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Learning Key Signatures, Help!

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Charling, Sep 22, 2004.

  1. Hi! I thought I'd bite the bullet recently and learn my theory properly, It's definately about time!

    I've memorised the major keysignatures round the circle of fiths, and I'm now moving onto minor. My question is, when learning the minor key sigs is it advisable to just learn what their major relative is and go on like that?

    Ie, should I see 'B minor' and think 'D major key sig' and carry on like that (with different root, obv) or is this a sloppy way to learn?

    Also, has anyone got an interesting way of learning them other than writing them out lots?!
  2. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004
    Well, relative minor to major is a functional way to view it.

    Here's a tip: a "sharp" key always has the last sharp sign one diatonic note below the note that's the tonic of the major key.

    So if you see 1 sharp, the sharp is on F. Go up to the next diatonic note and it's G. That's the tonic of the major key.

    If you see 4 sharps, the last sharp is on D. Go up to the next diatonic note and it's E. That's the tonic of the major key.

    You can also go down one diatonic note from the last sharp in the key signature and find what minor key it is.

    So if you see 1 sharp, the sharp is on F. Go down to the next diatonic note and it's E. That's the tonic of the minor key.

    If you see 4 sharps, the last sharp is on D. Go down to the next diatonic note and it's C(#). That's the tonic of the minor key.

    "Flat" keys aren't quite so easy. While you can count spaces and lines, it's easier in the end just to memorize them, at least for major "flat" keys.

    But minor flat keys are pretty easy to spot. The tonic of the minor key is two diatonic steps above the last flat in the key.

    So if you see 1 flat, the flat is on B. Go up two diatonic steps and it's D. That's the tonic of the minor key.

    If you see 4 flats, the last flat is on D. Go up two diatonic steps and it's F. That's the tonic of the minor key.
  3. WillPlay4Food

    WillPlay4Food Now With More Metal! Staff Member Supporting Member

    Apr 9, 2002
    Orbiting HQ
    Heh, I wish. I think your idea of memorizing the minor as the 6th of a major scale is a good start. At least that way if you need to know the notes, as long as you know the notes of the major scales (or how to quickly construct scales based on the root note) then you know all the notes of minor/modal scales because they are all based off major scales.

    I've been practicing playing through all the modes of the major scale by placing my middle finger on the root note of the scale and practicing the different fingerings caused by the different modes. If we use the wonderful C Major scale as an example, I'll play C Ionian with my middle finger on the C. Then I'll play D Dorian with my middle finger on the D. I'll play through all the modes like this. This way all I need to know is what the root note is and what mode / scale degree I'm at and my fingers can form the necessary patterns without immediately knowing the rest of the note names of the scale/mode I'm playing.

    For way more information on fingering scales / modes, the 5 different fingering positions and more, check out tim99's posts in this thread: --> http://www.talkbass.com/forum/showthread.php?t=133098 <-- it's worth quite a bit more than a look and should help you get started with what you want to learn.
  4. there is an easy way to think of flat major keys as well, as long as you know the order of flats in a key signature (that is b-e-a-d-g-c-f, the exact opposite of the order of sharps). the tonic of a major flat key is the second to last flat in the key signature. that is to say, if you see Bb-Eb-Ab in your key signature, you are in the key of Eb Maj. you can also think in the opposite direction. if you want to know what the key signature for Db Major is, just follow the succession of flats to one beyond your tonic note. That is, in Db Maj, you would have Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-Gb
  5. Lyle Caldwell

    Lyle Caldwell

    Sep 7, 2004
    Thanks, Leeon, I'd forgotten that. I just "know" from looking at a key signature now, but I used to have all kinds of "cheats" like that.
  6. Cheers guys, thats all really usefull info, I think i'm definately getting there now! :)

    the link with the tim99 posts is invaluable, great info and lots of it!

    it's amazing that when you understand more about the structure of music theory you seem to find yourself being more inventive with less notes. For example before I knew any theory I 'could' go for any frett on the board, the permutations were limitless but i was fairly uninventive. but add a bit of structure to it in the form of scales etc and I've found myself being so much more creative...

    (hear this TABer's!)

    thanks again!
  7. bassjamn

    bassjamn Supporting Member

    Jan 4, 2002
    San Francisco
    I found Mike Dimin's method so informative when i found it a few months ago. I abandonded my old Key sig method in favor of his because it feels much more natural to play this way.
  8. jimjwl


    Oct 2, 2004

    I wrote a web service package which is installed on my website which can offer you key signature training.

    One thing you have to do yourself, is learn the order of keys (from C# to Cb and back, from Cb to C#), the order of sharps as they appear in key signatures and the order of flats in key signatures.

    Also, you should write out key signatures on a staff as practice.

    Just counting bass and treble clef (and ignoring tenor and alto clef), you write the sharps or flats in order, and with the specific pattern I'll describe:

    For sharp keys, you start on F#, then the pattern from there is down, up, down, down, up, down. For flat keys, you start on Bb, and the pattern is up, down, up, down, up, down. Write the sharps or flats in their order.

    Your first three steps, is to memorize (1) the order of keys, (2) the order of sharps and (3) the order of flats.

    If you want drill practice, go to http://jam.sessionsnet.org/theory/ and pick an exercise. You can print the Major Key Signature Memorization Helper and there will be the three things to memorize.


    Jam sessions community web site: http://jam.sessionsnet.org
  9. RyanHelms


    Sep 20, 2003
    Cleveland, OH
    You can find tons of "Circle of fifths" diagrams on the web, but none I found had the sharps and flats written on a staff to make a direct corrolation between how many accidentals there are and what it looks like. Am I making sense?

    So I scanned a diagram from an old music school textbook (A Creative Approach to Music Fundamentals 4th ed., William Duckworth et al.) and tweaked it so you get
    1) the Major key (lone and enharmonic) in a capital letter
    2) the Minor key (lone and enharmonic) in a lower case letter
    3) the number of accidentals
    4) the accidentals written on a grand staff (treble and bass clef beamed together)

    If that's too cluttered, there's a second attachment with the just the Major keys and their relative Minors.

    Hope it helps somebody.