Key signature names and translations

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 English system include Irish, Welsh, Azeri, Hindi, Japanese (based on katakana in iroha order), Korean (based on hangul), Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Filipino, Swahili, Esperanto.

Or it may use some different notation. Two notation systems are most commonly found besides the English 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, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Latvian, Romanian, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Turkish (along with the English 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 English system), Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Icelandic, Finnish, Estonian, Lithuanian (along with the English system), Serbian (along with the English system), Croatian, Bosnian, Slovene, Hungarian, Polish, Czech and Slovak. The German key notation differs from the English system in two respects, namely that B is referred to by the letter H and B 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 and Bes for B. 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 English 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 (English system) or B (German system)? Another tendency has been to use the English 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 English 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 systemssolmization systems
EnglishGermanDutch (Netherlands,
written)
Japanese ChineseArabicKoreanItalianFrenchSpanishPortugueseRussianRomanianDutch (Belgium)Greek
C flatCesCes / C mol変ハ (hen-ha) 降C (jiàng-C)(Do-bemol) دو-بيمول내림 다 (naerim da)Do bemolleDo bémolDo bemolDó bemolДо-бемоль (Do-bemol)Do bemolDo molΝτο ύφεση (Do hyphesis)
CCC (ha) C(Do) دو (da)DoDo (Ut)DoДо (Do)DoDoΝτο (Do)
C sharpCisCis / C kruis嬰ハ (ei-ha) 升C (shēng-C)(Do-diez) دو-دييز올림 다 (ollim da)Do diesisDo dièseDo sostenidoDó sustenidoДо-диез (Do-diez)Do diezDo kruisΝτο δίεση (Do diesis)
D flatDesDes / D mol変ニ (hen-ni) 降D (jiàng-D)(Re-bemol) ري-بيمول내림 라 (naerim ra)Re bemolleRé bémolRe bemolRé bemolРе-бемоль (Re-bemol)Re bemolRe molΡε ύφεση (Re hyphesis)
DDD (ni) D(Re) ري (ra)ReReРе (Re)ReReΡε (Re)
D sharpDisDis / D kruis嬰ニ (ei-ni) 升D (shēng-D)(Re-diez) ري-دييز올림 라 (ollim ra)Re diesisRé dièseRe sostenidoRé sustenidoРе-диез (Re-diez)Re diezRe kruisΡε δίεση (Re diesis)
E flatEsEs / E mol変ホ (hen-ho) 降E (jiàng-E)(Mi-bemol) مي-بيمول내림 마 (naerim ma)Mi bemolleMi bémolMi bemolMi bemolМи-бемоль (Mi-bemol)Mi bemolMi molΜι ύφεση (Mi hyphesis)
EEE (ho) E(Mi) مي (ma)MiMiMiMiМи (Mi)MiMiΜι (Mi)
E sharpEisEis / E kruis嬰ホ (ei-ho) 升E (shēng-E)(Mi-diez) مي-دييز올림 마 (ollim ma)Mi diesisMi dièseMi sostenidoMi sustenidoМи-диез (M-diez)Mi diezMi kruisΜι δίεση (Mi diesis)
F flatFesFes / F mol変ヘ (hen-he) 降F (jiàng-F)(Fa-bemol) فا-بيمول내림 바 (naerim ba)Fa bemolleFa bémolFa bemolFá bemolФа-бемоль (Fa-bemol)Fa bemolFa molΦα ύφεση (Fa hyphesis)
FFF (he) F(Fa) فا (ba)FaFaFaФа (Fa)FaFaΦα (Fa)
F sharpFisFis / F kruis嬰ヘ (ei-he) 升F (shēng-F)(Fa-diez) فا-دييز올림 바 (ollim ba)Fa diesisFa dièseFa sostenidoFá sustenidoФа-диез (Fa diez)Fa diezFa kruisΦα δίεση (Fa diesis)
G flatGesGes / G mol変ト (hen-to) 降G (jiàng-G)(Sol-bemol) صول-بيمول내림 사 (naerim sa)Sol bemolleSol bémolSol bemolSol bemolСоль-бемоль (Sol-bemol)Sol bemolSol molΣολ ύφεση (Sol hyphesis)
GGG (to) G(Sol) صول (sa)SolSolSolSolСоль (Sol)SolSolΣολ (Sol)
G sharpGisGis / G kruis嬰ト (ei-to) 升G (shēng-G)(Sol-diez) صول-دييز올림 사 (ollim sa)Sol diesisSol dièseSol sostenidoSol sustenidoСоль-диез (Sol-diez)Sol diezSol kruisΣολ δίεση (Sol diesis)
A flatAsAs / A mol変イ (hen-i) 降A (jiàng-A)(la-bemol) لا-بيمول내림 가 (naerim ga)La bemolleLa bémolLa bemolLá bemolЛя-бемоль (Lja-bemol)La bemolLa molΛα ύφεση (La hyphesis)
AAA (i) A(La) لا (ga)LaLaLaЛя (Lja)LaLaΛα (La)
A sharpAisAis / A kruis嬰イ (ei-i) 升A (shēng-A)(La-diez) لا-دييز올림 가 (ollim ga)La diesisLa dièseLa sostenidoLá sustenidoЛя-диез (Lja-diez)La diezLa kruisΛα δίεση (La diesis)
B flatBBes / B mol変ロ (hen-ro) 降B (jiàng-B)(Si-bemol) سي-بيمول내림 나 (naerim na)Si bemolleSi bémolSi bemolSi bemolСи-бемоль (Si-bemol)Si bemolSi molΣι ύφεση (Si hyphesis)
BHB (ro) B(Si) سي (na)SiSiSiSiСи (Si)SiSiΣι (Si)
B sharpHisBis / B kruis嬰ロ (ei-ro) 升B (shēng-C)(Si-diez) سي-دييز올림 나 (ollim na)Si diesisSi dièseSi sostenidoSi sustenidoСи-диез (Si-diez)Si diezSi kruisΣι δίεση (Si diesis)
Major/minor alteration
English(Arabic) العربيةGermanDutchJapanese ChineseKoreanItalianFrenchSpanishPortugueseRussianRomanianGreek
major(major) الكبيرDurgroot長調 (chōchō) 大调 (dà diào)장조 (jangjo)maggioremajeurmayormaiorмажорmajorμείζονα
minor(minor) الصغيرMollklein短調 (tanchō) 小调 (xiǎo diào)단조 (danjo)minoremineurmenormenorминорminorελάσσονα

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)
  • Si minor (Arabic)
  • h-Moll (German)
  • b (klein) (Dutch)
  • ロ短調 (ro tanchō) (Japanese)
  • 나 단조 (na danjo) (Korean)
  • Si minore (Italian)
  • Si mineur (French)
  • Si menor (Spanish)
  • Si menor (Portuguese)
  • Си минор (Russian)
  • Si minor (Romanian)
  • Σι ελάσσονα (Greek)
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