How to Remember Key Signatures

As a beginner, it can often be a challenge, and even an overwhelming task to learn the key signatures by heart or to keep them in mind when playing your instrument. And, the key signatures are imperative for any music- memorizing the major and minor keys can require additional effort, time and tricks. Are you struggling to remember the key signatures while playing your instrument? Read our article on "How to Remember Key Signatures".

You must know that there are 12 major keys and another 12 minor keys, which are very easy to mix up. Indeed, in theory, memorizing all the keys simultaneously would be the ideal thing to do- but would that be effective? You can help yourself, and save some time, by following some of the best tricks we have compiled to help you with remembering these key signatures.

You can also read: When to Use Augmented Chords

Key Signatures

There are some signatures which you should carve into your mind, and each of these key signatures will comes with one major and one minor key. Ones that have the same signature are termed as relative keys.

How to Remember Key Signatures: The C- Major and A- Minor Keys

No, when it comes to the C major and the A minor keys, we do not have a trick. You simply have to memorize their signatures. There are no discrepancies in their key signature and there is no sort of hint available to help you out with this.

The C Major is the key signature which does not come with any sharps or any flats. It has the relative key minor as A Minor. It is important to note that you can remember the relative minor of each key as the sixth note of the Major scale. For C Major and A Minor, this simply means that when we move the scale to the root note of A, and play the same note that we were planning, but with A, at this stage, being the starting note, it will fit the series of the notes into the A Minor.

How to Remember Key Signatures: Notations Used

The symbol, # is used to define a sharp while the superscript, b is used to show flats.

What’s a Major Sharp and Flat?

When you see a sharp (#) in the sheet of your music, you are able to understand what its corresponding Major Key Signature looks like by simply taking a look at the final sharp (the one in the rightmost position). You just need to move a half-step up the final listed sharp.

For understanding the Major Key from a flat (b), it is even simpler. You just have to walk to the second flat from the right.

How to Remember Key Signatures: Circle of fifths

The circle of fifths is extremely crucial to help you understand and find the key signatures. When you go in the clockwise direction, by one position in every step, starting with C, one sharp is added to the key. For the counter-clockwise direction, doing this adds one flat to the key.

The circle of fifth also serves as a visual assistance to determine accidentals being added to the key signatures in the music being produced. Of course, it is important to address that the C Major, positioned at the top of the diagram, does not come with a sharp or a flat. In this circle, all the keys that are visually represented are major keys. However, they come with a corresponding minor, which exists in 3 half steps below the major key. 

The G note appears a 5th above the C note. It also happens to be the V note in the scale of C Major. However, the G Major comes with only one sharp. The corresponding minor is the E Minor.

Reading or Walking through the Circle of fifths

The most simple technique of learning and remembering the key signatures is to walk through the circle of fifths and work it out by moving either clockwise or counter-clockwise, whilst memorizing each of the key going up or down in the position of the fifths.

Going in the Clockwise Direction of the Circle of 5th s

When going Clockwise, it looks like: C Major A Minor (having no sharps), G Major E Minor (with 1 sharp), D Major B Minor (having 2 sharps), A Major F# Minor (having 3 sharps), E Major C# Minor (having 4 sharps), B Major G# Minor (having 5 sharps), F# Major D# Minor (having 6 sharps) and finally, C# Major A# Minor (with 7 sharps).

Going in the Anticlockwise Direction of the Circle of 5th s

It is almost the same when going in the opposite (the anticlockwise) direction. Except, we add a flat to each key, rather than a sharp. It can be read as follows- C Major A Minor (including 0 flats), F Major D Minor (consisting of 1 flat), Bb Major D Minor (having 2 flats), Eb Major C Minor (having 3 flats), Ab Minor F minor (having 4 flats), Db Major Bb Minor (consisting of 5 flats), Gb Major Eb Minor (having 6 flats) and eventually, Cb Major Ab Minor (having 7 flats).

Consistent Alteration (up and down every 5th )

Regardless of which direction you walk through, you will be adding one sharp or a flat for every fifth you go up or down. The pattern keeps altering consistently (1 note at a time), starting with consisting of no sharp or flat and ending up with 7 sharps or 7 flats.

Final Words

You are now well-equipped with the ins and outs, tips and tricks and basic hints you need to know to get started with your journey of becoming a key signature expert to play your music with even more ease.

However, if you have been into music for some time now, you know that the best thing to do at this stage is to practice what we have already imparted. All these might seem complicated at this stage, but they contribute towards producing the harmony you long to produce.

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