# Key Signatures Explained

A brief explanation of key signatures.

8
```KEYNo. of sharps
C0
G1 (F)
D2 (F, C)
A3 (F, C, G)
E4 (F, C, G, D)
B5 (F, C, G, D, A)
F#6 (F, C, G, D, A, E)```
At this point I'm going to substitute F# for Gb and continue moving up in fifths.
```KEYNo of  flats
Gb6 (B, E, A, D, G, C)
Db5 (B, E, A, D, G)
Ab4 (B, E, A, D)
Eb3 (B, E, A)
Bb2 (B, E)
F1 (B)
C0```
So we began with C containing no sharps, and we moved through the key signatures in such a way as to arrive back at C, which also contains no flats. A perfect circle. And isn't it a beautiful thing? Look at the symmetry. Not only do we move up in fifths to discover that the next key contains one more sharp, but we also move up in fifths to find out which sharp it is. F up to C, up to G etc. Adversely, if we start at C containing no flats and move DOWN in fifths, not only do we discover that the next key contains one more flat, but by moving down in fifths we also discover which flat it is. B down to E, Down to A etc. Wonderful! So now we can see why we write in Bb and not A#. If, instead of substituting F# for Gb, we were to continue on with the first table, we'd find that C# was the next key. And using the formula established by the previous keys we'd also find that it contains 7 sharps, and they are: F, C, G, D, A, E, B. So now as well as an E#, we now have a B#. Double trouble! But we talked about A# so we have to journey further up the ladder of insanity. The next key would be G#, which according to our formula must contain 8 sharps. But there are only 7 scale degrees, and we sharpened all 7 for C#. And if we look at the fifths: F, C, G, D, A, E, B, the next one is F again. So what's going on. The fact is that the seventh scale degree is always a semitone below the root. So in the case of G#, this means that F's are double sharp ##. Hey Presto! 8 sharps! You can continue alone if you want to move through D# and onto A# if you like. I'm bailing out here. Hopefully that cleared a few things up.

### 42 comments sorted by best / new / date

I didn't understand it all, but I think it's well written and one day I will understand it to the tee. Hopefully everyone will. Is your infomation correct? I'll trust you, that it is.
ACFCPatrick wrote: the keys of G#, D#, and A# do not exist. as it would be much more beneficial to just call them Ab Eb and Bb.
They do exist, but since the key signatures are written with flats its much more preferable and less confusing to name them with flats.
Hey Thanks dude I understand it!!! Im a sound Engineer and a guitarist and now I understand Key Signature thanks buddy
i tried reading this and it just boggled my mind but it is 2 in the morning but on another note, it is well written and i would understand it perfectly if i wasnt so damn tierd
Well if you do continue in the direction of C# into 8+ sharps then those are basically theoretical keys by then. But C# is used and i've seen some peices that do use it.
B-E-A-D-Greatest-Common-Factor is how I remember flats, then just think of it in reverse for sharps. C# is at the bottom of the circle of fifths, so i'm not quite sure what you were trying to say there. Also when it comes to invervals it does matter if you say Bb or A#. G to Bb is a minor 3rd, G to A# is an Augmented 2nd
Sharps: Fat-Cat-Goes-Down-Alley-Eating-Bread Flats: B-E-A-D-Gum-Candy-Fruit Those are the acronyms I learned to help remember it. I still use those.
sfaune92 wrote: wether*
'Whether' dude.
It's worth noting that sharped notes and flattened notes are different notes entirely, and that's why there's all the semantics regarding key signatures that a lot of guitar players don't understand because they play a tempered instrument. On cellos, on violins, on trombones, on non-tempered instruments, flattened notes and sharped notes are two completely different things and are played as such. That's why it matters whether you write Bb or A#. It's just not a very apparent trend on the guitar.
I just asked my music teacher, what it means to be in the key of A and he gave me a big explanation down to how many wave lengths there are in each note. So this really helped me thank you.
I just skimmed it, but this looks like a great lesson. My jazz piano teacher used to make me do chords in the "Circle of Fifths", covering every key. It looked similar to that.
TheCyanideFire wrote: ...is a bit of an oxymoron. But wo there horsey. your english confuses me mind
So does yours mate... 'me mind'???
Good lesson by the way. And for those of you who still don't understand key signatures, just join your school's band
AAAAAaaa now I understand it !! thx for the post
...is a bit of an oxymoron. But wo there horsey. your english confuses me mind
yeah, im laughing pretty loud now...
chris flatley wrote: as for the serious question about which sharps are in D, it's easy. work out how many miles it is to, for example Spain (doesn't matter where you live; all countries are the same distance away). Then you divide it by the corresponding letter position in the alphabet (in the case of D, it's5). Then you ask the oldest member of your family what is their favourite number and add it to the running total. Then write the answer on a piece of paper and put it in a foil tray, together with an egg and a tomato, and put them all into the microwave. Then while you're in the repair shop ask the guy behind the counter if there are any good music stores in the area. Buy a Bob Dylan chord book and find a song in the key of D. Rip out the time signature and take it to school on the day of the test. Bingo!
L to the M to the A to the O!
I got the sharps and flats order down, but does anyone know a good way to memorize which key signatures have which flats? Like for example, my music teacher gives me a test and asks me to write the key signature for D. How do I know how many sharps/flats I need?
Just memorize the order of sharps and flats with this phrase. For sharps: (F)ather (C)harles (G)oes (D)own (A)nd (E)nds (B)attle Flats: (B)attle (E)nds (A)nd (D)own (G)oes (C)harles' (F)ather Takes practice.. When I first learned it it confused the hell outta me but just test yourself on some linepaper.
hey an article on time signatures too!
our band teacher gave us acronyms to memorize the orders of the sharps and flats. for flats, its b,e,a,d,g,c,f, or "Betty eats apples during gym class friday." for sharps, its the same way, opposite order. try "fine christian girls dine at eddie's barbaque." or, you could even make up your own that work better. anyway, just thought i'd help you out.
ACFCPatrick wrote: the keys of G#, D#, and A# do not exist. as it would be much more beneficial to just call them Ab Eb and Bb.
Just cuz it's "more beneficial" to call A# Bb, doesn't mean there is no A#. You could even call B A##. It's not common but it's do-able. ANYWAY... Good article! Makes me wanna memorize the circle of fifths. I'm always confused about what order to put #'s and b's when writing out the key sig.
ACFCPatrick wrote: the keys of G#, D#, and A# do not exist. as it would be much more beneficial to just call them Ab Eb and Bb.
This is just stupid. G#, D#, and A# exists. And Wheter you want to call them Ab, Eb, and Bb, is mostly up to you.
the keys of G#, D#, and A# do not exist. as it would be much more beneficial to just call them Ab Eb and Bb.