Why isn't there a unique, compact, easy to write, double-flat symbol?

The current double-flat is not easy to write as the "x" symbol is for double sharp.

  • 1
    What reason could there be for having one?
    – Tim
    Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 19:31
  • 1
    @Tim the same reason for having a special double sharp symbol.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 6:54
  • That's just life in a world that develops by fits and starts rather than with a "Grand Total Plan." Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 16:31
  • 1
    You might as well ask why there is a double-sharp symbol. Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 16:32
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    Meanwhile, if you want to edit it into "how did we come to settle on this symbol for the double sharp," that might be easier to get more substantial answers. The answer to "why isn't it done X way" is often "I dunno, why not," but the answer to "why is it done Y way" can be a matter of history. Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 21:20

3 Answers 3


I'll go ahead and answer this question in its current state. Many times, looking at musical practices, verbal languages, and many other topics, we ask questions like "Why do we do it this way? Wouldn't this other way be more efficient?" (Or "easier to understand," or "clearer," etc.) Why does the English language let you make a "k" sound with either "c" or "k"? And an "s" sound with either "c" or "s"? Why don't we just pick one letter for each phoneme? Why do we refer to musical pitches with the letters A-G and then modify them with flats and sharps, instead of just using 12 letters? Why does guitar have intervals of a 4th between all its strings, except for a 3rd between two of them?

Invariably, the short answer is "just because that's how it's done." And the longer answers often become insufferably long, dragging out the history of alphabets from Phoenicians to Greeks and of Germanic and Latinate linguistic influences, or brother Guido and his gamut, or the vihuela and re-entrant tunings.

Because all of these are living practices, evolved and amalgamated over centuries, not invented on the spot by one omniscient engineer who can see these glaring inefficiencies from the outset. We do things the way we do them because that's how they're done—and no, it's not just a matter of hidebound traditionalism, resistant to change. (I mean, it might also be that, but it's not only that.) We do things this way because there is an inertia to symbols and to tools. We use the QWERTY keyboard, even though it was invented specifically to slow us down, because so many people have learned on it that it's hard to create a big market for DVORAK. We write and talk about musical notes the way we do because everyone understands us; if we did otherwise we'd also have to disseminate our new systems along with our meanings or risk being ignored. George Bernard Shaw did his best to reform English phonetic spelling, but it didn't catch on, maybe because we're all too used to deriving the concept of a "circle" from the word "circle," and it's an extra cognitive step to decode the unfamiliar signifier sirkel.

And we use two flats for a double flat because it works perfectly well and everyone knows what it means. No one has felt so cramped by it that they bothered to "invent" another symbol; no winds of change have confused it with some other symbol used in some other way (like the troubled histories of time signatures, rests, and mensural notation). It is unaltered because no force with sufficient societal momentum has altered it.

  • Love your writing style. I also request you add an ‘in hindsight’ section to your profile about looking before leaping. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 13:59
  • Hehe, you mean "maybe check that there's a job market before getting huge loans for a degree you won't use"? Meh, I wouldn't say that no one should get a DMA; I have friends who have landed professorships. My advice would be "If you have to choose between 'doing what you love' and doing something easily marketable and profitable... if you can also get a lot of joy from the $$ option, maybe invest in that as your hobby, and if you ever need to, you can make it your full-time job and keep making music anyway." Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 14:31

There is. Unicode: 𝄫, Usually printed similar to this

Double flat

Image Source

It sure does look like two flats next to each other, but that's not really a problem (in fact it's probably a good thing. It makes the meaning easy to figure out).

  • 3
    I think the real question is, why does the double sharp not look like two sharps? My guess is that it looks messy when you try to conjoin two sharps. But I don't really know
    – Edward
    Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 19:20
  • You mean like this? Three vertical and two horz. lines? myeasywebaddress.com/Stage/doble.jpg Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 22:40
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    @RandyZeitman - Isn't that one of the quarter-tone accidentals for half-sharps?
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 4:33
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    @CarlWitthoft I wouldn't call it "kerning". More like "ligature".
    – Theodore
    Commented Mar 7, 2022 at 20:51
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    @RandyZeitman I believe there are other systems for extending the standard accidental signs into the realm of quarter tones, but the sign corresponding to the sharp with three vertical strokes is two flat signs with one of them flipped around the vertical axis (a single flipped flat sign is for a quarter tone flat, and a symbol like a sharp sign but with only one vertical stroke is a quarter tone sharp).
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 14:49

A double flat is two flats together with varying degrees of spacing between the two depending on font...

enter image description here

It seems silly to have to post something so specific, but in response to @CarlWitthoft's comment, the spacing between the two flats signs of a double flat can vary. I've always understood the sign to be two flats "stuck together", slightly overlapped, but obviously whether that can be printed depends on the font available.

An old version of Grove's Dictionary...

enter image description here

I'm surprised the proposed double flat is reference, but I don't have access to Mus. Assoc. Proceedings 1890, p.101.

Apparently Ross' idea caught on, an example of use in Busoni edition of WTC II, prelude in A flat major...

enter image description here

  • 1
    I was taught the british standard of using the natural sign to indicate a double going to a single. It seems that ABRSM now accepts both.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Mar 8, 2022 at 8:34

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