Lesson 31: Major Scales and Key Signatures

Category: Lessons, Music Theory

Before we embark upon this journey, you may want to review the concept of key signatures in Lesson 20: Key Signatures. You don’t have to, it’s just a suggestion. I will briefly review the basic concept of a key signature before I go on.

A key signature is a group of sharps or a group of flats that appear at the beginning of a piece of music. The key signatures tells the musician which sharps and flats are to be played throughout the piece of music. A key signature can be used instead of using accidentals. To illustrate my point, I will use the scale of D major.

As you can see, the key signature is just a grouping of the accidentals that would have appeared in the scale. It makes music simpler to read, and allows the musician to identify the “key” of the music more easily. After writing out the D major scale, we know the key of D major contains an F sharp and a C sharp. Now whenever we see a key signature consisting of 2 sharps (F sharp and C sharp) we know that the piece might be in the key of D major. (It may also be in the relative minor key of B, but we will learn about minor key signatures in a future lesson.)

That brings me to my next point. The sharps and flats in key signatures ALWAYS appear in the same order. The order of sharps is F-C-G-D-A-E-B. See Lesson 20 for tricks to remember the order of the sharps and flats. The order of flats is B-E-A-D-G-C-F, backwards from the order of sharps.

So here is the fun part: Each major key has a different key signature – a different number of sharps and flats. To find out this key signature, one may do one of two things:

First thing – Create the major scale using the magic formula discussed in Lesson 29. Find all of accidentals that you put in the major scale, and group them in the correct order. That is your key signature for that key.

Second thing – Memorize the table below or memorize the Circle of Fifths (discussed here). From the table below you can see that C major has no flats or sharps. F major has one flat, and G major has one sharp.. on and on it goes until you get into the scary keys like F sharp. Try to avoid the F sharp major key, it is nothing but trouble…

To learn the key signatures, I would recommend a combination of both things. The first thing will give you a better understanding of key signatures. The second thing is faster, and sometimes faster is better. Not always, but definitley sometimes.

Posted on October 16th, 2011 by sharlene


  1. Review of Major Scales and Major Key Signatures | Epianostudio Says:

    […] Next, to create a key signature, you need to group all of the accidentals at the beginning of the scale, after the clef. In the A flat scale there are 4 flats: A flat, B flat, D flat, and E flat.  Remember that the flats in a key signature have to go in a specific order. For flats the order is B-E-A-D-G-C-F. The order of the sharps in the key signature is F-C-G-D-A-E-B. There are tricks for remembering this order. […]

  2. How to build major triads | Epianostudio Says:

    […] know how to build a major scale. (If you don’t, you can learn how to build a major scale here. ) You can build a major triad in 3 easy […]

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