Serving the Harp World Since 1817

Music Theory

The following section explains the concepts of Pitch, Note, Keys, Key Signature, Sharps, Naturals and Flats for those who are unfamiliar with these terms.


Pitch is defined scientifically: the pitch of a note is determined by the frequency of the vibration. A low note vibrates slowly, a high notes vibrates quickly. Therefore, a correctly tuned harp string, in terms of pitch, is one that has the universally* accepted amount of vibrations per second for that particular note: for example, A above Middle C would vibrate 440 times per second. It it vibrated 441 times per second that string would be said to be sounding sharp: if 439 times per second it would be flat.

*in Western music terms.


The term, note, is used to describe the concept of pitch in musical terms. However, whereas pitch alters in small increments, notes are distinct entities: The note, G, for example, can be sounded noticeably sharp, but it is still the note G.

Sharp, Flat and Natural

A sharp raises by a semi-tone the pitch of the note to which it refers. Thus the note C Sharp would be a semi-tone higher than a C Natural. A flat lowers the pitch by a semi-tone. A natural is a note which is neither sharp, nor flat.


 When musicians talk about the key of a piece of music, they really mean how many sharps or flats it has. Each major and each minor key has its own unique set. So, for instance, the keys of A major and C sharp minor* have three sharps. The keys of F major and D minor, have one flat.

See these tables for lists of all major and minor keys.

*Called relative keys, as they both have same amount of sharps or flats. Each major key has a relative minor, which shares the same key signature.

Key Signature

Sharps or flats placed on the stave in diagrammatic form at the beginning of a piece to indicate how many sharps or flats there are – and thus, the key of the piece of music. The term, Key Signature, is also used loosely to describe how many sharps or flats a key has in general terms, i.e., what is the key signature of D major?

See below for a table of all major and minor key signatures.