Memorizing Key Signatures (A Detailed Guide With Examples)


Memorizing Key Signatures (A Detailed Guide With Examples)

In this tutorial today, I’m going to show you how I went about memorizing key signatures as well as the order of sharps and flats.

This is the kind of knowledge that once you get it down, assuming you play your instrument all of the time, you won’t have to think about it ever again. 

There are a number of ways that you can memorize the key signatures and the order of sharps and flats. However, in this tutorial, I’ll show you the way that I did it, and why I think it’s the most useful. 

Jumping right into it, the first thing that you have to remember is that there are two types of key signatures, the keys with sharps and the keys with flats. 

The Middle C key signature is best thought of as belonging to sharp key signatures, just because the majority of sharp key signatures are simply named with a letter in comparison to a flat key signature, which usually has a ‘b’ along with it.

In summary, here are the ways of memorizing all of the information you need to know, and then we’ll explore each one individually so you know what I’m talking about.

How to Remember The Names Of Major Key Signatures That Have Sharps

Cows, Go, Down, And Eat, Big, Fat, Chop

For the Order of Sharps in Sharp-Key Signatures

Father, Charles, Goes, Down, And, Ends, Battle.

How To Remember The Names Of Major Key Signatures That Have Flats

Flats, Become, Easier, After, Drinking, Guinness, Cold

For the Order of Flats in Flat-Key Signatures

BEAD – Greatest Common Factor

or

Battle, Ends, And, Down, Goes, Charles, Father

How to Remember Relative Minor Key Signatures

The relative minor is always based on the sixth degree of the Major Scale, whether it’s sharp or flat.

For instance, in the Key Of A Major, the relative minor is based on the sixth note of that scale, which is F#.

For Sharps

The note after the last Sharped note, is always the name of the Key Signature, ie, in B Major, F, C, G, D, A, the note after the last sharp, ‘A,’ is always the root note and title of the key signature, which in this case, is the ‘B’ note.

For Flats

The second last flat in the key signature, is always the name and root note of the flat key signature, ie, in Eb Major, B, E, A, are flat, and ‘Eb,’ is the second last flat, so that’s the root note and name of the key signature.

Converting from Minor to Major

If you want to figure out how to figure out the Major Key from the Minor Key, you just have to go up by 3.

For instance, in the Key of G Minor, if you wanted to figure out the relative major, you simply count up from the root by 3 in the alphabet.

Example 1:

1. G Minor

2. A

3. Bb Major

Example 2:

1. A Minor

2. B

3. C Major

Example 3:

1. C# Minor

2. D

3. E Major

How To Memorize Title and Order of Sharp Key Signatures 

So here are all the major Key Signatures that use sharps: 

C – No sharps or flats 

G – 1 sharp 

D – 2 sharps

A – 3 sharps

E – 4 sharps

B – 5 sharps

F# – 6 sharps 

C# – 7 sharps

The best way to memorize this, in my opinion, is the following phrase. 

Cows – 0 sharps and 0 flats 

Go – 1 sharp 

Down – 2 sharps 

And – 3 sharps 

Eat – 4 sharps 

Big – 5 sharps

Fat – 6 sharps 

Chop – 7 sharps 

Now, it’s important to memorize one more set of data for the key signature, and that’s the order of the sharps in each respective key. 

Perhaps the most common way of doing this is with the common phrase listed right here: 

F – Father 

C – Charles 

G – Goes 

D – Down 

A – And 

E – Ends 

B – Battle 

We’ve taken care of the sharp key signatures.

While it seems like a lot of information to take in at once, if you’re using this knowledge on a regular basis, eventually, it’ll become deeply engrained in your mind and you’ll barely have to think about it anymore. 

If you check out the images below, you’ll see what each one of the aforementioned key signatures look like in terms of the treble and bass clef. Obviously, there are other clefs that exist out there including the alto and tenor clef, but let’s not get unnecessarily complicated. 

Here’s what C Major looks like on the staff. 

C Major

G Major 

D Major 

A Major 

E Major 

B Major

F# Major 

C# Major 

Alright, so now that we’ve hammered out the aforementioned sharp key signatures, it’s time to move on to the flat key signatures. 

How To Memorize Order and Title of Flat Key Signatures 

There a few different phrases that one can use to memorize the flat key signatures as well as the order of them, however, I like to use the following one. 

The first four flat key signatures actually spell out the word, “BEAD,” so I typically just remember it that way, and then I just tack on the phrase, “Greatest Common Factor.” 

BEAD – Greatest Common Factor is used for memorizing the order of flats in the key signatures. 

While it seems nonsensical, I find that it works just fine for memorizing not only the actual key signatures themselves but also the order of them as well.

Here are the flat key signatures:  

B – 2 Flat 

E – 3 Flats 

A – 4 Flats 

D – 5 Flats 

G – 6 Flats 

C – 7 flats 

F – 1 Flat 

The purpose of this phrase is to help you remember the title of each flat key signature. 

F – Flats  – 1 flat

B – Become  – 2 flat

E – Easier  – 3 flat

A – After  – 4 flat

D – Drinking  – 5 flat

G – Guinness  – 6 flat

C – Cold  – 7 flat

The phrase for the flats works in two ways, 1) it helps you memorize the actual key signatures and 2) it helps you remember the order of them as well, with the exception of the F Major, which is kind of an outlier.

Each flat key signature looks like what’s down in the images below: 

F Major 

Bb Major 

Eb Major 

Ab Major 

Db Major 

Gb Major 

Cb Major 

It’s worth noting that when it comes to memorizing the order of sharps and flats of the key signature, the sharps and flats are always one step removed from the root note of the key signature. 

This is probably one of the more important things to remember here because it’s undoubtedly the most useful.

Let me explain that in another way. 

Example 1:

In the Key of A Major, the order of sharps in the key signature are F, C, and G. 

The next note after the G# is A, which is the root note of the key signature. 

Let’s do it again. 

Example 2:

In the Key of B Major, the order of the sharps is the following, F, C, G, D, A.

The next note after the ‘A,’ is B, which is the root note of the Key Signature. 

In case you didn’t get it, here is another example. 

Example 3:

In C# Major, the order of sharps is the following: 

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

The next note after B is C#, which is the root note of the scale. 

A Similar Principle Can Work For Flat Key Signatures

When it comes to Flat Key Signatures, this principle applies albeit in a slightly different way. 

The second last flat note is always the root of the key signature.

Example 1:

For instance, in the Key Of Eb Major, the order of flats is the following: 

Bb, Eb, Ab. 

The second last flat in a Flat Key Signature is always the root note of the Key Signature. 

Let’s use another example to illustrate what I’m talking about: 

Example 2:

In the Key Of Cb Major, the order of flats are the following: 

B, E, A, D, G, C, F 

The second last flat in this key signature is the root note of the key signature, Cb Major. 

And finally, we’ll use one more example to hammer it home. 

Example 3:

In the Key of Db Major, the order of flats is the following: 

B, E, A, D, G 

The second last flat in the key signature, Db, is the root note of the Key Signature. 

As you can see, there are a ton of little tips and tricks for memorizing flat and sharp key signatures. And while it initially seems like it’s a ton of work, it’s ultimately not that hard after you’ve memorized a few basic principles and ideas. 

I promise that with a bit of work, you’ll eventually get this down. 

Once you have the order of sharps and flats memorized in each respective key signature, what you want to do from there is figure out a way to memorize the relative minor of each key signature, which isn’t that hard really. 

How To Memorize Relative Minor Keys 

Sharp Key Signatures

When I want to figure out a relative minor, I just think in terms of the root note’s triad. 

For instance, if I want to know what the relative minor is of A Major, I just think of the root triad chord of A Major, which is the following chord: 

A, C#, and E 

The sixth note of the Major Key signature is always the relative minor. 

So you use the first triad of the key signature and simply go up one from the final note of the triad, which is F. ‘F’ follows ‘E’.

In the key of A Major, F’s are always sharp, so, therefore, the relative minor is F# Minor. 

Example 2:

Let’s find out the relative minor of C# Major. 

The order of sharps in C# Major is: F, C, G, D, A, E, B 

The first chord, built on the first scale degree of C# Major, is the C# Major chord. 

Here are its notes: 

C#, E#, G#. 

So the relative minor of C# Major is A# Minor because ‘A’ always follows G in Western Music Theory.

And one more time.

Example 3:

In the Key of F# Major, the order of sharps are the following, F, C, G, D, A, E,

The note after the final sharp in the key, ‘E,’ is F, so therefore, ‘F,’ is the name and root of the key signature.

Flat Key Signatures

Because the relative minor is always based on the sixth degree of the Major scale, the same principle applies to Flat-Key signatures as well. For instance, in the Key of Bb Major, there are two flats: Bb and Eb. 

Now let’s use my triad method. 

Example 1:

The first triad of the Bb Major scale is the following: 

Bb Major – Bb, D, F, 

So let’s go up one from F, which is G. 

Therefore, the relative minor of Bb Major is actually G Minor. 

You can use this method with any major key signature. 

For the sake of clarification, let’s do it one more time. 

Example 2:

In the Key of Cb Major, the very first chord consists of the following notes, Cb, Eb, and Gb.

The note after the Gb is Ab, so, therefore, Ab Minor is the relative minor of the Cb Major scale.

Let’s do one more example.

Example 3:

In the Key of Db Major, if we build a triad from the root note of the scale, Db, we end up with the following notes, Db, F, Ab.

The note after the ‘Ab,’ is Bb, so Bb Minor is the relative minor of Db Major.

YouTube Video Tutorial

Memorizing Key Signatures (A Detailed Guide With Examples)

Conclusion

I hope this tutorial was helpful to you.

As you can see, there are a number of ways to remember all of this information, and while it may seem like a lot of information at first, once you put it into practice a few times over the course of several weeks, it will be deeply engrained in your mind, and you won’t have to think about it again.

Refer back to this article if you really feel the need to go through everything once again.

One can also look to the Circle Of Fifths chart, which will also give you a frame of reference for remembering the order of sharps and flats as well as the name of each key signature on its own.

Personally, I find that the Circle Of Fifths chart can actually be quite confusing, but some people like to use it, so take a look at it and decide whether or not you want to use it.

It looks like what’s shown in the image below:

That’s all for now. See you next time.

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