The second manner in which you will find sharps or flats is in a key signature. Here, sharps or flats are indicated at the beginning of each line near the clef. A sharp means to raise a note one half step (again, equal to one fret). A flat means to lower it one half step (or one fret). If you see a key signature, be sure to obey what it says. Sharps or flats in the key signature tell you to sharp or flat specific notes. For instance, if you see three sharps in the key signature (F, C, and G), you must always play the sharp of those notes instead of F, C, and G naturals. What do sharps or flats in the key signature look like? The sharps or flats are placed on the lines or spaces of the staff to the right of the clef. (You will see them later in the chapter.)
The order of sharps and flats and the theory behind key signatures can be a rather technical subject. For now just try to memorize the order of the sharps or flats using the following mnemonics. For sharps use
Another neat aspect of key signatures is that they are, just like a person's signature, the unique mark of whatever the key happens to be. When you see a key signature at the beginning of a piece of music, it is indicative of the key itself. There are some neat tricks that musicians use to figure out what major key they are in. First, if you have no sharps or flats, then you are in the key of C major. If you are given sharps, start by reading the name of the last sharp (the one furthest away from the clef sign). Once you've found the last sharp, add one half step to that specific note so that you have a second note. That second note is the name of the actual major key. For example, say the last sharp is C-sharp. One half step higher than C-sharp is D; therefore, you are in the key of D.
For flat keys, the formula is even easier. You are in the key of whatever happens to be the second to last (left to right) flat of the key signature. So if your key signature is four flats (B, E, A, D) you are in the key of A-flat. If all this is still a bit confusing, don't worry! You will gain more understanding of this topic in following chapters as you delve more and more into music theory.
Before you begin playing sharps or flats, take a moment to review all the notes you've learned so far. The next two figures will help you do just that. So far you've been playing in what is commonly known as first position. Soon you'll play further up the neck. For now, try what bassists commonly call the natural scale in first position. This scale has no sharps or flats (that is, it has only naturals.) See Figure 4-13 for the natural scale and
The natural scale, first position
Figure 4-14.Review: Look at what you know!.
It's time to take a look at using some sharps or flats. The first sharp that you might encounter is F-sharp. F-sharp is commonly found in the key of G major (or its relative minor, E minor). You will find F-sharp on the second fret of the E string (use finger two) and the fourth fret of the D string (use finger three) as shown in Figure 4-15.
When using sharps or flats, you must remember the following rule: Once a sharp or flat is introduced in a measure, it holds for the
Also, you may encounter B-flat. B-flat is commonly seen in the key of F major (or its relative minor, D minor). Play B-flat on the A string with finger one. Play B-flat on the G string with finger three. See Figure 4-16.