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This lesson uses an interactive website to teach key signatures to AP music theory students


Computers & Internet, Music  


9, 10, 11, 12  


Title – Making Key Signatures Simple
By – Kari Jo Douglas
Primary Subject – Music
Secondary Subjects – Computers / Internet
Grade Level – 9 – 12 

Teaching Key Signatures to AP Music Theory Students

1. Gain Attention

      Pique the learners’ interest in the subject:


    Inform the students that there are 30 different key signatures that are used. Ask them if they would prefer to memorize all 30 or just 7 (this should get their attention).

2. Inform Learner of Objective

      Let the learners know what they will be learning:


    Today, we will learn how to calculate any of the 30 key signatures using Ricci Adam’s method of key signature calculation.

3. Recall Prior Knowledge

      Get the learners to think about what they already know:


    Where are the half steps in a major scale? Spell a major scale starting on G: G A B C D E F# G. How many accidentals are there in the G major scale? Where are the half steps in a minor scale? Spell a minor scale starting on G: G A Bb C D Eb F G. How many accidentals are in the g minor scale?

4. Present Material

      Teach the topic:


    Each key signature is based on a scale. The accidentals in each scale are represented in the key signature. For example, the key of G major would have one sharp, F#; the key of g minor would have two flats, Bb and Eb.

5. Provide Guided Learning

      Help the learners follow along as the topic is presented: Have students go to

    and click on Lessons and then click on Key Signatures . Have them read through the lesson at their own pace, clicking on the “next” arrow when they are ready for the next page. When they have completed the lesson, have them print the lesson summary at the end of the lesson. (You can have this already printed and copied for them if you prefer.) Next, have them read the lesson on “Key Signature Calculation” and print the lesson summary at the end of the lesson (or have it ready for them).

6. Elicit Performance

      Ask learners to do what they have been taught:


    Have students go to “trainers” on the webpage and select Key Trainer . Students will need to go to “Settings” to select the mode, the clef, and the key signatures they wish to practice. The students will then click on “Settings” again to return to the trainer and practice identifying key signatures.

7. Provide Feedback

      Inform learners of their performance:


    Circulate around the classroom to observe and help the students. They will receive automatic feedback from the webpage as it keeps their total score and percentage of correct answers. Students may reset their score at any time to see how many key signatures they can correctly identify in a row. They may click on “toggle helpers” to have the key signatures listed at the top of the page. They should only use the helpers for a short time before trying to identify the key signatures on their own. Students may want to start with a limited number of key signatures and then add other key signatures as they feel ready. Students should split their practice time between major and minor or use one practice session for majors only and another practice session for minors only.

8. Assess Performance

      Evaluate learners on their knowledge of the topic:


    Have students reset their scores and see how many key signatures that they can correctly identify in two minutes. You can also give a written exam in which students would have to identify key signatures. I recommend two testing assessments: the first test should allow them as much class time as needed to complete, and the second test should be timed for speed and accuracy.

9. Enhance Retention and Transfer

      Aid learners in remembering and applying the new skill.


    Example: Pass out hymn books and have students identify key signatures of different hymns. (I suggest the use of hymn books simply because they are usually easily accessible in large numbers and have excellent examples of tonal harmony.) They can do this in small groups at first for comfort and then individually for strength in retention.

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