Harmonic Spelling - Double sharps and flats


I gave up on Dorico 2 for a host of reasons and went back to Sibelius. I decided to ‘bite the bullet’ and give Dorico Pro 4 a try. I have to say that overall it appears much more user friendly to how it was but, alas, one of my biggest complaints with Dorico 2 has not been addressed with Pro 4. I had several discussions with Daniel Spreadbury and others in the past, and a host of other people complained about this matter also at the time.

That issue is the incredible over usage that Dorico’s harmonic spelling makes of double sharps and flats. I would have thought by now that there would at lease be an option to turn them off. The amount of time it takes to go through and fix them all is unbearable for a fast working, very busy, commercial arranger such as me. A google search throws up a mass of other complaints and frustrations concerning this matter.

In commercial music we simply do not use them - and for very good reason. Most music that we produce for various entertainers has to be playable on sight with little or no rehearsal time. Everything has to be written to make sight-reading as quick, simple and intuitive as possible.

Sibelius rarely, if ever, displays a double sharp or flat; in fact, I can’t remember ever seeing one in 17 years of usage.

So, it would appear I’ve wasted my money again, unless you can show me a fix for this problem. Otherwise, unfortunately, it’s back to Sibelius again.

Phil Hinton

There is an option in the Transpose dialog to respell avoiding double and triple accidentals: so you can ‘transpose to the same key’ (e.g. a Perfect Unison); and that will remove them.

It looks like your previous thread was the direct instigation for this feature to be added (in v 3.5, I think.)

I can’t say that I’ve witnessed ‘over-use’. I rarely see them; but I would have thought that in remote keys, they are inevitable if there’s any chromaticism in the music. Or something like a D# major triad, which would look weird with a G nat next to an A (sharp) in a key sig of B.



If you’re using MIDI Input, you’ll likely get fewer double sharps and flats if you turn off Note Input Options / Note Input / “Allow spelling of notes to be adjusted retrospectively” too.

With that checked I get this …

… but unchecked get this.


Thank you everyone for your input. very helpful

I must say that the way I compose, particularly when not specifying a key signature, there are far too many double accidentals. Although it is enharmonically correct very often to use them, musicians seem to dislike them and I had to spend quite a lot of time removing them in a couple of works due to be performed shortly. I myself would also be in favour of a global option to eliminate them altogether even if this may not be technically correct. @FredGUnn reminded me to switch off that MIDI input setting for retrospective spelling which if memory serves correctly does indeed help somewhat – the worst issues seem to be when transposing by just using shift+ arrow key – then you can get a veritable forest of unnecessary double accidentals.

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If you are specifically using atonal key signatures there are a whole load of relatively new (v4.x I think) options for spelling on the MIDI Input page of Note Input Options.

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I think that speaks volumes to the calibre and training of your musicians. I am all in favour of making life easy for the players - but equally, I find fewer reading mistakes occur when the tonality is clear - and sometimes that requires double sharps/flats.

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I agree – but Dorico is not sophisticated enough to be able work out the tonality in a good deal of what I write, I’m afraid, as there can be frequent passages with an almost continuous modulation. And I’ve stated I myself (unlike, it seems, a good number of musicians) actually am in favour of appropriate double accidentals, it’s just that – as has so often been maintained – that Dorico can go completely overboard when it hasn’t a clue what the actual key is. It here where I have a problem, not the actual fact of using them.

thanks, Richard – I’ll revisit this as there may be settings there I have overlooked.

In the world of commercial music we avoid them like the plague. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some degree of hesitancy when sight reading and suddenly confronted with double accidentals.
Generally we are working under huge pressure if time, no preview of the music and very limited rehearsal time, if any at all. Often a talk through has to suffice. Consequently, everything we do when writing parts is designed to make it as easy and natural as possible.

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I know which one I’d prefer to sight-read … (A)

Yep! I was in the house band for a TV show (recording only, not on screen) until Netflix killed it off a few years ago, and every tune was a talk-down and then record first take. Record second take only if needed or do quick punches to first take. I don’t really mind either A or B above, but definitely B is safer for a lot of players in that sort of recording while sight-reading situation.

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Then you’re a real oddity and exception to the rule. And as superior as you may be to the rest of us mere mortals, we always play to the weakest link. Eh reed n you have to get one track done an hour and have 70 musicians all working to a budget, there’s no room for heroics. Having to pay overtime for that many musicians and studio time because the arranger wants to show off how clever he is most definitely is the beginning of the end for them.

An option in Notation Options / Accidentals to always avoid double sharps or flats would probably be a welcome addition. An option to avoid C and F flats, and B and E sharps that aren’t contained in the key signature would probably be useful for certain markets too.

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Musicians are indeed a broad church.

As a singer, who regularly has to sing at sight and perform on one rehearsal if I’m lucky, then I really don’t see the difference between doing A in C major, and B in B major. Both are a chromatic step out of the key. I’d actually find C more confusing and likely to ‘overshoot’.

But, as a singer, I’m perhaps thinking more relatively in terms of the key rather than in terms of which buttons to press :grinning: . If the intervals were larger and more chromaticism was involved, it might be different.

Like most things, it’s a bit circular: if people were more familiar with them, then they wouldn’t be a problem; but they won’t get familiar with them if they don’t see them; (and you don’t want them ‘getting familiar with them’ on the clock).

Dorico should certainly be able accommodate both factions. For the moment, transposing ‘by a unison’ is a global fix; but I agree that a Notation Option for the Flow would be welcome, so you could set it as default if you wanted.

Apropos of nothing, I recently had to sing a piece where the same notes kept changing enharmonically (even on ties) depending on the harmony (which was all over the place), and it was a massive ballache.


This example sort of brings up another issue. In the key of B, Dorico is going to interpret the second note in your example B as a #5 of the tonic major scale. Even a player with the most rudimentary reading skills will likely still get B right as the phrase is logical. The problem is that’s not how it’s often encountered in the wild. For jazz and commercial stuff it’s often something more like this:

In a phrase like this, the double sharp is now both uncommon and harmonically incorrect, as that note should be spelled G natural as the flat 9 of an F#7, or diminished 7th of A#dim7. I can’t expect Dorico to know that, so I would always flip that myself, but sometimes on a deadline things slip through. There are also commercial arrangers that simply just work in concert and don’t pay any attention to enharmonics in parts. As I’m often playing Alto Sax, I’m used to seeing all sorts of weird accidentals that have no relationship to the underlying harmony as a result of this. (Arrangers - if something is in open key, please use that, not C, as remembering 3 sharps that have nothing to do with the harmony is a pain. Thanks.)

In practice, at least with jazz and commercial stuff where the ability to be sightread is key, it’s almost always safer to avoid double sharps and flats, then manually flip them for situations like B where they might be desired. A setting to have Dorico avoid them by default would be a welcome feature.