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Guitar Lesson Eight


This lesson is divided into five parts:


Theory Part I

One of the most important concepts in music is the key signature (usually just referred to as key). The key signature defines which root note and scale a piece of music is based upon.

In order to understand how to read a key signature (review Lesson 4), we need to combine two of the things that you have learned in previous lessons. In Lesson 4 I had you put together a chart of every scale divided into scales with sharps and scales with flats. In Lesson 7 I had you compliment your scale chart by adding the relative minor scales. These two charts will help you to learn to read key signatures.


Let's look at a key signature:



Now, look at your scale chart and find the scale that contains 4 sharps. Since no two major scales have the same number of sharps or flats, it's easy to determine which scale the key signature is indicating.

Once you have determined the major scale that the key signature is indicating, you need to know that scales relative minor. This is because the major scale and the relative minor scale share the same key signature. The key signature above is used to indicate the key of E major and the key of C# minor.

Now, since it is not very convenient to have to refer to your scale charts every time you look at a key signature, you need to commit all of this stuff to memory. The easiest way to do that is to be able to see the relationship between all of the different scales on your guitar fingerboard.

Here is a handy way to organize the different keys:


Keys with sharps:


Keys with flats:


By memorizing the two fingerboard patterns, you can quickly determine which major scale the key signature is indicating:


Keys With Sharps:     Keys With Flats:
Sharps Key     Flats Key
0 C     0 C
1 G     1 F
2 D     2 Bb
3 A     3 Eb
4 E     4 Ab
5 B     5 Db
6 F#     6 Gb



In order to determine the relative minor for each key, all you have to do is be able to see the 6th interval of the scale. The easiest way to do that is to count the scale tones backwards from the root (remember that root = 8):



The root of the relative minor sits 3 frets back from the root of the major. So, once you have the major scale, all you have to do is go three frets lower to determine the relative minor. That's pretty easy.


There are a few other factors that can influence the key of a piece of music, but we will save those for a later lesson. For now, you need to get comfortable reading key signatures.

As I've stated before, rather than giving you a bunch of boring exercises to go through, I'm leaving it up to you to seek out examples of written music so that you can practice and verify the things you have learned in these lessons. A good place to start reading key signatures is right here in these lessons. I have included standard notation within every Music section since lesson two. Go back through the lessons and look for those key signatures. You can also find many examples of written music on the internet if you look around a bit.


This lesson is divided into five parts:

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