How to Learn Your Scales in No Time Flat

Learn how to memorize the key signatures of the major and minor scales quickly using the circle of fifths.

How to Learn Your Scales in No Time Flat
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Learning your scales is an important step to becoming a great musician.

One of the first steps in learning to play the major and minor scales is learning the key signature of each one.

The circle of fifths is a great tool to help you do this.

The circle of fifths shows all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, separated by fifths (ascending by a fifth for each clockwise step).

In the circle of fifths below, you can see the number of sharps or flats that each major scale has on the outside of the circle, and the number of sharps of flats that each (natural) minor scale has on the inside.


Every time you move clockwise one step around the circle of fifths you add a sharp or remove a flat. Every time you move anti-clockwise one step you add a flat or remove a sharp.

There is an order of sharps and an order of flats that remains constant. So the scale with 2 sharps has the same sharp as the scale with 1, plus one more. The scale with 3 sharps has the first two, plus the third.

If you know the number of sharps or flats that a scale has, and the order of sharps/flats, you know it's key signature.

Order of Sharps

F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#

Order of Flats

Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb

Example: A major has 3 sharps. The first sharp in the order of sharps is F#, the second is C# and the third is G#. So A major has F#, C# and G#. All the other notes are natural notes (the white notes on a piano).

Extra Tips

A major/natural minor scale can never have both flats and sharps - it's either one or the other.

The order of flats is the same as the order of sharps, but reversed.

Every major scale that has a natural note as the tonic has sharps, except for C which has all natural notes and F, which has one flat.

When a major scale has sharps, the last sharp (in the order of sharps) is the seventh note in the scale. Example: E major - the seventh note is D#. D# is the fourth sharp. E major has four sharps.

When a major scale has flats, the last flat (in the order of flats) is the fourth note in the scale. Example: Eb major - the fourth note is Ab. Ab is the third flat. Eb major has 3 flats.

Each major scale has a relative minor scale. The relative minor scale has the same key signature. Each relative minor scale starts on the sixth note of it's relative major scale. Example: The sixth scale degree of F major is D. D minor is it's relative minor scale. F major and D minor have the same key signature.

Study the circle of fifths and memorize the tips above and you'll know the key signature of each major scale and each minor scale in no time.

About the Author:
Scott Edwards is the founder of EarTrainingHQ.com. He has helped hundreds of musicians to train their ears and become better players by breaking the process of ear training down into easy to follow steps so it is simple and easy to progress, and providing effective, targeted exercises for each step along the way.

18 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    MaggaraMarine
    It's also good to remember that there's a fifth between every sharp. So if you remember that the first sharp is F#, you can just count the order of sharps and flats - the next sharp is always a fifth higher and the next flat is always a fifth lower. So sharp = up, flat = down. Pretty easy to remember. So the only things you really need to remember is that C major has no sharps or flats; the relative minor has its root on the 6th scale degree of the major scale (and the relative major has its root on the 3rd scale degree of the minor scale); when you go a fifth up, you add sharps and when you go a fifth down, you add flats; and the first sharpened note is F#. Everything else can be counted, based on the things I mentioned.
    Lcollins1
    At music university, I was taught the following acronym to remember the order of sharps; F ather C harles G oes D own A nd E nds B attle For flats you can just reverse it; B attle E nds A nd D own G oes C harles' F ather Hope this helps some people!
    cmvideo
    LOL... my guitar teacher taught me Father Christmas Gets Diabetes After Eating Biscuits and BEAD, Go Catch Fish He also taught me I Don't Play Like My Aunt Lucy to help remember the modes.
    Wiencon
    This is clever! I just memorized it but I don't understand shit when it comes to scales. I can only play blues scale ;P
    Lcollins1
    Ok, along with that acronym you only need two rules; Note: With the acronym all sharps and flats accumulate For Sharp keys 1 - If you want the key of A go down a semitone (one fret). This gives you G# 2 - Count across the acronym until you find G# (Father Charles Goes) 3 - The key of A has 3 sharps, and in order for a key signature you have F# C# G# For Flat keys - this one is easier, 1 - if you want the key of Db count across the backwards acronym until you reach D (Battle Ends And Down) 2 - Go one more across the acronym (Battle Ends And Down Goes) 3 - Db has 5 flats - Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb In short, for flat keys it is the penultimate (one before last) word of the acronym, The exception is when you just have a Bb as you can't go back. This is the key of F and the only key you have to actually remember, Hope this all made some sense! If not I can explain more.
    plarles
    This is how I memorized key signatures. Also came in handy when I decided to learn the fretboard as parts of the letter sequences on the circle occur all over the fretboard.
    Lcollins1
    If you want to play arpeggios over a progression, if you're writing a song and quickly want to know what chords you can use, if you're playing a song and want to quickly know what key its in, the list is endless. For example if I see a song that has Bm7 - F#minor - E7 - Amaj7 then I can work out quickly the following; The key is A major with the notes A B C# D E F# G# Bm is B D F# F#m is F# A C# E7 is E G# B D AMaj7 is A C# E G# Basically, if you just want to learn random shapes then go ahead, if you want to know WHY you're learning the shapes and how to actually apply them and come up with new ideas, and understand how chords work and how intervals fit together, learn the notes.
    thesearchforted
    Okay that makes sense. So the circle will tell you what root chord(s) to play with a scale. That's cool.
    ozzymbs
    When you look at a piece of sheet music, at the beginning of the music, there's sharp or flat signs. By counting the number of sharps or flats that's on there, you'll know what key the song is in. Example: If there is one sharp shown, then the song is in the key of G because the key of G only has one sharp (F#). If the piece of music has no sign at all, then the song is in the key of C because it has no sharps or flats. It's always good to know what key the song you're playing is in.
    acglee
    Sharps: F..k Chatting, Get Down And Eat Bitches Flats: Bell Ends Are Dicks' Glans - Comprende Fool? Open Strings: Even Assh.le Douchebags Get Blown Eventually
    thesearchforted
    What does it matter how many sharps or flats a scale has in a particular key. How is this information useful?
    tomp19
    its just because some people actually want to know the notes that they're playing, it also helps when working out the chords to use in different keys as they are different in each key.
    thesearchforted
    I'm still confused. Wish I could understand. Thanks for your help though.
    tomp19
    starting from c a step right has a sharp and a step left has a flat. to work out which note to add the sharp or flat to use F,C,G,D,A,E,B. start at the left for sharps and the right for flats moving across one note for each step away from C you are and adding a sharp/flat to each of the notes.
    thesearchforted
    Thanks tom. I understand how to read the circle, and I've memorized the sequences since seeing this article because everyone is adamant about its importance. However i can't understand why knowing 'how many sharps a particular key has' is of any use. I can't imagine a scenario in where I would need to know, and I'm genuinely inquiring as to how one would apply this circle. So far I've heard transposing, which doesn't really interest me.
    tomp19
    if you're writing some music, and want to use chords in it, you work out the notes in the chords using this too e.g. if you're using the F major scale you can't use a B major chord with it because there is no B in the F scale.
    \,,/Slayer/,,/
    so question.. i think i understand it. but okay so that means if you play a song in f major, u could also play d minor and it will sound right together?