Does anyone have this similar issue? For the last 3 moths or so I’ve been working on 3 pieces that all had flat key signatures. Overtime I was able to adjust to the signatures and read pretty quickly for those keys. Now, I’m suddenly playing a song in E major which has 4 sharps and suddenly I’m missing the sharps constantly. I have to stop and think before every single note and even then sometimes I still play a B or an E flat by accident. I’ve completely forgotten how to play sharp key signatures and I really want to fix this issue.

  • It sounds like you don't really know your scales well enough. Practise scales or do what Tim suggests below. You'll be surprised how much your playing will improve.
    – JimM
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 15:42

6 Answers 6


Internalizing key signatures is one of those skills that get continually better the more you practice it, but it doesn't seem like that while it's happening. In other words, keep playing the pieces you're taking on - you will eventually master all key signatures you've met.

Of course, there are any number of resources with pieces that expose you to all possible signatures systematically. I think that using those to fix key reading is usually not worthwhile. Many of these try to make you learn all 24 keys equally well, which is not realistic - for an intermediate player, the important goal is to get to the point where the more common half of the key space pose no additional burden. Also, your time is spent better in learning real pieces that provide opportunity for learning other valuable skills and pick up the line-pitch correspondences unconsciously as a side effect than trying to memorize them all.


My students (and I, for that matter!) play up and down the scales and arpeggios of the key they will play in next. It's sort of 'I'm in key E next, so I need my E hat on' approach. The more you play in different keys, the easier it gets.


Typically, when students are learning pieces in new keys, it's best to play the scale as well. Perhaps add a few rounds of the E major scale/arpeggios to your practice routine, to get used to playing those sharps? And if it's more of a mindset issue than a technical issue, try playing an easier piece in the same key as your current piece to get you 'warmed up' to the key.


There isn't really a short cut around this. Playing patterns in all 24 major and minor keys is needed... and it simply takes time to make all the movements become reflexive.

But I do think there are strategies you can use to maximize your effort.

Standard key signatures are 0-6 sharps or flats (those like C# major, 7 sharps, can be simplified to Db 5 flats.) That means the median number of sharps/flats is 3. A major with 3 sharps and Eb major with 3 flats can be targeted as keys that sort of average out the number of sharps and flats used.

When you get used to playing in Eb then Bb and Ab will be very familiar as differing by only one flat. Same goes with A major and D or E major.

If you alternate practice patterns in both keys, you can focus on the different fingerings, and importantly how quickly switch between them.

Another way to pair contrasting keys is go down a half step from A or Eb to Bb or D respectively. The contrast will switch from sharps to flats and vice versa, although it will become 2 versus 3. One nice thing about this option for pairing is that it also contrasts keys where the tonic is a white key versus a black key.

Finally, the tonics B and Bb present a unique situation for fingering, because they are the tonics whose dominants switch to an opposite color key. This presents unique hand positions compared to all the other tonics where the tonic and dominant are always the same key colors. So switch practice patterns between B and Bb major.

For all the above you can use the relative minors to practice in minor keys.

Eventually you want to play in all 24 major and minor keys, but the strategy here is focus on key pairs: A/Eb, A/Bb, Eb,D, and B/Bb to provide lots of contrasting fingerings and a sort of averaged out assortment of sharps and flats. When you get acclimated to those keys all the others should feel more attainable.


Take the simplest nursery rhymes, for example 'Row Row Row Your Boat' and play it across all keys. You do this by randomly picking a note to start the song on. That will make you familiar with all the different keys on the piano and also will make you better at playing by ear. Do not use sheet music when you do this as these are simple songs. Keep in mind that the first note doesn't necessarily indicate the key, it's usually the last note of the song that does.

Alternatively you can just practice scales but I find that to be more boring. But it's important to practice them anyway. Also try going to jamming sites like multiplayerpiano and try to jam along with whatever key someone is playing in.


You'll get it in time. I remember those days. Head on over to your nearest Protestant Church and borrow one of their hymnbooks and sight read though four or five hymns each day. Try to find older books as the new ones have been dumbed down and scored in the easier keys.

If you have access to programs such as FINALE or SIBELIUS, download hymns and songs (or transcribe your own) and use the transpose feature to print them in the various keys you struggle with. Just read them every day, not work on. It'll happen.

I beleive Coda Music has a free version of FINALE.

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