• A Lesson On The Concept Of Key-Signature

    in Beginners,Chords & Progressions,Piano,Theory

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    The concept of key-signature is one of the important things that every serious musician must be acquainted with.

    Most of the everyday music we listen to are tonal in nature, and that means that they are composed or played on a given key (aka – “tonality”)

    There are twelve major keys and  twelve minor keys – twenty four keys altogether, and every key has its signature – which we’ll be exploring in this lesson.
    But before we get into all of that, let’s review the concept of key.

    A Review On The Concept Of Key

    Although the term key is commonly used by musicians, there’s need for us to review it before we proceed.

    The Preliminaries

    There are twelve musical notes:

    On the piano, seven (out of the twelve notes) are white:

    …and are known to music scholars as naturals, while five are black:

    …and are considered as accidentals.

    The Definition Of A Key

    A key, which is also known as a key center is a tonal environment created by eight tones, with the goal of establishing a given note as the tonic (which is the first and most important note)

    For example, a collection of all the white notes on the piano from C to C:

    …can create a tonal environment where C:

    …is the first and most important tone (aka – “the tonic”) This tonal environment:

    …is called the key of C.

    The Components Of A Key

    Every key has eight components. Here are eight of them:









    All eight components are vital to a key and every key must have all of these components.

    Two Key Types

    There are two known key types – major and minor key types. The terms major and minor are used to describe a tonal environment.

    Goodness, light, happiness, etc., are attributed to the major key, while darkness, sadness, the ghostly and fearful, etc., are attributed to the minor key.

    The Concept Of Key-Signature – Explained

    Apart from the key of C major:

    …and A minor:

    …every key has a certain number of sharps and flats in its configuration. Music scholars use the number of sharps and flats in a key to identify it. Hence, every key has its signature, which is determined by the number of sharps and flats in that key.

    For example, the key of G major:

    …and the key of E minor:

    …have just one sharp (on F) in their configuration.

    Consequently, the key-signature of key G major and E minor is said to be “one sharp” and what this means is that once there’s only one sharp in the configuration of a key, two possible keys that are implied are the key of G major and the key of E minor.

    The use of key-signature is common among sheet musicians.

    In sheet music, one of the symbols at the beginning of a piece that helps the musician know the key that the piece of music is written on is the key-signature.

    Using the number of sharp or flat symbols, the musician can decode the key that the music is written on.

    For musicians who play by the ear, having a knowledge of key-signature is of the greatest possible importance because it helps in the mastery of the traditional scale of  that key. For example, the key-signature of Eb major:

    …is “three flats” on B, E, and A. This means that all the notes in the key of Eb are white notes (aka – “natural notes”) save B, E, and A, which are flats.

    Using all white notes on the keyboard from E to E:

    …and applying flats on B, E, and A to produce the Eb natural major scale.

    “Check It Out…”

    Using the natural notes on the piano from E to E:

    …applying a flat on B:

    ..to produce Bb:

    …then on E:

    …and E:

    ..to produce Eb:

    …then on A:

    …to produce Ab:

    Altogether, that’s the Eb major scale:

    …the traditional scale in the key of Eb major.

    Final Words

    Every serious pianist must have the concept of key-signature at his fingertips. Investing the last 12 minutes or so in this lesson lets me know that you belong to the league of serious musicians.

    We’ll further our discussion on the concept of key-signature in another lesson and I’ll see you then.

    Thanks for your time!

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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