• Erin Su

The Basics of Key Signatures: Part 1

You might be wondering, what is a key signature? Well, the number of sharps or flats in the key signature shows the key that the piece was written in. You can find the key signature next to the time signature at the very beginning of the music. So, how do you determine the key of a piece from its key signature? First, we're going to learn about major keys.

For sharps, there's this weird acronym that my piano teacher made me memorize when I was five years old: Fat Cat Goes Down And Eats Breakfast. (I can't imagine what went through the mind of whoever thought of this, but I must say that I never forget the order of the sharps.) In key signatures, this is the sequence that sharps are written in. To find the key, determine the last sharp in your key signature and go up half a step. For instance, if the piece has three sharps (F#, C#, G#), we go a half step up from G# to A. This piece is in A major.

Now, for flats, it's a little different. Here's another weird acronym to memorize: BEAD Gum Candy Fruit. This is the order of the flats. Now, in your key signature, find the second-to-last flat. This is your key. Easy, right? There's one exception that you just have to memorize: B♭is the key signature of F Major.

Here's a few examples for you to practice with. (Answers are at the bottom of this post.)

Determine the key of the following major key signatures:

  1. F#, C#

  2. B, E♭, A♭, D♭, G♭

  3. F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#

  4. F#, C#, G#, D#

  5. B

Determine the key signature of the following major keys:

  1. B Major

  2. E♭ Major

  3. F Major

  4. D Major

(No cheating!!)


D Major, DMajor, F# Major, E Major, F Major

F#, C#, G#, D#, A#

B, E♭, A♭


F#, C#

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