Friday, April 22, 2011

Key Signatures

In this lesson we will be learning about key signatures. 

A key signature tells us what key ie what notes (sharps or flats) will be played consistently throughout the piece of music. Key signatures are denoted by a group of sharps, flats or naturals that are positioned after the clefs and before the time signature on a staff. One thing to remember is that key signatures will never mix sharps with flats or vice versa. For example there will never be a sharp followed by a flat placed on the staff only a sharp, sharp, sharp or a flat, flat, flat. Look at the 2nd image below that shows the different key signatures available and you can see what I am talking about.

The 2nd thing to remember is that the sharps or flats are always placed in a specific order. The key F, C, G, D, A, E, B are the order of the sharps while the key B, E, A, D, G, C, F are the order of the flats (this order can also seen in the image below). Did you notice that the order of flats is exactly the same as the sharps, except backwards? Memorize this pattern of letters backwards and forwards and this will help you remember the order of the flats and sharps.   

One good way to remember the order of the sharps is to remember the saying  Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds. For the order of the flats remember the statement Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles’  Father. Try to memorize this order for both sharps and flats as it is very important in learning the major and minor scales.  

There is one important key signature that has no flats or sharps. This key signature is the key of C major also called the key of A minor, which means you just play the white keys on the piano.  Below is a image of the key in C major or A minor as well as other key signatures commonly seen on both the treble clef and the bass clef with their key names stated below in black and purple writing.

How this helps in playing music will be explained now. Remember we stated before that the key signature is there to tell you to play certain sharps and flats every time you see the note in the piece of music. This means that if your key signature has an F sharp in it, every time you see an F in the piece of music, you should imagine that there is a sharp sign in front of it, and play it sharp.

So how would you play the short music pieces shown below? For the 1st image there are 4 sharps placed after the treble clef, which tells us that the key signature is in the key of E major or C sharp minor. This means that there is a F sharp, C sharp, G sharp and D sharp. Now that you know the sharps, the next thing to remember is to play the sharp (the black key to the right of the specific white key on the piano) every time you see a F, C, G and D note.

The image below has 3 flats after the treble clef, which means the key signature is in the key of E flat major or C minor. Can you figure out what flats there are in the short music piece and what keys (white and black) to play on the piano? I hope so.

There are also 2 quizzes below that you can attempt after completing this lesson. If you have any problems please let me know and I will do my best to help you.

Now let's see what happens when we have both a key signature and accidentals together in a piece of music. The image below shows a short piece of music with a couple of bars of music in the key of D major or B minor, so the key signature has 2 sharps, F sharp and C sharp. In the 1st bar, the notes start off with an E, followed by F sharp, A, C sharp. In the 2nd bar, the notes begin with D, C natural, C natural and A. 

Do you understand why we play C natural instead of C sharp for the 2nd note in the 2nd bar? Have a good look at what is placed in front of that note. Well, the reason is because there is an accidental in front of that note. Do you remember from the previous lesson what accidentals do? Accidentals alter the pitch of the note for the remainder of the measure or bar and there are 3 types of accidentals; the sharp, the flat and the natural. The specific accidental that is placed in front of the 2nd note of the 2nd bar is a natural sign, which means it becomes C natural instead of a C sharp. This means that you play the white C key instead of the black C sharp key. Now keep playing the rest of the piece remembering to play sharps and naturals on the piano when stated to do so

Try playing the 3 short pieces of music for practice in learning the key signatures. Can you figure out the key signature of each piece and when to play sharps, flats, and/or naturals?


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