Key Signatures in Theory



Every piece of printed sheet music has at least one Key Signature. You’ll find it at the beginning of the piece, then at the beginning of each page. Also, if the key changes anywhere in the song, the music will reflect that change. The primary reason for the key signature is to tell you, the musician, which key you are playing in. Just as an aside, I know that I can’t make you learn this key signature stuff, but if you would humor me and do so, I would consider it to be like you bringing me an apple! Yeah!

If you click here a magical Key Signature Chart will appear from within the pages. It’s magic. It consists of two pages, eight time signatures each page. On the first page I would like for you to learn and remember all eight signatures and from the second page the first two will suffice, although it would be nice to know that I somehow motivated you to learn them all! Lol

Musical Notation

Ledger Lines

Ledger Lines

Musical Notation is done on a staff of Ledger Lines. A staff will have one of two clefs assigned to it, a Treble Clef which defines the staff as Treble. The Treble Staff consists of notes to the right of Middle-C, which is the C in the very middle of the Grand Staff, which consists of both Treble and Bass Clefs. A Bass Clef defines the staff as Bass.

Treble Clef

Treble Clef

How Do You Know

The easiest way to learn the different key signatures is by knowing how many sharps and flats there are in the signature. Now, to digress just a bit, we haven’t covered sharps and flats yet. A sharp is a note with the

Bass Clef

Bass Clef


cross-hatch just to the right of it, such as G♯, and a flat is distinguished by a flat sign just to the right, as in B♭. A sharp is when you take any given note and raise the tone UP one half step. Likewise, a flat happens when you drill a hole in a tire. No! Wait! A flat in music theory happens when you take any given note and lower the tone DOWN one half step. By comparison, on the piano, all black keys are flats or sharps, all relative to the note being flatted or sharped.

Grand Staff

The Grand Staff

NOTE: There is no such note as a B♯, C♭. E♯, or F♭.

Another major function of the key signature is to make some tasks in writing or notating music easier for the author. For example, let’s say that I have written a lengthy piece and all of the F notes are actually F#. If I write in the sharp-sign (#) every single time it can become quite redundant and there is a possibility that I may miss one or more. Got a signature sign? Problem solved! If the only sharp in the piece is an F#, then the song is in the Key of G. So, throughout the song, I don’t have to mark any sharps other than the one in the Key Signature because that notation means “Every F Is Really F#.”

Using the same line of thinking, here are the notes of the key C-Minor, then the notes of the C-minor scale with the correct time signature.


Notes of the C-Minor scale, incorrectly noted.



Notes of the C-Minor Scale, noted correctly.



Just Another Note On The Shelf


Let’s learn a few notes, shall we? First we will need to learn the note values:

Note Values

Notes of the Staff

The first note is a WHOLE note. It will occupy an entire measure of time on the ledger. Next comes the HALF note which is worth one-half of a whole note. It takes two half-notes to equal one whole note. Then comes the QUARTER note. A quarter note is worth one-fourth, or a quarter, of the value of a whole. It will take up the same amount of time as a half note. Below the quarter note, the notes will take on flags. The next note, the EIGHTH note, has half the time value of the quarter note. There will be two eighth notes per quarter note. Finally, the SIXTEENTH note has two flags or half the time occupied by the eight note, or four notes per quarter note. More flags are possible but aren’t typically used.
The following table shows the notes in a pyramid that relates the note lengths to one another.

Note Values Pyramid


NOTE: On the Treble Staff, the flags will normally be upright. There are exceptions, such as room for placement. On the Bass Clef, the flags will typically point downward.


Two Eighth Notes Walk Into This Bar


A measure is divided from the remainder of the ledger by a vertical bar. How many notes will fit inside the measure is determined by the Time Signature. Remember our time signatures? We had 4/4, 3/4, 2/2 and 6/8. Below I’ll show you 4/4, 3/4, 3/2 and 6/8. 4/4 time will have the time value of four quarter notes per measure. 3/4 time will have three quarter notes per measure. 3/2 time will have three half notes and 6/8 will have six eighth notes per measure.

Four Time Signatures

Four Different Time SIgnatures

Let It Rest


That’s right! Just as we have notes we also have rests. The rests tell us that the author of the song doesn’t or didn’t want us to play anything right there. The duration of a rest has the same values as notes, only they look different. Like this:

The Rests

The Rest

The Whole Rest is a box drawn upside down from the fourth line of the ledger. It means you rest for the duration of a whole note or two quarter notes. The Half Rest is drawn right side up on the third line of the ledger. The Quarter Rest looks almost like an accident happened, but it’s unmistakable shape means take break for a quarter beat. Rests of less duration, like notes, can have flags. A rest with one flag means to rest for the duration of an eighth note and is called an Eighth Rest. A Sixteenth Rest has two flags and is the duration of a sixteenth note.

Dotted Notes and Ties

Dotted Notes, sometimes called augmentation are notes with a dot to the side of the body of the note. If the note stem/flag is upright, the dot will reside to the left of the note body. When the note/stem is facing downward, the dot will reside to the right of the note body. The dot means to add one-half the duration of the note to its time value. In other words, a dotted quarter note has the duration of the quarter note and an eighth note.

Dotted Notes and Ties

Dotted Notes and Ties

What is the equivalent of the two dotted quarter notes? Try to figure it out. Each note is a quarter note plus an eighth note, so when added together they are two and a half beats. Or… the value of a dotted half note.

Likewise, what is the duration of the two tied notes? Two quarter notes make a half note, right. Right!


Intervals… And Did I Almost Have An Accident


Slide from one fret to another, left or right, and you have moved a half-step. Likewise, slide from one fret two frets left or right, and you have moved a whole-step. The distance between one fret and another is one interval. The whole-stop movement takes up two intervals. And so on. Keep in mind that the number of intervals includes crossing over strings! So, if you move from the low Open-E to the Open-A, you have moved five intervals. A move to the first fret, B♭, on the Open-A is a movement of six intervals. Now, one more thing before we move on to the next blog.


Any note on the guitar neck that has a flat (♭) or a sharp (#) is an accidental. Every note that does NOT have a flat or sharp is a natural note. This means:

The seven natural notes are: A B C D E F G

With the exception of B, C, E and F

  • If you raise a natural note by a half-step, you will have a sharp
  • If you lower a natural note by a half-step, you will have a flat
  • There are no such notes as B#, C♭, E# or F♭

There are accidentals that share the same note sound. They are:

  • C# and D♭
  • D# and E♭
  • F# and G♭
  • G# and A♭


Coming up next… Notes On A Staff

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