Knowing your key signatures and understanding a few of the fundamental rules of key and harmony will allow for a greater awareness of the music that you play. This is the second article on keys and it will delve further into a bit of music theory.
If you find anything a little confusing please do comment below or just email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will happily go through things with you.
Key Signatures, sharps, flats etc.
We will continue with minor keys, and will go from the key of A minor that has a key signature of no sharps or flats. We will use the circle of 5ths as this will give a clear and simple way of working out which keys have sharps or flats in, and how many they have for the minor keys also. The other important thing is that it will show us which of the keys are related to each other.
As before, the process requires you to be able to count up to 5 and know your musical alphabet, (A, B, C, D, E, F, G and then back to A) and be able to start this on any note.
To make this work, it is going to be crucial to remember the following three points:
- That A minor has no sharps or flats in its key signature.
- When you count up in 5ths you need to include the note that you start on when you are counting. (More about this in a minute!)
- There are different types of minor scale:
i) Natural minor
ii) Harmonic minor
iii) Melodic minor
I will cover the different types of minor scale next week so watch out for that if you would like to find out how the three different minor scale types work! This article will work on the natural minor scale that only uses the key signature and does not take into account any altered notes as they are in the harmonic or melodic forms.
We are going to work on the sharp key signatures first, as we did with the major keys. We are going to find the key that has 1 sharp. We are going to use A minor to start with and count up 5:
1 2 3 4 5
A B C D E
Therefore, the key with one sharp is E minor. You will remember that G major has one sharp as well. Because they have the same key signature, we say that G major and E minor are related. Think of the two scales in this way:
1) The relative minor key to G major is E minor.
2) The relative major key to E minor is G major.
The note that is sharpened in the E minor key signature is F. So E minor goes from E to E with an F sharp. To get to the key that has 2 sharps, we need to count up 5 notes from E:
1 2 3 4 5
E F G A B
Therefore, the minor key with two sharps is B Minor. The notes that are sharpened in this key are F (as in E Minor) and C. So B Minor goes from B to B with an F sharp and a C sharp. The relative major key to B minor is D major.
When we use the circle of 5ths, the major scales are shown on the outside as before, and the minor scales are shown on the inside of the circle. To make things a little clearer, whenever we refer to a minor key we always put a lower case ‘m’ after the name of the key. This means A minor is shortened to just Am, E minor is shortened to just Em, B minor is shortened to just Bm and so on.
Here is the circle of 5ths completed with all of the major (outside of the circle) and minor (inside of the circle) sharp key signatures completed.
- A minor = no sharps or flats
- E minor = 1 sharp (F)
- B minor = 2 sharps (F, C)
- F# minor = 3 sharps (F, C, G)
- C# minor = 4 sharps (F, C, G, D)
- G# minor = 5 sharps (F, C, G, D, A)
- D# minor = 6 sharps (F, C, G, D, A, E)
- A# minor = 7 sharps (F, C, G, D, A, E, B)
To get the flat key signatures, instead of counting up 5 notes this time count up 4. Again include the note you start with. We will start with C Major (which has no sharps or flats in the key signature) and then count up 4 notes:
1 2 3 4
A B C D
So D minor has 1 flat and the note that is flattened is B. This means the D minor scale goes from D to D with a B flat in it. The relative major key to D minor is F major.
The next flat key is worked out in the same way. Start with D and count up 4 notes:
1 2 3 4
D E F G
So G minor has 2 flats and the notes that are flattened are B and E. This means the G minor scale goes from G to G with a B flat and an E flat in it. The relative major key to D minor is F major.
- A minor = no sharps or flats
- D minor = 1 flat (B)
- G minor = 2 flats (B, E)
- C minor = 3 flats (B, E, A)
- F minor = 4 flats (B, E, A, D)
- Bb minor = 5 flats (B, E, A, D, G)
- Eb minor = 6 flats (B, E, A, D, G, C)
- Ab minor = 7 flats (B, E, A, D, G, C, F)
If you look at the completed circle of 5ths you will notice that there are lots and lots of patterns. These patterns will always help with working out how things work together. These are some of the very obvious things:
- If you raise the note that is sharpened in the major keys by a semitone, it gives you the starting note of the key that you are. For example, if your key signature has one sharp in it the note that is the sharp note would be F. If you raise F sharp by one semitone you get to G. This would then say that the key signature of one sharp is G Major. If a piece has the key signature of two sharps, the last note in the key signature is C sharp. Raise this by a semitone and you get D – this means that the key signature with 2 sharps in is D major. (Note – this only works for major keys!)
- In the flat major keys, the last note that appears in the key signature tells you the name of the next key. For example, in F major the flattened note is B. The next key that has two flats is B flat major.
- To get from the major key to the relative minor, count down 3 semitones from the first note of the major key. Three semitones down from C is A, three semitones down from F is D and so on.