The Key Signature is the number of sharps or flats in the left margin of the staff. There are technical reasons for the construction of the individual keys but these are beyond the scope of this tutorial. Often music is titled in a MAJOR or MINOR key. For example, "Sonata in C Minor". The student needs to know what this means, how many sharps or flats are in the key and where they are. Key signatures are bound by solid rules. For instance, if a piece is in F major, there is always one flat and it is always on B.
Minor keys follow the same rules as major keys. For each major there is a relative minor. Basically, major keys are 'happy' and minor keys are 'sad'. A song like "Happy Birthday" is in a major key and a piece like Chopin's "Funeral March" is in a minor key.
Try this experiment. Do not play any sharps or flats. Play the scale for low C to C', up and down. Now play from A to A', up and down. Do you hear the difference? You have just played a C major scale and an A minor scale. There are actually three scales in any minor key but that is a bit advanced for this text. Suffice it to say that the A minor scale with no accidentals is called a Natural Minor. There are also Harmonic and Melodic minor scales but these have some accidental alterations in them. Historically early musical scales were based on Modes which were natural scales beginning on a specific note and ending on the same or another note.
More about Scales and Modes will be covered in the Advanced Section of the course.
Below is a chart of all the major and minor keys. Use it as reference and commit the key signatures, up to three sharps or flats, to memory. Recorder music is rarely written in keys with more than three accidentals (sharps or flats).
Now that you know all about Key Signatures, click here to go on to the Language of Music.
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