As you learn music theory, there’s a good chance you will stumble upon something known as the “order of sharps” and “order of flats.” The order of sharps and flats is a concept that is very important to learn, no matter what instrument you play. It will greatly help you as you learn to read music better!
What is the Order of Sharps and the Order of Flats?
First of all, what is this “order” anyway? Well, let’s get one thing clear: it is not the order that sharps and flats appear on the piano.
Rather, the order of sharps and flats has to do with the different musical keys. For example, G has one sharp. E has 4 sharps, while F has 1 flat.
These key signatures are not random at all. The fact that they have this many sharps and flats is unchanging, and the reason has to do with their order. That is why it is important to understand and memorize the order of sharps and flats.
The Order of Sharps:
Let’s start with the order of sharps:
F, C, G, D, A, E, B
There are seven sharps and this is the order you want to memorize.
This is how the order of sharps is written on the staff (note that the order stays the same for both bass clef and treble clef, but the placement on the staff is slightly different):
What is the rhyme that helps you remember the order of sharps?
There are actually quite a few sayings out there for both the sharps and the flats. I’ll start by showing you my favorite, and then a few others I’ve seen.
“Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bananas” is my personal favorite. My dad taught it to me as a kid. And as a piano teacher, I know that kids usually get a kick out of this one.
Some other options are:
- 1. “Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle”
- 2. “Fast Cars Go Dangerously Around Every Bend”
The Order of Flats
Interestingly, the order of flats is the exact opposite of the order of sharps:
B, E, A, D, G, C, F
Just like sharps, there are seven flats and this is the order you want to memorize.
This is how the flats are written on the staff (once again, the order stays the same for both bass clef and treble clef, but the placement on the staff is slightly different):
What is the saying for remembering the order of flats?
Here is the mnemonic phrase I’ve seen in many theory books for the order of flats:
“BEAD Gum Candy Fruit“
However, if you want the sharps and flats sayings to work together, you might want to go with this one:
“Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles’ Father”
It’s actually pretty clever, because it is pretty much the same words as the order of sharps mnemonic, but backward.
How do you remember the key signature order?
The key signatures get much easier to remember if you have a few tricks up your sleeve: the order of sharps & flats, AND the circle of fifths.
With the circle of fifths, you start on C major (0 sharps/flats). Then, you go down a fifth from that key to get G major. G major has 1 sharp.
Basically, everytime you go down a fifth, you find yourself at the key with an additional sharp.
It is easier to understand when you see the visual representation. Take a look at a circle of fifths chart right here.
Writing Key Signatures
If you ever have to write out a key signature yourself, knowing the order sharps and flats will be very helpful. You’ll always start on the same place no matter the key signature:
A sharp key signature will always start with F#, while a flat key signature will always start with Bb.
You just have to know how many sharps/flats the key signature has using the circle of fifths, and then you can use the order of sharps/flats figure out what to write down.
Order of Sharps & Flats Worksheet (free)
If you want to practice what you’ve learned about the order of flats and sharps, I have made a quick little printable worksheet! This is especially great for kids.
There’s a cool little maze of unscrambling the sharps and flats, and you’ll be able to practice writing out the order of flats and sharps and matching them with key signatures.
A Note on Writing the Order of Sharps & Flats
When you practice writing the sharps and flats, there is an important pattern to keep in mind.
First of all, remember that treble clef starts with the high F# on the top line, while bass clef starts on the second highest line (also F#). For flats, you’ll start on the middle line for treble clef and second line for bass clef (note Bb).
After you get that first sharp on the staff, you’ll write in a pattern. You’ll go down to C#, then up to G#. The up-down pattern continues consistently with the exception of one note: A#. For A#, you’ll go down even though you just went down to G#. (If this is confusing, take another look at the diagram at the beginning of this post and you’ll see what I mean).
All this ensures that we’re never writing sharps and flats above or below the staff itself.
With the flats, there are no exceptions. The up-down pattern continues the whole time!
More Music Theory to Learn
- What is Rubato in Music?
- How many beats is a whole note?
- Ultimate Guide to Pedal Point
- Diminished Chord Guide
- Augmented Chord Guide
The order of sharps and flats is such an interesting music theory concept to learn about! It is unchangeable and fixed. Learning mnemonic phrases is one of the best ways to memorize the order. You don’t want to skip this important music theory topic! It is helpful to know when determining the key of a song, or even when writing your own songs. I hope you enjoyed this article as much as I loved putting it together!