I have been trying to pick up the piano and have a few questions concerning accidentals and key signature placement and interaction.

I apologize I don't have a digital copy of the music in question and don't quite understand all the lingo yet but bear with me:

I have accidentals placed immediately after the treble clef. I understand these apply to the entire song. A few measures in, there is text above the measure, that says Eb, which I believe is changing the key signature to the Eb one (I found a chart online that helps). I have a few questions now.

1) I see no naturals on that measure. Do the 'Eb measure' flats compliment the original flats found next to the Treble clef that I understood to apply to the entire song? Or do the Eb measure flats now take precedent over the original Treble clef notes, and I am to ignore those. 2) If they indeed compliment each other, if there is some overlap, i.e. an D is flatted on the original treble clef, and also in the key signature for that measure, do we call that a double flat and it's just one key lower, or that D has effectively just one flat with some redundancy? 3) To make it more challenging on me, the music proceeds to change key signatures yet again around measure 7. Does that key signature in a latter measure overwrite the Eb flats that were specified in a key signature few measures before?

I'm wondering if they are indeed additive, the majority of the song will be all flats by the end which doesn't seem right.

  • 2
    This really needs a picture. There are several things that text could be and I don't want to speculate.
    – MattPutnam
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 7:03

1 Answer 1


The text above the staff merely specifies a single chord that should be used by accompanists for this bar. It doesn't change the key of the piece, which determines which accidentals are "understood" to apply to every note without having to repeat them in every bar.

A key can be changed only by specifying a new key, i.e. writing a whole bunch of new accidentals within the staff. The new set of accidentals completely replaces the old set - they are never merged in any way. (It can happen that you have to write a bunch of naturals to cancel pre-existing key accidentals, e.g. when switching from Eb major to C major, but other than that there is no interaction between the old and the new set of accidentals.)

  • Thanks for explaining the key signature usage. That did answer my initial question. With this chord that the text above the staff reflects, can you explain it or is there a special term for it that I can research more from? As an example for my understanding, what effect would it have on the G,B,E notes in the second measure, if any? Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 2:02
  • Usually the chords suggested for accompanists contain exactly the same notes sounding in that bar, but even if they didn't, that would not influence the music on the staff at all. These "guitar chords" are supposed to be read by instrumentalists other than the one playing the music on the staves (e.g. rhythm guitar, harmonica etc.) Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 7:11

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