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  • Chris Anderson

GCSE Music Revision - Melody Part 2 - Key Signatures, Minor Scales

Updated: Feb 10, 2023

Each week at least one of the blogs will be a GCSE music revision topic. Although each board has its own requirements I’m focussing on the broad strokes that feature in most of them.

The previous blog was about tones & semitones, enharmonic equivalents, and the major scale. In this blog we’ll look at key signatures and the minor scales.

Key Signatures (Major Keys)

A key signature appears at the beginning of a piece of music, in each staff (stave). Key points (no pun intended) to remember:

  • It will consist of either sharps or flats - never both

  • It affects all of the notes represented by the sharps or flats (regardless of the register*)

  • Once a sharp or flat appears in a key signature it never disappears

  • C major is the only major key with no sharps or flats

  • The sharps and flats appear in a specific order that never changes

  • Each sharp or flat has a specific location for each clef

[* Register is another way of saying octave. An accidental will only affect the note in the same register, if you wanted to put one for the same note in a different register you should restate it.]

The order of the sharps can be memorised with the following phrase:

Father Christmas Gave Dad An Electric Blanket

The order of the flats can be memorised with the following phrase:

Blanket Explodes And Dad Gets Cold Feet

Cartoon by Joseph Sandilands

Using the method for creating major scales (given in the previous blog) see if you can work out the following key signatures. (Please note, there are several methods for learning key signatures - this is probably the most long winded. I’ll cover other methods next time.)

G major

F major

D major

B-flat major

A major

E-flat major

E major

A-flat major

B major

D-flat major

Minor Keys

It’s advisable to only look at this section once you’re very confident with creating a major scale and understand the key signatures.

Every key signature has a major and a minor.

The term for this is relative minor (if going from a major to a minor) or relative major (if going from a minor to a major).

It is called a relative because it has the same key signature but some slight differences so they are related to each other (think of it like musical DNA if you like!)

To find the relative minor you count up to the sixth note of the major scale. We’ll use D major as the example.

There are three types of minor scale:

Natural Minor

This is the best starting point for all your minor scales. It simply starts on the sixth note (you just found), and you write the notes out using the exact same letters and key signature. Word of warning, if you try and play this it may sound a little strange. This is called a mode (there are seven of them and I’ll go into more detail of them later).

Harmonic Minor

Now you’ve found your Natural Minor you can now find the Harmonic Minor. The harmonic minor is (generally) used for harmony. You find this particular minor by raising the seventh note of the natural minor by a semitone.

Melodic Minor

Now you’e found your Harmonic Minor you can find the Melodic Minor. The melodic minor is (generally) used for melody. You find this minor by raising by a semitone, the sixth and seventh notes of the Harmonic Minor, on the way up (ascending). On the way down you lower the sixth and seventh notes by a semitone (reverting them back to how they were originally). Essentially the Melodic Minor scale descending is the Natural Minor (descending).

See if you can write out all the major and minor scales using the key signatures you worked out earlier.

Next time I’ll go into more detail about key signatures and relative minors.

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