Musicians and music teachers occasionally need to include music symbols in the written material (text documents) they prepare on a computer word processor. It can be frustrating when the symbols are not easy to find, as I have often discovered. There are several ways to deal with this.
Those who are familiar with Unicode may want to consult the chart of Unicode characters representing music symbols available at http://www.unicode.org/charts. Music symbols make up the range 1D100 to 1D1FF. The pdf file of characters includes the statement “A thorough understanding of the information contained in these additional sources is required for a successful implementation.”
I don’t have “a thorough understanding” of the Unicode; I don’t have any understanding of Unicode at all, except for the name; perhaps I will learn it one day. But….. The chart has the most wonderful selection of music symbols that you can imagine: all clefs, including tenor clef and C clef; 8va, 8vb, 15ma and 15mb signs; pedal signs; symbols for various types of repeats and bar lines; symbols for notes and rests of many different values; accidental signs, including those that alter by microtones; ornamentation and percussion symbols.
For the musician who needs many of these symbols, the best solution would probably be to find a friend who knows how to use Unicode and enlist their help (or to learn Unicode). But not all of us have such a friend. And the friend may not be available when we need them.
Other methods of typing music symbols are available, but with a smaller range of characters than Unicode offers. The exact procedure depends on the word processing software being used. Because of its widespread use, I will focus on MS Word, with apologies to all of you who use other programs. Remember that the various versions of Word have differences that will affect the outcome of these procedures. (My information is from Microsoft Office Word 2003.)
If your version of Word has the fonts Opus, Opus Chords, etc., you probably don’t need to read any further here (unless you have never used the Insert function…. Oh dear). The various subsets of Opus include many music symbols, but you may have to search for what you want.
To use the “Insert” function in a Word file, on the toolbar select Insert, then Symbol. That will open a dialogue box with an array of many different types of symbols, including alphabets from world languages, mathematical symbols, and the International Phonetic Alphabet, to name only a few from the wide variety that is offered.
It is pretty easy to select the symbol you want (if you can find it) and click “Insert.” But the font you are using will determine whether a given music symbol is included in the symbol dialogue box. Also, with some fonts there are so many different characters in the box that I become frustrated just trying to find what I need. For that reason, I have compiled a chart of music symbols available in the various fonts that are on my computer now. (Different fonts can be downloaded or installed. This chart/list is limited to the fonts I have available now.)
Music Symbols for Word Documents
Substitutions and Shortcuts
On the chart I have included some information that I don’t actually know how to use – the character code and the source: ASCII, Unicode, Symbol. (I figured while I was making the chart, I might as well include all of the available information that looked important.)
Some substitutions are included: the pound sign (#) can be substituted for the sharp sign; a funny-shaped x (look for it next to the dollar sign) can be used in place of the double-sharp symbol; a degree symbol can be used to designate diminished chords. Depending on the font and the shortcut key used, that (degree) symbol may be larger or smaller, higher or lower in relation to letters (˚), as you can see on the chart.
You might prefer to learn shortcut keys for the symbols you use most frequently. Those are listed in the shortcut key column, and their use is actually pretty straightforward, even if you don’t normally use shortcut keys. If the chart says the shortcut key is Alt+ “something,” simply hold down the Alt key (next to the space bar) and while holding it, type in the numbers given. When you release the Alt key, the symbol will appear. Please remember that the shortcut keys may apply only to the specific fonts listed in the chart.
There are also shortcut keys listed that show numbers and letters followed by “Alt+x.” Those are really cool. After selecting the correct font, type in the number-letter combination; those characters will appear onscreen. Then (no space) hold down the Alt key and type x. The characters will change into the music symbol you have chosen. The letter that is part of the shortcut code can be either uppercase or lowercase. The “x” needs to be lowercase. ♪ ˚
A tip for adding symbols:
You may find that the symbols you wish to use are only to be found in a font you don’t like. There is no problem with changing the font when you pause to insert the symbol, then you can return to the typestyle you like for the verbal portion of the manuscript; you can even select the symbols and change their font size to a size you prefer, but doing so will also change the line spacing for that line of type.
A possibly easier way would be to leave spaces for the symbols as you type, finish keying in your words, then go back to the spaces, change the font, and insert all of the symbols at the same time.
PickerDad on May 08, 2016:
I often need a musical flat symbol. I could find a font that contains it, or remember how to switch to Unicode, but if quality is not critical, I use the Arabic 'Tah' symbol (beginning form). It's in almost every PC font, and it's close enough to convey the right idea.
It comes up when I'm writing lyrics and chords for a song, which is normally just for friends and accompanists.
Reginald Thomas from Connecticut on January 17, 2015:
Thank you for a great article! I will be using your information in the future. I am not that advanced in computer tech.
Aficionada (author) from Indiana, USA on October 04, 2013:
Thanks for supplying that information! I have used alt+[?] with non-English alphabetical letters, but never with other symbols. I will certainly give it a try.
Jane on May 02, 2013:
I have just worked out how to insert notation using unicode - it's not that difficult. If you are using a PC, then apparently typing Alt and x and the code will work - experiment with order of combinations. If using a Mac - first ensure that Unicode Hex is selected in the language/text preferences. Then hold down the option/alt key while you type the code.
Mary Hyatt from Florida on March 08, 2013:
Very informative Hub, thanks. I have bookmarked this for future reference. I am a musician, but not a computer geek!
Aficionada (author) from Indiana, USA on March 05, 2013:
Thank you so much, byshea! I hope your nephew will find this to be helpful, and I hope you'll pass along any questions I can help to answer.
Shea on February 28, 2013:
Great hub! I have a nephew who will attending college as a music major this fall. We had just spoken about the ability to use music symbols just the other night. Well I'm glad that I found this hub because I just sent a link to him and he is thrilled.
jamila sahar on February 04, 2012:
great informative hub ! where were you when i was writing my thesis papers in graduate school for piano performance (sigh) oooh well :-/
Aficionada (author) from Indiana, USA on June 23, 2011:
My computer has changed since the time when I once had the Opus font. I think we had to replace the hard drive and when everything was reloaded we accidentally used a different version of Word than I had previously had.
I have found all kinds of tricks and tips for working with music in texts, simply because I am not sure of which version of software I may be using!
Thanks for reading, Flora, brenna, and petroley!
FloraBreenRobison on June 23, 2011:
Unfortunately, I don't have Opus font. It has always escaped me how to write these symbols and then see others do it reletively frequently. This a great hub and lots of references I will check out. Being a singer and coming from a musical family, I have tried to insert music symbols before but got frustrated and just wrote out the words of the symbols instead, or added them after the pages were printed, by hand
brennawelker on June 06, 2011:
Very informative and interesting hub!I long to do it but I don't know how. Thanks for sharing.
Petroley from Zenica, Bosnia on September 03, 2010:
Very useful information, thanks
Aficionada (author) from Indiana, USA on August 23, 2010:
Thanks, CMC! I hope you'll find the tools you want and need for writing your music. There are several good Hubs that relate to the subject, so - who knows - you may just find exactly what will help you best.
The procedure I've outlined in this article is not really well suited to writing out a lot of music. But it, and the information I've shared in some of my related articles, could be revised so you could create and print your own pages of music manuscript paper, if that is what you need.
Christina M. Castro from Baltimore,MD USA on August 22, 2010:
I feel I will have to read this hub a few times before I can figure it out. I haven't had any formal training at all in computer programs, so I have to rely on tutorials. I want to put all the music I have been storing in my mind for years in written form and never knew how to start. Thanks for the musical training.:)
Aficionada (author) from Indiana, USA on May 27, 2010:
Thanks, LoneWolfMuskoka! I think it would be great for me to learn unicode, but I'm not really sure whether it is actually a priority for me just yet. I'm only just now learning a very little about html (that's how behind-the-times I am!). At any rate, I will check out the links you provided and see if they can get me started.
Ashelsher, thanks for your comment! I hope this is useful in some way.
ashelsher on May 27, 2010:
LoneWolfMuskoka from Huntsville, Ontario, Canada on May 19, 2010:
http://unicode.org/charts/ has a list of the sections and Musical Symbols is in the 3rd column of the Symbols and Punctuation chart. It links to a pdf file.
This might be useful when you figure out how to insert unicode characters with whatever application you're using.
http://www.windowsvistasecret.net/secret.asp?haber... and http://unicode.org/faq/font_keyboard.html discuss some techniques that may be useful. You'll also need to be using a font that defines the characters.
Aficionada (author) from Indiana, USA on May 05, 2010:
Thanks, Daniel! I've had many frustrating experiences with symbols and hoped maybe to turn that frustration into something useful.
Daniel Carter from Salt Lake City, Utah on May 05, 2010:
Great info! Very helpful for just about any musician. Thanks!