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, Hindi, Japanese (based on katakana in iroha order), Korean (based on hangul in ganada order), 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 (along with the German system), Ukrainian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Latvian, Lithuanian (along with the English system[citation needed]), 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, 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[citation needed]. The only case where this can lead to some confusion is when the letter B is used, because it would not be clear whether the intention was for 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 systems solmization systems
English German Dutch (Netherlands,
Japanese Chinese Korean Arabic Italian French Spanish Portuguese Russian Romanian Dutch (Belgium) Greek
C flat Ces Ces 変ハ (hen-ha) 降C (jiàng-C) 내림 다 (naerim da) دو-بيمول (Do-bemol) Do bemolle Do bémol Do bemol Dó bemol До-бемоль (Do-bemol) Do bemol Do mol Ντο ύφεση (Do hyphesis)
C C C (ha) C (da) دو (Do) Do Do (Ut) Do До (Do) Do Do Ντο (Do)
C sharp Cis Cis 嬰ハ (ei-ha) 升C (shēng-C) 올림 다 (ollim da) دو-دييز (Do-diez) Do diesis Do dièse Do sostenido Dó sustenido До-диез (Do-diez) Do diez Do kruis Ντο δίεση (Do diesis)
D flat Des Des 変ニ (hen-ni) 降D (jiàng-D) 내림 라 (naerim ra) ري-بيمول (Re-bemol) Re bemolle Ré bémol Re bemol Ré bemol Ре-бемоль (Re-bemol) Re bemol Re mol Ρε ύφεση (Re hyphesis)
D D D (ni) D (ra) ري (Re) Re Re Ре (Re) Re Re Ρε (Re)
D sharp Dis Dis 嬰ニ (ei-ni) 升D (shēng-D) 올림 라 (ollim ra) ري-دييز (Re-diez) Re diesis Ré dièse Re sostenido Ré sustenido Ре-диез (Re-diez) Re diez Re kruis Ρε δίεση (Re diesis)
E flat Es Es 変ホ (hen-ho) 降E (jiàng-E) 내림 마 (naerim ma) مي-بيمول (Mi-bemol) Mi bemolle Mi bémol Mi bemol Mi bemol Ми-бемоль (Mi-bemol) Mi bemol Mi mol Μι ύφεση (Mi hyphesis)
E E E (ho) E (ma) مي (Mi) Mi Mi Mi Mi Ми (Mi) Mi Mi Μι (Mi)
E sharp Eis Eis 嬰ホ (ei-ho) 升E (shēng-E) 올림 마 (ollim ma) مي-دييز (Mi-diez) Mi diesis Mi dièse Mi sostenido Mi sustenido Ми-диез (M-diez) Mi diez Mi kruis Μι δίεση (Mi diesis)
F flat Fes Fes 変ヘ (hen-he) 降F (jiàng-F) 내림 바 (naerim ba) فا-بيمول (Fa-bemol) Fa bemolle Fa bémol Fa bemol Fá bemol Фа-бемоль (Fa-bemol) Fa bemol Fa mol Φα ύφεση (Fa hyphesis)
F F F (he) F (ba) فا (Fa) Fa Fa Fa Фа (Fa) Fa Fa Φα (Fa)
F sharp Fis Fis 嬰ヘ (ei-he) 升F (shēng-F) 올림 바 (ollim ba) فا-دييز (Fa-diez) Fa diesis Fa dièse Fa sostenido Fá sustenido Фа-диез (Fa diez) Fa diez Fa kruis Φα δίεση (Fa diesis)
G flat Ges Ges 変ト (hen-to) 降G (jiàng-G) 내림 사 (naerim sa) صول-بيمول (Sol-bemol) Sol bemolle Sol bémol Sol bemol Sol bemol Соль-бемоль (Sol-bemol) Sol bemol Sol mol Σολ ύφεση (Sol hyphesis)
G G G (to) G (sa) صول (Sol) Sol Sol Sol Sol Соль (Sol) Sol Sol Σολ (Sol)
G sharp Gis Gis 嬰ト (ei-to) 升G (shēng-G) 올림 사 (ollim sa) صول-دييز (Sol-diez) Sol diesis Sol dièse Sol sostenido Sol sustenido Соль-диез (Sol-diez) Sol diez Sol kruis Σολ δίεση (Sol diesis)
A flat As As 変イ (hen-i) 降A (jiàng-A) 내림 가 (naerim ga) لا-بيمول (la-bemol) La bemolle La bémol La bemol Lá bemol Ля-бемоль (Lja-bemol) La bemol La mol Λα ύφεση (La hyphesis)
A A A (i) A (ga) لا (La) La La La Ля (Lja) La La Λα (La)
A sharp Ais Ais 嬰イ (ei-i) 升A (shēng-A) 올림 가 (ollim ga) لا-دييز (La-diez) La diesis La dièse La sostenido Lá sustenido Ля-диез (Lja-diez) La diez La kruis Λα δίεση (La diesis)
B flat B Bes 変ロ (hen-ro) 降B (jiàng-B) 내림 나 (naerim na) سي-بيمول (Si-bemol) Si bemolle Si bémol Si bemol Si bemol Си-бемоль (Si-bemol) Si bemol Si mol Σι ύφεση (Si hyphesis)
B H B (ro) B (na) سي (Si) Si Si Si Si Си (Si) Si Si Σι (Si)
B sharp His Bis 嬰ロ (ei-ro) 升B (shēng-B) 올림 나 (ollim na) سي-دييز (Si-diez) Si diesis Si dièse Si sostenido Si sustenido Си-диез (Si-diez) Si diez Si kruis Σι δίεση (Si diesis)
Major/minor alteration
English Arabic German Dutch[1] Japanese Chinese Korean Italian French Spanish Portuguese Russian Romanian Greek
major الكبير (alkabeer) Dur groot, grote terts 長調 (chōchō) 大调 (dà diào) 장조 (jangjo) maggiore majeur mayor maior мажор major μείζονα
minor الصغير (alsagheer) Moll klein, kleine terts 短調 (tanchō) 小调 (xiǎo diào) 단조 (danjo) minore mineur menor menor минор minor ελάσσονα

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).

In German and Dutch the minor key signatures are written with a lower case letter (d-Moll, d klein, d kleine terts). Furthermore -Dur and -Moll can be missed out as e.g. Cis is short for Cis-Dur and cis is short for cis-Moll.

For example, to describe a song composed in a key of E-flat minor, one could say:


  1. ^ The French words majeur and mineur are also used