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As a first-year music student, I used this trick to learn every key signature.

Instead of trying to remember each individual key signature, this shortcut acts as a reference that allows you to recall key signatures immediately.

This method will allow you to practice what notes belong in every key of the major chromatic scale until it’s second nature.

You can use this information to memorize all 15 key signatures without ever having to practice memorization itself.

Note: This article covers how to memorize every Major key signature. If you'd like to learn about relative and parallel minor keys, comment below!

Why Memorize Every Key Signature?

Competent musicianship is the short answer. There are many reasons to learn key signatures as a budding musician. The ability to express yourself being one of the most important.

But music theory is also foundational for playing with others, especially improving. If you find yourself at a jam session where somebody says, “I’m playing in the key of F; chord progression 3, 5, 1.” Would you be able to play something harmonic?

It might take a few minutes to figure it out; that's okay! That's practice. But it's important to learn how to use this information.

I remember listening to a group of musicians and thinking music theory sounded like another language.

It is! The language of music, and it’s really freaking cool.

How to Read Notated Key Signatures

When you don’t have your key signatures memorized, the following information is the easiest and quickest way to learn how to read notated key signatures.

  • Key signatures with flats: the second to the last flat is the key.
  • Key signatures with sharps: raise the last sharp by a half step to find the key.
how to read notated key signatures / how to learn every key signature

When there is only one flat, it’s the key of F. This is the only key signature that doesn’t work for the trick above. But when you find the circle of fifths on piano, it's easy to remember. We’ll discuss this next.

How to Learn Every Key Signature without Memorizing Them

Each step provides foundational knowledge that when combined provides a quick reference for learning all 15 key signatures.

Step One: The Pattern of Flats & Sharps is Consistent

When you sit at a piano, it is common to start at Middle C.

If you move a perfect fifth down, you land on F. If you move a perfect fifth up, you land on G. These are the first two keys in our chromatic scale with either one flat (F) or one sharp (G).

finding the circle of fifths on piano / how to learn every key signature

Stay with me now...

If you look at the circle of fifths (below), you’ll notice that the first two notes on either side of C Major are F and G. By moving down or up the piano in perfect fifths, you can find every major key of the chromatic scale.

circle of fifths / how to learn every key signature
Therefore, the pattern of notated flats and sharps is consistent for all keys.

Back at the piano, if you move down a perfect fifth from F (which is two perfect fifths down from Middle C), you end up at Bb. The key of Bb contains two flats: Bb and Eb.

If you continue moving down in perfect fifths, this pattern of flats emerges:


When you move a perfect fifth up from G (which is two perfect fifths up from Middle C), you land on D. The key of D has two sharps: F#, C#.

If you continue moving up in perfect fifths, this pattern of sharps emerges:


Notice that the pattern of sharps is the pattern of flats in reverse.

This pattern of flats and sharps is the first thing you need to remember in order to learn every key signature.

There are a few common phrases used to memorize this.

To memorize the pattern of sharps:

  • Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle

To memorize the pattern of flats:

  • Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles’ Father
  • BEAD Go Call Frank

For flats, I find it much easier to remember the word BEAD plus “Go Call Frank!” But I often refer to “Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle” when thinking of sharp keys.

Choose whatever works best for your brain.

Step Two: Key Signatures of the Same Letter Name Have Seven Total Sharps & Flats

The second thing you need to remember:

Any two key signatures of the same letter name have a total number of seven sharps and flats between them.

The key of G has one sharp (F#). Therefore, you can immediately deduce that the key of Gb has six flats.

This applies to every key signature.

The key of A has three sharps: F#, C#, G#. Therefore, you know that the key of Ab has four flats, which are: Bb, Eb, Ab, Db.

Step Three: Finding the Number of Sharps or Flats in Each Key

So far, we have covered two crucial pieces of information.

  • Sharps and flats are notated in a consistent pattern, which the circle of fifths illustrates.
  • Key signatures that share a letter name have a total of seven sharps and flats between them.

With this information, you can already figure out quite a lot. If you know how many sharps or flats are in any major key, you can easily determine what those notes are.

A Major has three sharps. Based on the consistent pattern of sharps, those three sharps must be F(ather)#, C(harles)#, G(oes)#.

Since you know that A has three sharps, you know that Ab must have four (for a total of seven sharps and flats between them). The consistent pattern of flats tells you that those notes must be Bb, Eb, Ab, Db.

But what if you don’t know how many sharps or flats are in a key? You need a point of reference from which to figure it out. Here’s how:

key signature reference sheet / how to learn every key signature

1. Write Out the Consistent Pattern of Sharps & Flats



2. To the Right of C, Draw a Line

F-C| -G-D-A-E-B

B-E-A-D-G-C| -F

3. Add Sharps or Flats To the Left of The Line

F# C# | G D A E B

Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb | F

4. To The Right of The Line, Write 1-7 & Loop Around

F# C# | G D A E B
6 7 1 2 3 4 5

Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb | F
2 3 4 5 6 7 1


If you’re in the key of Eb, the chart shows that Eb has three flats. The chart also shows that those notes are Bb, Eb, Ab.

If you already know that the key of E has four sharps, then you don’t even need the chart to deduce that Eb has three flats, since the total must be seven (sharps and flats) between them. This process of deduction allows you to quickly memorize the sharps or flats in every Major key.

Internalize the chart above. Challenge yourself to picture the chart in your mind instead of relying on it as a cheat sheet.

Once you can easily recall the information, you have organically memorized all 15 key signatures and every Major key in the chromatic scale.


How many sharps are in the key of B?

Using the chart above, you know there are five sharps in the key of B. Since the pattern of sharps and flats is consistent, those five notes must be:

F#, C#, G# D#, A#.

Since there are five sharps in the key of B, there must be two flats in the key of Bb — because the flats and sharps between key signatures of the same letter name always equal seven.

Easily Memorize Every Key Signature with This Shortcut

Fully internalize the information instead of relying on the written chart for constant reference. This will allow you to organically memorize the key signatures as you use them.

Eventually, you won’t even need this trick. You will simply think, “This is the key of B; I know that key has five sharps: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#.”

I’ve been using this trick in my Music Theory 101 course and it’s been crucial to learning more complex topics.

Like any language, music builds on itself. The more you learn, the more tools you have to express yourself. The more you practice, the more naturally you’re able to use those tools.

What else are you learning? I find that teaching what I’ve just learned helps me to fully absorb the information, so I hope to make more articles like this.

Feel free to ask any questions below and I’ll do my best to answer!

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