I'm seeing this symbol in a couple places in a score I'm transcribing, and wondering what it means:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

Next to the flat in each case is a colon symbol. It only appears in the cello part, though that may or may not be relevant. They are all on the same note, middle C, I don't see any on other notes. The piece is a simphonie concertante by Jean-François Tapray (1738-1822) in case that gives a clue for notation that may have been used during that time.

Does it maybe have something to do with C-flat just being enharmonic with B-natural? Though there are other C-flats in the same part (as well as some of the others) without the colon, so no idea what the difference would be.

I tried searching around but it's impossible to look for "colon" regarding musical notation and not just have every answer be a "repeat bar", which this is clearly not.

Edit: @phoog pointed out another example, this time in the viola part:

enter image description here

Still on a C - doesn't seem to happen on any other note.

Edit again: Just found another example, on an F in the principal violin part:

enter image description here

So much for the "only on C's" theory, but it does still follow the pattern of the flat being enharmonic with the natural of the note below it. I also think that lines up with my second example from the cello? At least the line is rhythmically the same, I'll see when I get to it.

Edit: Yet more examples were spotted by @Old Brixtonian, still on C's, but this time in the harpsichord part, and I found a few in the piano as well, which makes even less sense to me, since while the strings have the ability to bend notes to make them more harmonically pure, keyboards definitely do not (at least in that time period, and mostly still today though there are electronic instruments which can, as well as some weird experimental acoustic ones, but it's not a standard feature at all.)

Edit: Ack! Another one that throws the enharmonic theory out of the water, it's on a B in the first violin part:

enter image description here

Which makes it make even less sense because B is already flat from the key signature, so that's entirely redundant.

Note: For anyone curious, I've posted my simulated recording of this piece here:

For the record, I ended up just ignoring the colons and it sounds alright, so I'll just chalk it up to something they maybe needed back in those days that doesn't apply to modern tuning.

  • Just a wild guess - is there a chance it is some sort of double flat sign? What are the other parts doing against those C-flats?
    – Peter
    Feb 9 at 11:34
  • 1
    It looks as if the music has been either copied or edited by someone with a poor grasp of musical notation. Those colons look suspiciously like the two dots of a bass clef, the flats in the key-signatures are poorly positioned, and "FF" and "P" should be in lower-case italic. Maybe some hapless apprentice, charged with making a legible copy from the composer's handwriting, decided C's without natural-signs regularly needed a flat-sign and a colon. Feb 9 at 13:51
  • 1
    @OldBrixtonian Good catch on the dots resembling those of a bass clef, but it's an engraved publication produced by a fairly prolific engraver. The lettering style of the dynamic markings, we can assume, arises from the fact that the edition was produced before the style was standardized.
    – phoog
    Feb 9 at 14:18
  • 1
    @Peter I thought about a double-flat, but I ruled it out because that would just be a B-flat, and since B's are already flat from the key signature, that would be an unusually convoluted way to write that. Feb 9 at 15:45
  • 2
    @DarrelHoffman Moreso because Cbb is the second-rarest double flat and it's right next to some Bb's. My long shot is that maybe it indicates the flat carries through the measure—are there any normal flats to contradict this? Feb 9 at 16:09

1 Answer 1


Sorry to use an answer but I needed to include this graphic. Unfortunately the quality of the print is poor at this point. (59 bars from the end of the movement.)

enter image description here

The first Cb in the right hand has its colon positioned wrongly. (If you can HAVE a wrong position for a thing that isn't needed!) Then there's one in the left hand with a 'correctly-positioned' one, while the right hand has a wrongly-positioned flat WITH a wrongly-positioned colon!

Colons aren't needed in this context of course. Maybe this edition is unique.

There's a modern edition of the piece here. I haven't managed to find a recording you don't need to pay for!

  • 1
    Funny you should mention the lack of recordings - this is the exact reason I am transcribing this. I've been creating synthesized recordings of rare pieces like this and posting them on YouTube. shameless plug Feb 9 at 17:04
  • From the looks of it, your image comes from the same score I'm using, which is free on IMSLP. On closer inspection, I found a few more examples in both the harpsichord and piano parts. I am even more confused now since they can't bend notes like the strings can... Feb 9 at 17:27
  • @DarrelHoffman it never seemed likely to me that it indicated anything about the quality of the flat or the magnitude of the change in pitch, but especially not if I'm right that the piano C flat I found without a colon is the same one as shown in the cello part in the question.
    – phoog
    Feb 9 at 17:33
  • Tip: if you want to include an image in a comment and don't want to create a "non-answer", you can start creating a new post/reply, upload an image, copy its link, and then discard the answer: the image will be preserved on imgur, and it can be used in comments as a link. I've seen this suggested also by mods in meta SO, as long as it's used with moderation, it's not considered abuse. Feb 9 at 22:44
  • @musicamante: Tvm. Belatedly! Feb 26 at 9:45

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.