *possible* create non-standard chord symbols like that. I'm kind of surprised it doesn't work to use a real natural sign from F2 palette (or keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+H). Seems someone might have asked about this once before but I don't see an open feature request. Feel free to file one (via the Issue tracker).

In reply to by mike320

Ctrl+Shift+h is indeed the shortcut for natural in other places in text. Ctrl+Shift+n enters the "n" dynamics symbol (for "niente", I guess). Probably best to just leave it that way for chord symbols but fix it to actually work - none of those special characters survive the parsing / formatting process.

In reply to by Isaac Weiss

The font, "FiguredBassMH" uses an uppercase 5 (shift-5) for the natural sign. It might be good to check what other fonts, or programs like Sibelius use so that we move toward some kind of standard. Of course, it's likely that what other people use is already in use for something else in MuseScore. But I think it is worth checking.

I even tried inserting a natural sign using F2 and it disappeared.

I've never seen a natural sign on chords, but I don't play an instrument where I see chords all the time. The chord always tells you what the key signature will be. There is no room to make a mistake when the chord progression goes F#min Dmaj Faug for example.

In reply to by xavierjazz

Thanks for all the feedback. To answer the question, "why do I need a natural sign in a chord symbol?" —I have to say that I don't really know. I am a mostly classical musician and I don't use lead sheets very much. I am copying over a group of songs and that is what is in the original. (Unfortunately, the composer is dead, so I can't ask him.)

After reading over all your comments, I think the answer is that he (composer) wrote in the natural sign to remind himself of the change that had to happen to change G- to Gmaj (the natural sign was in parentheses).

Since I am not too familiar with this kind of chord symbol and the original was all in the same handwriting, I just assumed it was standard notation that I wasn't familiar with.

In reply to by Jake Sterling

Would be interesting to scan of this passage, to see if maybe something about the context gives us any other clues as to what was meant. Your hypoethesis seems logical, and in that case, unless you are contractually obligated to duplicate the non-standard / incorrect aspects of the original, it would be doing everyone a favor if you simply used standard nomenclature going forward.

In reply to by Jake Sterling

I thought a little bit about this.
The natural symbol is never used alone. Used to indicate something.
Only in the "basso continuo / figured bass" can be used to indicate the condition of the third. (Sharp, flat, or natural)

If you go from Gm to G, it is displayed like this.
(Meaning that the "g" is root and third is natural.)

Maybe the composer wanted to put a reminder sign, next to the chord symbol.

just guessing...

In reply to by Ziya Mete Demircan

Yes, to your speculation on why the natural sign was used in a chord symbol—I believe it was simply a personal reminder pencilled in by the composer when he was performing the song. The sign got included when the sheets were photocopied and I didn't see that it was not part of the original.

Since I originally posted this question about natural signs in chord symbols, I have consulted with a few Pop/Jazz musicians and they all tell me that it must have been that my friend who wrote the songs just put the natural sign in as a reminder to himself.

Actually, I am amazed at the response this inquiry has generated! Reading over the responses, it's pretty clear that, because the natural sign is not part of chord symbols, and because the chord symbols need to change when the music is transposed, the natural sign would not be practical as part of chord symbols. Anyhow, in trying to solve this problem I have certainly filled in a big gap in my own education! Thanks for all the interest and feedback.

In reply to by xavierjazz

Happy 2017 to everybody.

I add my vote for this feature.

I find such a feature useful when you need to point attention in a one-time changing chord.
I mean: you have always played G# but once you have to play a natural G. The possibility of adding the natural sign would be useful because it shows beyond any doubt that I want a natural G, it's not that I forgot to write "#"...

Thank you.

In reply to by Ziya Mete Demircan

If a chord gets transposed there is a very good chance the natural sign would no longer be needed. MS will transpose chords. If you copy a chord to the trumpet and the natural is not preserved (which is likely), if this is implemented, you should be able to put it back in, just like with notes.

In reply to by xavierjazz

I've arranged Jobim's Insensatez and want an F with a flat 5 in one bar of four with the progression | Dm6/F | E7 | Fb5 | Dm Ddim |. Now Fb5 is ambiguous. It is obvious to a human that Fb5 means the notes F A B, but to a computer it could be taken to mean E5 (Fb=E) and the notes E B. Certainly MuseScore sounds like its playing F A B, not E B, but I'd like to be able to write F natural sign b5 to eliminate the ambiguity. Using 3.6.0...... I can't figure out how to type a natural sign into a chord edit dialog. Typing Fnatural does result in the natural sun appearing. Typing Fnaturalb5 does not result in a natural sign appearing.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I stumbled across this multi-year dialog about natural symbols in chords while entering into MuseScore a lead sheet for George Gershwin's 1929 song "Soon". If anyone's still looking for answer to the question "Why do you need a natural symbol in a chord?", this might provide a real-world example. The key is Eb and the chord progression at the turnaround to go back and repeat the 2nd chorus is Eb B7 Bb7. The B7 happens to appear as the first chord in a measure, so the natural sign seems to serve the same function as the "courtesy" accidental that is optionally included when a note that looks like the same pitch as a note in a previous measure is actually different. (When sight-reading, I am personally VERY grateful for such alerts [g].) In this case, even if the B7 appeared in the same measure, it probably wasn't a bad idea to wave a flag to indicate "this ain't the standard 5th chord you're expecting".
Unfortunately, when you insert the natural sign between the B and the 7 by typing "natural", it appears correctly on the printed page (just like the chord in the 1929 sheet music) but on playback, MuseScore doesn't play any chord, just a plain B natural.

This is a real rarity. In the past few years, I've entered over 430 popular and jazz songs into MuseScore, and this is the first time I've encountered this kind of oddity. So it doesn't seem worth any effort to try to incorporate playable courtesy accidentals in chords. MuseScore DOES correctly transpose the accidental symbol to a new key, which works perfectly for my purposes. Thanks again for surprising me with another nice quirky little detail that MuseScore can handle!!

In reply to by MandyWh

If the lead sheet was published in 1929, keep in mind, it was written for 1929 audiences, who had different experiences than people today. Most people today have never seen a natural sign in a chord symbol even once in their entire lives, and including one would just confuse them. That particular chord progression (I bVI7 V7) - is incredibly common, and would never normally notated with naturals by any publisher today. So unless there is a special need to reproduce an obsolete notation for historical purposes as opposed to aid readability, I definitely recommend not doing this - it's going to have the opposite effect, making it more confusing to most people. They'll wonder what the natural sign is doing there, because they've literally never seen on in a chord symbol in their lives. They'll likely think it applies somehow to the 7, like b9 or #11 or whatever, but then scratch their heads wondering what it's actually saying.

That said, if you do need to reproduce it for historical reasons, you can always turn off playback of this chord symbol, then add a second only notated normally but make it invisible.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

I love these conversations! It was I who originally started this chain, and people have been responding for 6 years! I can't even remember why I originally wanted to put a natural sign in a chord symbol, but I suspect it was because, being pretty unfamiliar with the use of chord symbols, I was confusing them figured bass practice. Anyway, I love MuseScore and the MuseScore community.

In reply to by Jm6stringer

Excellent question! This is unquestionably the "correct" notation. But here, it's pretty universal to give in to the "but no one likes Cb" bias and just notate the B7. It's tricky, because often the melodies are such that they make more sense to notates as Cb7. The voice leading over the bVI7-V7 would typically be going Cb-Bb, Eb-D, Gb-F, and Bbb-Ab. But no one likes that Bbb either. So in the end, writing these lines as B-Bb, D#-D, F#-F is pretty common. Or some sort of ad hoc mixture. As a pianist, I greatly prefer the notes to match the chord symbol, so if the chord symbol if B7, I want to see the sharps. But when writing ensemble parts where the players aren't seeing the chord symbols, it's more fine to write whichever line best clarifies the motion. You end up telling lots of enharmonic lies in the horn parts of a big band in passages like this.

In reply to by Ziya Mete Demircan

One other interesting wrinkle worth mentioning: a "classical" analysis of this exact same chord progression wouldn't call that Ab7 at all; it would be an "augmented sixth chord", spelled Ab-C-Eb-F#. Because from a voice leading perspective, the F# is likely to resolve up to G, not down to F; and the chord derives from an F minor chord. Whereas the jazz derivation of this same chord would emphasize the relationship to D7 (tritone substitution), which also leads to spelling with F#.

In the original key, this would mean we might well have a spelling Cb-Eb-Gb-A - that is, it wouldn't have the Bbb.

None of which is necessarily relevant to the question of putting natural signs in chord symbols, but it's all potentially interesting / worth discussing!

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Thanks for your very helpful explanation. Since I'm just trying to produce lead sheets to be played by real lived human beans in the 21st century, I will definitely remove the natural signs from the chords as you suggest. My input is a collection of piano-vocal scores of Gershwin songs written in the 1920's and 30's. The collection was published in the 1960's, and the scores themselves SEEM to be just copies of the originals. But who knows for sure when (or why or by whom) the chord symbols might have been "edited".

In reply to by xavierjazz

I'm trying to notate really heavy jazz chords but I'm trying to show that one note is a b natural and the other note is a Bb so the voicing is played correctly... these are tough eye squeezing chords so not having to pen in a tiny natural sign on a chord so that the pianist doesn't assume it's a flatted note is tough.

I just randomly tried to get the natural sign into the chord symbol - and it realy is possible! Just type the word "natural" (without the quotation marks of course) after your chord and voilà - it appears :D

Attachment Size
natural.JPG 18.48 KB

In reply to by spelunker

That's crazy - I don't remember writing code to do that! I think maybe it works because of how things are structured within the chord description file, but actually I'm still scratching my head over that!

Note this won't really work the way you want in general - it won't be understood with respect to transposition, for instance. So if you write Bnatural in concert pitch and then transpose for clarinet, you'll get C#natural. The natural sign will be treated not as part of the root but as part of the extension.

In reply to by spelunker

Though this feature does not work, at least it didn't work for me when the chord has additional indications, sevenths, sharp 11, etc.
I tried with Gnatural, and it worked just fine, but when I added the ...7#11 I needed it didn't work anymore, just came out as Gnatural7#11. It'd be nice if that were added.

In reply to by JuanGomezLeon

Wors for me too, even Gnatural7#11. Be sure you have the latest version of MuseScore (3.4.2), older versions did not necessarily support this.

That said I strongly urge people not to do. it's just going to cause confusion. People used to seeing standard usage of chord symbols are going to look at that and say, "what the heck is a natural seven chord? I know regular dominant sevenths, I know major sevenths, I know minor sevenths, I even know diminished and half-diminished sevenths, but I've never heard of a natural seventh". They just won't get that you mean, a regular seventh chord built on G natural., because standard usage simply does not use the natural sign that way.

In reply to by Marc Sabatella

Okay once again I'm making unvalid comments for not having the latest version haha. Thank you two for the feedback. About the use of this feature, I understand what you mean with G(♮)7#11 being something you would never see cenvetionally and it will certainly make the performer look two times to check what the hell I mean.

Though as I already do not consider my sheet to be for first-time-sight-reading due to the complexity of the song (Some Jazz Fusion with bunch of meter changes), I think once they read G(♮)7#11 within the context of the key (F sharp minor) they'll understand what I meant and why I wrote that out that way. (Or at least I sure hope they do!). Anyway I completely understand your point, but I think just this once I'm going to test out the feature for the sake of clarity and see if I should just leave it normal the next time.

Thank you.

I hate to bring up an old topic, but it still seems like a relevant issue today. Some have asked why you would ever need to add a natural sign in a chord symbol, and that's a sensible question to ask. In my case, I have two measures of static harmony (BMaj7) that I "spiced" up by altering the fifth every two beats, so it actually looks like:

|BMaj7#5 BMaj7|BMaj7b5 BMaj7|

But it would be far easier to read if one could just put:

|BMaj7#5 N5|b5 N5|. ("N" of course is the natural sign).

If this has been added in 3.2.3 I apologize for not figuring it out sooner, but I don't think it has.

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