Order Of Sharps Flats

author: thexsunrosered date: 10/14/2008 category: for beginners
rating: 4.9 / votes: 9 
Everyone who is adequately familiar with Music and the Theory of Music should know the order of sharps and flats. Most beginners however, do not know how to organize them. There are easy ways of remembering this order, so lets get started. First off, if you have little to no background in music theory, this might be a good article to read and study. Now, a large majority of music is based off of scales, major, minor, blues, pentatonic, etc. These scales however, derive from the Circle of Fifths, which starts on C and works it's way around. A common substitution for the Circle of Fifths is to learn the order of sharps and flats linearly (in a straight line). Though it is very helpful in the beginning, it is not necessary to know the Circle of Fifths to be moderately successful in music theory. To remember the order, we are going to use the mnemonic (pronounced, new-mon-ick) Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle. Inversely, we will use Battle Ends And Down Goes Father Charles. Another one or two might be thrown in here and there for laughs, but those two are the general standards for remembering the order. In both cases, the key of C is understood to be the all natural scale, with no sharps or flats. The sharps and flats are then added to their respective key signature, which you will learn how to find later in the lesson. Also, when going from sharp to sharp, or flat to flat, the previous sharps/flats remain that way. Like in the key of A, F and C are both raised to F# and C# because they had already been raised in a previous scale. Now first, sharps.

Sharps

To know the sharp scales, you first need to know what a sharp is. In music, a # sign indicates a sharp, or a raise, by half step, from it's natural pitch. This means, if you have an F#, all you do is raise the original F a half step, or a single fret on guitar, to make it F#. Now that you know that, we can begin the arranging the order. The mnemonic Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle is the device used to remember the order of sharps. The first letter of each word represents the letter of the sharp added to the scale. The first sharp is F, taken from the first word Father. This means that you raise the F to an F# since it is the first letter of the first word. To find the major key that F# belongs in, just go up a half step from there, which is G. So, if all worked out, the G major scale should consist of one sharp, F#. Lets spell it;
G-A-B-C-D-E-F#
To find the next key, just take the first letter of the next word, which is C, from Charles. As you now know, raise the C a half step to C#, then raise it a half step again to find it's major key, D. If you read before, I said previous sharps or flats in the order remain; if this is true, then the key of D Major should have two sharps, F# and C#. Lets see:
D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#
Which is, in fact, the correct spelling of the D Major scale. Follow these steps to determine every sharp scale. Now it's time for flats.

Flats

Using basically the same strategy as before, you have to know what a flat is first. b is the symbol for a flat. Not the same as a lowercase B, but close enough for purposes on here. Flats are the direct opposites of sharps. While sharps raise a half step, flats lower a half step. So if you see an Eb, you know that it is the original E lowered one half step, and the same for every other note. Now that we've assessed that, we need to bring up the mnemonic again, except this time, reversed: Battle Ends And Down Goes Father Charles. I told you flats are the opposite, to get the order of flats, just take the order of sharps and reverse it! It's that simple! I know exclamation marks are kind of cheesy, but it stresses the significance. Anyway, the same approach that was taken to find out the sharps is used for the flats; take the first letter of each word, keeping the flats that were before it. For example, the first flat scale should have only a Bb, since it's previous scale, C, is understood to have no sharps or flats. To get the Bb, take the first letter of the first world, Battle, B, and lower it a half step, Bb. The method of figuring out it's major scale is a little different also, with the exception of Bb (the first flat), you only need to know one thing; the major scale that has that respective flat goes by the flat that was just established. To find the major key with only one flat, Bb, do basically the same thing, since it is understood the C is natural, go to the key before that, which is F. F Major has one flat, Bb. To explain better, here's and example; when trying to find the major key of the fourth flat, Db, just go back one flat, Ab, and there you go. From what I've said, Eb Major should have, Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db. Lets look;
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G
That is the correct spelling of the Ab major scale, and if you follow the rules I've just explained, you should be able to determine any scale, sharp of flat, with relative ease and no knowledge of the Circle of Fifths. Here are some tips or tricks or whatever you wanna call them, they just make deciphering things easier. A funny mnemonic for the order of flats is, Big Evil Aliens Destroy Giant Cow Farms. (thought of that myself). To easily remember the how many sharps are in the keys of A, E, and B, just look at the lines:
  • A - has three lines (three sharps), two going down and one across
  • E - has four lines (four sharps), one going down and three across
  • B - has five lines (five sharps), one going down, three going across, and one connecting the three lines to each other. Think of it like a B on a light board or something, where it looks like a rectangle with a line across the middle. The key of C major has all naturals, the key of C# has all sharps, and the key of Cb has all flats. And that's about it for this lesson. I hope to continue in the future, so look out for more lessons in a little while.
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