Pop Music Theory


Lessons in Order

1-7 (Intro & Pitch) +
8-18 (Major Scale) +
19-29 (Chord Progressions) +
30-34 (Hook Chords) +
35-41 (Written Notes) +
41: Key Signatures
42-50 (Song Chorus) +

Lessons by Topic

Strategy +
Pitches +
Scales +
Written Notes -
41: Key Signatures
Chords +
Chord Progressions +
Melody +
Songwriting Steps +
Science +
Games & Tools +
Song Examples: Crazy +
Song Examples: Rolling Stone +

Detailed Contents

Get Future Lessons

Lesson 41: Key Signatures

This lesson continues the introduction to written notes we began in Lesson 36: Written Notes: Treble Staff.

This lesson teaches key signatures, which are "automatic sharps and flats" in written music. You will need these to read any music that's not in the key of C major.

Before taking this lesson, you should know:

Patterns of Sharps and Flats


The sharps and flats in the different major scales follow patterns which can help you remember them.

First, to review Lesson 17: Major Scale 1-8, here are the notes in the different major scales, with the scales listed in "pitch order". Ordered this way, the patterns of sharps and flats aren't easy to see:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
A♭B♭C D♭E♭FGA♭
ABC♯ DEF♯G♯A
B♭CD E♭FGAB♭
BC♯D♯ EF♯G♯A♯B
CDE FGABC
D♭E♭F G♭A♭B♭C D♭
DEF♯ GABC♯D
E♭FG A♭B♭CDE♭
EF♯G♯ ABC♯D♯E
FGA B♭CDEF
F♯G♯ A♯BC♯D♯ E♯F♯
G♭A♭ B♭C♭D♭E♭ FG♭
GAB CDEF♯G

Next, below, is the list of major scales again, but with some changes to show the patterns of sharps and flats:
  • We remove the "plain natural" notes to show just the sharps and flats;
  • We order the list of scales by how many sharps or flats they have;
  • We order the sharps and flats in each scale to show how each scale starts with the same sharps or flats as the scale above it, and adds one new sharp or flat.

Scale Sharps or Flats
C major
G major F♯
D major F♯C♯
A major F♯C♯G♯
E major F♯C♯G♯D♯
B major F♯C♯G♯D♯ A♯
F♯ major F♯C♯G♯D♯ A♯E♯
F major B♭
B♭ major B♭E♭
E♭ major B♭E♭A♭
A♭ major B♭E♭A♭D♭
D♭ major B♭E♭A♭D♭ G♭
G♭ major B♭E♭A♭D♭ G♭C♭

The sharps and flats in the above list are the sharps and flats in each key signature! Next, we'll see how key signatures show these sharps and flats.

Key Signatures


A key signature is a set of sharps or flats placed on the musical staff, and it means that certain notes should be automatically sharped or flatted. The key signature is written at the beginning of every line in traditional sheet music; but in jazz charts, it's often only written at the beginning of the song.

Here's an example of a key signature, the one with one sharp (F♯):



That single sharp is on the staff's F line. This tells you two things:
  1. Any time you see an F note on this staff, it's actually an F♯.
  2. It also tells you the song's key:
    • What major scale has just this one sharp, F♯? The G major scale.
    • What natural minor scale has that same single sharp? The E natural minor scale (the relative minor of G major).
    • So, this key signature says that the song is either in the key of G major or the key of E minor.
    • Note, the key signature alone doesn't tell you which of these two keys the song is in; you have to look at the actual notes and chords to decide that.

Now, here's a key signature with an actual note:



The note above looks like an F, but it's actually an F♯ because of that key signature. Note that that single F♯ in the key signature tells you to sharp all the F notes in the music, not just the notes on that particular staff line.

Table of Key Signatures


There are only about 12 different key signatures. The sharps or flats are always added in the same order, and on the same staff lines or spaces. Here are the common key signatures, and the major and minor keys they go with:

Sharps/FlatsKeys
NoneC major
A minor
F♯G major
E minor
F♯ C♯D major
B minor
F♯ C♯ G♯ A major
F♯ minor
F♯ C♯ G♯ D♯ E major
C♯ minor
F♯ C♯ G♯ D♯ A♯ B major
G♯ minor
F♯ C♯ G♯ D♯ A♯ E♯ F♯ major
D♯ minor
B♭F major
D minor
B♭ E♭B♭ major
G minor
B♭ E♭ A♭ E♭ major
C minor
B♭ E♭ A♭ D♭ A♭ major
F minor
B♭ E♭ A♭ D♭ G♭ D♭ major
B♭ minor
B♭ E♭ A♭ D♭ G♭ C♭ G♭ major
E♭ minor

Next:
Go on to Lesson 42: Syncopation, another concept you'll need to understand the examples in Lesson 44: Hook Melodies.




Lessons in Order

1-7 (Intro & Pitch) +
8-18 (Major Scale) +
19-29 (Chord Progressions) +
30-34 (Hook Chords) +
35-41 (Written Notes) +
41: Key Signatures
42-50 (Song Chorus) +

Lessons by Topic

Strategy +
Pitches +
Scales +
Written Notes -
41: Key Signatures
Chords +
Chord Progressions +
Melody +
Songwriting Steps +
Science +
Games & Tools +
Song Examples: Crazy +
Song Examples: Rolling Stone +

Detailed Contents

Get Future Lessons


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