Music Key Signature Explained

A key component of learning musical theory is learning each music key signature. Have you ever heard a band playing and one of the members screams out “What key are we in?” That is the most important question when playing a song.

Every song is played in a particular key which contains a certain number of sharps and flats. A sharp is indicated with a # sing and a flat is a written as a lower case b.

When determining the key of a song the musician needs to look toward the beginning of the sheet music where near the treble and bass clef sign. Near these signs you will see the notes in which will be sharp in a song and which ones will be flat. 

Sharp Key Signature

In sharp key signatures there are a certain number of sharps that make up the scale in that key. You always start on the root note of the scale. The rest of the key signature is built off of one root note.

Look at the image below and you will see the notes that make up each sharp key signature.

Flat Key Signature

Using a flat music key signature is similar to sharps. Start on the root note of key and then build the key on that note with the correct number of flats. The image below shows the notes that are to be lowered in those flat keys.

Key Signatures In Sheet Music

If you remember the image from above with the sharp signs on the sheet music, you will notice that key signatures are located on the very left side of a piece of sheet music. you can count the number of sharps or flats and compare them to the charts above.

Here is a diagram that will show you all of key signatures and how they look on a piece of sheet music. It is a good idea to remember these so you can quickly recognize these with ease.


Sharp Key Signatures


Flat Key Signatures


Minor Key Signatures

For each major key signature there is also a Minor key signature or scale that correlates with that key.

The Major key that has no sharps or flats is the key of C Major, and the Minor key that has no sharps or flats is the key of A Minor.

Look at the image and you can see the Minor Key Signature and the notes for those keys.


Sharp Minor Key Signatures


Flat Minor Key Signatures


How to build a Music Key Signature

If you study each of these keys signatures you can begin to see a pattern in each of them. Each key is composed of seven notes that correlate to that key. Each key is built by using the following whole step and half step patterns.

W - W - H - W - W - W - H

Start on the root note of the key and then follow this whole step, half step pattern. This works with any music key signature and is an easy way to find a what notes are in each key.

Take time to memorize each key and the key signature. Memorizing the notes in a key, and what the key looks like on a piece of sheet music helps tremendously to quickly pick out the notes in a key.

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