key signature

(in notation) the group of sharps or flats placed after the clef to indicate the tonality of the music following.
[1870-75]

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 in musical notation, the arrangement of sharp or flat signs on particular lines and spaces of a musical staff to indicate that the corresponding notes, in every octave, are to be consistently raised (by sharps) or lowered (by flats) from their natural pitches. (The keys of C major and A minor, having no sharps or flats, have no key signature.) The key signature is placed after the clef indication (treble or bass, for example) at the beginning of a staff or after a double bar line—the separation necessary for a change of signature—within a staff. In Western tonality, specific groupings represent the major and minor keys (key).

      One flat appears as a key signature in some of the earliest sources that use staff notation, dating from the 11th or 12th century, a practice that survives in printed books of plainchant (see Gregorian chant). The concept was universally adopted with staff notation, but not until the late 18th century was the modern system of keys and associated fixed key signatures fully developed. Beginning in the late 19th century and continuing into the 21st, composers who challenged traditional tonality often used the notation in new ways. Some have marked notes with accidentals throughout, even when using a key signature, and others have mixed sharps and flats in the same signature.

      In orchestral scores since the late 18th century (in the music of Joseph Haydn (Haydn, Joseph) and later composers), different key signatures may appear simultaneously; some of the different instruments require transposition (e.g., fingering a C to sound a B-flat) because of differences in fingering systems (clarinets, for example) or changes in tube length (in horns and trumpets). In some orchestral scores published since the 1920s, however, this practice is not followed, and all instruments are indicated to sound as written. (See also instrumentation; transposing musical instrument.)

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • key signature — key .signature n a set of marks at the beginning of a line of written music to show which ↑key it is in …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • key signature — ► NOUN Music ▪ a combination of sharps or flats after the clef at the beginning of each stave, indicating the key of a composition …   English terms dictionary

  • key signature — n. Music one or more sharps or flats placed after the clef on the staff to indicate the key …   English World dictionary

  • Key signature — For use in cryptography, see Key signature (cryptography). Key signature A major / F♯ minor with three sharps placed after the clef. In musical notation, a key signature is a series of sharp or …   Wikipedia

  • key signature — noun the sharps or flats that follow the clef and indicate the key • Syn: ↑signature • Hypernyms: ↑musical notation * * * ˈkey signature [key signature] noun ( …   Useful english dictionary

  • key signature — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms key signature : singular key signature plural key signatures music the symbols that are printed at the beginning of a piece of music to show the key in which the music is played …   English dictionary

  • key signature — key′ sig nature n. mad (in musical notation) the group of sharps or flats placed after the clef to indicate the tonality of the music following …   From formal English to slang

  • key signature — Synonyms and related words: accent, accent mark, bar, cancel, character, custos, direct, dominant, dot, expression mark, fermata, hold, key, keynote, lead, ligature, major, major key, mark, measure, mediant, metronomic mark, minor, notation,… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • key signature — noun An indication of the key of a composition, giving the number of sharps or flats in the corresponding scale. The key signatures of D major and b minor both have two sharps …   Wiktionary

  • key signature — noun Date: 1875 the sharps or flats placed after a clef in music to indicate the key …   New Collegiate Dictionary

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