rea ding mu sic .........................................................
Join Rockschool’s Charlie Griffiths as he continues his quest to turn every GT reader into GT ‘reader’. Today we look at sharps, flats, the circle of 5ths and circle of 4ths.
Charlie Griffiths continues series on reading music with a look at sharps and flats.
major key that doesn’t contain any sharps or flats; all the notes are ‘natural’ CDEFGABC. When we start and finish on other notes, or ‘change key’, we need to introduce either sharps or flats in order to maintain the same interval qualities each time: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7, etc.
The major keys can be divided into two groups: ‘sharp keys’ and the ‘flat keys’, with seven different keys in each group. The sharp keys are best organised using the ‘circle of 5ths’: CG D A E B F# C#. This order is important because C major has no sharps, G major has one sharp, D major has two sharps and so on until you get to C# major, with a mammoth seven sharps. With each new key a sharp is added to the pre-existing sharp notes, so a useful method is to learn which particular sharp you need to add for each key. The trick with sharp keys is to always sharpen the 7th note, which also happens to be the note a semitone down from the root note. G major has an F#, D major has a C# and so on. There is an age old mnemonic which might help you remember the sequence of sharpened notes: Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle.
The flat keys are best organised into the ‘circle of 4ths’: C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb. Again we start with C major which has no sharps or flats, but this time each new key has an added ‘flat’ note. The key of F has one flat, the key of
There’s a mnemonic which might help you remember the sequence of sharpened 7ths: Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle.
Bb has two flats and so on until finally the key of Cb has seven flats. The trick to remembering which flat notes is to always flatten the 4th note of the new key; F has a Bb, Bb has an Eb. The interesting thing is that the sequence of added flattened notes is exactly the opposite of the added sharpened notes, so we can reverse the mnemonic, like so: Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles’ Father.
In written music, the key is indicated by the number of sharps or flats shown at the beginning of the score. The sharps or flats shown in this ‘key signature’ must be applied to the rest of the piece unless other accidentals are introduced, or the song changes to a different key. With practice you will be able to recognise the keys immediately: 2 sharps = D major, 4 flats = Ab and so on.
On noisy bandstands, a leader will often tell musicians what key a song is in by holding up fingers to indicate the number sharps or flats - the fingers pointing ‘up’ for sharps and ‘down’ for flats. It’s another great reason why it’s handy for the working musician to be able to understand theory and key signatures.
‘End’ your own ‘Battle’ with sharps and flats