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Circle Of Fifths Help

Updated on June 24, 2013

What is a circle of fifths? and, what is THE circle of fifths?

The circle of fifths is basically a list of notes that have been arranged in a way that shows how they interact with another list of notes. The nearer the notes are to each other, the closer their relationship is and this is summed up with: Through the notes that major keys and their relative minor keys are set within.

The circle of fifths is also used to find how many sharps or flats are in the chosen key signature.

The circle of fifths can only be used to find major or minor key signatures.

I find a picture in conjunction with a word explanation can do wonders to explain this better.

Lets carry on and lift the curtain and you will feel the warm fuzzy feeling of inspiration and motivation mix.

A deeper explaination of the Circle Of Fifths

Why is it called the Circle Of Fifths? Count: 1, 2, 3, 4... 5!

Now, pick a note, any note.. C you say? Please count five letters forward from C, in your own time. C being one, D being two, and so on.

"Aha!" as Mr Partridge might say, we have ourselves a G.

The next door neighbours of G are C & D. These notes and keys, as well as the minor keys: E, A & B (indicated in the picture below), are closely related due to their key signatures.

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

Major keys and their Relative Minor keys

Major keys and their relative minor keys both have the exact same key signatures. To put in it very basically:

C Major: C, D, E, F, G, A, B

A Minor: A, B, C, D, E, F, G

and so on..

Using the circle of fifths to find which notes are sharp and which notes are flat

I use two ways to do this. There are probably more but if I give you two you will be able to see things clearer. And that is what everybody is looking for, right?

For major scales, the first way for finding is as follows; we have two scales, one is built off of counting five notes from the F and the other is built from counting four notes off of the B. It really helps to view this in picture format. So be sure to have the provided picture handy, printed or otherwise.

We start with C at the top as the C major scale does not have any sharps or flats.


FCGDAEB (order of sharps #)

BEADGCF (order of flats b)

Using these, we can find out how many sharps or flats a scale has.

Finding sharps for instance - C has 0 sharps, G has one, D has two, A has three, and so on..

But how do you know WHICH notes are the sharp notes? Take a look at: FCGDAEB.

G has one sharp as it is in the first place after C. The FCGDAEB is a list of sharps for us.

The G major scale is: G, A, B, C, D, E, F#, G which gives us the first letter in the order of sharps. G is the first letter after C so it has one sharp.

The A major scale is: A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G# which gives us the first three letters in the order of sharps. A is the third letter after C so it has three sharps.

The chosen scale's note order remains the same, as it always will. The list of sharps are added to the scales notes. These are dictated by the circle, which is separated by five notes we have counted out, CGDAEB.

Looking at this written down will possibly be tying your head in knots. As you probably have guessed, you will need to have this all in visual form while reading for the clearest understanding.

The exact same calculations happen when working out minor key signatures. We just put the A below the C.

Why is the Circle Of Fifths important?

The main reason we should learn the circle of fifths is because it helps us learn all the key signatures of each scale. The other reason is when we are playing with others and someone whispers - for a change - "let's play in A major", you will know that there will be three sharps and you will know where they are due to the circle of fifths; allowing you to play better and more spontaneously with others. But the another reason, which I am sure you have wondered why I have not mentioned, is that these scales which we now understand help us to construct chords; by finding the notes from the scales.

G Major chord = G, B & D

Also, if you liked a song and thought that you yourself, for whatever reason, would like to write a song in the same key, or, you were simply curious as to what key a song was in, you could work out the key quite easily by counting the sharps or flats.

1 - 3 - 5 (Major) / 1 - 5 (Power Chord)

G, A, B, C, D, E, F#
G Major
G, B, D, (G, B, G)
" --------------------- "
G Power Chord
G, D, G
A, B, C#, D, E, F#, G#
A Major
A, C#, E (A, E)
A Power Chord
A, E, A

Last, but by no means least.. A little bit of comedy to have you laughing


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      Matt 4 years ago

      Some great info for the people starting out or wanting to refresh their memory. "I'll be back..."

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      Eddie 4 years ago

      Hah! The video at the end was great! - The other info was very helpful as well. Thanks