Major Keys

This week I’m returning to our series on music theory. You can find earlier parts of the series by following these links:

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

Today I want to look some more at major keys. We mentioned them before, in part 3 and if you’re not clear on anything below you may want to refresh your memory there. A scale is a series of notes going up or done, played one after the other, usually starting and ending on the same note name e.g. A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A. A major scale always follows the same interval pattern of tones (two notes/frets apart) and semi-tones (one note/fret apart). Tone –Tone –Semi-tone-Tone-Tone-Tone-Semi-tone.

In some keys, this would mean sheet music would be covered in sharps or flats to account for all the black notes (on a keyboard) necessary. To get around this and save us writing all of these extra accidentals we use key-signatures.

First we need to work out which sharps or flats (one or the other – no key contains both) we need for our key.

Accidental Line

B          E            A            D            G            C            F

The above series of notes can be used to identify the accidentals required for each major key signature.

For keys with sharps – see note below

Identify the letter name that alphabetically (not the one in the line above) precedes (comes before) the key note, e.g. for D the preceding note is C, for G the preceding note is F. This preceding note and all notes to the right of it must be sharpened to make the key. In our first example above, D, this means that C and F must be sharpened in order to make the scale/key signature for D Major.

This line may not work if your starting note is a sharp or a flat. Check chart below or Google if unsure.

For keys with flats – see note below

Identify the letter name to the right of the key-note in the line above, e.g. the note to the right of E is A. This new note and all to the left of it must be flattened. In our example then A, E and B must be flattened to make the key of Eb Major.

All keys with flats will start on a black note/flat except for F Major. F flat is almost never used (see note below)

Note

Almost all keys starting on white notes, i.e. not on a sharp or a flat note, will have sharps in their key signature. The only exceptions are C Major which has no accidentals and is all on white notes and F Major with one flat.

If your scale starts on a sharp or a flat note it could have either (although flats are more common overall). But as B flat major and A sharp major are to all intents and purposes the same scale, it makes little difference. It may be best to choose whichever has the least number of accidentals when written just to keep things simple (unless this makes C flat, F flat, E sharp or B sharp which are almost never used and should be avoided – C flat = B so just use B Major, etc.).

Notes in given keys

If you would rather not use the method above you could refer to the list below instead. This is not a complete list of all keys but all common (and a few not so common) keys are shown.

Key of C Major

C         D            E            F            G            A            B            C

Key of D Major

D         E            F#          G            A            B            C#            D

Key of E Major

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

Key of F Major

F          G            A          Bb           C            D            E              F

Key of G Major

G         A            B            C            D            E            F#            G

Key of A Major

A         B            C#          D            E            F#          G#            A

Key of B Major

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

Key of Db Major

Db       Eb           F           Gb          Ab           Bb           C            Db

Key of Eb Major

Eb         F            G           Ab         Bb            C            D            Eb

Key of F# Major

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

Key of Ab Major

Ab         Bb          C          Db          Eb            F             G           Ab

Key of Bb Major

Bb         C             D         Eb            F             G             A           Bb

 

We’ll finish off key signatures next time. See you then.

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