Key Signature

A Key Signature consists of Sharps and Flats which are placed at the beginning of every Stave of Music to fix the correct pitch of the piece.

To understand them fully, it is necessary to have a good understanding of the Major and Minor Scales. But first, check out the following video which looks at the very basics of understanding this concept. As you move further down the page, I have included Parts 2 and 3 of the series by 'musictheoryguy'... great music theory viewing.

The Basics

Key Signatures - Where & Why?

A Major

Key Signatures are generally written immediately after the clef at the beginning of a line of musical notation.
Without them, there could be 'utter chaos' on the Stave especially if you are playing a piece with a lot of sharps or flats in quick time. The following examples will help to illustrate this.

B Major with Accidentals

In this example, the piece is in B Major which consists of 5 sharps F# - C# - G# - D# - A#. Every time one of these 5 notes is played, it has to have a sharp in front of it, as there isn't a Key Signature at the beginning of the piece to tell us otherwise.

Etude in B Major

In this example, the piece is still in B Major but has a Key Signature. It fixes the correct pitch of each note within the piece. If there is an F# in the Key Signature, every time you play an F in the piece, it will be F#. The same applies to the other 4 sharps. (C# - G# - D# - A#)... neat, sweet and complete. Imagine trying to play this piece of music without one!

Order of Sharps and Flats...

There is an order that sharps and flats are placed on a musical Stave.

This order never changes.
  • The order of sharps is always F# - C# - G# - D# - A# - E# - B# (FCGDAEB)
  • The order of flats is always B♭ - E♭ - A♭ - D♭ - G♭ - C♭ - F♭ (BEADGCF)

You can make up sayings to help you remember the order where the first letter of each word represents the sharp or flat. You have one saying for the sharps and one saying for the flats:

Order of Sharps: Few Can Gain Distinction And Escape Blame

Order of Flats: By Energy And Diligence Good Children Flourish

Make up your own sayings. The important thing is that you remember them. You will find yourself using them all the time. Here are some others:

Order of Sharps:
Father Christmas Gave Dad An Electric Blanket
Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bats
Order of Flats:
Battle Ends and Down Goes Charles Father 
Blanket Exploded and Dad Got Cold Feet

Order of Sharps and flats in 1 saying that makes sense: Smiley Face
Forwards (sharps): Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle 

Backwards (flats): Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles Father

Accidentals & The Stave

Accidentals are placed on the lines or spaces that they represent within the Stave. Therefore an accidental representing F# would be placed on the F line, an accidental representing C# would be placed in the C space, an accidental representing G# would be placed in the G space etc. The same applies to the flats. (see below)

On a Treble & Bass Clef:

Sharp Accidentals

The Sharps are written between the A-space and the G-space

Flat Accidentals

The Flats are written between the F-space and the E-space

Notice that the accidentals always lay within the confines of a Stave. This means they are not placed on any added ledger lines above or below the Stave. (You can see this in the chart below.)

Key Signatures for all Major & Minor Keys

Key Signature for all Major and Minor Keys

Other Useful Videos to watch

There are a couple of other handy videos you may want to watch by MrTheoryGuy which will further help your understanding of key signatures. These include:

Back to Music Theory

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