Part Eight


Major Scales - III

Concept - Major Keys With Sharps

We've already introduced the key of G, which has one sharp. Let's look at D, A, E, and B. Don't try to memorize them all at once, but do look at them to see the patterns.

The D Major Scale

D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#, D
The sharps are at positions 3 and 7.


The A Major Scale

A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#, A
The sharps are at positions 3, 6 and 7.


The E Major Scale

E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#, E
The sharps are at positions 2, 3, 6 and 7.


The B Major Scale

B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B
The sharps are at positions 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7.


Are All These Scales Used Equally?

Actually, no. Beginning keyboard players usually start out in the key of C (no sharps or flats), because it's easier to read the notes if you don't have to stop and think whether any of them are sharps or flats. Then, after getting familiar with C, they move on to keys with one sharp or one flat, then two, and so on. Even after playing the piano for years, it's rare to find a piece written with more than five flats (the key of Db), or more than four sharps (the key of E). The key of B, the last one pictured above, is very rarely used.

Guitarists tend to favor the following keys... C, G, D, A, and E. The reason is because the "open" chords (chords where some of the guitar strings don't have to be pressed down) work well in these keys. Guitar players usually learn the open chords first and the "movable" (or "barre") chords later. The movable chords work in any key, but because of the sound of the open chords, acoustic players still tend to favor the keys of C, G, D, A, and E.

Guitarists also have the option of using a "capo", which clamps all the strings down at whichever fret is chosen, effectively shortening the guitar, which means you can then play open chords in a comfortable key, while the guitar gives off a sound in a different key, depending on where the capo is placed.

(It grows a bit more complicated when you add brass (or woodwinds) into the picture, because many of these instruments don't sound in the key that's written. A trumpet, for example, when reading the note C on paper, actually sounds the note Bb. This isn't the time to explain it, but it's a good idea to be aware of the challenge, because when you decide to add brass players to your band, the writing of the parts will require some extra understanding.)

Major Keys With Flats

The flat keys look like this. Just as before, don't try to learn this information fast. This takes a while, and you will need to spend time with each key, playing songs, writing songs, etc. But here they are at a glance.

The F Major Scale

F, G, A, Bb, C, D, E, F
The flat is at position 4.


The Bb Major Scale

Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A, Bb
The flats are at positions 1 and 4.


The Eb Major Scale

Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, Eb
The flats are at positions 1, 4 and 5.


The Ab Major Scale

Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G, Ab
The flats are at positions 1, 2, 4, and 5.


The Db Major Scale

Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db
The flats are at positions 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6.


The Gb Major Scale

Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F, Gb
The flats are at positions 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
(Notice that the white note at position 4 is named Cb)

(One More Thing)

To be complete, I should tell you that three of these major scales can be written in another way.

Db (five flats - Db, Eb, F, Gb, Ab, Bb, C, Db)
can be rewritten as...
C# (seven sharps - C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A#, B#, C#)
Of these two, Db is preferred. Five flats is
easier to handle than seven sharps.

Gb (six flats - Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb, Db, Eb, F, Gb)
can be rewritten as...
F# (six sharps - F#, G#, A#, B, C#, D#, E#, F#)
These two keys are seldom used.

B (five sharps - B, C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A#, B)
can be rewritten as...
Cb (seven flats - Cb, Db, Eb, Fb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Cb)
B is preferred, but not seen very often.


Let's Review

In this section we illustrated the remaining major key "shape pictures," giving us a total of 12 major keys (and three more if you count the ones that can be rewritten as different names.) So in the written sense, there are 15... one key with no sharps or flats (C)... seven sharp keys (G, D, A, E, B, F#, and C#)... and seven flat keys (F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, and Cb).

Of these keys, some are more often used than the others. C is used a lot, especially by beginners. On the flat side, it's common to see music written in keys all the way up to five flats... specifically, the keys of F, Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db. On the sharp side, it's common to see keyboard music in G (one sharp) and D (two sharps)... and guitars (which tend to use the sharp keys) continue on to use A (three sharps) and E (four sharps).

We recognize that this material will take some time to learn, but it's worth it. Even the keys that are hardly ever used are worth exploring. Your homework this time is an extended project. Over the next few months, explore these keys... if possible, write a song in each of the keys you've never used before. Remember to enjoy the process... it's fun to learn!

When this page makes sense, continue on to Part 9.

Index - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Charts and Maps
Part 6 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Part 9 - 1st Steps in Keyboard - Part 10
Part 11 - Part 12 - 1st Steps in Note Reading

Copyright 2004 Steve Mugglin
Permission is given to make not-for-profit copies
of this material.