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.

Guitar Techniques - - Learning Zone -

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

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