Key signature names and translations

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When a musical key or key signature is referred to in a language other than English, that language may use the usual notation used in English (namely the letters A to G, along with translations of the words sharp, flat, major and minor in that language): languages which use the usual system include Irish, Welsh, Azeri, Hindi, Japanese (along with a specifically Japanese system, see table below), Korean (along with an indigenous Korean system, see here), Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Filipino, Swahili, Esperanto.

Or it may use some different notation. Two notation systems are most commonly found besides the usual system, the Fixed Do key notation and the German key notation

  1. Fixed Do key notation - used (among others) in Italian, French, Dutch (in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium), Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Occitan, Breton, Basque, Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian, Bulgarian, Latvian, Romanian, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkish (along with the usual system) and Vietnamese. Most countries (though not all, e.g. Serbia) where Fixed Do solmization is used also use the Fixed Do key notation. Instead of the letters C, D, E, F, G, A, B, seven syllables (derived from solfege) are used to refer to the seven diatonic tones of C major: Do (in French Do or Ut), Re, Mi, Fa, Sol (never So), La, Si (never Ti), with some variations and adaptations according to country, language and alphabet, followed by the accidental (natural is clearly most often omitted) and then the major/minor qualifier as needed.
  2. German key notation - used (among others) in German, Dutch (in the Netherlands, where it is used along with the usual system), Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Finnish, Estonian, Lithuanian (along with the usual system), Serbian (along with the usual system), Croatian, Slovene, Hungarian, Polish, Czech and Slovak. The German key notation differs from the usual system in two respects, namely that B natural is referred to by the letter H and B flat by the letter B by itself, and that sharp and flat designations do not use words but suffix is for sharps and suffix es (reduced to s if the tone letter is a vowel) for flats, except that (as already mentioned) in the German system the letter B by itself already means B flat. However in some places where the German system is in use one may encounter the use of B for B natural and Bes for B flat. This is especially common in the Netherlands.

There has been a tendency in some countries which historically used the Fixed Do key notation or the German key notation to switch to the usual system, especially among musicians working in popular music genres or jazz. The only case where this can lead to some confusion is when the letter B is used: should it be understood as B natural (usual system) or B flat (German system)? Another tendency has been to use the usual system in writing but to read it out according to either the Fixed Do or the German system if those are the systems used locally. For example recent French scores or books may use the usual system (this is especially common for chord symbols), but French users would read out that notation according to the Fixed Do system. Similarly a Dutch musician may refer to a written F♯ orally as Fis. This article is concerned with written usage.

To form a key designation, locate the note name in the pitch translation table and add the major/minor qualifier from the lower table as needed.

Pitch translation table
alphabetic systems solmization systems
English German Dutch Japanese Italian French Spanish Portuguese Russian Romanian Dutch
(Netherlands) (Belgium)
(Written)
C flat Ces Ces / C mol 変ハ (hen-ha) Do bemolle Do bémol Do bemol Dó bemol До-бемоль Do bemol Do mol
C C C ハ (ha) Do Do (Ut) Do До Do Do
C sharp Cis Cis / C kruis 嬰ハ (ei-ha) Do diesis Do dièse Do sostenido Dó sustenido До-диез Do diez Do kruis
D flat Des Des / D mol 変ニ (hen-ni) Re bemolle Ré bémol Re bemol Ré bemol Ре-бемоль Re bemol Re mol
D D D ニ (ni) Re Re Ре Re Re
D sharp Dis Dis / D kruis 嬰ニ (ei-ni) Re diesis Ré dièse Re sostenido Ré sustenido Ре-диез Re diez Re kruis
E flat Es Es / E mol 変ホ (hen-ho) Mi bemolle Mi bémol Mi bemol Mi bemol Ми-бемоль Mi bemol Mi mol
E E E ホ (ho) Mi Mi Mi Mi Ми Mi Mi
F F F ヘ (he) Fa Fa Fa Фа Fa Fa
F sharp Fis Fis / F kruis 嬰ヘ (ei-he) Fa diesis Fa dièse Fa sostenido Fá sustenido Фа-диез Fa diez Fa kruis
G flat Ges Ges / G mol 変ト (hen-to) Sol bemolle Sol bémol Sol bemol Sol bemol Соль-бемоль Sol bemol Sol mol
G G G ト (to) Sol Sol Sol Sol Соль Sol Sol
G sharp Gis Gis / G kruis 嬰ト (ei-to) Sol diesis Sol dièse Sol sostenido Sol sustenido Соль-диез Sol diez Sol kruis
A flat As As / A mol 変イ (hen-i) La bemolle La bémol La bemol Lá bemol Ля-бемоль La bemol La mol
A A A イ (i) La La La Ля La La
A sharp Ais Ais / A kruis 嬰イ (ei-i) La diesis La dièse La sostenido Lá sustenido Ля-диез La diez La kruis
B flat B Bes / B mol 変ロ (hen-ro) Si bemolle Si bémol Si bemol Si bemol Си-бемоль Si bemol Si mol
B H B ロ (ro) Si Si Si Si Си Si Si
Major/minor alteration
English German Dutch Japanese Italian French Spanish Portuguese Russian Romanian
major Dur groot 長調 (chōchō) maggiore majeur mayor maior мажор major
minor Moll klein 短調 (tanchō) minore mineur menor menor минор minor

Note that the 'major' alteration is usually superfluous, as a key description missing an alteration is invariably assumed to be major.

In the German notation scheme, a hyphen is added between the pitch and the alteration (D-Dur). Minor key signatures are written with a lower case letter (d-Moll).

For example, to describe Bach's Mass in B minor one could use:

  • B minor (English)
  • h-Moll (German)
  • b (klein) (Dutch)
  • ロ短調 (Ro tanchō) (Japanese)
  • Si minore (Italian)
  • Si mineur (French)
  • Si menor (Spanish)
  • Si menor (Portuguese)
  • Си минор (Russian)
  • Si minor (Romanian)

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