Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths and Fourths

Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths and Fourths

The magical, mysterious, and mystical Cycle of Fifths.

Published: Sep 5, 2011 Updated: Jun 25, 2018

ukulele ANY music guitar | Subjects: theorybeginnerintermediateprogressionsreadingrepertoiresongwriting

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There is a load of information in traditional Key Signatures. Unlocking the principles in this circle leads to a better understanding of music and how things work.


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A Key Signature is a series of sharp or flat symbols placed on the staff, designating the notes that are to be consistently played higher or lower than their equivalent natural notes. Key signatures are generally written immediately after the clef at the beginning of a line of musical notation.

Each major and minor key has an associated key signature that sharpens or flattens the notes which are used in its scale.

Although a key signature can be written using any combination of sharps and flats, these are the most common major and minor key signatures.

A key signature is not the same as a key; key signatures are merely notational devices. They are convenient for diatonic or tonal music.

Where Does the Circle of Fifths Come From and What to DO With it?

If the is a mystical, secret decoder right that musicians' have it's the knowledge of this circle. There is A LOT of information contained here.

  1. Memorize IT!

I actually memorized the sequence C F Bb Eb Ab Db F# B E A D G (C), With out resorting to any nemonics by seeing that there is the word BEAD in there twice. Once with flats and once natural notes.

In this order it is actually in the counter-clockwise order and a cycle of fourths - not fifths.

First: As a Cycle of Fourths
  1. Memorize C and F
  2. BEAD with flats for Bb Eb Ab Db
  3. The transition F# or Gb it's Enharmonic Equivalent then
  4. BEAD and finally
  5. G C
Second: As a Cycle of Fourths

Then backwards as the Circle of Fifths.

FOURTHS: C F Bb Eb Ab Db F# B E A D G C
FIFTHS: C G D A E B F# Db Eb Ab Bb F C

A Few Observations
  • 15 Keys
  • Key if C Major / A Natural Minor is all natural notes: C D E F G A B C'
  • Seven Sharp Keys: G D A B F# C#
  • Seven Flat Keys: F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb
  • Key of C# has all sharps: C# D# E# F# G# A# B# C#'
  • Key of Cb has all flats: Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb Cb'

FOURTHS: C F Bb Eb Ab Db F# B E A D G C
FIFTHS: C G D A E B F# Db Eb Ab Bb F C

  • A sharp (#) and flat (b) are two of the three accidentals with a natural sign being the other. The cycle is full of sharps and flats.
  • Flats and Sharps are not mixed in major and relative minor keys key signatures .
  • Each successive key signatures includes the previous key signature's accidentals.
  • The last sharp in a key signature is the letter right before the name of the major key. Example: The last sharp in G major is F#. A B C D E F# G A. The last sharp in E major is D#, A B C D# E F G A.
  • The order of Sharps move in fifths (clockwise F# C# G# D# A# B# ). The order of Flats move in fourths (counter-clockwise Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb Fb).
  • Memorize the cycle of fourths at first. The word BEAD is in there twice, first with flats( Bb Eb Ab Db ) then with no flats or sharps ( B E A D ). Makes a little easier to memorize. Then fifths is the other direction, with BEAD in there backwards ( D A E B ).
  • Common Rock, Pop, Country, and Folk keys are: C, G, D, A, and E. These are typical keys for guitar.
  • Common Jazz keys are: C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, and the lone sharp key of G. There is a some overlap with F and Bb as common keys for ukulele as well as guitar.
  • For each key there is a corresponding lesson covering the primary, secondary and diminished chords in each major key.

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Key Signatures

A key signature is a series of sharp or flat symbols placed on the staff, designating the notes that are to be consistently played higher or lower than the equivalent natural notes. Key signatures are generally written immediately after the clef at the beginning of a line of musical notation. Each major and minor key has an associated key signature that sharpens or flattens the notes which are used in its scale.

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Harmonic Analysis for Scale Selection and Chord Substitution

Harmonic Analysis is the understanding of the functional sequence of chords. It is the process used to analyze the harmonic structure of a progression, song or composition. This analysis is then used to make scale selections for improvisation and chord substitution.

Related Lesson Series

Related Lessons Series for Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths and Fourths at this time.

Key Signatures - C Major

A key signature is a summary of the sharps or flats in a Major or it's relative Natural Minor scale. This series of lessons covers ALL 15 major and relative minor keys with their primary and secondary chords as well as sample common chord progressions.

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