Key Signatures can be very daunting to learn, and often challenging to remember them all.
But, even if you are complete new to this, it doesn’t have to be that daunting to learn your key signatures if you break it down into smaller manageable steps. By learning your key signatures, you will also increase your knowledge and understanding of your major scales and their relative minor scales around your instrument.
The best key to learn is C Major. C Major is a key that has no sharps or flats. This is also true of its relative minor, A Minor. The relative minor of each key can easily be remembered as the 6th note in the Major scale. In the case of C Major, the relative minor is A. That means, if we shift the scale to an A root note and play the same notes, but with A now being the first note, this makes the series of notes fit into A Minor.
The key signature for C Major/A Minor will look like this:
To help us work out other key signatures we can use the circle of fifths. Each position you go clockwise from C adds one sharp to the key, each position anti-clockwise adds one flat:
The note of G is a fifth above a C (it’s also the V note in the C Major scale). In the key of G Major, there is only one sharp note.
The key signature for G Major/E Minor will look like this:
I think one of the easiest ways to start learning the key signatures is to work with the circle of fifths and move clockwise/anticlockwise learning each key going up or down in fifths.
Let’s look at it going clockwise:
The same is true if we imagine this as anticlockwise, except instead of adding a sharp to each key, we are adding a flat:
One thing you will notice about each of these patterns, clockwise or anticlockwise, is that for every fifth you go up or down, you add one sharp or flat. You’ll also notice that the pattern consistently changes one note at a time from having no sharps/flats to having 7 sharps/flats. For example, the notes of C Major and G Major are the same (Albeit in the new order for G Major – starting on the G root) with the addition of the F#. If you then look at the next fifth up, D Major, this has all the same notes as G major (Starting from the D root) with a C# added. This is also true for the flats going anticlockwise.
You may have noticed that we’ve referenced B#/Cb and E#/Fb a few. We are using them as hypotheticals to show which notes become sharp/flat. If you were sharpening a B you’d take it to a C, and likewise a Cb would be a B.
About the Author:
This article has been written for Rockschool on behalf of MGR Music by Leigh Fuge, a professional guitarist, tutor and journalist from Wales in the UK. He has been working in the music industry for over 10 years as a touring and studio musician with various artists, guitar tutor and writer for many high profile guitar publications. Read more of Leigh's pieces relating to Rockschool here...