Piano Keys

 

     The word “key” in music is kind of like the words “to”, “two”, and “too” in that they sometimes lead to confusing as to when to use which. A key signature tells the musician what sharps or flats are in a given song, and therefore it defines the key of the song. To be in a key means the piece of music is based on the scale of that key.

     For example, a key signature with 4 flats — B, E, A, and D — indicates that the song is either in the key of Ab or it’s relative minor key, F minor. A key signature of 2 sharps — F and C — indicate that the piece is in the key of D or its relative minor key, B minor, and therefore uses the notes of the D scale in its formation.

     So each key signature announces to the performer the scale of the key in which the song is written.

     Key signatures are a type of musical notation that indicate which key the song is to be played in. But key signatures, despite the name, are not the same thing as key. Key signatures are simply notational devices; just as a note is the notational name for a pitch, key signatures are the notational names for keys. It is what it says it is: a signature, a simple piece of information that tips you off to the physical form (the key) to be played.

Key signature for the key of A

     Key signatures appear right after the clef (before the time signature) and show a sharp or flat on the line or space corresponding to the note to be altered. Key signatures placed at the beginning of songs will carry through the entire song, unless other key signatures are noted after a double bar, canceling out the first. For instance, it’s entirely possible to start a song in the key of F but end it in the key of E flat; it all depends on the key signatures and where they’re placed throughout the song (a key signature can change at any point). Accidentals can also show up throughout a song and only once or twice flatten or sharpen a note that was not previously indicated; this cancels out the key signatures, as well, but only temporarily, for as long as the accidental lasts.

Beginners just learning to read music often have a hard time with key signatures because the key itself is not expressly written, and it’s sometimes difficult to remember what goes where. Key signatures with five flats or sharps have been known to terrorize new musicians — how in the world, they think, are we supposed to remember all these note changes while we’re playing the song? It’s obviously possible, though, and there are some rules that can help beginners identify and remember the key as it relates to the key signatures, rules that go beyond rote memorization. If there is more than one flat, the key is the note on the second to last flat. If there are any sharps at all, the key is a half step up from the last one noted. F major, a key frequently found in beginning sheet music, only has one flat (B), and C major has no sharps or flats at all. Key signatures, when viewed in light of these rules, are much easier for beginners to digest, ensuring that a proper knowledge of key signatures is on its way through the door.

Did you know that the flats in any key signature always occur in the same order? Once you know that order, you will never again wonder "Which notes are flat in this song?"



     They always occur in this order in any key signature:

B   E   A   D   G   C   F

The order of the flats



     Notice that the first four flats spell the word "BEAD". You can remember the last 3 flats by making up some silly saying such as "Go Catch Fish" or any similar phrase that grabs your fancy.

     So if there is one flat in the key signature, what is it?

     Right. Bb.

     If there are two flats in the key signature, they are what?

     Right again. Bb and Eb.

     How about 5 flats?

     Sure. BEAD and G.

     You got it. That's all there is to it.

     To find what key you're in, just take the next to the last flat and that IS the key. For example, if you have 4 flats, they would be Bb Eb Ab Db. The next to the last flat is A, so you're in the key of Ab.

     If you have 2 flats, they are Bb and Eb, so the next to the last flat is Bb-- therefore the key is Bb.

     If you have 3 flats, they are Bb, Eb and Ab. Since Eb is the second to the last flat, the key is Eb.

     If there is only 1 flat in the key signature, it would of course be Bb, and you'll just have to memorize that it is the key of F.

     And you no doubt already know that if you have no flats or sharps in the key signature, you are in the key of C major (or A minor -- but we'll take that option up later).

     Get this down cold -- so you immediately know what key you're in when you have flats in the key signature of a song. Why? Because once you know  what key you are in, you also know  which 3 chords are the most likely -- right?

 Here's how to instantly find what key you are in when there are sharps in the key signature of a song:

     You know that the flats in any key signature always occur in the same order - BEADGCF.

     Sharps also occur in the same order -- except that order is BACKWARDS from the order of the flats. Instead of BEADGCF, the order of the sharps is:

F    C    G    D    A    E    B

 

     They always occur in that order in a key signature. You can memorize them by saying the flats backward, or make up a silly saying of some kind such as Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bologna.

     All you do to find the key is:

Go up 1/2 step from the last sharp = that IS the key

 

     And you  already know that if you have no flats or sharps in the key signature, you are in the key of C major (or A minor -- but we'll take that option up later).

     Get this down cold -- so you immediately know what key you're in when you have sharps in the key signature of a song. Why? Because once you know  what key you are in, you also know  which 3 chords are the most likely -- right?

    Because in any given key there are 3 chords that are used more than any others -- they are known as "primary chords".  Learn those 3 chords in each key, and you can harmonize most all simple songs.

     Piano keys, on the other hand, are the physical keys - the 7 “white notes” and the 5 “black notes” - on a keyboard. Which piano keys are played in any given song depend on the key signature of the song, and therefore what key the song is in.

 

No wonder beginners sometimes scratch their heads!

 

Piano programs for beginners are at Piano Courses For Beginners & Near Beginners

 

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