MS Word music hack: Automatic sharps, flats, and naturals

[This is an old version. Check out my newer post for instructions for Word 2016.]

Here’s how to set up Microsoft Word to automatically insert sharp, flat, and natural signs for you. Instructions are for Word 2007 running on Windows Vista, and may need to be adapted slightly for your setup.


  1. Open up a new Microsoft Word document.
  2. Type the following:
    Then press Alt-X. The “266d” should turn into a flat symbol.
  3. Highlight the symbol, and press Ctrl-D. This brings up the Font dialog box. Use your up and down arrow keys to scroll through your fonts, and notice what happens in the “Preview” area. Some fonts will display a flat; some will display a box or some other symbol—not all fonts include the flat symbol. Choose one that is to your liking, and click “OK.” I chose “MS Reference Sans Serif.”
  4. The flat should still be highlighted. Click the “Office Button” in the upper left-hand corner, then click the “Word Options” button on the menu that appears. 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 “Formatted text” is selected. Your flat should be in the “With:” box. Click “Add,” then click “OK” twice.
  5. Hit Backspace to delete the flat from your document. Then do a test run by typing:
    Then hit the space bar. You should see something like this:autoflat
  6. Hit backspace three times to erase what you just typed, then repeat steps 2-6 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.”

A few final thoughts:

  • The fonts available on your system might be different from mine. Any font with “Unicode” in the title (like “Arial Unicode” or “Lucida Sans Unicode”) is likely to have the music symbols, but others might have them, too. I like the MS Reference Sans Serif font for this because it produces appealing symbols AND because it doesn’t mess up my line spacing. In the sample below, you can see that on the left, the line spacing remains consistent (the flat is in MS Reference Sans Serif); on the right, the flat symbol takes up more vertical space and makes its line taller (Lucida Sans Unicode). Experiment with the fonts on your system that have the music symbols, and find one that works for you.
  • If you use music notation software such as Finale on your computer, you may have notation fonts installed. I find these to be problematic for use in Word, and prefer to stick with text fonts.
  • If you are in the habit of using the pound sign (#) and lowercase b for sharp and flat signs, first of all, shame on you for such unprofessional documents. Secondly, you might be tempted to set up your AutoCorrect to use these instead of the (for example) “B-flat” that I have suggested. The problem with doing this is that you will have to create a separate AutoCorrect entry for each note (Ab, Bb, Cb, etc.).
  • If for some reason you 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.

23 thoughts on “MS Word music hack: Automatic sharps, flats, and naturals”

  1. Fantastic! :)
    That’ll save me so much time!

    Incidentally, you can type 266e (or whichever) straight into the autocorrect dialogue box and then press Alt-x… which saves a little time

    Thankyou though! :)

  2. Thanks for the very helpful tips for help with my DMA essay, Bret – great to see you doing so well and congrats on your doctorate!

    Jeremy Starr
    BYU ’03

  3. I initially had a problem with AutoCorrect adding an end-of-line code. I worked around this by typing a space after I created the accidental sign. Then I was able to select just the sign without capturing the EOL, and just continued on with defining the AutoCorrect text. Thanks, Bret, for this great little nugget.

    Tim Owen
    BYU ’99

  4. As far as the spacing issue if you choose Paragraph, Indents and Spacing, under Line Spacing choose “exactly” and the number of points (usually the same number of points as your font size, or doubled if you are doing double-spacing. That way you can use whatever font you want for accidentals and have your lines spaced evenly.

  5. This is a great shortcut, however, I am having trouble during Step 3 selecting a different font – when I select another font, it simply returns to the original font (MS Gothic). I am running Word 2010 on Windows 7 64bit – if anyone has encountered and solved this problem, I’d love to hear about it! Looking forward to using it!

    • Hi Rachel – Not all fonts have the sharp, flat, and natural symbols. If you are trying to use fonts that don’t, Word may be “fixing” it for you by switching back to a default font that has those symbols. If MS Gothic is the only one that sticks, it may the only font you have that contains those symbols.

      • Hi Bret, I tried switching it to the font you listed above, which is on my version of Word, and it displayed the flat sign in the Preview window, but didn’t stick when I pressed OK, nor did any other font displaying the flat sign. Possibly some sort of default setting on my Word, but not sure what!

  6. This was a fantastic tip. I found I can do the same thing in Excel and I assume you can do likewise in any of the MS Office programs.

  7. This works fine but in your instructions when you said type B flat (and you sued the symbol) you should have said type B-flat (then space bar) because that what produces the symbol (I was confused). Thanks for the help

  8. WordPerfect has all these things built in. And a lot of other good stuff that one has to look for “work arounds” in MS Word.

  9. Thanks it helped me alot i didn’t know and so i searched on how you do it and so this website apperead and so i did it and you saved my life. Thanks again. :)

  10. This is fantastic! I’m using my old computer today with an Excel file (MS Office 2003, SP3) that translated my b-flats & E-flats into B-boxes and E-boxes. After 20 min. trying to fix this, I found your site, used your instructions for Word, and Lo! and Behold! MS Reference Sans Serif fixed the boxes. For some reason, that font was not visible in Excel, so I copied the string B plus its flat symbol form Word into one cell in my Key Signature column. MS Reference Sans Serif still not visible for other cells, so I highlighted the “good” cell and used the Format Painter for the whole Key Signature column. Magic!! Thank you, Bret!

  11. I remembered this hack when I searched for a way to enter accidentals on my iOS device. First, I found a free app which adds the keyboard for many Unicode symbols. My app of choice is UniChar.
    Next, I defined the following as shortcuts: “-flat” as ♭, “-natural” as ♮, and “-sharp” as ♯. It actually took more effort to make sure it was spelled out in this comment because autocomplete was going to kick in at the wrong time!

    Once you have the shortcuts defined, you can keep or delete the app. I went a bit further and defined all 21 note names with accidentals so they would be automatically capitalized. By the time I enter gnatu it substitutes G♮.

    Hope this helps. Thanks, Bret, for a clever and useful blog!

  12. Thank you SO much! This setup will save me a LOT of time as I begin the writing process of my dissertation!! Much appreciated!


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