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Piano Nanny - Free Piano Lessons
Intermediate Studies

Lesson 2 - Section 1

Piano Staff

Using Key Signatures

Imagine that you are the composer of a song. And, you would like to base your song on the B scale. That means that B is going to be the root. Since the song is based on the B scale, the song is said to be in the Key of B.

From the previous lesson, you learned that when you constructed a major scale using the root note B, there were 5 sharps (black keys). Check this again on your own keyboard (remember whole-whole-half-whole-whole-whole-half). Now you could either label each sharped note on the staff that needs to be played during the song or you could use something new. You could use a Key Signature.

Look at the image for this section. The first measure on the left shows the B scale in eighth notes. Each note that needs to be sharped for the B Major scale is labeled with a sharp (#) sign. This method could get very messy and hard to look at for the reader. Can you imagine what it would look like with lots of sixteenth notes?

Now look at the measure on the right. Instead of labeling every sharped note within the measure, the sharped notes are all shown at the beginning of the staff before the Time Signature. This keeps the staff cleaner and easier to read. The performer of your music can tell at a glance that there are 5 sharps used in this song over and over again. And, that this music is written in 4/4.

When I get ready to play a piece of music, I first look at the Key Signature and then the Time Signature. This is the standard approach for many musicians. You may have over heard musicians speaking to each other and saying, “Hey man. What key is this in? And what’s the tempo?” These are the two most important questions other than, “Hey dude what’s the ending do?”

Every musician is concerned, up front, about how to start a song and how to end a song. It’s like new directions to a person’s house; “Where do I start and what will I see when I get close to the end of my journey?”

Lesson 2 - Section 2

Piano Staff

Memorize the Key Signatures

There are many tips for figuring out what key a song is in. However, in 40 years, I’ve never seen a professional musician in any genre use any of these so called tips. The only people I’ve seen use these tips are the Intro-to-music teachers.

As far as I know, the only way to learn the different Key Signatures is to memorize them. The more songs you play, the faster you will learn the different Key Signatures. It is less important to know what key you are in and more important to know which notes will be flatted or sharped. However, when we get into chord progressions, it will be easier on you if you take the time to memorize this stuff ahead of time.

Here is what you would need to memorize:

In the Key of C, there are 0 sharps and 0 flats.
In the Key of G, there is 1 sharp.
In the Key of F, there is 1 flat.
In the Key of D, there are 2 sharps.
In the Key of B flat, there are 2 flats.
In the Key of A, there are 3 sharps.
In the Key of E flat, there are 3 flats.
In the Key of E, there are 4 sharps.
In the Key of A flat, there are 4 flats.
In the Key of B, there are 5 sharps.
In the Key of D flat, there are 5 flats.

If you memorize these Keys and which notes are sharped or flatted, you will be covering 90% of the songs ever written. There are songs written in the Key of F sharp which has 6 sharps, C sharp which has 7 sharps, and G flat which has 6 flats, but they are rarely used outside the world of classical music.

Lesson 2 - Section 3

Key Tree

The Key Tree

In the image for this section is a graphic representation of what you saw on the previous page. It would be a good idea to bookmark this key page. The root for each key is RED. The sharp(s) or flat(s) are GREEN.

Let’s practice a few Key Signatures.

In the Key of G how many sharps are there? Which note is sharped?

In the Key of F how many flats are there? Which note is flatted?

In the Key of B how many sharps are there? Which notes are sharped?

In the Key of E flat how many flats are there? Which notes are flatted?

In the Key of B flat how many flats are there? Which notes are flatted?

Now record these questions and answers on your music note book. Repetition is your partner in learning.

You are ready now . . .

In your simple song book that I asked you to get in earlier lessons, are there any songs with Key Signatures other than C? If so, practice playing some of them. If not, try to find another simple song book that has flats and sharps. Look for songs in the Keys of G, F, D, and B flat.

You are doing well. Keep up the good work. I think it is time for one of those big teddy bear hugs again. Give yourself a BIG one. See you in the next lesson.

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