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Knowing your major key signatures and major scales is an essential step in learning to write melodies and chord progressions for your songs. The good news is that once you know one, you basically know the other.

I spent several years as a musician in the Army Band and I spent 6 months studying at The Armed Forces School Of Music. The musical training they provided was designed to be very practical, logical and fast. It was designed to give you the basics and enable you to quickly function as a professional military musician, without having to spend 4 years studying a lot of music theory that wasn’t practical for the actual job. One of the things they taught me was an easy way to to memorize my major key signatures and major scales.

In my lesson concerning the musical alphabet, I explained that there are really just 7 musical notes to deal with. These are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. To understand scales and key signatures, just understand that we don’t always have to start on A. Whatever note we start playing our music alphabet on becomes the key signature and the scale we are playing.

pianoIf we start on C, then play D, E, F, etc., we are playing a C major scale, and are in the key of C major. If we instead start on G, and then play A, B, C, D, etc., we are playing a G major scale and are in the key of G major. Notice that the letters(notes) all occur in the same order no matter what scale we play. What makes each scale different is simply the note we start on.

 

 

 

It does get just a bit more complicated after that. The next thing we need to learn is the number of flats or sharps in each scale or key.

In this diagram you’ll see that the white keys are the musical alphabet letter names. The black keys are sharps or flats. A sharp raises the pitch. (Makes it higher.) A flat lowers piano-2-300x151the pitch.

For the purpose of this lesson, we simply want to memorize the number of flats or sharps in all major key signatures and major scales.

 

We’ll start with C major as it’s the easiest to understand. Here is a link to a free virtual keyboard again that you can play with your mouse, just in case you don’t have access to a piano.

Virtual Keyboard

C major has no sharps and no flats. Just play C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C.

Congratulations! You just played your first scale. That is a C major scale.

Next Start on G. Play G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G. That’s a G major scale. There is one sharp in the G major scale and one sharp in the key of G major.

Here is a list of all the major scales and major key signatures with sharps in them. We can eliminate C, because as we already learned, it contains no sharps or flats.

Major Key/Scale Number Of Sharps
G 1
D 2
A 3
E 4
B 5
F# 6
C# 7

What you want to do is memorize the number of sharps in each key. You want to know them like the back of your hand, so that if someone woke you up in the middle of the night and said, “How many sharps are in the key of E?” you’d quickly say E.

Here is a list of the major scales and major key signatures with flats in them.

Major Key/Scale Number Of Flats
F 1
Bb 2
Eb 3
Ab 4
Db 5
Gb 6
Cb 7

Memorize the number of flats in each key they same way you did the sharp keys.

Suggested Exercises:

1. Play each scale on the guitar or keyboard. Do several each day, and eventually you’ll be able to do these from memory.

2. If you know how to write basic music notation, practice writing melodies in each key. This way you’re developing your melody writing skills at the same time you’re learning your major key signatures and major scales.

 

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