Music Theory For Guitarists – How Key Signatures Work

All those mysterious small sharps and flats sitting in the key signature are technique simpler to know than it looks like.  Let me provide you the tips to know the program and create you a more informed guitar player.

First of all, remember that music notation as a whole is a merely a set of instructions for playing the track.  Understanding to read it is actually only like when you were understanding to read books back in 2nd level.  It takes a small time, but instantly becomes extremely all-natural in the event you learn a some tips.

They key signature is there to tell us which notes in the scale are sharped for flatted.  From to tell what key the track is within, which offers you extra info before you even begin playing.

The key signature could contain anywhere from 0 to 7 sharps or flats.  You’ll not see them mixed.  One or the different.  The sharps and flats are located found on the line or room of the note that they correspond with.  So should you see a sharp found on the top line of the staff that informs you that you’re going to play F# every time you see an F in the music.  Should you see a flat found on the center line of the staff, that informs you to play Bb wherever you see a B in the music.

Why do they are doing this?  There’s 2 factors.  First, some keys have a great deal of sharps or flats in them.  Without a key signature we’d need to write that sharp or flat upcoming to the note every time it comes up.  That might result in the notation certainly messy and more difficult to adhere to.  Second, when our active program of notation was invented (in the 17th century) ink and parchment were pretty pricey.  And the bad monks who were hand copying all of this stuff looked for any shortcut they might to conserve time and ink.  Key signatures are a big aid when your hand is cramping up from composing a zillion sharps.

The sharps and flats come in a specific order:
Sharps: F  C  G  D  A  E  B – sharps appear in an purchase of 5ths
Flat: B  E  A  D  G  C  F – flats appear in an purchase of 4ths.

If you have 2 sharps in the key signature they is F# and C#.  Three flats will always be Bb, Eb, and Ab.  You’ll never see something like two sharps and they’re D and E.  Won’t happen.

Now you know how to read the individual sharps and flats in the key signature.  How do they tell you what key you’re playing in?  First let’s clarify the concept of “key”.  The “key” simply tells you what scale the composer used to write the piece of music with.  Think of a scale like an artist’s palate of colors.  He has blue, red, white, black, purple, etc.  And mixes those colors and throws them at a canvas to make a painting.  We take the seven notes in our scale and throw them at the page to make music.

 There’s a couple quick tricks to tell what key you’re in based on the key signature.  For sharp keys, take the last sharp and go up a half step (one fret) and that’s the name of your key.  So if you have four sharps (F#  C#  G#  D#), the you go a half step up from D# and find you’re in the key of E majaor.  Simple!

For flat keys you take the second to last flat and THAT is the name of your key.  If you have 3 flats (Bb, Eb, Ab) then you’re in the key of Eb.  The key of F major, which has just one flat – Bb – you unfortunately have to just memorize.

And the advantage of knowing what key you’re in?  You’ll be able to know some of the chords you’ll see before you start playing.  Primarily the I, IV, and V chords which you’ll see in nearly everything you play.

Let’s say you have a key signature with 4 flats in in.  Look above to see what those are…. (Bb Eb  Ab  Db) – If we look at the 3rd flat you’ll find you’re in the key of Ab major.  In that key your I, IV, and V chords are Ab, Db, and Eb7.  Now you know you’ll be running across at least those chords.

So, the key signature gives you a lot of information right off the bat to help you get through the song.  And now you’ve got all the tricks to figure them out.  And you’re a better guitarist because of it!

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