How Many KEYS are there?

      10 Comments on How Many KEYS are there?

7? 12? 24? 48?

For some reason, this is a question that many Musicians and Music Educators answer incorrectly.  A quick Google search yields a wrong answer. It’s really quite logical and uses a bit of Music Theory knowledge.  As long as you know the order of Flats and the order of Sharps, it’s very easy to understand.

Consider that there is ONE key with NO Sharps nor Flats: The Key of C

There are 7 Flats: Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, Fb creating the Major Keys of F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb  and Cb.

That brings the Total so far to 8.

There are 7 Sharps: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#, and B# which give us the Major Keys of: G, D, A, E, B, F#, and C#.

Our Total is now 15.

Each Major Key (the Ionian Mode) has a relative minor (the Aeolian Mode), so we need to double the Total, giving us 30 Keys.

Be careful not to confuse the other modes, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Locrian, with Keys.  They are scales that are all based on the Major Scale.  Think of them as Tonalities instead of Keys.

Understand that Letter names of pitches must be listed in order in a scale and that all 7 must be used only once. The iii chord in the Key of A Major is C# minor… not Db minor, even though those two chords sound alike.

A C7 chord is spelled C-E-G-Bb  NOT C-E-G-A#.  Even though an A# and Bb have the same PITCH, they are NOT the same note in terms of a scale or chord.  This shows an example of “Enharmonics“; one pitch with two names.

Literacy demands that we spell words correctly for their intended meaning.  Although they sound alike, the words “their” and “there” have different meanings.

Music is a Language, therefore the same Rules apply.

About DaveWelsch

New York State based First-Call Bass Player, Dave Welsch, has been been performing all styles of music for nearly 50 years. He most recently toured with Grammy Award winning artist, Victor Wooten, featured on Bass, Trumpet, Keyboards, and Vocals. He previously worked as Victor’s Tour Manager in 2005, 2007 and 2008.


10 thoughts on “How Many KEYS are there?

  1. John Luka

    I’ve always believed that 2 keys do not have flats, namely: C and E. I see you included a key – Cb. I’d like to know about it.
    Thank you.

    1. DaveWelsch Post author

      Thanks for writing, John.

      You are correct in saying that there are 2 Keys that have no Sharps or Flats, however you are only half right in the two that you list. The Key of C Major and its relative minor (a minor) are the correct answers.

      There are cold facts that must be observed in Music, just as there are fully accepted, cold facts in any spoken Language.
      It is vital that you understand these.

      Key signatures exist so that the half-steps are in the proper places in a Major scale: between the 3rd and 4th notes and the 7th and 8th (octave) notes. If the half-steps are not placed properly, the scale cannot be called Major.

      Please refer to the article once again to have a full understanding of this.

      As for your question about Cb Major, if the kay of C Major has no sharps nor flats then it follows that the key of Cb Major must have all flat notes. These (in correct order) are Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb, and Fb.

      I hope that helps you to better understand and presents you with a springboard to doing some research. I might suggest that this link may be a good starting point. Major Scale Structure” Wiki

      Have FUN!

      1. Frank Speer

        I’m confused, E# D# and B# = F Eb and C. I’ve never heard anyone count them as DISTINCT KEYS (they are the same 3 notes). I’ve never even heard them referred to as “E#, D# or B#.”

        How is the E# major or minor KEY different from F Major or minor?

        What am I missing?

        1. DaveWelsch Post author

          You are confusing the names of NOTES with the names of KEYS. There is, in fact, no E# Major Key.
          There is only 1 Key with no flats nor sharps and there are only 7 Major Keys derived from flats and 7 Major Keys derived from sharps. (They are listed in the article.

          Remember the concept of enharmonics. E# has the SAME PITCH as F, but is NOT the same note when it comes to spelling keys, scales and chords.

          Just like English class…. SPELLING COUNTS!

          Thanks for writing!

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  3. Brenna Kennedy-Moore

    Wouldn’t there really be 24 keys (counting relative minors) because of the three enharmonics- C sharp/D flat, F sharp/G flat, B and C flat? These keys are all the same notes but just named differently, so would you really count them twice?

    1. DaveWelsch Post author

      While that theory sounds like it makes sense, it isn’t correct. You must count them twice because they are different notes, even though the pitches are the same. A Db7 is not spelled that same as a C#7. If you’re playing in Db, the I chord is not a C#.

      It’s exactly like English…. spelling counts!

      Thanks for writing.

  4. Mike

    I remember going round and round with this at Wooten Woods. While the idea that there are exactly 30 keys can be said to be “correct” based on the convention of music terminology, I still question how that would be important or useful – it seems to me it is quite arbitrary, and not naturally significant. Why should just the Ionian and Aeolian modes get all the keys while all the other modes are just “tonalities”? It seems to me every mode represents a tonality. If you exclude tonality from the definition of a key, and limit yourself to a heptatonic/diatonic scale, then there would be 15 keys. If you include tonality in the definition of a key then there would be at least 105 keys. And if you include other pitch sequences or numbers of notes in the scale (such as chromatic, pentatonic, etc.) then there could be many other keys, including many that require nonstandard notation. The 30 major and minor keys are nice, but music is much bigger than that! 🙂

    1. davewelsch1 Post author

      Hey Mike…. Nice to hear from you. Thanks for writing and for your thoughts.

      In many ways, you’re correct, and I couldn’t agree with you more
      I often ask the question: “Which came first; The Music or the Rules?”
      The beautiful thing about Music Theory is that you only need to learn it if you need to learn it. 😉

      Yes, all modes create tonalities. The 30 keys that we are talking about here create the diatonic harmony that is generally accepted in Music in the Western World. You can certainly consider the 105 that you suggest, or the hundreds of scales, sequences, and Ragas, etc… from other parts of the world. Personally, I’d rather only think about 30!

      I never suggested that you only learn these “keys”. Nor am I suggesting that Music isn’t “much bigger than that”. It certainly is.
      It’s inspiring to consider that all that Music is created using only a limited number of notes.

      The English language follows a certain number of grammatical rules and generally accepted guidelines, but truly creative writing ventures outside of those ‘walls’ and often doesn’t define or create terms for those variances.

      I view the creation of Music in the same way.

      Hope to see you again at Wooten Woods. In the meantime…

      Pick up your instrument.
      Tune it.

      Have fun!


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