How to Read Music: Key Signatures

The Key Signature is a pattern of sharps or flats (or none at all) written at the very beginning of a piece of music, immediately after the clef. Here are two examples:

This key signature…
piano-ology-how-to-read-music-key-signatures-g-major

tells us that every F should be played as F sharp instead of F natural throughout the entire piece, unless otherwise noted. By the way, this piece happens to be in the key of G major.


This key signature…

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-key-signatures-example-c-minor-pentatonic

tells us that every B should be played as B flat instead of B natural and every E should be played as E flat instead of E natural throughout the entire piece, unless otherwise noted. By the way, this piece happens to be in the key of C minor pentatonic.


Why use key signatures? Because key signatures make the music less cluttered and easier to read. For example, here is “Twinkle Twinkle” written without a key signature in the key of Gb:

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-twinkle-twinkle-in-key-of-g-flat-without-key-signature

Instead of writing each of the six flats over and over again, all of them can be grouped together into the key signature like this:

piano-ology-how-to-read-music-twinkle-twinkle-in-key-of-g-flat-with-key-signature

Once the key signature is established, it is only the exceptions to the notes in the key signature that require additional sharps or flats or naturals or double sharps or double flats as needed.

Besides making the music less cluttered, the key signature also provides a clue to what key the piece is in. You will learn lots more about key signatures when you study scales.

About Frank J Peter

A uniquely burdened and blessed citizen of the world thinking and acting out loud!
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