Any piece of music is written in key signatures. Key signatures are the arrangement of sharps or flats on lines and spaces on a musical staff to indicate that the corresponding notes are to be consistently raised (by sharps) or lowered (by flats) from their natural pitches.
Key signatures help to identify the notes that are found in the major scale. It will also help to identify the notes found in the minor scale as well.
The information discussed is relevant to the major key signature and not the minor keys. Finding key signature for flats use a different method
In this lesson, we will go over 5 easy ways to identify key signatures based on the number of the sharps.
Piano, Voice, and Songwriting students find it difficult to remember what key signature the music is written in. You will learn 5 easy ways to identify the key signature based on the number of sharps. I go over this in all lessons including online music lessons.
Remember, the Key of C has no flats and no sharps.
The key signatures you will learn about are: C – G – D – A – E – B – F# – C#
#1: Location of the sharp
For key signatures with sharps, the key signature is the note name one half-step above the last sharp. If you aren’t familiar with the notes on a staff, learn where “C” is on the staff and go up and down the alphabet.
If the note is F# the next note one half-step above F# is G. Therefore, the music is written in the key of G.
#2: Order sharps are added
Sharps are added in order
F – C – G – D – A – E – B
Such that if the key has one sharp, that sharp will be “F”.
If the key has two sharps, the “F” is added first, then the “C”. Sharps are never added out of order. You will never see “C” then “F” or “A” “C” then “F”
To remember this, you can use a mnemonic. A mnemonic, also known as a memory aid, is a tool that helps you remember an idea or phrase with a pattern of letters or numbers, or other associations. We can use the mnemonic, “Fat cats go down alleys eating birds.” The first letter of the mnemonic matches the order in which the note is added as sharps.
Fat (1)– Cats (2) – Go (3) – Down (4)– Alleys (5)- Eating (6)– Birds (7)
Keys of F# & C# are the only ones that have sharps in their names. The easiest way to remember this is “Free Candy.” We will discuss this later in the lesson.
#3: Number of strokes it takes to write the capitalized letter
Some signatures can be remembered by the number of strokes it takes to write the capitalized letter. For example, to write the letter D, it takes 2 strokes to write the letter D. Therefore, the key of D has 2 sharps in it. Using the mnemonic, F and C are sharp.
This is only relevant for G, D, A, & E.
#4: The letters of the alphabet
The 7 letters in a musical scale are the first 7 letters of the alphabet: A, B, C, D, E, F, G. If the last note that is sharp in the key is C. The next letter in the alphabet is D. Therefore, the music is written in D major.
#5: The notes on piano keys
You can use a piano keyboard to find the key. Similar to #1 and #4, you can look at the piano key and go up one half-step to find which key the music is written in.
Key of F# and C#
The key of F# and C# are the only two that are written with the sharp as the key signature. This is because the location of the note below F and C (E and B) are whole steps and not half-steps. Raising it one half-step gives us E and C. Because there is already a key of E and C, and other music theory we won’t go into), we name these F# and C#
Key signatures help to identify the notes that are found in the major scale.
We used 5 easy ways to identify the key signature when it has sharps:
- Location of the sharp on the staff (move 1/2 step up)
- The number in which the sharps are added
- The number of strokes it takes to create the letter
- The next letter in the alphabet
- The notes on the piano key
Watch the video for full review of information