Term 2 Theory Lessons & Quiz

3 Key Signatures

Accidentals

In Grade 7 we learned about 3 types of accidentals: sharp, flat and natural. A sharp raises a note by a semitone (or half step). A flat lowers a note by a semitone. A natural cancels out the effect of a previous accidental. But there are also two more accidentals that we have not yet discussed.

If you want to raise a note by more than a semitone, you can use a double sharp or double flat. It does exactly what you might imagine - changes a note by double the amount. A double sharp raises a note by a tone (or whole step), which is twice as much as an ordinary sharp. It looks like an X. A double flat lowers a note by a tone. It doesn't have a special different sign: it's just 2 flats. You won't see the accidentals very often, but it is important to know what they are and what they do.

What is a key signature?

Accidentals are okay if they only appear every so often. However, if you find that every single note of a certain type consistently has an accidental on it, you can collect that information together to make your music look cleaner. A key signature is a collection of every accidental found in a scale. That information is presented right at the beginning of a line, right after the clef, and it tells the musician that every single note of that certain type should be played with a sharp or flat (unless otherwise modified). But you don't just throw random sharps and flats in there and call it a day. There is a certain order things need to be placed in.

Flat Keys

The flats are arranged in a specific order. This order is the same regardless of which clef you are playing in. The flats will just end up being placed on different lines so they can indicate the correct notes.

The saying you can use to remember the order of flats is: Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father.

As you can see, the flats are written in that order: B, E, A, D, G, C, F.

How to Name a Flat Key

If you see a key signature and need to know what key it is, there several tricks or tips to use. I will present the one that I personally use, but if you have a different way that you prefer, feel free to use that. We will only be identifying major keys in Grade 8.

For flat key signatures: Look at the second last flat and that is the name of the key.

This is key has 5 flats: B, E, A, D, G. The second last flat in the order is D, so this is the key of Db major.

This trick does not work for the key signature of 1 flat. There is no second last flat, obviously. You will just need to remember that it is the key of F major.

Here is an exercise to help you practice naming flat key signatures:

Sharp Keys

Just like the flats, sharps are also arranged in a specific order. This order is the same regardless of which clef you are playing in.

The saying you can use to remember the order of sharps is: Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle

It is the exact same saying as the order of sharps, just in reverse order. F, C, G, D, A, E, B.

How to Name a Sharp Key

If you see a key signature and need to know what key it is, there several tricks or tips to use. I will present the one that I personally use, but if you have a different way that you prefer, feel free to use that. We will only be identifying major keys in Grade 8.

For sharp key signatures: Look at the last sharp and go up one letter name.

This is key has 4 sharps: F, C, G, D. The last sharp is D. If I go up one letter name from D, then I know that this is the key of E major.

When the key signature has a lot of sharps, you need to be careful. The last sharp in the order for this key is E. If I go up one letter name, that would make this the key signature of F major ... but that's not correct! The note F is sharp in this key. F# is in the key signature. So, that makes this the key of F# major.

Here is an exercise to help you practice naming sharp key signatures:

Here is an image that shows you every major key - flats and sharps.

This exercise mixes flats and sharps. It may take you a long time to recognize each key when you first start, but the more you practice, the more automatic it will become. Eventually you may even be able to see a key and know right away what it it without even counting!


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