Why is this? Surely an intrinsic part of teaching someone music is giving them the tools to then go away and be able to interpret the music yourself? Isn't it? As a teacher I would feel awful if any pupil of mine went away not understanding anything other than learning by rote.
Anyway, as a remedy to my ignorance, I have decided to start re-learning my music theory with the end goal of taking A-Levels in music and music technology. This is quite a scary step because in some ways it feels like I'm going backwards, having already spent three very long years studying for a degree. I am very lucky to be able to ask my friends and Mum for help with my music theory marathon, and have been using the ABRSM Grade 5 Theory practice papers as a baseline, along with The Pink Book of Doom (otherwise known as The AB Guide to Music Theory - sorry Eric Taylor).
A major part of this has been reformatting the way I look at sharps and flats. Mum and I had a session looking at them and the so-called Circle of Fifths. She doesn't like the Circle, instead, we have a line of fifths which for some reason is a lot easier to understand, and helps you see the areas you can modulate in as well, so thanks Mum! Also, it never twigged until recently that the reason it's called a Circle of Fifths is because every step is five notes higher/lower than the one preceding it, sounds stupid - but I didn't realise. Hence the idiot's guide.
Another easy way to remember how many sharps a key has is this:
How many 'lines' does the letter representing the note have?
G - 1 line = 1#
D - 2 lines = 2#
A - 3 lines = 3#
E - 4 lines = 4#
B - 5 lines = 5#
So you use the number of lines that make up the letter to identify how many sharps the corresponding key has. I like this because it is an easy and foolproof way for my brain to remember, complicated is not my thing.
Now to look up the flats....