Key signature

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In musical notation, a key signature is a series of sharp or flat symbols placed on the staff, designating notes that are to be consistently played one semitone higher or lower than the equivalent natural notes unless otherwise altered with an accidental. Key signatures are generally written immediately after the clef at the beginning of a line of musical notation, although they can appear in other parts of a score, notably after a double bar.

Key signatures are generally used in a score to avoid the complication of having sharp or flat symbols on every instance of certain notes. Each major and minor key has an associated key signature that sharpens or flattens the notes which are used in its scale. However, it is not uncommon for a piece to be written with a key signature that does not match its key, for example, in some Baroque pieces,[1] or in transcriptions of traditional modal folk tunes.[2]



In principle, any piece can be written with any key signature, using accidentals to correct any notes where it shouldn't apply. The purpose of the key signature is to minimize the number of such accidentals required to notate the music. The sequence of sharps or flats in key signatures is generally rigid in music from the music notation. For example, if a key signature has only one sharp, it must be an F sharp.

The effect of a key signature continues throughout a piece or movement, unless explicitly cancelled by another key signature. For example, if a five-sharp key signature is placed at the beginning of a piece, every A in the piece in any octave will be played as A sharp, unless preceded by an accidental (for instance, the A in the above scale — the next-to-last note — is played as an A even though the A in the key signature is written an octave lower).

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