The Major Scale Completed

circle of fifths

Now let's finalize our study of the major scale. After we're done with this lesson, we will be able to use the circle of fifths as a tool to discover how many notes are sharp or flat in every key, and which notes are sharp or flat in every key.  We already know how to use the circle of fifths to discover how many notes are sharp or flat in every key, but let's review that:

At the very top of the circle of fifths is C. There are no sharps or flats in the key of C. If we go clockwise or counterclockwise one step, we reach G and F, respectively. Each of these contains one sharp or flat. G has one sharp note, Bb has one flat note. If we go one more step in each direction, we arrive at D and Bb. Each of these keys has two notes that are either sharp or flat. The key of D has two sharps, and the key of Bb has two flats. This pattern continues in this manner down each side of the circle or fifths. Ultimately, we come to a point where the notes start to overlap, because they are enharmonic to each other.  For example: B and Cb are enharmonic to each other, and thus occupy the same position on the circle of fifths.

You'll notice that next to each key is another letter, in lower case. This is the relative minor of the key, and you can ignore that for now. We'll get to it latter.

Focusing only on our first task, which is to remember how many notes are sharp or flat in one key, it behooves us to memorize the circle of fifths in the following way: Memorize it starting from C and moving clockwise through all of the keys to C#. (i.e., C>G>D>A>E>B>F#>C#.) Then, start from the top (from C) again, and memorize it moving counterclockwise to Cb. (i.e., C>F>Bb>Eb>Ab>Db>Gb>Cb.)


If we start from the top and go clockwise, we get the following:

Key

 

C

G

D

A

E

B

F#

C#

Number of Sharps

 

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

 

If we start from the top and go counter-clockwise, we get the following:

 

Key

 

C

F

Bb

Eb

Ab

Db

Gb

Cb

Number of Flats

 

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

The keys on the right side of the circle of fifths are called the sharp keys because they only contain sharps, and the keys on the left side are called the flat keys because they only contain flats. There are no major scales that contain both sharps and flats.  We have now utilized the circle of fifths to determine how many sharps or flats there are in each major scale. Now let us move on to the second part of our question. How do we use the circle of fifths to determine which notes are sharp or flat in each key?

If we look at the diagram of the circle of fifths above, we will notice that next to each key is a key signature. The key of C has an empty staff next to it, indicating that there are no sharps or flats in this key. If we move to the right, the key of G has one sharp in the key signature. This sharp is on the line of the staff that indicates F. The note that is sharp in the key of G is F#. (Meaning, a G major scale is: G A B C D E F# G.) You'll notice that F# is in each proceeding key signature. F is ALWAYS the first note we sharp in a key.  If there is only one note sharp in a key, it will always be F. If there are two notes sharp in a key, one of them will always be F. If there are three notes sharp in a key, one of them will always be F. You'll notice that in the next key, the key of D, the notes that are sharp are F# and C#. C# is the next note that ALWAYS gets sharped. If there are two notes sharp in a key, they will always be F# and C#. If there are three notes sharp in a key, two of them will always be F# and C#.

Let's look at how this pattern continues. We're going to add one column to our chart from above.

Key

 

C

G

D

A

E

B

F#

C#

# of Sharps

 

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Notes That are Sharp


None

F#

F#, C#

F#, C#, G#

F#, C#, G#, D#

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

F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#

F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#

 

 

The same concept applies for the flat keys. If we start from the top of the circle of fifths, the first key signature contains one flat. It's Bb. The next key signature contains two flats. They are Bb and Eb. The next key signature contains three flats. They are Bb, Eb, and Ab. Let's look at how this pattern continues for flat keys:

 

Key

 

C

F

Bb

Eb

Ab

Db

Gb

Cb

 

# of Flats

 

0

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

Notes That are Flat


None

Bb

Bb, Eb

Bb, Eb, Ab

Bb, Eb, Ab, Db

Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb

Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb

Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb

 

 

The circle of fifths, as you may be noticing at this, is simply a tool for memorization and visualization. Let's look at the 15 major scales, and verify what we have learned:


C D E F G A B C
G A B C D E F# G
D E F# G A B C# D
A B C# D E F# G# A
E F# G# A B C# D# E
B C# D# E F# G# A# B
F# G# A# B C# D# E# F#
C# D# E# F# G# A# B# C#

F G A Bb C D E F
Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db
Gb Ab Bb C Db Eb FB Gb
Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb Cb


We could simply skip all of the information about the circle of fifths, and just memorize that major scales, which is what we're ultimately after. However, it may be a bit easier to memorize the major scales using the patterns that are provided by the circle of fifths.