Keys, Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths

Keys, Key Signatures and the Circle of Fifths

The keys, as seen on the circle of fifths, have key signatures, which are used to indicate on sheet music which key the composition is in. These key signatures tell you which notes in the key are sharp or flat.

Take another look at the circle of fifths below, the key of C major, and its relative minor key, A minor, have no key signatures. This is because these keys have no sharp or flat notes. If we take on step clockwise, we get to the keys of G major and E minor, but of which feature F#. As such, the key signature has a single #. For every step we take clockwise, the key signature gains a # because the next scale has one more sharp note. If we go counterclockwise from C major, the key signature gains a ♭, as each key has one more flat note. For example, F major and D minor both have one ♭.

If you want to write a song in the key of A major, you can use the circle of fifths to determine that there are three sharp notes in this key, and as such your key signature should have three #'s. Similarly, if you have a piece of sheet music, and you can see that it has four ♭'s in its key signature, you can look at the circle of fifths and determine that it is in the key of A# major or F minor.

The Circle of Fifths

Chords In A Key

If you want to know which chords are in the key of C major, the circle of fifths is once again very helpful. The major chords are the ones right next to your tonic chord, so in this case it would be F and G. The correct minor chords for this key are the relative minor key (In this case Am) and the two chords on either side of it (in this case Em and Dm).

Using the circle of fifths, it is both fast and easy to transpose a song to a different key. Simply find out the order of the chords on the circle of fifths, and move this pattern to the new key.

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