Six Things You Should Know About Music Scales

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Musical scales

Chances are your lessons include scale exercises. And chances are you don’t much enjoy playing them. Very few people enjoy playing scales but they do so much good for our playing that we accept them for what they are – musical workouts. Let’s explore a few facts about scales.

1.Keys Are Based On Scales

Conversely, scales are based on keys. When somebody tells you that a piece of music is in the key of A, that means it’s written around the A Major scale. Sure, there may be some accidentals and other variations, but overall, if you remember to play F#, C#, and G#, you are likely to be correct.

2.Memorize the Order of Flats

Have you ever looked at a key signature and squinted to read which lines and spaces those flats are on? There is no need to do that. All you have to do is memorize the order of flats. The order is B, E, A, D, G, C, F. (Bonus tip: The first four flats spell the word “BEAD.”) If there are 4 flats in the key signature, you know that they are the first four letters of the order of flats—B (flat), E (flat), A (flat), and D (flat).

3.What About the Order of Sharps?

Glad you asked. Good news: The order of sharps is simply the order of flats backwards. F, C, G, D, A, E, B. And the system works the same way. If the key signature has two sharps, it’s the first two letters of the order of sharps—F (sharp), and C (sharp).

4.The Sharp Keys Go Up In Fifths

Called the circle of fifths, an easy way to remember the names of the scales is to think in perfect fifths. The key of C Major has zero sharps. Counting C as 1, go up a total of five notes. You will arrive on G (C,D,E,F,G). G has 1 sharp. Do the same thing again and you arrive at D, which has two sharps. A is a perfect fifth higher which has three sharps, and so on. Be careful when you get to B. A perfect fifth higher than B is F# and a fifth above that is C#.

5.The Flat Keys Go In Fourths

We said that the C scale has zero sharps but it also has zero flats. Again, counting C as one, go up 4 notes—also called a perfect fourth. You’ll arrive a F (C,D,E,F) which has 1 flat. (As we know from the order of flats, that flat is Bb.) So when we go up 4 notes from F, the note is Bb (F,G,A,Bb). Bb has two flats (Bb & Eb), so when we go up 4 notes from Bb, we arrive at Eb (Bb,C,D,Eb). Keep going up until you reach 7 flats. Remember to always include the flats that are in the key signature.

6.The Name is the Same

The first note of the scale is the name of the scale and also the name of the key. If the scale starts on F, it is an F Major scale and it is in the key of F Major. If the first note of the scale is A, then it is an A Major scale and is in the key of A Major.

Putting it All Together

Here’s a list of all the major scales and keys, the number of sharps and flats and the names of the sharps and flats (in order). Use it to check your understanding of the information above.


For a great course on scales, click on “All About Scales & How To Use Them!”

All About Scales


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