So what is a sharp key as opposed to a flat key?
As I said earlier you have your main notes (A, B, C, D, E, F and G) but between some of those main notes are additional notes (these are the black keys on a keyboard). Between A and B there is another note. Depending on how you think about it this note can either be considered A# (A sharp) or Bb (B flat). If you think about is as raising the note one fret from A you get A#, if you think about it as lowering the note one fret from B you get Bb.
So how do you think about it as a sharp rather than a flat?
For sharp keys there are two simple things that you can apply which allows you to work out all your sharp keys.
Everything starts from the C Major scale. Remember, here the notes are essentially all the white keys on a keyboard giving you C, D, E, F, G, A, B and back to C.
So the steps for working out sharp keys are:
In this case we've started on C major
C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
and ended up with G Major which has one sharp in it's key signature
G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G
As we now know that G major has one sharp in it, if you see this at the beginning of a piece of music:
You know that the piece is in G Major. This is the music notation way of indicating what key a piece of music is in and is called the 'Key Signature'
Before I continue with this concept, I'll refer you back to the Scale Spelling section. This will explain why this key signature also describes the related minor key of G Major which is E Minor. Generally (although not 100% of the time) the first chord in a piece of music will tell you whether the piece would be in G Major or E Minor. If the first chord is G then it'll be G Major, if it's Em then it'll be E Minor.
Ok moving on. Taking this concept once more we're now starting on G Major. Remember the notes here are:
G, A, B, C, D, E, F# and G.
So again following the formula.
So this gives us the notes for the D Major scale:
D, E, F#, G, A, B, C# and D.
So you have two sharps, F# and C#.
The key signature of D looks like this.
Now I've deliberately not explained notation at this point. But you should be able to observe that for one sharp (G major - the first key signature image above) the # symbol crosses the top line of the notation and for D Major that is the same, but also you get the # symbol in the space between the second and third lines.
This is because the top line relates to the note of F and the space between the second and third lines relates to the note of C. By placing a # symbol on either a line or a space means that you sharpen that note by a half note unless told otherwise. Seem my understanding notation page for more information on this concept.
Last point. the second step in the process is always to take the fifth note from the preceding scale as your starting point. (So continuing on from D the next scale would be the fifth note. i.e. A), this is where the term the 'Circle of fifths' comes.
Ok, now it's up to you. Go and work out the rest. If you get really stuck then look here for the answers.
Next up, the equivalent explanation of Flat keys.
Online Lessons - Home
Scales - what are they?
Natural Minor Scale
Major 7th Chords
Minor 7th Chords
Dominant 7th Chords
Minor 7th Flat 5 Chords