Lesson 20: Key signatures

Category: Lessons

sharp_keysignatureKey signatures are a very important topic, but difficult for some to grasp.   The key signature tells you what notes (sharps or flats) will be played consistently during the piece of music.  The key signature is denoted by a group of sharps or a  group of flats positioned after the clefs and before the time signature.  Key signatures will never mix sharps or flats.  Whats more, the sharps or flats in a key signature are always presented in the same order!  That is, the first sharp is always F#, the second sharp is always C#.. and on and on.  Never will you have a key signature with only a C#.  F# ALWAYS has to precede it.  These are the rules – take ’em or leave ’em.  But if you leave them, you would be wrong.  Actually, not wrong – just not conforming to the standards of Western music.

So how do you remember the order of sharps and flats in a key signature? Well, like we always do – with a little saying!  The saying to remember the order of sharps is:  Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle.  Isn’t it nice?  Well, the saying to remember flats is a little morbid, even though it is the same words but backwards: Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles’  Father .  So when you write a flat key signature, B flat always come first, followed by E, A, and so on.

These are the basics of key signatures. Remember: the key signature is there to tell you to play certain sharps and flats every time you see the note in the piece of music.  So if your key signature has an F# in it, every time you see an F in the piece of music, you should imagine that there is a sharp sign in front of it, and play it sharp.

I’ll be posting a key signature worksheet in the next little while.  So check the worksheets section for some practice!

Posted on March 14th, 2009 by sharlene


  1. Marara Schreurs Says:

    Hi, Sharlene. Thank you very much for your wonderful website and the great, easy to follow lessons you have provided on how to read piano music. I have always wondered what all the notation meant and your lessons have explained these perfectly. As I worked my way through your lessons, it was as though you were actually talking me through it all! Thanks again! I look forward to practising your methods and will check your website regularly from now on for any other information you may have to share.
    Kind regards, Marara.

  2. Deanna Says:

    Hello, thankyou for the site, but i am still abit confused, i have a test tomorrow on music (i.e key signatures) and I am freaking out. But your website is wondeful, thanks anyway! thank you.

  3. Circle of fifths | Epianostudio Says:

    […] Start at the top. On the outside of the circle you see the major keys. They are organized with the simplest keys at the top. That is, the key of C has no sharps or flats. As you traverse clockwise, the key of G major (which is a fifth above the key of C) has 1 sharp. As you traverse even more, the key of D major (which is a fifth above G), has 2 sharps.. And on and on it goes until you reach 7 sharps. If you need to review key signatures, you can do it here. […]

  4. Lesson 31: Major Scales and Key Signatures | Epianostudio Says:

    […] we embark upon this journey, you may want to review the concept of key signatures in Lesson 20: Key Signatures. You don’t have to, it’s just a suggestion. I will briefly review the basic concept of […]

  5. Review of Major Scales and Major Key Signatures | Epianostudio Says:

    […] Next, to create a key signature, you need to group all of the accidentals at the beginning of the scale, after the clef. In the A flat scale there are 4 flats: A flat, B flat, D flat, and E flat.  Remember that the flats in a key signature have to go in a specific order. For flats the order is B-E-A-D-G-C-F. The order of the sharps in the key signature is F-C-G-D-A-E-B. There are tricks for remembering this order. […]

  6. Jeff Says:

    How do you do your mum and how to work out the father Charles thing bcus of E flat major how do you work the flats in it?

Leave a Reply

To get lessons and updates via email, enter your email address:

Are you on facebook and like to like things? Then like this website!