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8-12: What Key Am I In Anyway?

by David Jordan, Learn NC

Students will acquire the steps necessary to determine the names of major key signatures.

A lesson plan for Grades 8–12 Instrumental Music I and Vocal Music I

Learning outcomes

The students will demonstrate the ability to determine the name of any major key signature.

Time required for lesson: 45 minutes


Students will need a pencil, the handout What Key Am In Anyway, and the worksheet Key Signature Practice. (see attachments) The teacher should post the steps to determining flat keys and sharp keys and examples to work out in class.


Students will need to be familiar with the names of the lines and spaces in treble and bass clef. A previous lesson on the order of sharps and flats in key signatures will help in reinforcing the concepts of this lesson.


1. Review briefly the names of the lines and spaces in bass and treble clef. Students who play treble clef instruments may not readily remember the names of the lines and spaces in bass clef and vice versa. Also review the order of sharps and flats. Write a few key signatures on the board to demonstrate that the order of sharps and flats remains the same no matter how many sharps or flats are in the key signature. Make sure you are doing examples in both bass and treble clef.

2. Begin by doing a few examples on the board using flat key signatures. The steps to determining the names of flat keys and sharp keys should be posted (see attachment keysig1). Begin with the key of B flat major. Show that the second from the last flat in the key signature is on the B line. Therefore, the key name is B flat major. Do another example: D flat major. Have volunteers from the class work through each step to determine the name of the key. Finally, write the key of F major on the board. Ask the students: “What is the problem with determining this key name?” They should see that the key has only one flat, therefore, the steps for determining its name do not apply. Explain that they must memorize that the name of the key with one flat is F major.

3. Next do examples of sharp keys in the same way using the steps for determining sharp keys. Write the key of D major on the board.

  • Step 1: Have a student identify the last sharp in the key signature as C sharp.
  • Step 2: Ask, “What is the next letter name up from C?” The students should respond “D.”
  • Step 3: Is “D” affected by this key signature? The answer being “no” the students should be able to determine that the name of this key signature is D major.

You next should do an example in which the name of the key is affected by the key signature. Write up the key of F sharp major. Work through the above steps with the class. At Step 3 the students should realize that the key name “F” is affected by the key signature, therefore, they must add the word sharp to the key name.

4. Finally, instruct the students that they must memorize the key of C major. It has no flats or sharps, therefore, the steps to finding key names can’t be applied.

5. Make sure to use both bass and treble clef for your examples.


Handout the worksheet, What Key Am I In Anyway? and Key Signature Practice. (see attachments) Completion of this activity will determine whether students understand the process for determining key signature names. The teacher should be mobile and observe student’s progress. Be watchful and make sure students are reading lines and spaces in the correct clef. Also, make sure students are not confusing the steps for determining sharp keys with flat keys or vice versa.


This lesson is adapted from the Standard of Excellence, Book 2 worksheet on key signatures. I use this at the eighth grade level; however, it is also specific to goals for Vocal and Instrumental Music in Grades 9-12.

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