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# Best way to learn and remember key signatures?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Dougie1316, Mar 22, 2014.

1. ### Dougie1316

Mar 5, 2014
West Yorkshire, UK
Trying to develop my reading and theory by getting into reading keys, any recommendations on the best way to go about it from scratch, a routine possibly??

2. ### Spectrum

Apr 10, 2011
Alexandria, Virginia
Sharps:

G ood
D rummers
A lways
E at
B assists'
F# ried
C# hicken

Flats:

F at
Bb astard
Eb ats
Ab
Db amn
Gb ood
Cb heeseburger

4. ### MalcolmAmosSupporting Member

Paste the circle of 5th/4th somewhere or remember this (a) memory peg.

Sharps; See God Destroy All Earth By F#irey C#haos
C has no sharps. G has one. D has two.
Which ones? Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds.
Key of A will have 3 sharps. They are the F#, C# & G#.

Flats; See Farmer Brown Eating Apple Dumplings Greasily Cooked.
C has no flats, F has one the Bb, Bb keeps itself and adds the Eb, Eb keeps itself and the Bd and adds the Ab. See Farmer Brown works for the number and which ones.

Everyone will have their own memory peg. Pick the one you relate to.

5. ### Dougie1316

Mar 5, 2014
West Yorkshire, UK
Thanks for the reply, but I'm confused at what order that's for? Is it starting from 1# and 1b upwards? And do you happen to have one for minor keys?

6. ### MalcolmAmosSupporting Member

The order comes from how many sharps or flats in a scale/key. C has none; G has 1, D has 2, etc. Same with the flats C has none; F has one, Bb has 2, Eb has 3, etc.

I think the following (generic cut and paste) will get you on the right path.

OK -- first things first. Until we understand the Major and minor scale -- which notes are in each scale and the difference in a scale and a key -- nothing you read on the internet will make since. Those Internet bits and pieces of information assume you already understand this, and with out this basic knowledge everything will keep being Jell-O.

Major Scale Chart 221-2221 Major Key I,ii,iii,IV,V,vi,viidim
C D E F G A B...........................................Notice the C scale has no Sharps
G A B C D E F#.........................................and the G scale has one, the F#
D E F# G A B C#.......................................and the D scale keeps the F# and
A B C# D E F# G#.....................................adds the C#. Then the A scale keeps
E F# G# A B C# D#...................................everything and adds the G#. See how
B C# D# E F# G# A#.................................it builds on it's self.
F# G# A# B C# D# E#
C# D# E# F# G# A# B#
F G A Bb C D E...........................................Look what happens with the flat scales
Bb C D Eb F G A.........................................F has one the Bb, then the Bb scale keeps
Eb F G Ab Bb C D.......................................it's self and adds the the Eb. Same thing
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G.....................................the sharp scales did...
Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C
Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F
Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb

Natural Minor Scale Chart 212-2122 Natural Minor Key i,iidim,III,iv,v,VI,VII
A B C D E F G ................Notice how the 6th column of the
E F# G A B C D................Major scale becomes the 1st column
B C# D E F# G A..............in the minor scale and how the 7th
F# G# A B C# D E............column of the Major scale is now the
C# D# E F# G# A B..........2nd column in the minor scale. And
G# A# B C# D# E F#........yep, the 1st column in the Major scale
D# E# F# G# A# B C#......is now the 3rd column, etc. etc.
A# B# C# D# E# F# G#
D E F G A Bb C
G A Bb C D Eb F
C D Eb F G Ab Bb
F G Ab Bb C Db Eb
Bb C Db Eb F Gb Ab
Eb F Gb Ab Bb Cb Db
Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb Gb

Print this off and use it as a reference as you study the rest of this post.

Everything we do in Western music (Western part of the World) is based on the Major scale. To understand it we really have to start with the chromatic scale. -- C, C#/Db, D, D#/Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G, G#/Ab, A, A#/Bb, B, C.
12 sounds that start over again at the 13th (C) with another octave of the same. Understand C#/Db is one sound, thus one note with two names. They are the in-between sounds - the black keys on the piano. Notice it's not every other one -- E does not have a # or sharped note nor does B. Why not? That will drive you crazy, just accept it and keep going.

At the begining of the Major Scale Chart notice the "phone number" 221-2221. This phone umber is the tone, half tone structure I'm sure you have heard of. I remember the phone number easier than Tone, Tone, Half Tone, Tone, Tone, Tone, Half Tone. Use which ever one lifts your kilt. This phone number is your memory peg to help you decide what notes are in each Major scale. Take any note - let's use C to start with. Apply the phone number looking at the chromatic scale - C go up two notes to D now go up two more notes to E, now go up one note to F continue on going up two notes to G then two more to A then two more to B then one to C.

That is the C Major Scale. C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C. Now do that same thing for the G scale and you end up with one sharp note, the F#. The D scale ends up with two sharps the F# you already have and the C#. Continue on and you will have built the full Major scale -- just by applying that "magic phone number" to the chromatic scale.

Next thing written at the top of the Major Scale chart is something called Major Key I,ii,iii,IV,V,vi,viidim,I. --- Upper case will be major chords and the lower case will be minor chords. That is the key structure cheat sheet, memory peg, what ever you want to call it -- that will tell you what chords are in a certain key. Remember scales have notes and keys have chords. That is no exactly correct, but, for now close enough for our study. Let's use the D scale and find what chords are in the key of D.

Structure.. I,. ii,... iii,... IV, V,.vi, viidim,..... I
D scale =.. D, E,.. F#,... G, A,. B,.. C#,....... D
Key of D = D, Em, F#m, G, A, Bm, C#dim,.. D --- notice the F# note becomes a F#m chord. and the E note is now a Em chord. A key will have three Major chords, three minor chords and one diminished chord. Every key will have this same number of Major, minor and diminished chords. The diminished chord is first minor and then also diminished so I have it listed in lower case.

The band director says; "OK, the next song will be in D". The solo instruments will select their solo notes from the D scale and the accompaniment instruments will use the key of D for their chords. And Yes if the bassists will be playing accompaniment he/she will gather their notes from the active chord for their bass lines. R-R-R-R or R-5 or what ever fits with this song.

Now look at the minor scale chart. Notice the phone number is different and the key structure is also different. Apply these the same way as you did for the Major scale -- they being different is what gives the minor sound.

Notice something else -- the first column of the minor scale is the same as the 6th column in the Major scale. The 2nd minor scale column is the same as the 7th Major scale column. The third minor scale column is the same as the 1st Major scale column, etc, etc, etc. Just something to keep in mind when you start studing relative minors etc.

Some memory pegs that will help you remember things on the fly:
See God Destroy All Earth By F#iry C#aos.
Farmer Brown Eats Apple Dumplings Greasly Cooked
Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds.

Use these memory pegs for this:

See God Destroy All Earth By F#iry C#aos is the order of the scales that have sharps in them. Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds are the sharps in each. C (see) Scale has no sharps or flats, G scale has one, D scale has two, A scale has three.

G scale is the first to have a sharp and it is the "Fat" or F#. D scale keeps the F# and adds the "Cats" or C#. A scale keeps the F# and C# and adds the G# for "Go" or G#. etc, etc, etc,

Farmer Brown Eats Apple Dumplings Greasly Cooked is the order of the scales that have flats (b) in them. F has the Bb for Brown and Bb keeps the Bb and adds the Eb, etc, etc, etc.

The lymiric See God Destroy... and Farmer Brown .... can be used to remember the Circle of 5ths order which can be used to help you with chord progressions.

I've just given you the basic foundation of Western Music.
The Major Scale and which scales have what notes.
What notes are sharped and which notes are flatted.
The Major Key structure and which chords are in each key.
Which chords are Major chords, which are minor chords and which one is the minor diminished chord.

We really only do three things with our instruments. We make either, scales, chords or arpeggios. Perhaps you now understand scales and chords a little better ------ now go on the Internet and learn how to use scales and chords. Dirt simple logic; scales are for the melody, chords are for the harmony. If the melody notes and the notes of the chords share some of the same notes we get harmonization. That is how music thinks.

Have fun!

7. ### Dougie1316

Mar 5, 2014
West Yorkshire, UK
Thanks very much

8. ### Clef_de_fa

Dec 25, 2011
My methode is more basic :

a semi-tone higher than the last sharp is your key center
let's say you have F# and C# ... you are in D major or B minor

second last flat is your key center
let's say you have Bb, Ab and Db ... you are in Ab

9. ### Feral FelineSupporting Member

I like memory jogs that make sense both ways using the same words.

Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle
Battle Ends And Down Goes Charle's Father

!@ MalcolmAmos - thanks for your post. Working through it slowly...

10. ### Roscoe East

Aug 22, 2011
Yeah, ^^^this is the "trick" I use to know what key signature a piece is in...but I admit, it's just a trick, it doesn't necessarily help one's understanding of key signatures.

11. ### Clef_de_fa

Dec 25, 2011
oh yeah that's true if you don't understand how Key sig work this trick is pretty much useless

12. ### Blake Bass

Jan 10, 2006
St Petersburg, Fl
Here'a a trick for remembering how many sharps are in a key.
1st string on the bass is G and key of G has one sharp (F#)
2nd string D .. 2 sharps (F#, C#)
3rd string A =3 sharps(F#, C#, G#)
4th string E = 4 sharps (F#, C#, D#, A#)
5th string B= 5 sharps (F#,C#,G#,D#, A#, E#)
You can a find a similar pattern for the flats starting on F first fret E string and working up to Ab..It doesn't cover all of the keys but it is a start.

13. ### zontar

Feb 19, 2014
J-5
The sentence I used, as it was silly & I'd remember it that way, was/is:
Brother Eric And Dan Go Chicken Fighting.

I could reverse it for sharps:
Fighting Chickens Goes Dan And Eric's Brother.

14. ### Junior Shark

Nov 7, 2013
Sharps-
Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bananas

Flats-

They are the opposite of each other.

As for remembering key signatures, practice, practice, practice. Eventually you'll just be able to name them without running through the order.

15. ### Chris Hanson

Mar 26, 2014
Perhaps just memorizing them might be an idea. After a while (and it's not very long), you'll see the key signature and not even think about it.
Learn your scales, too. On a bass guitar, they're nearly all in shiftable patterns. Go for three octaves.

16. ### Mushroo

Apr 2, 2007
Massachusetts, USA
+1 to just memorizing them... there are only 12 keys... if you come up with a "system" it will probably take you longer to learn the system then it would have taken you to just memorize the 12 key signatures in the first place! Start with C (no sharps or flats) over the entire range of the bass on Monday, then on Tuesday learn the keys with 1 accidental (F and G), then Wednesday 2 accidentals (Bb and D) and after a week you'll know them all.

Short cuts are great if you have dozens or hundreds of something to learn.

17. ### Bainbridge

Oct 28, 2012
Yeah, do it by rote. Get the concept down too, but don't get too caught up in the Big Ears Also Do Good Car Farts sort of mnemonics. The entire thing is based on transposing the major scale around. Check it:

C major: C D E F G A B

Half steps are between E and F (degrees 3 and 4) and B and C (degrees 7 and 1). Now the same thing, a perfect fifth higher.

G major: G A B C D E F#

Half steps are between B and C (degrees 3 and 4) and F# and G (degrees 7 and 1). Now the same thing, a perfect fifth higher.

D major: D E F# G A B C#

Half steps are between F# and G (degrees 3 and 4) and C# and D (degrees 7 and 1). Now the same thing, a perfect fifth higher.

A major: A B C# D E F# G#

Half steps are between C# and D (degrees 3 and 4) and G# and A (degrees 7 and 1).

Now check out the order of sharps on the circle of fifths. F#, C#, G#... Amazing, innit? If we go up a perfect fifth, we should see that D# show up.

E major: E F# G# A B C# D#

Ta-daaa!

You'll notice that these things have a half step between 3&4 and 7&1. That's the trick. Let's say we want an E&#9837; Major scale. You're going to do whole steps everywhere except between degrees 3&4 and 7&1.

E&#9837; F G Half step! A&#9837; B&#9837; C D (Half step!) (E&#9837

This will work for 100000000% of major scales. Get that construction down, memorize that you gain a sharp/lose a flat when the major scale is transposed up a perfect fifth, or loses a sharp/gains a flat when transposing a major scale down a perfect fifth, and you'll be golden.

Also, the interval between degrees 4 and 7 is always a tritone (diminished fifth, or augmented fourth if they're inverted).

18. ### lpbfender

Jan 7, 2012
Stamford CT
All good ideas but I find it easiest to visualize the scales and keys on the bass.
Start with C on the a string third fret up. Flats go up a fourth or F third fret up on the D string etc. sharps go down from C third fret on A string down to G third fret on E continuing. Chord tones best by memorizing 1,3,5,7 in one shape and knowing your fretboard so you just move it. I think if you have to think abstractly to recite the keys without connection to your bass/ fretboard, you will add a step rather than visualize on your instrument. You should be learning the notes all on the neck at the same time!

19. ### lpbfender

Jan 7, 2012
Stamford CT
For key signatures, F key, has one flat , Bflat which happens to be a fourth up.

20. ### bigboy_78

Jun 1, 2011
Coraki, Australia
That's how I remember it, but you need to know which order the sharp/flat notes arrived in for it to work.

Playing scales around the circle of fifths C,G,D,etc and saying the notes will drill it into you brain pretty quick.