41: Key Signatures
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Lesson 41: Key SignaturesThis lesson teaches key signatures, which are "automatic sharps and flats" in written music. You will need these to read any music that's not in the key of C major.
Before taking this lesson, you should know:
Patterns of Sharps and Flats
Before we see actual key signatures, let's see the patterns of sharps and flats which make the notes in the different major scales easier to remember. Key signatures are based on these patterns.
First, here are the notes in the different major scales, copied from Lesson 17: Major Scale
Now, here's the same table, rearranged to show the patterns of sharps and flats. This table shows only the sharped and flatted notes in each scale, and arranges the scales by how many sharps or flats they have:
The above table is also the table of key signatures! It shows the key signature for each major key, as we'll see below.
A key signature is a set of sharps or flats placed on the musical staff, and it means that certain notes should be automatically sharped or flatted. The key signature is written at the beginning of every line in traditional sheet music; but in jazz charts, it's often only written at the beginning of the song.
Here is a key signature, the one with one sharp (F♯):
That single sharp is on the staff's F line. This tells you two things:
Now, here's a key signature with an actual note:
The note above looks like an F, but it's actually an F♯ because of that key signature. Note that that single F♯ in the key signature tells you to sharp all the F notes in the music, not just the notes on that particular staff line.
Table of Key Signatures
There are only about 12 different key signatures. The sharps or flats are always added in the same order, and on the same staff lines or spaces. Here are the common key signatures, and the major and minor keys they go with:
Go on to Lesson 42: Syncopation, another concept you'll need to understand the examples in Lesson 44: Hook Melodies.