Music Theory: Circle of 4ths...
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 lesson on the Circle of 5ths, please do so now. If you do not have that lesson under your neck strap then this lesson will be mindless gibberish to you. This section provides the information on the Circle of 4ths, reviews the Circle of 4ths and 5ths (herein just called the Circle of 5ths) and provides you with a quick and easy study sheet that summarizes everything succinctly.


Learning Objectives
By the end of this lesson, here is what you should have learned:
  1. Find any Perfect 4th in your head (Remember Octaved Power Chords?).
  2. Understand and know the Order of Flats and Sharps.
  3. Know how to create the F Major Scale and any Flat Major Scale (i.e.: Cb Major Scale) in your head.
  4. Have a full working knowledge of how to use the Circle of 4ths and Circle of 5ths with your music.
  5. Be able to impress your friends and jam-mates to no end with how much musical knowledge is at your fingertips without ever opening a book.



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Both versions of the Circle of 5ths are © 2008 Jim Melanson. You have my permission to print and distribute in any manner you see fit so long as the items remain un-altered and Copyright notice remains intact.



What is the Circle of 4ths?

The Circle of 4ths is a diagram that represents a specific consistent and unique relationship between the 12 Notes of the Chromatic Scale. The Circle of 4ths 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 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...(yes, from the Circle of 5ths lesson, still relevant for the Circle of 4ths)

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.

The Circle of 4ths is identical to the Circle of 5ths, you just go in the opposite direction (COUNTER-Clockwise).


COUNTERCLOCKWISE = Circle of 4ths

CLOCKWISE = Circle of 5ths


Without further delay, The Circle of 4ths...



What it means when we call this circle the Circle of 5ths is that every note displayed, in a COUNTERCLOCKWISE direction, is a Perfect 4th above the note preceeding it.

The Circle of 4ths starts at the C note at the twelve o'clock position.

The note following C is the note F. The note F is a Perfect 4th (five intervals) above the C note.

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 five intervals to the left. You will see that the fifth interval lands you on the F note. Just like in the diagram.

Continuing on from F in the Circle of 4ths is the note Bb. If you count the intervals from F to Bb (aka A#) in the Chromatic Scale, you will see that this also is five intervals or a Perfect 4th.

This continues on COUNTERCLOCKWISE around the scale. In this diagram above, some notes are missing as they were introduced in the last lesson, however, once included, they are always a Perfect 4th (five intervals) above the preceeding note when moving in a COUNTERCLOCKWISE direction. Always.

Do some calculations on the remaining notes in the diagram and you will see, indeed, they are all Perfect 4ths each counter-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 Db and Gb. Lets do the math.

The note Ab in the Circle of 4ths is followed by the note Db. Let's look at the Chromatic Scale again:
A - A#(Bb) - B - C - C#(Db) - D - D#(Eb) - E - F - F#(Gb) - G - G#(Ab)


If you count five intervals from Ab you will get Db. Simple enough? Continuing along, five intervals from Db is....drum roll please.... Gb!






Circle of 4ths: Major Scale Construction from the Circle of 4ths

In the Circle of 5ths, we created the SHARPED Major Scales. We use the Circle of 4ths to created the FLATED Major Scales.

Again, we need to know the Order of Flats and Sharps. To refine this a bit though, simply remember that the Order of Sharps belong to the Circle of 5ths. The Order of Flats belongs to the Circle of 4ths.

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.

Using the Circle of 4ths and the Order of Flats

First thing to remember, Circle of 4ths (COUNTERCLOCKWISE) = Order of Flats

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 4ths. Lets move ONE position COUNTER Clockwise.

Moving ONE position COUNTER clockwise on the Circle of 4ths is the F note. Moving to the first note means that we also use the first note in the Order of Flats (remember, we are going COUNTER CLOCKWISE). This means to us that the F Major Scale has ONE FLAT note, the first note of the Order of Flats, the B note. This means that the F Major Scale is composed entirely of whole notes EXCEPT for the B note which we must make Flat. Therefore, from the Circle of 4ths, I see that F note is one note from the ZERO POSITIONS (C) therefore the F Major Scale is:
F - G - A - Bb - C - D - E - F

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.

This is usually the point were someone sticks up their hand, snorts through their nose and says, "Man, why don't you just call it A#?".

I take you back to what I said earlier...

"... 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."


It is the accepted practice and standard that you never name the same note twice in the Major or Minor musical scales. Therefore, in the case of the F Major Scale both the A and the next interval are part of the Major Scale. However, because of this accepted standard, we do not say it has A and A#. Instead, we say it has A and Bb. Don't try and argue around it. Thats just the way it is. Let it go. Accept it. Move on.



The second note from the ZERO position is the Bb note. Since it is two positions COUNTER CLOCKWISE from the ZERO position, this means that when constructing the Bb Major Scale we use the first two notes of the Order of Flats: Bb, Eb.

Therefore, simply by calling up the Circle of 4ths in our head we know that the Bb Major Scale is:
Bb - C - D - Eb - F - G - A - Bb


Again, the standard of naming each note comes into play for the Eb. Whole Step - Whole Step - Half Step from Bb brings you to a Minor 2nd above D. Normally you would call this D Sharp, however, because of the fact we already have D in the scale AND because of this standard way of writing scales, we know that we must call the Minor 2nd above D the note Eb and not D#.



Continue doing this around the Circle of 4ths through to the Gb and Cb Major Scales. Do the math on the Chromatic Scale for these Major Scales and you will see that these match the order of Flats. These two actually caused me a lot of confusion initially, I hadn't wrapped my head around flattening notes, including flattening sharp notes. Here are more visual representations to illustrate the creation of the Gb and Cb Major Scales. Still, however, knowing the Circle of 4ths and the Order of Flats, we can still confidently create these Major Scales in our heads (the illustrations here are what will allow you to do it confidently).

The Gb Major Scale has only the F note whole:

F# G G# A A# B C C# D D# E F F#
Gb   Ab   Bb Cb   Db   Eb   F Gb
    W   W H   W   W   W H



In the Cb Major Scale ALL of the notes are Flat:

B C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B
Cb   Db   Eb Fb   Gb   Ab   Bb Cb
    W   W H   W   W   W H



Wait a minute... Remember in the Circle of 5ths when I talked about Standard Notation?

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 on the Standard Notation, then count from the Zero positon on the Circle of 4ths. Here are some examples to illustrate:


This is the Key of F (F Major Scale). Looking at this standard notation I count ONE Flat. Now I refer to the Circle of 4ths and I count ONE POSITION COUNTERCLOCKWISE FROM THE ZERO POSITION. This takes me from C to F. Therefore I know that Standard Notation with ONE FLAT is the F Major Scale.



This is the Key of Eb (Eb Major Scale). Looking at this standard notation I count THREE Flats. Now I refer to the Circle of 4ths and I count THREE POSITIONS COUNTERCLOCKWISE FROM THE ZERO POSITION. This takes me from C to F to Bb to Eb. Therefore I know that Standard Notation with THREE FLATS is the G Major Scale.



This is the Key of Cb (Cb Major Scale). Looking at this standard notation I count SEVEN FLATS. Now I refer to the Circle of 4ths and I count SEVEN POSITIONS COUNTERCLOCKWISE FROM THE ZERO POSITION. This take me from C to F to Bb to Eb to Ab to Db to Gb to Cb. Therefore I know that Standard Notation with SEVEN FLATS is the Cb Major Scale.


NOTE: Sharps on Standard Notation and the Circle of 5ths were explained in the previous lesson, on the Circle of 5ths


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. Find any Perfect 4th in your head
  3. Create any Whole Note Musical Scale, Sharp Note Musical Scale or Flat Note Major Musical Scale in your head
  4. Find any Relative Minor Scale in your head for Whole Note, Sharp Note and Flat Note Musical Scales
  5. 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)
  6. Determine a musical key from the Key Signature in Standard notation, simply by counting the number of Sharps or Flats.
Phewww. Pat yourself on the back. YOU RAWK!












© Aaron Gallagher