i believe i have discovered an easy method for finding major and minor key signatures until memorized. all you have to do is count by whole step. this process may be easier if you sit in front of a keyboard.

all you have to know in advance is this:

C major = 0 accidentals

G major = 1 sharp

F major = 1 flat

First, we start with C major and ascend by whole step until you reach F# major. for example:


C = 0
D = 2
E = 4
F# = 6

Then, we go up one half-step and continue the ascent by whole step:

G = 1
A = 3
B = 5
C# = 7

for flats, you descend by whole step:


C = 0
Bb = 2
Ab = 4
Gb = 6

now we descend one half-step and continue

F = 1
Eb = 3
Db = 5
Cb = 7

It also works for the Minor keys as well.

This time we just need to know

A minor = 0 accidentals

E minor = 1 sharp

D minor = 1 flat

Again we also ascend for sharps, and descend for flats:


A = 0
B = 2
C# = 4
D# = 6

ascend by half-step to E Minor

E = 1
F# = 3
G# = 5
A# = 7


The descent:

A = 0
G = 2
F = 4
Eb = 6

time to half-step

D = 1
C = 3
Bb = 5
Ab = 7

Is there something incorrect about this approach? Am I missing something?

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    Thanks for sharing this with our community. It may have been done before - there's nothing new on Earth! - but it's a nice way to get used to key sigs. +1. – Tim Aug 24 '17 at 7:24
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    Welcome to music SE James! – Aric Aug 24 '17 at 8:46
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    It's a good idea but it is well-known because two perfect fifths equal a whole step (plus one octave); and similarly for the downward movement. Most musicians are aware of this. – Matt L. Aug 24 '17 at 10:08
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    This approach certainly works, and if it helps, go for it. But I would agree with Matt L. here: moving by whole steps is the same as moving through the circle of fifths two jumps at a time, as far as the key signature goes. Although it's perhaps easier to think C D E than C G D, and so forth, you will need to know the circle of fifths at some point anyway, and with it you can move through the key signatures one change at a time instead of two. Just my humble suggestion. – Scott Wallace Aug 24 '17 at 11:19

There is nothing inherently incorrect with your approach, no. (In fact, it's kind of clever; I'd never seen it before!)

But I wonder if the traditional circle of (descending) fifths is not a better tool just because it actually mimics what more often occurs in real music. This circle of fifths (from G down to C down to F, etc.) is actually a common progression in music, and jazz musicians learn this circle of fifths very early on to help with their motion across ii–V–I progressions.

To get a "true" ii–V–I circle of fifths, you'd need some alterations on some of the scales, but nevertheless learning all the scales in major in this descending circle of fifths is probably a better preparation for future studies.

(And great first question!)

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