Writing Key Signatures (Western Tonal System)

Here’s an easy way to remember the order of flats and sharps:

The word “FLAT” has four letters – the order of flats moves up by 4ths:
B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F  
The order of flats is B E A D G C F

The word “SHARP” has five letters – the order of sharps moves up by 5ths:
F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B C D E F G A B
The order of sharps is F C G D A E B

You may want to memorize the order of the sharps and flats with catchy sentences or phrases. Learning these phrases also helps in learning intervals.

SHARPS: FCGDAEB Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle (5ths)

FLATS: BEADGCF Battle Ends And Down Goes Charlie’s Father (4ths)

Notice that the two lists are palindromes – one is the other spelled backwards!

As you probably already know, 4ths and 5ths are inversions of each other.  We can alternate 4ths and 5ths when building key signatures, so that we don’t have to use ledger lines!
 
Order of flats
  • Flats in key signatures always go in the same order.
  • The first flat is always Bb
  • The next flats follow this pattern:  Up a 4th, Down a 5th

Order of sharps

  • Sharps in key signatures always go in the same order.
  • The first sharp is always F#.
  • The next sharps start with this pattern:  Down a 4th, Up a 5th
  • The fifth sharp, A#, breaks this pattern!  In treble clef, if the down-up pattern continued, the A# would be on a ledger line, which isn’t possible!  So most clefs copy the treble clef, and go down a 4th from D# to A#.  The pattern breaks once again in Tenor clef, to avoid having the sharps go on ledger lines below the staff.  The most important thing to remember is the order of the accidentals.

Here are all the sharps and flats, in order, in four clefs:

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