Lesson 6: Key Signatures - Flats

Somehow someone always seems to know what pitch to play at the start of a song...

Remember that the flats and sharps are (usually) the black keys on the piano (review lesson 1 if you need to)

Key Signatures

A key signature is the group of flats or sharps (never both!) you see at the start of a song (or at a key change) and repeated at the beginning of every line. (And it is the same on both the bass clef and the treble clef)

If there is a flat on the B position, then any B you see in the music must be flat. So in the example below every B and every E on both the bass clef and the treble clef staves have been flattened.

key sig flats


I love the name of these- like an accident waiting to happen....

flat sharp natural

An accidental is a note that has a flat, sharp or natural sign next to it. This changes the note from the given key signature. It not only affects the note it is next to but any other notes after it in the same bar (measure).

A natural sign looks a bit like a sharp sign. Make sure you know the difference and you can write them too - you might want to write one on your music one day.

If someone uses the term natural eg "A natural" - it is the same as saying A. (She is just making sure that you know it is not Ab or A#.)

Did you notice that we say "A flat" but the flat sign is actually written before the note not after it?

If a flattened note has a natural sign next to it it goes up in pitch. eg Eb to E

If a sharpened note has a natural sign next to it it goes down in pitch. eg F# to F


Order of Flats in a Key Signature

It was news to me when I started learning music theory that the flats (or sharps) that make up the pretty pattern at the start of each line are not just randomly sprinkled there by the arranger but are always in the same order.

For flats the order is BEADGCF

Remember this with: BEADs Give Choruses Fun

So if there is only one flat, it will be a Bb

If there are two flats they will be Bb and Eb

If there are three flats they will be Bb, Eb and Ab and so on....

But wait there's more.....

So what's the pitch

If there are no flats and sharps then the key is C major (Just like middle C is that important note on the piano, C major is the key with no flats and sharps). So C is played on the pitch pipe at the start of the song (it can be middle C or the C above middle C depending on your director's choice)

So if you are singing a C major scale, you start on middle C and play all the white notes up to the C above middle C. It sounds like the major scale you have sung many times 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8

If there is only one flat, it is the key of F major (ie F is the note of the pitch that is played on the pitch pipe or keyboard before you start to sing a song).

Try to play the scale of F on the piano above. Just start on the F below middle C (sorry it is a bit low to sing unless you are a bass) and play all the consecutive white notes up the piano except when you get to B, play Bb (instead of B).

You just need to remember the keys for C major (no flats and sharps) and F major (one flat - Bb) but there is an easy way to remember all the others.

For key signatures with flats, look at the second to last flat and that is the key.

So if there are four flats, then the flats are Bb, Eb, Ab and Db (remember BEADs Give Choruses Fun) and the key is the second to last one which is Ab. So the key is Ab major and Ab is played at the start of the song.

Key Sig Flats

A quick game to test out your new found skills



Sorry, homework again. Now that you understand key signatures, you should be able to play the voice part on the piano for any music you like. Really! Your homework is to take a piece of music from your singing repertoire, in any key and learn to play the first page of your part of it on the piano so you can sing along to it.

As before, you have my permission to use a pencil to write down the notes underneath if you need to. When I first started I used to firstly write the letters for the notes without worrying about the key signature. Then I looked at the key signature - say it was 3 flats - Bb, Eb and Ab. So I would go through everything I had written and write a flat next to all the Bs and then do the same for all the Es I had written and so on. Then I'd look through the music one more time and make sure that I had marked any accidentals correctly. Then I'd try playing it. I recommend starting on some music that you know fairly well so you can tell if you are making a mistake on the piano. The more you do this, the faster and more confident you will get at it.

If you don't have a 'real' keyboard you can use a virtual piano on the computer.