Key Signature Confusion

by Kent

You say here:

"Key signatures are groups of either sharps ♯ or flats ♭that you can see at the beginning of a staff, right after the clef (and before the time signature).

They tell us what notes are either raised (♯ ) or lowered (♭) throughout the whole piece.

However I am finding theory class much more complex as different sites show different keys sometimes even more sharps or flats in the scale then the keys etc. I wonder can you help me make sense of this and how to find a key from such a scale? is it dependent on natural, melodic, or harmonic? or something else all together? Thanks for your time.

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by: Maria

Yes, key signatures can be a bit confusing at first. To de-confuse a bit, I suggest that we'll take it from the start.

A piece of music is built with notes from different scales, or modes.

Key signatures are a kind of a shortcut, by showing us a particular scale, or key, that the piece is mainly centering on.

The score could of course have all the necessary changes with sharps, flats or naturals written in front of every note in the piece. But these sharps, flats and naturals would then be temporary (lasting for only that note and measure) and called "accidentals". And there might be a whole lot of them...

However, if we know that the piece is using the same raised or lowered notes all the time (belonging to a particular scale)- we can instead write these sharps or flats in the beginning of each staff. This is called a "key signature".

Notes that don't belong to this "main scale" are still written in the score, in front of the notes used, as temporary changes, or accidentals.

For each key signature there are two possible scales: a major and a minor. These scales are also called relative. They are "related" since they share the same notes.

Since you mentioned minor, only the sharps or flats for the "natural" minor scale is written in the key signature.

The changes of the 7th note in the harmonic minor, or the 6th and 7th step in the melodic, are always written as accidentals.

In music theory class, you should first: learn about the major and minor scales.

Then learn how the sharps or flats are grouped for each scale. You may have read the introduction here.

Then read: Understanding key signatures here.

Later you'll need to learn how to find the key signature of a piece. You can learn that here: How to find the key signature.

Finally, you can learn about the circle of fifths, and get a really useful tool where you can see how it all goes together: The circle of fifths.

I wish you all the best and hope this was helpful to you!

Happy Practicing,

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