Friday, September 14, 2012


We're going to take a quick look at the order of sharps and flats. Why is this important? When we are writing music there is an order in which we write the sharps/flats on the staff and it is found on the circle of fifths.

Say you are going to compose a piece of music in the key of D. You know, by the circle of fifths, that there are two sharps in the key of D = F# and C#. When writing the key signature on the staff you must write the F# first and then the C#. Why? Because, on the circle of fifths, G is a fifth up from C and has one sharp in it, which is F#. It is the first sharp in the circle of fifths.


How do we know that F is sharped in the key of G? This takes us back to our major scale pattern:
WS   WS   HS   WS   WS   WS   HS                                                                                                        
Begin on G on the keyboard and follow this pattern and you will find that F is the only sharped note in G major scale.

If we follow our circle of fifths the sharps are in this order: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, B#. Another way to think of it is in fifths. Notice that each sharp is a fifth up from the latter.

This is what the order of sharps looks like on the staff:

So when you are writing the D key signature you would write the order of F# and C# in the order seen here: F# first, C# sharp following.

Now let's look at the order of flats. The same rule applies. We find which notes are flatted by using our major scale pattern. Then when writing the key signature we place the flats in the proper order that they are in on the circle of fifths: Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb. Another way to think of the order of flats is to think in fifths. Each flat is a fifth DOWN from the latter.

Here is what the order of flats looks like on the staff:

If you were writing the key signature for Eb it would be as follows: Bb, Eb, Ab

Hope this is helpful. Feel free to leave any comments or questions.                                      


  1. Just a clarification regarding the "most popular chord progression". You mention it as "I, vi, V, IV" which would be, say in the key of C:
    Cmaj, Amin, Gmaj, and Fmaj. (i.e. I,vi,V,IV)

    I think that is not right: it should be I,V,vi,IV, equivalent to Cmaj,Gmaj,Amin,Fmaj.

    I believe you untintentionally got it mixed up with the I,vi,IV,V progression. In "C" that would be C,Am,F,G. That is itself an alternative to the I,vi,ii,V order, as in C,Am,Dm,G (since D is the relative minor of F). Both are different from the I,V,vi,IV.

    Don't you agree? (Caribman9999 on

  2. You are correct. The chord progression I was speaking of is I,V,iv,IV. Sorry for the typo and thanks for catching it.