As noted in the first section of this lesson, the major scale can be transposed (moved) to a location other than C. The process of constructing a major scale can be simplified by the use of key signatures. If the accidentals (sharps or flats) necessary to create the correct pattern of whole and half steps of a scale are moved to the beginning of the staff, immediately to the right of the clef, a key signature is created. Following is an A-flat major scale using accidentals. The second slide shows the same scale, but the accidentals have been moved to the left of the scale to create the A-flat major key signature.
The use of key signatures eliminates the tedious chore of writing sharps or flats before each note to be raised or lowered. It is also easier for the performer to “think” the key of four flats rather than read each of the accidentals individually as they occur in the music.
Because there are seven letters (A-G) to our musical alphabet, there are seven flat and seven sharp key signatures along with the key of C (which has no sharps or flat). Following are the major key signatures in the treble, bass, alto and tenor clefs.
Flat key signatures:
Sharp key signatures:
Looking at the examples above, notice that each key signature is formed by adding one flat or sharp to the preceding key signature. Therefore, if you memorize the order of all seven flats and all seven sharps, you will be able to write all the key signatures.
Three key signatures that are helpful to memorize are C major, Cb major and C# major:
How to memorize accidentals in key signatures
Learn to write flat key signatures
Learn to write sharp key signatures
Print a page of blank manuscript paper. Then . . .
Practice writing all seven sharps and seven flats in both the treble and bass clefs until you can do this task quickly and easily. Be sure you retain the correct order of the accidentals and place them on the correct lines and spaces as shown below:
Drill: Key Signature identification
MTSB: Lesson 3, Practice writing and identifying major scales