Lesson 9: Key Signatures

We've all seen key signatures - they're the collection of sharps or flats at the beginning of each staff. We also know what they mean. When we see the following key signature...

...we know that every B, E and A will be flat, unless canceled out temporarily by an accidental. In the previous lesson's test, you were asked to write an A-flat major scale. If you did your job properly, it should have looked like this:

Remember, the square brackets represent whole tones, the rounded ones represent semitones. Now how do we convert those accidentals to a key signature?

Take a look at the scale and write down all of the accidentals you used. In the case of the A-flat major scale above, you used: A-flat, E-flat, D-flat, and B-flat. Now we need to know what order to write them down in a key signature. For that, we have a nifty little rhyme:
 

Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father

The first letter of each word in this sentence tells us the order that the flats are entered in a key signature: first the 'B', then the 'E', the 'A', and finally the 'D'. It looks like this, in both clefs of the Grand Staff:

A key signature that uses all seven possible flats will look like this:

The neat thing about the "Battle - Ends..." rhyme is that reversing the order of the rhyme gives us the order of sharps in a key signature:
 

Father - Charles - Goes - Down - And - Ends - Battle

A key signature that uses all seven possible sharps will look like this:


KEY SIGNATURE HINTS:

There are some little "tricks" that can help you know which major key belongs to which key signature. Consider this key signature: You might think this is a rather complicated one to start with, but in fact it's quite easy if you remember this rhyme:
 

When sharps you see, the last is "ti".

'Ti', of course, is the solfa name for the seventh note of the scale, the 'leading tone'. (You'll learn more about these technical names in a later lesson.) The last sharp indicated above is the B#. If that's the seventh note, we know that the next note will be the key-note, and it will be one diatonic semitone higher. Therefore, this key signature belongs to C#-major.

Consider this key signature: Now remember this little rhyme:

 

When flats there are, the last is 'fa'.

'Fa' is the solfa name for the fourth note of the scale. The last flat indicated above is the F-flat. If that's the fourth note, we know that the key-note will be four notes lower. Counting down in this key signature four notes, we hit 'C-flat'. Therefore, this key signature belongs to C-flat major.

So here are the rhymes to remember:
 

THE ORDER OF FLATS:

Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father

THE ORDER OF SHARPS:

Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle

'SHARP' Key Sig. Hint:

When sharps you see, the last is 'ti'

'FLAT' Key Sig. Hint:

When flats there are, the last is 'fa'.

  • In the Key of C, there are 0 sharps and 0 flats.

  • ---------------

  • In the Key of G, there is 1 sharp.

  • In the Key of F, there is 1 flat.

  • ---------------

  • In the Key of D, there are 2 sharps.

  • In the Key of B flat, there are 2 flats.

  • ---------------

  • In the Key of A, there are 3 sharps.

  • In the Key of E flat, there are 3 flats.

  • ---------------

  • In the Key of E, there are 4 sharps.

  • In the Key of A flat, there are 4 flats.

  • ---------------

  • In the Key of B, there are 5 sharps.

  • In the Key of D flat, there are 5 flats.

  • ---------------

If you memorize these Keys and which notes are sharped or flatted, you will be covering 90% of the songs ever written. There are songs written in the key of F sharp which has 6 sharps, C sharp which has 7 sharps, and G flat which has 6 flats, but they are rarely used outside the world of classical music.

Here is a graphic representation of what you saw on the previous page. It would be a good idea to "bookmark" this key page. The root for each key is RED. The sharp(s) or flat(s) are GREEN.


Let's practice a few Key Signatures.

  • In the Key of G how many sharps are there? Which note is sharped?

  • In the Key of F how many flats are there? Which note is flatted?

  • In the Key of B how many sharps are there? Which notes are sharped?

  • In the Key of E flat how many flats are there? Which notes are flatted?

  • In the Key of B flat how many flats are there? Which notes are flatted?




Pretend you are still a composer writing a new song and the new song is in the key of D (2 sharps). In the melody line, you find that one of the notes that is normally played as a sharp needs to be played as a non-sharp. To do this, you would label it with a "Natural" note sign. Look at the figure above. See the C ? The key signature says to sharp all C's. See the little parallelogram to the left of the C note? This is a "Natural" sign.


Do it another way!

      There are 15 major and 15 minor key signatures. The sharps or flats at the beginning of the staff indicate the main tone (diatonic) to which other tones are related.

Circle of 5ths




Db-C#, Gb-F#, Cb-B, are enharmonic keys, meaning that they are written differently, but sound the same.

There are 15 major and 15 minor key signatures. The sharps or flats at the beginning of the staff indicate the main tone (diatonic) to which other tones are related.

Key Signatures

Relative Minor


You are ready. In your simple song book that I asked you to get in earlier lessons, are there any songs with Key Signatures other than C? If so, practice playing some of them. If not, try to find another simple song book that has flats and sharps. Many look for the Keys of G, F, D, and B flat. You are doing well. Keep up the good work. I think it is time for one of those big teddy bear hugs again. Give yourself a BIG one. See you in the next lesson.

Continue


Keyboard and Score Guide

 

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