What’s with those strange-looking accidentals?


Ever come across a passage of music that looks like this?


These are rare gems, but you may encounter them occasionally upon importing a transposed instrument in a score via MusicXML or in other instances.

This music is transposed up a triple-diminished third from where it should ordinarily be displayed. Ever learn about a triple-diminished third in theory class? Me neither — that’s because it’s enharmonically equivalent to a unison.

Fortunately, you can quickly fix this and other similar passages by selecting the passage and hitting Return to enharmonically change the notes until they look correct:


Note Input > Note Input > Transpose (Shift-T) will also do the trick, if you set Transpose by interval to a perfect unison (up or down).


  1. Derek Williams

    Never encountered this, but good to be wise before the event. Thanks Philip!

  2. Bob Zawalich

    You sometimes see these when working in keys with lots of accidentals and entering notes on a MIDI keypad. In earlier days file convertors (like the Finale and Score convertors) or plugins would occasionally produce them by mistake.

    They were common enough at one point that I wrote plugins to respell such accidentals (Respell Uncommon Accidentals is one).

    Transposing by a perfect unison is a clever way to fix these – one would think that such a transposition would do nothing, but there are some subtle side effects, and it is nice when such a side effect works in your favor!

    1. Philip Rothman

      Thanks, Bob and Derek!

  3. Neil Sands

    If you look at the symbols dialog (Z in Sibelius), you can see why these symbols are being used. Scroll down till you find the Accidentals block, and then count in. Five along is the natural symbol, then two to the left of that is the flat. Two to the left again is the double flat. Two to the left again (on the row above now, and out of the Accidentals block) is the symbol that Sibelius is using for a triple flat. It’s not a real triple flat sign of course, but since Sibelius’s logic is producing a triple flat somehow, that is the symbol it’s using to show it. And two to the left again is a quadruple flat, which is the sign used on the first note of bar 2 of Philip’s example above.

    So there’s a method to the madness.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Nice detective work, Neil!

      1. Neil Sands

        Can’t take the credit myself unfortunately, but I can’t remember who I found it out from. It might even have been Daniel Spreadbury.

  4. Bob Zawalich

    I just wrote up the same explanation on the tech forum! I guess it is good that there are at least 2 of us who care about details like this!

  5. Nathanael Tronerud

    I found that, in translating Finale scores to Sibelius via MusicXML for a client, that this usually happened when a staff style that altered the staff transposition was used (say, for an instrument change). I found that simply removing all staff styles prior to exporting to music xml was easiest to keep track of. I then manually reapplied the instrument changes myself in Sibelius.

    1. Philip Rothman

      Good tip, Nathanael!

  6. Nathanael Tronerud

    So, I’ve actually just encountered this issue in a novel situation. I have created a score out of a single scanned part using Photoscore and importing into Sibelius, making sure to select transposing score and choosing the instrument in question, in this case a transposing instrument like a Bari Sax or Trumpet.

    Once it generates the score, I triple-click to select the part and copy/paste it into the master score I’ve created earlier. On some key changes for transposing instruments though, the pasted material exhibits the odd triple-diminished behavior, even if it wasn’t present in the generated score.

    This is easy to remedy after the fact of course, but I am curious what may be causing this issue in the first place…

    (Sibelius 7.5, OS 10.6.8)

  7. Hannes Kerschbaumer

    talking about strange looking accidentals, I’d have a question to the specialists: does anybody of you know, if there exists a way to “translate” MIDI-informations of microtonal notes (the pitch-shift-value for quartertones) in real quartertone-accidentals in Sibelius?

    I created a transcription which contains quartertones and then I transformed it in a MIDI-file (xml-export with that software not possible) . I opened it in Sibelius, but obviously quartertone-accidentals were missing, but the pitch-shift-informations (I guess) are indicated. It would be amazing if there would be a plugin to translate this Midi-information in real accidentals.

    Thanks in advance!!

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