So, I decided to audit a basic music theory course this semester to try and catch myself back up before taking more involved classes. The work so far has reminded me what my problem always was in music theory classes I took. I can read fine, not to the point of automatic sightreading, but I can recognize the pitches fairly quickly. I understand scales, triads, etc., I understand most basic theory as wella s when I finished the course the first time.

But the one thing I have never been able to get a grasp on is key signatures. I'm fine with sharps or flats as accidentals, but I can never recognize a key signature when I see it. People say the circle of fifths helps, but it's never helped me remember them.

Does anyone have any sort of advice to memorizing key signatures and their corresponding sharps and flats?
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Order of Flats: BEADGCF (mnemonic: BEAD + Good Clean Fun)

With the exception of the the key of F, the second to last flat is the major key. (3 flats > BEA > Eb major)

Order of Sharps: FCGDAEB (mnemonic: Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bread)

The major key is a half step up from the last sharp. (2 sharps > FCG > G# > A major)

I don't really use the circle of fifths (or fourths) all that often when looking at key signatures.
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Last edited by rockingamer2 at Jan 29, 2013,
Learn the major scale really well. If you see a Bb Eb Ab and Db, you know that's the key of Ab (or F minor) because you know that scale without having to think about it.
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I would say start small.

Learn the key of G (one sharp, F's), and the key of F (one flat, B's.)

Practice sightreading in them until you're comfortable with them.

The learn the key of D (two sharps) and the key of Bb.

Practice until you're comfortable with them.

Then learn the key of A and the key of Eb.

etc, etc, etc.
For flat key signatures, the second-to-last flat is the major tonic. EG: Three flats, Bb Eb Ab. The song is in Eb major. Hopefully you understand relative keys to find the possible minors.

For sharp key signatures, the final sharp is the leading tone of that key's major scale, so go up a half-step to find tonic. EG: Three sharps. F# C# G#. G# plus a half step: A major.

It will definitely take some work to be able to just look at a key signature and know instantly what key it's in. That's expected. That's fine. Work on memorizing the ORDER of flats and sharps (because that never changes in key signatures for as much as you're going to come across in a theory class) and these steps to get from here to there.
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For flat key signatures, the second-to-last flat is the major tonic. EG: Three flats, Bb Eb Ab. The song is in Eb major. Hopefully you understand relative keys to find the possible minors.

For sharp key signatures, the final sharp is the leading tone of that key's major scale, so go up a half-step to find tonic. EG: Three sharps. F# C# G#. G# plus a half step: A major.

+1, this is how it's generally taught, didn't your class say this?
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Let me just make this as simple as possible dude, **** all this "well the number of #'s the submediant of the leading tone". No, **** that.

Ok, sharps and flats get added to keys in a specific order - but that's inconsequential in memorizing them. You just need to know that as they get added..its in the same sequence always.

So that means all you need to able to do is relate 'x' amount of sharps to key 'y'.

Ok, simple.

C has no sharps or flats.
As you move in fifths, you add a sharp.

C-->G (1 sharp)-->D (2 sharps)-->A (3sharps)...make sense?

If you go in fourths, you get the flats.
C--->F (1 flat) ---> Bb (2 flats) --> Eb (3 flats)...make sense?

If you can simply THINK in 4ths/5ths then you've already created a system where, if you don't have them memorized (which you should), all you need to do is be able to identity 5ths/4ths to find the answer quickly.

If you're writing out key signatures, then the only other piece of information you need is the order of sharps & flats, that is, the unchanging order by which they're added to a key signature.

The idea is to memorize, but also have a system by which you can deduce WHY and HOW you got your answer. In my experience, using the system ad infinitum reinforces your understanding of the concept, and also drills it into your memory.
Repetition is key.
Last edited by chronowarp at Jan 30, 2013,
Oh my dear Christ.

Sharps and flats, major and minor keys ...
``````
<- Flats      Sharps ->
Fb  Cb  Gb  Db  Ab  Eb  Bb      F#  C#  G#  D#  A#  E#  B#
Cb  Gb  Db  Ab  Eb  Bb  F   C   G   D   A   E   B   F#  C#   - Major keys
Ab  Eb  Bb  F   C   G   D   A   E   B   F#  C#  G#  D#  A#   - Minor keys
``````

Key Signatures are here

Personally I use Memrise if I've got stuff I need to memorise. There are two courses here:

Major Key Signatures
Minor Key Signatures

They take 15 minutes each.

Srsly. It doesn't take that long to do, it just requires you to apply yourself a bit.
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