When students ask about music theory keys lessons they are usually referring to music theory key signature lessons. “Keys” for short.
Learning key signatures seems to always be a problem for the new students and even those that have been learning and playing music for some amount of time. The issue in most cases is that the approach taken to teaching the keys is that of context in isolation rather than holistic.
Students have a tendency to learn music key signatures a little at a time until they have been exposed to a significant number of the keys. They are not provide the overall picture of how key signatures are related and how those relationships can be build off the basic building blocks of mathematics.
Of course, we start with the key of C because these are all the white keys on a piano and there are no sharp or flats. As time moves on a key is added to their knowledge by showing up with a new sharp or flat. You’re told it’s a new key and now you need to modify some notes for sharp or flat for this new key signature.
After a while you have accumulated several new key signatures, but have not really learned the relationships between them.
There are a couple of different ways to teaching musical key signatures.
The circle of fifths is often used, and works really well, but you better know your intervals. Most often it is used at a high level and the student doesn’t take the time to actually create their own circle.
This can lead to trying to read the concept rather than learning the concept. Let me reiterate this statement. You read about them or look at a picture, but you don’t actually work out the full relationship on your own.
Our Key Signature Lesson challenges students to work all the way through the keys by purposely making them develop a circle of fifths that covers the major key relationships, the associated minor key relationships, the sharps and flats associated with each and how they overlap.
By having the student work through these early in their process it sets a foundation for accelerated learning. In addition to that if the student is learning the scales also associated with keys you get a complete picture of working in the key signature.
In this approach the concepts are planted deep allowing a more comprehensive view of the music. As you learn new songs in different keys you can apply the knowledge to speed up your learning process.
There are reinforcing methods to learn keys as well. By lining up scales in what is often called the tetra chord method you can build a set of scale key relationships that provide another visual way of seeing the bonding of keys.
Remembering how many sharps and flats can be done by using memory relationship methods. That is we associate the name of a key signature with a numeric value to remember the number. Then associate the modified key with an easy position reminder.
That example would go like this for a sharp key signature.
The key D can be drawn with two lines; the straight part and the curved part; it therefore has two sharp notes in this key.
The sharp added to the D key signature is a half-step down from the root note. C sharp is one half step down from D. Note that the first sharp was a carryover from the previous key of G, which you would have learned when you developed that scale.
There are also patterns on the staff of how the sharps appear. Using this visually you can relate it to your scale and instruments.
For the most complete lessons we recommend the full Key and Scales Workshop.
Our key signature lesson uses the circle of fifths method and is focused lesson on learning all the key relationships and properties.
The two primary scale lessons are the Major and Minor Scales and Advanced Scales. Choose the Workshop if you want all the lessons in one package.