The Order of Sharps: Music Theory

 

 

Hello!

Today’s video is all theory – why do key signatures always follow the same pattern, and what is that pattern? Today we’re dealing with the order of sharps (we’ll talk about flats on a later day). This is useful to know if you like music theory, are generally curious, or are interested in composing. It’s not necessarily going to impact your ability to learn pieces, but knowing the what-not of music theory is always fun. 🙂

What is a key signature?


So just so we’re speaking the same language, here’s an example of a key signature – basically the sharps (or flats) that are telling you what key the piece is in, or what scale they are based on.

If you notice from this example, they follow an order – it’s always the F# first, and then the C# second, etc. – key signatures build on each other. So there is no scale or key that exists with just, say, a C# – the C# can’t be present without the original F# hanging in there. Or you couldn’t have a key signature with just a G# – you’d need the F# and C#, too.

The order of sharps


Here is the order of sharps, as they appear in key signatures.

There’s a couple different ways to remember them, if you so choose – the first one is to create a pneumonic device (father Charles goes down and ends battle), or to build them in 5ths. First one is F, a 5th up is C, a 5th up is G, etc.

Sharp placement in the right hand

So when you have a key sig with, say, F# and C#, why is the F# written in the higher spot on the staff? In the right hand, the sharps are always written in their highest possible placement. Take a look at the order of sharps above to see what I mean.

Sharp placement in the left hand

In the left hand, you can see the rule is actually a bit different. The placement of F, C, G, D are all in their highest possible positions, but the A and B drop to their lower spots. My suspicion is that they do this so it’s easier to read.

how to figure out a sharp key signature quickly

There’s also another handy trick to figure out a key signature based on the order of sharps. First, you need to remember the order of sharps:

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

Say you want to figure out the key signature of A major. Find the A above, delete the note just previous to it (D), and the three remaining letters are your key signature (F-C-G).

For another example, say you want to figure out the key signature of G major. Again, you’re going to get rid of the note just before it (C), and the note that’s left is your sharp note (F#).

Conclusion

The order of sharps, and how to write them, is useful to know if you’re into composing, or are just really into music theory and want to know why things are the way they are. I am totally biased and think this stuff is awesome. Knowing the order of sharps also helps with figuring out what key a song is in, which in turn allows you to understand the song better.

Enjoy!

xo,
Allysia

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.