Key Signatures

February 13, 2011

A major part of my Music Theory class thus far has been learning key signatures. (Get it? "Major part....") As someone who is still very much a beginner musician learning all the key signatures is proving to be more difficult than I expected. Nearly 50-year old neurons don't make new paths quickly.

Still it is slowing sinking in, and I hope I am ready for the first attempt at the key signature test on Wednesday. I will have three attempts to complete this test, which has twenty points and requires a perfect score to pass. The sample test included in the course syllabus requires you to properly places the sharps or flats for two randomly chosen key signatures, for two points. The rest of the test is 18 fill-in-the-blank questions were you are given the key (G:) and asked for the number of accidentals in the key (1#), or are given the number of accidentals (3b) and you have to provide the key (Eb).

In class on Friday he gave us a mock test. I did very poorly missing 11 of the 20 questions. Needless to say I've spent some time since then reviewing. Since this isn't a timed test I have worked on building myself a crib sheet that is basically the circle of fifths laid out in a line. Starting in the middle with C and going "up" through the sharps I know the keys in order: C:, G:, D:, A:, E:, B:, F#:, and C#:. Going "down" through the flats the order is C:, F:, Bb:, Eb:, Ab:, Db:, Gb:, and Cb:.

I've also memorized the order of sharps in the treble clef: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#, and from there I can extrapolate the bass clef. The order of flats is (conveniently enough, reversed): Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb.

What I don't have memorized yet are the relative minor keys. I know that they are minor third down from their relative major key, so by counting I think I can get them. Let's see. C: - a:, G: - e:, D: - b:, A: - f#:, E: - c#:, B: - g#:, F#: - d#:, C#: - a#:. And going through the flats, um. F: - d:, Bb - g:, Eb - c:, Ab: - f:, Db: - bb:,  Gb: - eb:, Cb: - ab:.

My intention is to quickly jot the crib sheet down on my test and use it to verify my work as I go. Of course, if I write it out a few more times between now and Wednesday I may just get it memorized to where I won't need to write it out.

Below is my key signature cheat sheet.

[table id=3 /]

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.