Circle of Five


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The Basic Building Blocks of the Circle of Fifths

But which notes are flat or sharp in a key? For sharp keys clockwise on the circle of fifths , read the mnemonic device forward. For example, the circle of fifths tells us that there are 3 sharps in the key of A major. Which three notes are sharp? The first three notes in the mnemonic device: F ather , C harles , and G oes. For flat keys counter-clockwise on the circle of fifths , read the mnemonic device backwards.

Different revisions and improvements were made by Nikolay Diletsky in the s, and Johann David Heinichen in , until finally we reached the version we have today.

What can I learn from the circle of fifths?

Starting at the top in C major and moving clockwise, the adjacent keys are the most similar to each other; the only difference between C major and G major is the addition of an F sharp, and to get to the next key, D major, you just add a C sharp. As you go round the circle clockwise you keep adding sharps, until you get to C sharp major, which has a whopping seven sharps.


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Counter-clockwise you keep adding flats, right the way round to the heavily be-flatted C flat major. Finally, nestled snugly inside the major circle you find the relative minor keys - which have all the same accidentals as their major counterparts. Well, you can use the Circle of Fifths to figure out a chord progression in any key, and then take this knowledge and create your own chord progressions by experimenting with different patterns. C is what degree of the F major scale?

Care to take a guess before I tell you the answer? To create a G7, we need to use G as the first. So, the third would be B.

Key signatures

What about the fifth? Just look at the circle of fifths. That means the seventh is F. This is just another way of thinking about the same process we used with C to create major, minor and dominant seventh chords. The major scale is already a great tool for helping you identify effective chord progressions, but the circle of fifths could certainly be used for the same purpose. The closer they are on the diagram, the more closely related they are.

What about the vi chord? So, when looking at the circle of fifths diagram, look at where the relative minor is notated. Major, minor, minor, major, major, minor and diminished. Once you know how the formula works, you can apply it to other keys and explore various chord combinations on your own. In particular, the use of a diminished chord can be tenuous in most musical contexts, but it does have its place. And, more recently, it was used quite a bit in 80s and 90s music, and in my opinion, to great effect.

As you can imagine, a sudden change can be jarring and weird for the listener. C and F are closely related, so shifting between them should prove easier than moving from C to Ab, as an example. One way is to gradually introduce that Bb note or maybe even a well-placed Bb chord into your song.

If you never introduced it in your chord progression, melody or harmony, then technically the key of the song is still open ended until you bring that Bb into the picture. Another way is to utilize common chord modulation. At other times, direct modulation can work too. This involves jumping from your home key to your target key, usually without a lot of context.

Then, they pick up in another key, maybe a whole step above where they started. And, you can certainly take artistic license when it comes to modulation. This jump is kind of a big one looking at the circle of fifths. The one thing the two keys have in common is the Bb or A note, but the similarities mostly end there. The chorus retains a little bit of that F sound, but the only natural note in the key of F is B.

The E5 and A5 are out of place. A case could be made for this section being in the key of F m, thus making it an altered common chord modulation turning the F into an F m, which is only implied to begin with. Based on note choice, we can say that this section is in Em with a fair bit of certainty. This section is a drastic jump from F m to Em. The good news is it comes after a shot like the one described above, so that kind of clears the way for that shift.

Transposing simply means moving the song from one key to another. Note: this is different from modulation. Modulation is about introducing a different key in the same song. Transposing is about playing the same song in a different key from start to finish. There are various reasons for transposing. Admittedly, transposing can sometimes be a bit of pain because it means shifting all the riffs, licks and chords to different positions, fingerings, etc.

The leader or singer suddenly announces the key is too high or too low.

How To ACTUALLY Use The Circle Of Fifths

Cue the groans as the band realizes what that means — the need to transpose. Transposing will likely mean moving everything up or down one or more frets. If you have a capo, that makes transposing up easy, but transposing down can be a different matter. What does it mean for a pianist?

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It usually means adjusting the number of black keys being used in the song. But it can help you quickly identify how many sharps or flats are in a certain key. But there are ways to memorize the circle of fifths that can be helpful, and it can further ingrain the concept in your mind. If you start at the top of the circle with C, and move one space to the right to the next key signature, what happens?

You add a sharp, right? The key of Ab has four flats. So, the keys of B and Cb, as well as Db and C are the same, but the number of sharps and flats they contain is not. Fortunately, the key of F has six sharps and the key of Gb also has six flats, so at least the bottom of the circle is clean and simple. This is essentially the exact method we used to figure out the notes in the C major scale using the circle. And so on.

We can also use it to determine which notes become flats in what key. The relative minor of C is A. You may recall that the A minor scale contains the same notes as the C major scale, only in a different order. But hold on a second.

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The circle of fifths explained: how to use it in your guitar playing | Guitarworld

Because there are seven notes in the scale, there are also seven modes. So, what? And, each mode has a specific tonal quality to it. The right modal progressions can bring out the unique characteristics of whatever mode you happen to be playing. Although you would need to reorder the notes, that just so happens to be the C Lydian mode. And, based on the presence of the F , we can conclude that the C Lydian mode is a derivation of the G Ionian mode G major scale.

If you know how the Lydian mode connects to other modes of the major scale, you can easily identify all the modes in that key. Use the chart above to see what discoveries you can make for yourself. The entire time you should be mindful of where the fifth degree in the scale is. That way, you can play this exercise without even looking at the circle of fifths.

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Now, you should try this in the opposite direction. You can play this exercise every day, several times per day, until you feel comfortable with each scale. But the rules can sometimes be constraining. And, if you stay in that space long enough, you might get into a rut. The rules are meant to be broken.


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They offer a great starting point, but where you take it from there is entirely up to you. Also remember that the circle of fifths gives you easy access to all related keys.

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