How to Understand Musical Key Signatures
September 18, 2017
Musical key signatures are flats and sharps that appear immediately after the clef sign. These flats and sharps affect every note they represent throughput the entire musical composition. They do not affect a note only when there is a natural sign on the note. The musical key signature defines the tonal center of a piece of music. It indicates which notes should be raised and which ones should be lowered. Every piece of music is in a particular key signature and this also applies to each chord played in music.
Musical key signature basically tells you the tonic tone all the other notes in a piece of music are related to. A melodic line in a tune that takes its notes from the scale of A major is in the key of A major. The tonic note is normally the first note of the scale and as such it is the key note.
Musical key signatures are not the same as keys. It is the notational illustration that gives music reader information about the particular piece of music. A key signature tells you the key in which the music is in but it is not the key. When a piece of music is written on the staff, the key in which the music is written in is defined by illustrating what notes should be sharpened (raised by a semi-tone) or flattened (lowered).
In music notation, the key signature tells you which notes to play sharp and which ones to play flat throughout the music. This means that if you are playing a certain song in a particular key, the notes will either be sharp or flat in the entire song. So instead of wring flats or sharps every time a note is sharpened or flattened, the sharps and flats are placed at the beginning of the music as a key signature.
One way of looking at major music key signatures and understanding the keys they represent by looking at the last sharp (if the signature has sharps) and then raise the key by a semi-tone. For example, if the last sharp is F sharp, you should raise that note by a semitone or half step. Alternatively, if the key has flats, take a look at the note before the last. That note will tell you the key. For example, E flat major normally has three flats. If the note before the last note is E flat, then the key is E flat.
Understanding key signatures when playing any musical instrument is very important. This is because it guides you on the different tones to play and when to play a flat note or a sharp note.