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Chapter Nine - Major Key Signatures

 

As you have seen in the previous chapter, sharp or flat notes are frequently used in major scales. In addition to placing "accidental" sharps or flats in front of the notehead, a key signature can be used to indicate a consistent usage of sharps or flats in a composition. A key signature is placed to the immediate right of the Clef and shows the reader which sharps or flats are consistently used in the composition.

Since the Key of C major does not require any sharped or flatted notes, a blank key signature is appropriate for the key of C.

 

C major key signature

 

Keys using Sharps

 

As stated above, a blank key signature is appropriate for the key of C, however the key of G major consistently uses the note F# as the seventh scale degree. If a key signature of one sharp (F#) is used at the beginning of a composition that is in the key of G major it will eliminate the need to write any "accidental" #'s in front of the "F" noteheads. The key signature of one sharp should be memorized as representing the key of G major.

 

G major key signature

 

The Key of D major consistently uses both F# and C#. A key signature of two sharps is used to represent the key of D major.

 

D major key signature

 

Notice that the fifth note of the key of C (G) is the starting note of the key that has one sharp. Likewise, the fifth note of the key of G (D) is the starting note of the key that has two sharps. The next key is A major (fifth note of D major) containing three sharps. The pattern continues until all seven notes are sharped creating the keyof C# major. The key signature for C# major uses all seven sharps and contains all of the sharps used in traditional key signatures containing sharps.

 

It is important to place the sharp on the traditional locations used for key signatures.

 

Treble Clef

 

1) The first sharp, F# is always placed on the top line, (never on the first space).

2) The second sharp, C# is always placed on the third space.

3) The third sharp, G# is always placed on the space above the staff, (never on the second line).

4) The fourth sharp, D# is always placed on the fourth line.

5) The fifth sharp, A# is always placed on the second space.

6) The sixth sharp, E# is always placed on the top space, (never on the first line).

7) The seventh sharp, B# is always placed on the third line.

 

Key Signature for C# majorC# major key signature

 

Bass Clef

 

1) The first sharp, F# is always placed on the fourth line.

2) The second sharp, C# is always placed on the second space.

3) The third sharp, G# is always placed on the fourth space, (never on the first line).

4) The fourth sharp, D# is always placed on the third line.

5) The fifth sharp, A# is always placed on the first space, (never on the top line).

6) The sixth sharp, E# is always placed on the third space.

7) The seventh sharp, B# is always placed on the second line.

 

Notice that the last sharp of a key signature is always the seventh note (leading tone) of the scale. If you encounter a key signature containing sharps whose letter name you cannot remember, simply go up a half-step from the last sharp in the signature to arrive at the tonic tone ( scale degrees 7-8).

 

 

Here are a couple of examples.

 

1) The key signature containing three sharps has as its last sharp, "G#". Move up one half-step from "G#" to the tonic note "A".

2) The key signature containing six sharps has as its last sharp, "E#". Move up one half-step from "E#" to the tonic note "F#".

Find tonic of a sharp key signature

 

A major (three sharps) and F# major (six sharps)

 

Keys using Flats

 

Some major keys use flats instead of sharps. The key of F major uses all natural notes except Bb. A key signature of one flat (Bb) is used to represent the key of F major.

 

F major key signature

 

The key of Bb uses two flats; Bb and Eb. A key signature of two flats is used to represent the key of Bb major.

 

Bb major key signature

 

Notice that the fourth note of the key of C (F) is the starting note of the key that has one flat. Likewise, the fourth note of the key of F (Bb) is the starting note of the key that has two flats. The next key is Eb major (fourth note of Bb major) containing three flats. The pattern continues until all seven notes are flatted creating the keyof Cb major. The key signature for Cb major uses all seven flats and contains all of the flats used in traditional key signatures containing flats.

 

It is important to place the flat on the traditional locations used for key signatures.

 

Treble Clef

 

1) The first flat, Bb is always placed on the middle line.

2) The second flat, Eb is always placed on the fourth space,(never on the first line).

3) The third flat, Ab is always placed on the second space.

4) The fourth flat, Db is always placed on the fourth line.

5) The fifth flat, Gb is always placed on the second line, (never on the space above the staff).

6) The sixth flat, Cb is always placed on the third space.

7) The seventh flat, Fb is always placed on the first space, (never on the top line).

 

Key Signature for Cb majorCb major key signature

 

Bass Clef

 

1) The first flat, Bb is always placed on the second line.

2) The second flat, Eb is always placed on the third space.

3) The third flat, Ab is always placed on the first space, (never on the top line).

4) The fourth flat, Db is always placed on the third line.

5) The fifth flat, Gb is always placed on the first line, (never on the fourth space).

6) The sixth flat, Cb is always placed on the second space.

7) The seventh flat, Fb is always placed on the space below the staff, (never on the fourth line).

 

 

Notice that the second-to-last flat of a key signature is always the tonic note of the scale. If you encounter a key signature containing two of more flats whose letter name you cannot remember, simply look at the second to last flat in the signature to determine the tonic tone.

Here are a couple of examples,

1) The key signature containing three flat has as its second to last flat, "Eb". It is the key of Eb.

 

2) The key signature containing six flats has as its second to last flat, "Gb". It is the key of Gb.

 

finding tonic of a flat key signature

Eb major (three flats) and Gb major (six flats)

 

Be sure to memorize the key signatures of both C# major and Cb major. These key signatures contain the maximum amount of sharps and flats respectively. If you are confident about the positioning of the sharps and flats in these key signatures you will not have any difficulty with any of the other key signatures as they are all derived from the same sequence.

 

Circle of Fifths

 

The topic of intervals is taken up later, however the interval from the first note of a scale to fifth note of a scale is used here to organize the scale in a way known as the "Circle of Fifths". The Circle of Fifths consists of a circle with 12 positions marked on the circumference (like an analog clockface) The key of 'C' is at the top of the circle (i.e. 12 o'clock). Moving clockwise, the next position is G major (one sharp), then D major (two sharps), then A major (three sharps), and so on until the key of C# major is positioned where 7 o'clock would be on a clockface. This completes the positioning of the keys that contain sharps.

Next, the keys that contain flats are positioned on the circle moving in a counterclockwise direction. The key of F major (one flat) is located at the 11 o'clock position, the next position (at 10 o'clock) is Bb major (two flats), the next Eb (three flats), and so on until the key of Cb major is located at 5 o'clock. Notice that three positions have two keys (C#/Db, F#/Gb, and B/Cb). These keys are enharmonics of one another, that is, C# major sounds the same as Db major and so on.

Circle of 5ths

 

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