When a piece is not in the key of C major or A minor, it requires the use of accidentals. To avoid having to write these accidentals over and over again, we can place them at the beginning of the piece using what is called a key signature.

For example, a piece in the key of D major regularly uses the notes F# and C#, so the key signature uses these accidentals. When this key signature is present, all F and C notes are automatically raised and become sharp notes, unless the symbol of the natural accidental precedes them.

Following, we have a fragment from Beethoven's famous Ode to Joy, in D Major's key. Note how all the F and C notes are played sharp:

Practice key signatures construction and identification

For more information see:

Translated by Dan Román, revised by Sue Talley.

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José Rodríguez Alvira.