Circle of fifths lesson 2 - Major sharp scales

Welcome to the second Circle of fifths lesson.

It contains lots of piano and treble clef diagrams, and mp3 audio files to link all the relevant material together.

Below are detailed steps to understand and draw the major sharp scales on the Circle of fifths diagram.

Please read 1. Introduction before continuing, as it contains background material on the diagram structure that is needed in this lesson.

Circle of fifths
Lesson1. Introduction2. Major sharps3. Minor sharps4. Major flats5. Minor flats

1. Major sharp scales

This step shows how to memorize and draw the major sharp scale labels on the Circle of fifths diagram.

Memorizing the major sharp scale order

To remember the order of the major sharp scales (shown highlighted on the diagram below), the following phrase is useful :

Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle

The next fact to memorize is Father starts at 11 o'clock., as this indicates which hour position on the circle the first word of the phrase starts.

The Father Charles phrase starts repeating itself at 6 o'clock, but with sharp notes added.

The final things to memorize are that the C major scale has no sharps or flats, and that the number of sharps increases moving clockwise.

Here is that information in table form.

Circle of fifths major sharp Layout in Table Form
Clock hr.11121234567
Phrase wordFatherCharlesGoesDownAndEndsBattleFather(#)Charles(#)
No. of sharps-01234567

The Circle of fifths diagram below is greyed out except for the major sharp scales.

circle-of-5ths-major-sharp-scales

Drawing the major sharp scale labels

Starting at 11 o'clock, draw in the first letter F(ather), then write in the first letters of each word moving around clockwise.

(Although F is not a major sharp - it contains one flat; we might as well draw it in now, as it will be used to calculate the number of sharps for the scales that do have sharps).

And now from 12 o'clock, write in the number of sharps (0), adding 1 each time, moving clockwise until you reach 7 sharps at 7 o'clock.

But what do these letters really mean, musically ?

The first letter of each word is the tonic note(ie. the starting note) of the major scale of that note name.

So for example Father is note F, which is the first note of the F major scale, and so on.

The above information not only describes the order of the scales, but also gives key signature (ie. the note names, sharps and flats) of each of these scales. More on that later.

The remaining steps below take each scale in turn, and show how to arrive at the key signature in each case, starting with C major scale at 12 o'clock.

2. C major has no sharps or flats

This step shows how to calculate how many sharps and flats the C major scale has, using only the Circle of 5ths major scale labels.

For the moment, we will ignore the first word Father, and go straight to the Charles column in the table, which we has no sharps or flats, and starts at 12 o'clock.

The C major scale is highlighted Circle of fifths diagram below.

Circle of fifths-C major has no sharps or flats, at 12 o'clock
Clock hr.11121234567
Phrase wordFatherCharlesGoesDownAndEndsBattleFather(#)Charles(#)
No. of sharps-01234567

c-major-has-no-sharps-or-flats

C major has no sharps or flats

Checking the key signature and scale construction

The musical staff from the C major key signature page, shown above, confirms there are no sharp or flat symbols next to the treble clef before the notes start on the leger lines.

Also, the C major scale page constructs this scale 'longhand', by first working out the note intervals then deciding the note names. It too confirms there are no sharps or flats in this scale.

By memorizing the above phrases and facts, the longhand way of arriving at the note names can be completely bypassed for all scales on the Circle of fifths diagram.

Choosing the next scale on the diagram

The key signature of C major is done, so now we need to move around the circle of 5ths diagram by one position clockwise, to 1 o'clock, note G(oes).

But what does this actually mean, musically speaking ?

Since this is called the Circle of fifths diagram, it means that the 5th note of the current scale - C major scale identifies the next hour clockwise - the scale with one sharp more than this one.

Looking at the piano diagram below, the 5th note in the scale is note G, matching the next word in our phrase. The Father Charles.. phrase identifies each fifth scale note automatically.

So the next key signature to consider will be the G major scale.

C major has no sharps or flats

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3. G major has 1 sharp

This step shows how to calculate how many sharps and flats the G major scale has, using only the Circle of 5ths major scale labels.

Now we have moved to note G(oes), tonic note of the G major scale, at 1 o'clock.

There is 1 sharp in this scale, which is one more sharp than the previous hour - a pattern that will continue in future steps. But what is the note name that has the sharp accidental ?

The Father Charles..phrase provides the answer.

Simply look back two hour positions counter-clockwise to get the name of the note that needs sharpening.

Circle of fifths-G major has 1 sharp, at 1 o'clock
Clock hr.11121234567
Phrase wordFatherCharlesGoesDownAndEndsBattleFather(#)Charles(#)
No. of sharps-01234567

We are at 1 o'clock, so we need to look back two hours to 11 o'clock, which is note F(ather). So we sharpen this note name, resulting in note F#.

The final calculation of the sharps in this scale is to take the key signature of the previous step, and add the sharp we have just calculated to the end of it.

This is easy to work out - the previous step was C major, which has no sharps, so this key signature consists of a single sharp - F#, which is highlighted just below the diagram title below.

g-major-has-1-sharp

G major has 1 sharp

Checking the key signature and scale construction

The treble clef from the G major key signature page matches - it has 1 sharp accidental symbol next to the treble clef symbol, on the top staff line - the note F staff position.

The G major scale page shows this scale constructed long-hand, and shows 1 sharp - F-sharp.

So once again, the circle of 5ths diagram has bypassed working out the scale manually.

Identifying the non-sharpened notes in the scale

If there is one sharp (F-sharp) in this key signature, what are the other notes, and in what order do they appear ?

The Circle of fifths is conveniently structured such that is never a mixture of sharp and flat notes for any given key signature; in this case, the G major scale.

This fact is useful, as it means that since there cannot be flats, the other notes must be natural white note names ie. using the alphabet letters A..G. But the order of these is significant.

Since this is the G major scale, we know the first note is G, and so the remaining note names (ie. the ones that are not sharps) go in the order of the alphabet starting at that first note.

Since only the letters A to G are used to identify note names, after G, the note names wrap around back to A again.

So the remaining note names after G must be A, B, C, D, E, , followed by the single sharpened note - F#, and then finally the first note name is repeated again - G which is same note name as the first note but one octave higher.

Choosing the next scale on the diagram

The key signature of G major is now complete, so the next step is to move around the circle of 5ths diagram again by one position clockwise, to 2 o'clock, note D(own).

We are moving around the Circle of 5ths from word Goes to word Down, but again in musical terms, this means that note D must be the 5th note of this G major scale.

The piano diagram from the G major scale confirms this, and it also shows the single sharp note - F-sharp in this scale.

G major has 1 sharp

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4. D major has 2 sharps

This step shows how to calculate how many sharps and flats the D major scale has, using only the Circle of 5ths major scale labels.

Now we have moved to 2 o'clock, D(own), tonic note of the D major scale.

There are 2 sharps in this scale, which is one more sharp than the previous step.

Just like the previous step, to get the note name that needs sharpening, just look two hours anti-clockwise.

Circle of fifths-D major has 2 sharps, at 2 o'clock
Clock hr.11121234567
Phrase wordFatherCharlesGoesDownAndEndsBattleFather(#)Charles(#)
No. of sharps-01234567

We are at 2 o'clock, so we need to look back two hours to 12 o'clock, which is note C(harles). So we sharpen this note name, resulting in note C#.

Again, the final calculation of the sharps in this scale takes the key signature of the previous step, and add the sharp we have just calculated.

The previous step was G major, which has 1 sharp, F#, so finally we arrive at a key signature of a two sharps: F# from the previous scale/step, and C#, from this scale:

Sharps so far incl. this step
D major scaleF#C#

d-major-has-2-sharps

D major has 2 sharps

The D major key signature confirms this - there are 2 sharp symbols shown next to the treble clef symbol - F-sharp from the previous step, then C-sharp from this step.

Choosing the next scale on the diagram

The D major key signature is now complete, and we need to move around the circle of 5ths diagram clockwise one more time, to 3 o'clock, to word A(nd).

But before doing so, it is worth noting that the remaining major sharp steps follow the same patterns as described above.

In each case, just move along to the next hour position with one more sharp, look counter-clockwise two positions to get the note to be sharpened, sharpen it, add it to the previous key signature, then move to the next 5th note in the scale, and so on.

The spiral arm ends at C# major scale, which has every note sharpened, 7 in total.

The steps below will complete this process, but since there are no new patterns below, feel free to jump straight to the next lesson - 3. Minor sharps to draw in the relative minor scales associated with the major scales in this lesson.

So, moving on, just like the previous step, the 5th note of this scale is note A(nd), so the next step will deal with the A major scale.

D major has 2 sharps

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5. A major has 3 sharps

This step shows how to calculate how many sharps and flats the A major scale has, using only the Circle of 5ths major scale labels.

Now we have moved to the 3 o'clock hour position - the A major scale.

There are 3 sharps in this scale, which is one more sharp than the last step.

Circle of fifths-A major has 3 sharps, at 3 o'clock
Clock hr.11121234567
Phrase wordFatherCharlesGoesDownAndEndsBattleFather(#)Charles(#)
No. of sharps-01234567

Looking two hours counter-clockwise for the additional sharp for this scale, note G needs to be sharpened to G#, and added to the end of the previous key signature, resulting in:

Sharps so far (inclusive)
A major scaleF#C#G#

a-major-has-3-sharps

A major has 3 sharps

This key signature is now complete, and the 5th note of this scale is the tonic note for the next major sharp scale moving clockwise - E major scale.

A major has 3 sharps

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6. E major has 4 sharps

This step shows how to calculate how many sharps and flats the E major scale has, using only the Circle of 5ths major scale labels.

Now we have moved to the 4 o'clock hour position - the E major scale.

There are 4 sharps in this scale, which is one more sharp than the last step.

Circle of fifths-E major has 4 sharps, at 4 o'clock
Clock hr.11121234567
Phrase wordFatherCharlesGoesDownAndEndsBattleFather(#)Charles(#)
No. of sharps-01234567

Looking two hours counter-clockwise for the additional sharp for this scale, note D needs to be sharpened to D#, and added to the end of the previous key signature, resulting in:

Sharps so far (inclusive)
E major scaleF#C#G#D#

e-major-has-4-sharps

E major has 4 sharps

This key signature is now complete, and the 5th note of this scale is the tonic note for the next major sharp scale moving clockwise - B major scale.

E major has 4 sharps

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7. B major has 5 sharps

This step shows how to calculate how many sharps and flats the B major scale has, using only the Circle of 5ths major scale labels.

Now we have moved to the 5 o'clock hour position - the B major scale.

There are 5 sharps in this scale, which is one more sharp than the last step.

Circle of fifths-B major has 5 sharps, at 5 o'clock
Clock hr.11121234567
Phrase wordFatherCharlesGoesDownAndEndsBattleFather(#)Charles(#)
No. of sharps-01234567

Looking two hours counter-clockwise for the additional sharp for this scale, note A needs to be sharpened to A#, and added to the end of the previous key signature, resulting in:

Sharps so far (inclusive)
B major scaleF#C#G#D#A#

b-major-has-5-sharps

B major has 5 sharps

This key signature is now complete, and the 5th note of this scale is the tonic note for the next major sharp scale moving clockwise - F# major scale.

B major has 5 sharps

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8. F-sharp major has 6 sharps

This step shows how to calculate how many sharps and flats the F-sharp major scale has, using only the Circle of 5ths major scale labels.

Now we have moved to the 6 o'clock hour position - the F# major scale.

There are 6 sharps in this scale, which is one more sharp than the last step.

Circle of fifths-F-sharp major has 6 sharps, at 6 o'clock
Clock hr.11121234567
Phrase wordFatherCharlesGoesDownAndEndsBattleFather(#)Charles(#)
No. of sharps-01234567

Looking two hours counter-clockwise for the additional sharp for this scale, note E needs to be sharpened to E#, and added to the end of the previous key signature, resulting in:

Sharps so far (inclusive)
F# major scaleF#C#G#D#A#E#

f-sharp-major-has-6-sharps

F-sharp major has 6 sharps

This key signature is now complete, and the 5th note of this scale is the tonic note for the next major sharp scale moving clockwise - C# major scale.

F-sharp major has 6 sharps

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9. C-sharp major has 7 sharps

This step shows how to calculate how many sharps and flats the C-sharp major scale has, using only the Circle of 5ths major scale labels.

Now we have moved to the 7 o'clock hour position - the C# major scale.

There are 7 sharps in this scale, which is one more sharp than the last step.

Circle of fifths-C-sharp major has 7 sharps, at 7 o'clock
Clock hr.11121234567
Phrase wordFatherCharlesGoesDownAndEndsBattleFather(#)Charles(#)
No. of sharps-01234567

Looking two hours counter-clockwise for the additional sharp for this scale, note B needs to be sharpened to B#, and added to the end of the previous key signature, resulting in:

Sharps so far (inclusive)
C# major scaleF#C#G#D#A#E#B#

c-sharp-major-has-7-sharps

C-sharp major has 7 sharps

The final major sharp key signature has been completed on the Circle of 5ths diagram.

We started at C major at 12 o'clock, which has no sharps, and finished on C-sharp, which has all / only sharps in the key signature, at 7 o'clock.

The next Circle of fifths lesson is 3. Minor sharps - click to continue.

C-sharp major has 7 sharps

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