Memorise the keys easily Part 1 – Sharp keys

As a teen I decided to devise an easy way to memorise the key signatures. It seemed to me that knowing every note in every key was going to be helpful because it was so central to music. When I began teaching I found the system I had devised worked quickly and easily for most students. It took a little practice but in only a few short lessons they could recite the notes of any key without hesitation. Remember this is the first step in understanding scales, arpeggios, chords etc. So here goes.

Introducing the 15 keys. (There are theoretically more keys but that’s for a more advanced lesson).

All keys are made up of 7 notes with each note being represented by the first 7 letters of the alphabet. A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Every key will have these 7 alphabetic letters but they will differ based on the combination of either sharps # or flats b. If you are confused at this point please don’t be too concerned. Just follow the steps below and it should make sense once you are able to see the full picture.

The key of C.

The key of C is the only key that does not possess a sharp # or a flat note. The remaining 14 keys will include at least one sharp or one flat. The notes in the key of C are simple and are as follows;

C, D, E, F, G, A, B

The 7 sharp keys

A sharp key will have at least one sharp note. We are going to learn the 7 sharp keys in a two step process. In Step 1 we will work out how many sharps are in a given key. In Step 2 we will work out which notes are sharp.

Step 1 – How many sharps? Memorise G, D, A, E, B, F#, C#.  To make it easy try using the following mnemonic. Go Down And Eat Bananas Freddy (and) Charlie. (I know it sounds silly but it works). The first sharp key is G. This means it has one sharp. We know this simply because G is the first letter of the sequence. That means that D will have 2 sharps, A will have 3 sharps, E will have 4 sharps, B 5 sharps, F# 6 sharps and C# 7 sharps.

Step 2 – Which notes are sharp? Put Freddy and Charlie at the beginning so it reads Freddy (and) Charlie Go Down And Eat Bananas. 

In the case of the key of G we know from Step 1 it has one sharp and Step 2 tells us the note will be F#. The 7 notes in the key of G are as follows; G, A, B, C, D, E, F#.

Practice

To get familiar with the process lets apply the two steps to a few more sharp keys.

Key of D. – Step 1. Go Down. D has 2 sharps. Step 2. Freddy Charlie. The 2 sharps are F# and C#. The 7 notes in the key of D therefore are D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#.

Key of B. – Step 1. Go Down And Eat Bananas. B has 5 sharps. Step 2. Freddy Charlie Go Down And. The 5 sharp notes are F#, C#, G#, D# and A#. The 7 notes in the key of B are B, C#, D#, E, F#, G# and A#.

Exercise
Work out the notes in the following keys. A, E, F# and C#.
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