Fat Cats Get Dizzy Always With Key Signature

Welcome to Music Theory Fifth Floor. This section of the site is all about Key Signature. You will first learn what it is as a concept. Then how many there are as a whole. You will also learn how we can quickly remember them. Why we need to know them and how we use them will be for another day.

The Fat Cats... will come in shortly! 

The Key Signature Footprint of a Scale          

 Think of the Oxford English dictionary’s definition of the word signature.

…a distinctive pattern, product, or characteristic by which someone or something can be identified

 Now the same dictionary but different word this time, the word key

…a group of notes based on a particular note and comprising a scale, regarded as forming the tonal basis of a piece of music: the key of E minor.

 So we can see that the word key represents the musical idea of a tonal centre to base a scale upon.

 We can also see that the word signature represents the idea of unique or distinctive pattern. So much so that a person’s signed name or signature serves as a legal authorisation.

So what we have is a scale with a unique recognisable pattern to it. It’s a kind of unique footprint...Fat Cats coming soon! 

  Go Back to the Mother Ship 

All along we have placed great importance on the Ionian Major Scale. This is the one we call “the” major scale. We use it as a to datum to measure and label all other things musical. Everything we label we name by comparing it to the Major (Ionian) Scale. It is the Mother Ship of Western Scales. The Grand Poobah. Big Cheese. The Great Kahuna. Top Dog... ok, ok you get it ... just call it

the BigMamaPoobahKahunaCheeseDog for short!

Take for example a “minor” third or “flat” 3. Minor as compared to what? Is it “flat” as compared to what? We are comparing it to “the” major scale. If the third fits into and is part of the Ionian major scale it is named as a major third or simply the 3. If it is one half step (semitone) lower (lesser in distance away) it is a minor third or flat 3. For these names for intervals, triads,scales and qualities thereof we get our labelling system by using these rules of behaviour.

Here Come the Fat Cats

If you have stayed with me this far you will know that the Ionian Major Scale we are focusing has its own generic footprint. The pattern is all whole steps except for having 1/2 steps at the scale degrees 3 to 4 and at 7 to 8.

We know that E to F and B to C are the ♮1/2 steps. (♮= natural half steps)

We know that when we use C as the tonic the ♮1/2 steps will fall at scale degrees 3 to 4 (E to F) and at 7 to 8 (B to C).

C   D   EF   G    A  BC

1   2   3 4   5   6  7 8

Remember that C functions as the tonic when it is the first note to start and end on, the key note, the Root acting as the tonal centre or aural focal point.

This is your first Key Signature: The Key of C major has NO sharps or flats. It is played with all white piano keys.

There are twelve pitches in our music system. We have the first seven letters of the alphabet plus the five black keys on the piano keyboard (Sharps ♯'s/Flats ♭'s). 

That gives us twelve starting point notes or tonics to build practical working keys signatures from. We want the footprint of 1/2 steps at 3 to 4 and at 7 to 8 to be recreated from any starting note. Have a look at this short lesson from www.musictheory.net to get another perspective. The truth is that there are very many possible key signatures that exist in theory and practice. We will get to that later.

Watch the Fat Cats Video and come back and do the practical exercise below.

Written Key Signature (Non-Notational)

From Generic Footprint to Specific Key Signature

Step one:

Write the alphabetical scale out that you want from root to octave (1-8)

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   A

Step two:

Number the letters from 1-8

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   A

1   2   3    4   5    6  7  8

Step three:

Mark out where we want the whole steps and half steps to be

 w=whole and h =half

A       B        C D          E        F          G A

1   w  2   w  3h4   w    5   w   6    w   7h8

Step four:

Fill in the sharps using the Fat Cats mnemonic...

A       B        C#D          E        F#         G#A

1  w   2   w   3h4   w    5   w   6    w    7h8

Adding these sharps is what makes the 1/2 steps fall at 3 to 4 and at 7 to 8


Step five:

Use your little practice notebook to scribble away at bus stops, in traffic jams, waiting for the toaster to pop out the burnt bread…. And just practise figuring out key signatures.

Click here for the Music Theory Handy Vocabulary List PDF

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