key signature

Key signatures with a double barline.
The key signatures of E-flat major and A major. Image © Brandy Kraemer

Definition of Key Signature:

A key signature is a pattern of accidentals (sharps or flats) at the very beginning of a staff, which represents a song’s key. The key signature comes between the clef and the time signature.

A key signature has either sharps or flats, never both. The number of accidentals in a key signature ranges from 0 to 7; C-sharp and C-flat major have seven sharps and flats, respectively, while C major has none.

See keynote.


Key Signature Accidental Patterns

The order of the accidentals written in a key signature is as follows (notice the pattern is simply reversed):

  • Sharps: F#  C#  G#  D#  A#  E#  B#
  • Flats: Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb


To memorize the pattern of accidentals, try these mnemonic devices:

#’sFine china gets dirty after eating beets

b’sBread eaten at dinner gets children full


Continue Learning About Key Signatures:




Also Known As:

  • armatura (It)
  • armure (Fr)
  • Vorzeichen (Ger)


Pronunciation: kee'  ssig-nə-tchər

Musical Symbols:
Staff & Barlines
The Grand Staff
Key Signatures
Time Signatures

Note Lengths
Dotted Notes
Music Rests
Tempo Commands

Dynamics & Volume
8va & Octave Commands

Repeat Signs
Segno & Coda Signs
Pedal Marks
Piano Chords



Beginner Piano Lessons
 ▪  Notes of the Piano Keys
 ▪  The Point Of Double-Sharps
 ▪  Finding Middle C on the Piano
 ▪  Essential Piano Fingering
 ▪  Comparing Major & Minor Chords

Getting Started on Keyboards
 ▪  Finding the Right Piano Teacher
 ▪  Sitting Correctly at the Keys
 ▪  Playing Piano vs. Electric Keyboard
 ▪  How to Buy a Used Piano

Piano Chords
 ▪  Chord Types & Symbols in Sheet Music
 ▪  Root Notes & Chord Inversion
 ▪  Diminished Chords & Dissonance
 ▪  Essential Piano Chord Fingering

Piano Care
 ▪  Everyday Piano Care
 ▪  Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
 ▪  When to Tune a Piano
 ▪  Piano Room Temps & Humidity Levels

Piano Recitals & Performing
 ▪  What to Eat & Drink Before a Performance
 ▪  Concert Etiquette for the Audience
 ▪  Warming Up for a Piano Performance
 ▪  Overcoming Mistakes On Stage

♫ Musical Quizzes!
 ● Identify the Piano Keys
 ● Key Signature Quiz
 ● Note Length & Rest Quiz (U.S. or U.K. English)
 ● Grand Staff Notes Quiz
 ● Time Signature & Rhythm Quiz

Reading Piano Music
• Note-Lengths in U.K. & U.S. English
• Notes of the Piano Keys
• Memorize the Grand Staff Notes
• Reading Music Rests

Piano Chords
• Easy Bass Piano Chords
• Chord Types & Symbols
• Piano Chord Fingering
• Diminished Chords & Dissonance

Reading Musical Symbols
• Note Accents & Articulation Marks
• How to Play Dotted Notes
• Accidentals & Double-Accidentals
• Reading Segno & Coda Repeats

Beginner Piano Lessons
• Comparing Major & Minor
• Understanding the Key Signature
• Types of Barlines
• BPM & Tempo Commands
• Left Hand Piano Fingering


Helpful Info For Owning a Piano
How to Safely Whiten Your Piano Keys
Learn ivory-safe methods for brightening up your acoustic piano keys, and find out what you can do to prevent keyboard yellowing.

When to Tune a Piano
Find out when (and how frequently) you should schedule a professional piano tuning to keep your piano healthy and on-pitch.

Easy-to-Spot Signs of Piano Damage
Before you buy or sell an acoustic piano, learn how to assess it for both internal and external damage.

Ideal Piano Temp & Humidity Levels
Learn how to maintain sound quality and piano health by monitoring the temperature, humidity, and natural light in your piano room.

Illustrated Piano Chords:

AbmajAbma7Abma9  |  AbminAbm7Abm9  |  AbdimAb°7  |  AbaugAb+7  |  Absus2Absus4


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Your Citation
Kraemer, Brandy. "key signature." ThoughtCo, Jul. 2, 2017, Kraemer, Brandy. (2017, July 2). key signature. Retrieved from Kraemer, Brandy. "key signature." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 18, 2017).