This article is written by Virtual Piano Academy Founder + Head Teacher, Amy Jørgensen. July 2020.

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WHAT ARE KEY SIGNATURES?

In the above example, the sharp symbol has a line right through the middle of its belly. This line is the "furthest line away" (an F), so we know that this is telling us we need to turn ALL F's into F#'s.


HOW DO KEY SIGNATURES WORK?

SHARPS IN THE KEY SIGNATURE

If a composer wants ALL F's in the piece to be turned into F#'s, instead of writing the # symbol on every single note, we can write it once at the beginning of the piece, and then the performer (you!) has to remember that whenever you get to any F (even if it isn't on the exact same line as the # is sitting on in the key signature), you have to play an F# instead of an F.

The sharp symbol will no longer be written next to the note. So whenever you come across an F on the music, you'll need to make sure you remember to turn it into an F#!

Sometimes, we may have to remember to turn more than one note into a sharp 👇

In the above example, the first sharp symbol has a line right through the middle of its belly. This line is the "furthest line" (an F), so we know that this is telling us we need to turn ALL F's into F#'s.

The second sharp symbol has a space right through the middle of its belly. This space is "climbing" (a C), so we know that this is telling us we also need to turn ALL C's into C#'s.


FLATS IN THE KEY SIGNATURE

The same principle applies to flats too!

In the above example, the flat symbol has a line right through the middle of its belly. This line is "bang in the middle" (a B), so we know that this is telling us we need to turn ALL B's into Bb's.

And again...sometimes, we may have to remember to turn more than one note into a flat 👇

In the above example, the first flat symbol has a line right through the middle of its belly. This line is "bang in the middle" (a B), so we know that this is telling us we need to turn ALL B's into Bb's.

The second flat symbol has a space right through the middle of its belly. This space is "energy" (an E), so we know that this is telling us we also need to turn ALL E's into Eb's.


WHAT ABOUT THE BASS CLEF?


HOW DO KEY SIGNATURES WORK WHEN I'M READING TREBLE AND BASS CLEF AT THE SAME TIME?

Whatever flats and sharps are indicated in the treble clef, will always be the same in the bass clef. Even though the flats are in different positions, they are exactly the same notes in both the treble AND bass.

So you now just need to remember that whenever you get to a B or an E, anywhere, with any hand, you will need to turn them into Bb's and Eb's!


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FUN FACT!

  • A key signature can't combine sharps and flats at the same time!

  • A key signature will either have sharps, OR flats...but never both in the same key signature!

  • In a new section of a piece, it is possible to switch from using sharps in the key signature to using flats, but you'll never see a key signature that looks like this 👇

You also can't have different notes to be sharpened or flattened across the treble and bass clefs 👇

Or......👇


PRACTICE YOUR NEW SKILL!

  • This little piece of music below has 4 sharps. Which scale has 4 sharps? E major right?

  • If you position your hands (and your head) into thinking about an E major scale, it will make playing this activity MUCH easier.

  • Whoever said scales were boring clearly didn't realise that knowing your scales unlocks your knowledge of being able to play confidently in different key signatures!!

  • When someone says they are in the key of E major, they mean the song or piece of music uses the notes of the E Major scale, and will have a key signature of 4 sharps (because the E Major Scale has 4 sharps in it!) Whoa! Mind blown!?? 🤯

Downloadable PDF of the above piece👇

Reading a Key Signature Exercise.pdf

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