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Music is divided into whole steps and half steps. When we sing the scale (do-re-me…), we are singing a pattern made up of whole steps and half steps. A sharp raises a pitch one half step. A flat lowers the pitch one half step. For more information about sharps and flats visit http://www.musictheory.net.
The key signature of a piece is represented by the sharps or flats that are at the left end of each line of music. This will tell you which of the 24 major and minor scales the piece is based on. Each key has it's own color. In general, the major keys evoke a more cheerful, brighter mood, while the minor keys signify a more somber mood.
The tonic is the tone around which the melody flows. It is the first degree of the key in which the piece is written. For example, if a piece is in the key of G major, it would most likely start on a G, move to other keys, and finally return to G. To the listener this will give the feeling of resolution, or a return to home.