MS Word music hack: Automatic sharps, flats, and naturals (Updated 2019)

Ten years ago in 2009 I wrote a blog post about how to set up auto-complete sharp, flat, and natural symbols in Microsoft Word 2007 running on Windows Vista. Here’s an update for Word 2016 on Windows 10.

Thanks to Ariel Detwiler for calling my attention to the need for an update.

How it will work

Type this (plus space bar)Get this

Will it work on Office 365?

No, the web version of Office doesn’t currently (2019) support this feature.

How to set it up

  1. Open up a new Microsoft Word 2016 document.
  2. Type the following:
    Then press Alt-X. The “266d” should turn into a flat symbol.
  3. Highlight the flat. Click the “File” tab, then “Options.” A dialog box appears; click “Proofing” at its left-hand side. Click the “AutoCorrect Options…” button. On the “AutoCorrect” tab, make sure “Replace text as you type” is checked. In the “Replace:” box, type:
    Next to “With:,” make sure “Plain text” is selected. Your flat should be in the “With:” box. Click “Add,” then click “OK” twice.
  4. Repeat steps 2-3 for the sharp and natural signs. In step 2, use “266f” for sharp and “266e” for natural, and in step 4 use “-sharp” and “-natural.”

If you are in the habit of using the pound sign (#) and lowercase b for sharp and flat signs, shame on you for your unprofessional documents. You might be tempted to set up your AutoCorrect to correct those. The problem with doing it that way is that you will have to create a separate AutoCorrect entry for each note (Ab, Bb, Cb, etc.). Plus, it’s a good idea to just get in the habit of typing “F-sharp” so if you’re using a system that doesn’t have your special AutoCorrect set up, you will be left with that more correct version instead of a pound sign or letter b.

If you have set up the AutoCorrect but you actually want to type “-flat,” “-sharp,” or “-natural” and override the automatic change, type what you want and then press Ctrl-Z (Undo) to change the symbol back into text.

13 thoughts on “MS Word music hack: Automatic sharps, flats, and naturals (Updated 2019)”

  1. I tried this and all seemed to work great—except the font size of the symbol always appears in the original font size that was used to set up the auto-correct, even if I type the prompt (e.g., E-flat) in a larger font. I get a large E and a tiny flat symbol. Of course, I can then highlight the symbol and change the font size manually after the fact. Is that the expectation, or maybe I missed an option in the setup?


    • Thanks Jeff — after considering your question, I’ve decided to change my instructions to use “Plain text” instead of “Formatted text.” Using “Formatted text” allows you to choose a font you like for the music symbols, but does have the size limitation you describe. “Plain text” allows Word to choose an available font for the symbols according to its own logic, and will automatically size them to match the surrounding text.

  2. I set up my autocorrect in Word 365 to do this!! AND it doesn’t change the font in the document, I am so happy. Thank you for the tips!

    • Brianna, I opened “Show Emoji & Symbols” (which I have on my top bar, then selected Musical Symbols in the left column. I did two things. I dragged each of these symbols into my Favorites (towards the top of the left column), but also opened a Word document, and double clicked on each symbol so they all appeared in the document. Then, one at a time, I copied them into the clipboard. Then, I opened Word > Preferences > AutoCorrect and set up each character in the Replace: -flat With: ♭, etc. I hope this helps.

  3. Thanks for this discussion. I have a problem inserting symbols in a Word document with Arial font. Sharp and natural are fine, but the flat symbol (from the MS Gothic character set) seems to have a space before and after it, making it look odd. If I use the symbol from the Arial MS Unicode set it looks fine, but embedding it in an Arial paragraph screws up line spacing. I’ve discovered the hard way that MS Unicode is copyright and so isn’t rendered correctly (or at all, in some cases) in ebook sites (I’m trying to publish a new edition of my Jazz Harmony ebook). Any ideas?

  4. This works great, in one document. So I have to go through this process for every document with sharp/flat/natural symbols. Anybody know how to change the options for all word documents?


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