Beginner Violin Tips

Key Signature – How to Read Sheet Music

Notice the Key Signature, Sharps, Flats and Naturals

The key signature is one of the most important things you need to pay attention to before you start to play a piece. The key signature has a very profound effect on the feel of a piece, and if not heeded, many notes will just sound wrong. For example, follow along and see how the flats affect the sound of the melody:


As you can see, this is the melody of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” once, and then repeated. The repeated version incorporates some flats that make it sound a little off.

Some common beginner violin key signatures:

  • Sharps: ♯
    • Raise the corresponding note by a half step. What does that mean? On the violin, it can mean playing the note with a different finger, or stretching your finger a little to reach a slightly higher version of the note.
  • Flats: ♭
    • Similar to sharps, but the opposite: they lower the corresponding note by a half step.
  • Naturals: ♮
    • Cancel sharps or flats that would have applied to the note.

When sharps, flats, or naturals are written into the key signature (i.e. next to a double bar line or at the beginning of the piece), they apply to all notes of the same letter (e.g. every A or every G) from that point forward, until (and if) the key signature changes.

When sharps, flats, or naturals are written next to an individual note, they affect that note and any others of the same name for the rest of THAT MEASURE ONLY. But don’t forget that they carry through the full measure! A very common beginner mistake is to play only the first instance of a sharp or flat in a measure and forget about it for the other notes in the measure.

So how do key signatures correspond to where you put your fingers when you’re actually playing the violin? If you’re ready, you can skip ahead to our article on Fingerings. Otherwise, continue with the next lesson in the sequence: Dynamics.

What’s Next?

Go to the next lesson, about Dynamics in sheet music.

See a list all our lessons about How to Read Sheet Music for Beginner Violin.

Check out our favorite book/CD combo for How to Read Beginner Violin Sheet Music.


One Response to “Key Signature – How to Read Sheet Music”

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