How to Insert Music Symbols into Text on a Computer
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.
More by this Author
The Circle of Fifths is one of the most appealing tools to use in teaching and learning music theory. It shows the order of sharps and flats; the primary and secondary chords within each key; relative major and minor...
A very simple step-by-step procedure for creating your own music symbols for use in word-processing texts. Helpful for private and classroom music teachers, musicians of all degrees of proficiency, and self-publishers...
If you are confident in solving easy Sudoku puzzles, you are probably ready to learn techniques that will prepare you for other levels of Sudoku: medium, hard, and even expert. Check out these tips, which include...