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What is a 'Key Signature'?


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How Notes Are Revealed in Musical Notation

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As you know by now, the only key in which we can play a major scale that contain no sharps or flats, is the key of C. This also applies to C Major's Relative Minor key, A minor.

Every other key that exists in music needs one or more sharps or flats in order to fulfill the 'recipe' of whole step and half-steps that compares the major or relative minor scale.

So when we we are playing music that is NOT in the key of C, (or A minor), we will see a 'Key Signature' at the beginning of the staff on the notation. This will indicate which notes are to be played sharp or flat all the way through the piece, any time you encounter them (unless otherwise noted).

The Key Signature will appear as one or more sharps or flats at the very beginning of the staff. With some further study in reading music, you can come to understand and memorize which keys are indicated by which key signatures.

For instance, a key signature consisting of one sharp, located on the note F, is the key signature for the key of G. Every 'F' played in a melody or chord within the key of G should be played as an F#, unless otherwise indicated.

A Key Signature with two sharps, located on F and on C, correspond to the Key of D.
A Key Signature with one flat, located on the note B, corresponds to the Key of F.

And so on. It is very systematic, but, the study of keys and their corresponding key signatures goes beyond the scope of this introductory course.
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