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Ho wo Read Key and Time Signatures

This section continues from the introduction section and contains information on how to read and interpret music notation, in particular key signatures and time signatures. This is information which may help if you are learning the piano or keyboard or indeed any other instrument. It is mainly most useful for musical reference purposes.

Key Signatures

A Key signature is shown to the right of the clef symbol and will show a series sharp symbols or flat symbols which can be interpreted to deduce which key the piece is written in.

The Key of a piece means that when playing a piece of music, certain notes may be sharpened or flattened by the pieces key signature unless overridden by a natural symbol or an extra sharp/flat symbol. Therefore, on a Key Signature such as D Major, where the sharps are F# and C# each C note you see on the notation is played as C# and not C natural.

The word / term Sharp means to increase the pitch of a note by a semi-tone.
The word / term Flat or Flatten means to decrease the pitch of a note by a semi-tone.

The Table Below outlines the various Key Signatures you may encounter. There are many others but these are simply the basic or most common key signatures.


Common Key Signatures
Key Description Key Signature
C Major No Flats C Major
D Major Two Sharps D Major
E Major Four Sharps Eb Major
F Major One Flat F Major
G Major One Sharp G Major
A Major Three Sharps A Major
B Flat Major Two Flats Bb
B Major Five Sharps B Major


Time Signatures

A Time Signature indicates how many beats there are in each bar and which note is to be used as a beat. This basic introduction to time signatures will assume that the crotchet is to be used as the one beat measure – therefore all times will be something:4 time. Certain time signatures lend themselves to certain styles of songs, e.g. most waltzes are written in 3:4 time, and the majority of rock songs would be based around 4:4 time.

Time Signatures Symbol
4:4 Time 4:4 time
3:4 Time 3:4 time
6:4 Time 6:4 time

Moving On : Learning Types of Notes >>>