Music Theory: Circle of 5ths...
5ths

F

C

G

D

A

E

B

F#

C#

Ab

Eb

Bb

F


4ths

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

Ab

Db

Gb

Cb

E

A

D

G


5ths

F

C

G

D

A

E

B

F#

C#

Ab

Eb

Bb

F


4ths

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

Ab

Db

Gb

Cb

E

A

D

G


5ths

F

C

G

D

A

E

B

F#

C#

Ab

Eb

Bb

F


4ths

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

Ab

Db

Gb

Cb

E

A

D

G


5ths

F

C

G

D

A

E

B

F#

C#

Ab

Eb

Bb

F


4ths

G

C

F

Bb

Eb

Ab

Db

Gb

Cb

E

A

D

G


 
Geeks Note: If you have not studied the previous lessons in this series, please do so BEFORE you study this lesson. This lesson will draw on the previous lessons for knowledge and examples. If you do not have a basic understanding of Major Scales, Minor Scales, Intervals and the notes of the Equal Temperment Chromatic Scale then this lesson will not make much sense to you.


Learning Objectives
By the end of this lesson, here is what you should have learned:
  1. Find any Perfect 5th in your head (Remember Power Chords?).
  2. Have a BETTER understanding of how to create any musical Major Scale in your head.
  3. Understand and know the Order of Flats and Sharps.
  4. Will know all the Minor relative scales in your head.
  5. Will know how to find a Minor 2nd, Major 2nd, Minor 3rd, Major 3rd, Tritone, Minor 6th, Major 6th, Minor 7th and Major 7th in your head.
  6. Have the fundamentals of Western music Major/Minor scales and chords locked in your head for access anytime, anyplace.



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What is the Circle of 5ths?

The Circle of 5ths is a diagram that represents the consistent and unique relationship between the 12 Notes of the Chromatic Scale. It reveals how these notes relate to each other in Minor Scales, Major Scales and the Intervals of the 12 Tone Chromatic Scale. It is an easy to memorize diagram that will carry you through over half the musical theory you need to know in creating, understanding and communicating about music. The Circle of 5ths can be overwhelming when you first look at it but study this lesson carefully. We will break it down and by the time you are done, you will understand it easily.

The Circle of 5ths you will print out actually contains the Circle of 4ths as well (covered in the next lesson) along with information at your finger tips on Intervals, the order of flats and sharps and some basic Chord Construction (another lesson later).

I recommend you print out the smaller version and post on the wall/door/cat where you consistently practice your music. Print out another copy and put it in your gig bag ;-)


Some Basics...

There are some basic things you need to know for this lesson to make sense, aside from what you have already been taught.

First is the fact that it is a given practice that every Major Scale will always have every letter in the Major Scale (A-B-C-D-E-F-G). We will Sharpen or Flatten a note to remain true to this rule of thumb.

Because of this, some scales will have Sharps (#) and some scales will have Flats (b).

There is no Cb Major scale and no Fb Major Scale.

All whole note Major Scales contain Sharps, not flats, except for F Major Scale.

The F Major Scale is made up of flats, not sharps.

No Major or Minor Scale will ever have BOTH Flats and Sharps.

There is a unique and consistent relationship between the notes in all Major and Minor Scales. The Circle of 5ths and Circle of 4ths will reveal the power of these relationships.


Without further delay, The Circle of 5ths...



What it means when we call this circle the Circle of 5ths is that every note displayed, in a CLOCKWISE direction, is a Perfect 5th above the note preceeding it.

The Circle of 5ths starts at the C note at the twelve o'clock position.

The note following C is the note G. The note G is a Perfect 5th (seven intervals) above the letter C.

Lets look at the Chromatic Scale:
A - A# - B - C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G#


In this Chromatic Scale, starting at the note C, count seven intervals to the right. You will see that the seventh interval lands you on the G note. Just like in the diagram.

Continuing on from G in the Circle of fifths is the note D. If you count the intervals from G to D in the Chromatic Scale, you will see that this also is seven intervals or a Perfect 5th.

This continues on clockwise around the scale. In this diagram above, some notes are missing as they will be introduced in the next section, however, once included, they are always a Perfect 5th (seven intervals) above the preceeding note when moving in a CLOCKWISE direction. Always.

Do some calculations on the remaining notes in the diagram and you will see, indeed, they are all Perfect 5ths each clockwise step.

Now one thing to bring to your attention in case you get a little confused looking at the diagram (without having worked things out first). Near the bottom of the diagram you will see C# and F#. Lets do the math.

The note B in the Circle of 5th is followed by the note F#. Let's look at the Chromatic Scale again:
A - A# - B - C - C# - D - D# - E - F - F# - G - G#


If you count seven intervals from B you will get F#. Simple enough? Continuing along, seven intervals from F# is....drum roll please.... C#!






Circle of 5ths: Relative Minor Scales

On the INSIDE of the Circle of 5ths, you will see notes in lower case. The lower case note on the INSIDE of the Circle of 5ths is the Relative Minor Scale to the Major Scale the note on the OUTSIDE of the circle represents. For example, the relative Minor Scale to the C Major Scale is the A Minor Scale. On the Circle of 5ths, the lower case a which represents the A Minor Scale is on the inside of the circle adjacent to the C note.

What else does this tell us? It also tells us that the note on the INSIDE of the Circle of 5ths is a Major 6th above the note on the OUTSIDE of the Circle. The A note is indeed a Major 6th above the C note because it is nine intervals above the C note. This is how we define the Relative Minor Scale. The Relative Minor Scale is the 6th degree of a Major Scale. That is to say, the Relative Minor Scale is the Major 6th Scale of the Major Scales Root Note.

As well, the Relative Minor Scale references also follow the rule of Perfect 5ths going CLOCKWISE around the circle.

What the EASY way to remember the Relative Minor Scale? The Relative Minor Scale is a Major 6th above Root. Count three notes to the right in the Circle of 5ths and that is a Major 6th above Root AND it is also the Relative Minor Scale.


Circle of 5ths: Major Scale Construction from the Circle of 5ths

You can use the Circle of 5ths to construct any Major Scale with one additional piece of information. That is the Order of Flats and Sharps. The Order of Flats and Sharps follows a specific order that corresponds to the above Circle of 5ths. This will be explored momentarily. First the orders:

Order of Sharps

F# - C# - G# - D# - A# - E# - B#

Order of Flats

Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb - Cb - Fb


We can see above that the Order of Flats is exactly the same as the Order of Sharps but it is REVERSED.

If you have a hard time memorizing those Orders, here are a couple mnemonics for you to try:

Sharps: Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle
Flats: Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles' Father

Sharps Fit Charlie Gets Dinner After Exercising Body
Flats Body Exercising After Dinner Gets Charlie Fit


Using the Circle of 5ths and the Order of Sharps

First thing to remember, Circle of 5ths (CLOCKWISE) = Order of Sharps

We start our Major Scale construction at the twelve o'clock position. The C note.

In our lesson on Scales we covered the fact that the C Major Scale is all whole notes. There are no Flats or Sharps in the C Major Scale. So we can think of the C note position as the ZERO position on the Circle of 5ths. Lets move ONE position Clockwise.

Moving ONE position clockwise on the Circle of 5ths is the G note. Moving to the first note means that we also use the first note in the Order of Sharps (remember, we are going CLOCKWISE). This means to us that the G Major Scale has ONE sharp note, the first note of the Order of Sharps, the F note. This means that the G Major Scale is composed entirely of whole notes EXCEPT for the F note which we must make Sharp. Therefore, from the Circle of 5ths, I see that G note is one note from the ZERO POSITIONS (C) therefore the G Major Scale is:
G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - G

Look at the Chromatic Scale, count the intervals for the Major Scale (W-W-H-W-W-W-H) and you will see that this is correct.

Moving right along.... the second note from the ZERO position is the D note. Since it is two positions CLOCKWISE from the ZERO position, this means that when constructing the D Major Scale we use the first two notes of the Order of Sharps: F#, C#.

Therefore, simply by calling up the Circle of 5ths in our head we know that the D Major Scale is:
D - E - F# - G - A - B - C# - D


Remember what I said way back at the start of this lesson?

"... it is a given practice that every
Major Scale will always have every letter in the
Major Scale (A-B-C-D-E-F-G). We will Sharpen or Flatten a note
to remain true to this rule of thumb."


Continue doing this around the Circle of 5ths through to the F# and C# Major Scales. Do the math on the Chromatic Scale for these Major Scales and you will see that these match the order of Sharps. The C# Major Scale has only the B note whole and in the F# Major Scale ALL of the notes Sharp.


Wait a minute... Did you notice something?

Did you notice something about the Order of Sharps and the Circle of 5ths? Have a look at the Order of Sharps, then look at the Circle of 5ths. Do you understand now why I started the Circle of 5ths with the F note?

Scrap the mnemonics. The order of Sharps is also embeded in the Circle of 5ths. This thing keeps getting cooler and cooler eh?


Wait a minute... Did you notice something ELSE?

How many of you have looked at a sheet of music in Standard Notation and just crossed your eyes at the Flat and Sharp symbols? NO MORE!!

By using the Order of Flats and Sharps the mystery of Standard Notation is history. From now on you can look at the Key Signature (all those pesky Sharps and Flats) and tell IMMEDIATELY what Key the music is written in.

How?

Easy Peasy. Count them. Yes, thats it. Count the Sharps or count the Flats (standard notation will should never have both). Then count the notes in the Order of Sharps (or the Order of Flats), then count from the Zero positon on the Circle of 5ths (or the Circle of 4ths .. this portion will be explained for the Circle of 4ths and Order of Flats in the next lesson, on the Circle of 4ths). Here are some examples to illustrate:


This is the Key of A (A Major Scale). Looking at this standard notation I count THREE Sharps. Now I refer to the Circle of 5ths and I count THREE POSITIONS CLOCKWISE FROM THE ZERO POSITION. This takes me from C to G to D to A. Therefore I know that Standard Notation with THREE SHARPS is the A Major Scale.



This is the Key of G (G Major Scale). Looking at this standard notation I count ONE Sharp. Now I refer to the Circle of 5ths and I count ONE POSITION CLOCKWISE FROM THE ZERO POSITION. This takes me from C to G. Therefore I know that Standard Notation with ONE SHARP is the G Major Scale.



This is the Key of C# (C# Major Scale). Looking at this standard notation I count SEVEN Sharps. Now I refer to the Circle of 5ths and I count SEVEN POSITIONS CLOCKWISE FROM THE ZERO POSITION. This take me from C to G to D to A to E to B to F# to C#. Therefore I know that Standard Notation with SEVEN SHARPS is the C# Major Scale.



Circle of 5ths: Additional Secrets

Before we move on to the lesson on the Circle of 4ths, here are some additional secrets held in the Circle of 5ths. Shown below is the combined Circle of 5ths and Circle of 4ths. You will need it to fully appreciate these tidbits. For these tidbits, you don't need to start at the ZERO position, you can start with ANY NOTE on the CIRCLE, Major Scale OR Relative Minor Scales:



Count TWO positions CLOCKWISE, that is a Major 2nd above your starting position (remember, you can start ANYWHERE on the Circle).

For example, if you count TWO positions CLOCKWISE from the D note, you land on the E note. If you look at the Chromatic Scale you will see that E is two intervals above D or to say more musically, E is a Major 2nd above D.


Count FOUR Positions CLOCKWISE, that is a Major 3rd above your starting position.

For example, if you count FOUR positions CLOCKWISE from the F note, you land on the A note. If you look at the Chromatic Scale you will see that A is four intervals above F or to say more musically, A is a Major 3rd above F.


Count SIX Positions Clockwise (visually, the note OPPOSITE your starting note on the Circle of 5ths OR 4ths), that is a Tritone above your starting position.

Count it out on the Chromatic Scale. The Tritone, from our lesson on Intervals, is SIX INTERVALS from the starting position.


Count EIGHT Positions Clockwise (four to the left), that is a Minor 6th above your starting position.

Count it out on the Chromatic Scale. The Minor 6th, from our lesson on Intervals, is EIGHT INTERVALS from the starting position. The think you have to keep in mind when you are doing these steps around the circle is that you need to Sharpen your Flats. Remember, the MAJOR 6th is three positions Clockwise AND is the Relative Minor.


Count TEN Positions Clockwise (two to the left), that is a Minor 7th above your starting position.

Count it out on the Chromatic Scale. The Minor 7th, from our lesson on Intervals, is TEN INTERVALS from the starting position. Remember, Sharpen your Flats. That why the two flags on the left side show # in the Clockwise direction.Remember, the MAJOR 7th is eleven intervals so it is ALWAYS the note preceeding the starting note IN THE CHROMATIC SCALE, not on the Circle of 5ths.


The corresponding Relative Minor Scale, noted by the small note letter on the inside of the Circle of 5ths is ALSO a Major 6th above the starting note.


Count FIVE Positions Clockwise, that is a Major 7th above your starting position.


Learning Achievements

So long as you memorize the Circle of 5ths & the Chromatic Scale, you will be able to do the following:
  1. Find any Perfect 5th in your head
  2. Create any non-Flat Major Musical Scale in your head
  3. Find any Relative Minor Scale in your head
  4. Find all intervals in your head for ANY starting note (Minor 2nd, Major 2nd, Minor 3rd, Major 3rd, Perfect 4th, Tritone, Perfect 5th, Minor 6th, Major 6th, Minor 7th, Major 7th)
  5. Determine a musical key from the Key Signature in Standard notation, simply by counting the number of Sharps or Flats.
Let's move on to the Circleof 4ths, shall we?












© Aaron Gallagher