What’s All This Extra Stuff on my Music?

Accidentals and Key SignaturesSo, you’ve been working on your note reading skills and your rhythm, and then your teacher hands you a piece of music with all sorts of strange marks on it. What’s up with that? What’s all that extra stuff on your music? Today I’m going to tell you about some of that extra stuff.

Whole Steps and Half Steps

Before we can get to some of that extra stuff you have to know about whole steps and half steps. A half step is the distance from one note to the very next closest note, either up or down. If you look at a piano keyboard, a half step often  goes from a white key to a black key, or a black key to the next white key. But sometimes two white keys are right next to each other. Then they are a half step apart. Look at the graphic below. I marked some half steps in purple. See how they go from one note to the very next note? Now, look at the green markings. Those represent whole steps. See how whole steps are two half steps put together? Often a whole step goes from one white key to the next white key, or from one black key to the next black key. But sometimes a whole step goes from a white key to a black key, or a black key to a white key. That is where accidentals come in.

Whole Steps and Half Steps


Some of the extra things on your music are accidentals. Sharp signs, flat signs, and natural signs are accidentals. In music we write  these signs  before the note they apply to. (You see the sign before you see the note.) A sharp sign raises a note by a half step. A flat sign lowers a note by a half step. And a natural sign will cancel out earlier sharp and flat signs. Important thing to remember: when one of these signs is written in front of your note, the sign applies to every note that of that same name in the measure, but ONLY in that measure. So, if you have the note F with a sharp sign in front of it, instead of playing a regular F you play the note that is one half step higher than F – F sharp.

Sharp, Flat, Natural Signs

Key Signatures

If a composer wrote every sharp and flat sign in front of the notes in the music, your music would be very sloppy and cluttered! Someone came up with a better system. What if a composer wanted every F in his music to be played as an F sharp? He could write a sharp sign at the beginning of the music that would tell all the musicians to play every F as an F sharp. This is called a key signature.You find a key signature at the beginning of your music – right after the treble or bass clef sign. Key signatures always follow specific orders and patterns. This letter sequence you will tell you the order of all the sharps and flats in a key signature:

B – E – A – D – G – C – F

That is the order of flats in key signatures. Now, if you turn that sequence around you get the order of sharps:

F – C – G – D – A – E – B

The next graphic shows you what all the key signatures look like. Don’t worry – it will probably be a while before you play music with 5 or 6 sharps or flats in the key signature!

Key Signatures

Be sure to come back next week when we learn about intervals!



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