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Key Signatures – A Beginner’s Lesson…

What Determines The Quality And Quantity Of A Song’s Notes

When watching musicians play piano, you may see them refer to a piece of music in the key of “A” or “C.” These letters refer to the key that the music is played in or its key signature. Key signatures are what determines the quality and quantity of a song’s sharps and flats, and if you’ve spent any time playing scales, then you have a pretty good idea of what we’re talking about.

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When you’re asked to play a “C sharp” chord or “G flat” chord for example, you’re being asked to play a group of notes in a particular key. The root key is what determines the remaining keys in a chord and so it is with music. The key signature of a piece of music may be “C sharp” or “G flat” (or any other pitch) and that signature determines the remaining pitches throughout the entire song.

All Key Signatures Contain Sharps And Flats

Now except for the C Major key, all key signatures contain sharps and flats. Because music notation can be rather intricate and confusing — especially in difficult pieces — you won’t see the sharp or flat indicator next to each individual note. This would make sheet music difficult to write and read. Instead, writers use the key signature to indicate the sharps or flats of a note and it’s up to the pianist to know (memorize) those sharps and flats.

Those with Sharps:

  • The sharp in a G key signature is F#.
  • The sharps in a D key signature is F# and C#.
  • In an A key signature, they’re F#, C#, and G#.
  • In the key of E, they’re F#, C#, G#, and D#.
  • F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, and E# are played in an F# key signature
  • In the key of B, F#, C#, G#, D#, A#
  • While the entire group of F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, and B# are played in a C# key signature.

C# Key Signature

C Key Signature example on the Treble Staff…Apply to the same notes on the Bass staff

Those with Flats:

  • The flat in an F key signature is Bb.
  • The flats in a Bb key signature is Bb and Eb.
  • In an Eb key signature, they’re Bb, Eb, and Ab.
  • In the key of Ab, they’re Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db.
  • Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, and Gb are played in an Db key signature
  • While the entire group of Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, and Cb are played in a Gb key signature.
  • Can you tell what notes the Cb key signature indicates? Pat yourself on the back if you said Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, and Fb.

Cb Key Signature

C Key Signature example on the Treble Staff…Apply to the same notes on the Bass staff

Position = Pitch

You can find the key signature of a song near the beginning of its notation — right after the clef. Pay close attention to where the sharp and flat signs are located because their positions indicate the proper tones of particular pitches. If you see a sharp sign in the space where the D note is played, that means that the D key will be a sharp D all throughout a song. If you see a flat sign on the line where the B key is played, that means the B key will be a flat B throughout the song as well. This pattern is of course repeated for each and every note.

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