As an individual interested in music, have you ever heard of the circle of fifths? No matter if you intend to study the compositions of the greats or create your own, this course can revolutionize the way you approach music. 

What is the circle of fifths?

circle of fifthsImage Source: en.wikipedia.org

This geometric representation illustrates the relationship between the tones, pitches, and major and minor keys of the chromatic scale. The chromatic scale contains 12 pitches equally distanced in a graduated system. The capitalized letters on the outer edge of the circle represent the major keys (C, G, D, A, E, B/C flat, G flat/F sharp, D flat/C sharp, A flat, E flat, B flat, and F). The corresponding minor keys lie within the circle, typically lowercase (a, e, f sharp, c sharp, g sharp, e flat/d sharp, b flat, f, c, g, and d).

If you go clockwise around the circle, each consequent key is a fifth above the preceding one. For instance, the fifth note on the scale C Major is G, the fifth note on the G Major scale is D, and so on. If you go counterclockwise, each key is a fourth above the preceding. Thus, F is the fourth note on the C Major scale and B flat is the fourth on the F Major scale.

The circle of fifths also takes note of key signature, or the set of sharp and flat symbols beside the clef in musical notation, in each major key. A sharp symbol raises a note one semitone higher than the natural while a flat symbol lowers a natural note by one semitone. The Major C key contains no sharps or flats. Progressing clockwise around the circle from G Major to D Sharp/C Flat, each key has an additional sharp, from the former with 1 to the latter with 7. Going counterclockwise produces a similar pattern but with flats, from the key of F Major with 1 flat to the key of B/C flat with 7 flats.

In order to best utilize the circle of fifths, a mastery of the tool is essential and memorization is helpful. If you have a very minimal understanding of this musical mechanism, a course like Master Circle Of Fifths to Find Keys – Jin’s Theory will complement this brief summary to ensure that you understand it correctly. 

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If you are slightly more experienced with either the circle of fifths or music theory in general, a course such as Music Theory Comprehensive: Part 3 – Minor Keys and More will expand your knowledge to complement previous familiarity. As the circle of fifths can completely transform your approach to music, the better you understand this tool, the more effective musician, analyst, and composer you can become.

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How is the circle of fifths helpful?

circle of fifthsImage Source: voiceleading.wordpress.com

The western world often utilizes the circle of fifths in the analysis and creation of music. This geometric representation can introduce new students to foundational musical terms and concepts. It can also serve as a memory tool for the more experienced musicians and composers.

This graphic forces you to become familiar with the musical scales. For one, it helps you to decipher key signatures. You can look at the number of flats or sharps in the signature to quickly determine the key of a song. Then, once you know the key of a song, you do not need to continue referring back to the key signature, but can remember the flats and sharps.

Also, with the assistance of the circle of fifths, you only need to know the C Major scale in order to determine the notes in each of the other scales. Each progressive major key around the circle differs by one note. For instance, the C Major scale is: C D E F G A B C while the the F Major scale is: F G A Bb C D E F. The only difference between these two scales is the B versus the B flat. In order to determine the sequence of notes in each major key, you simply go counterclockwise around the circle and decrease the 7th note by a semitone, or half a step. B is the 7th note on the C Major scale and since a flat lowers a note by a semitone, the proceeding F Major scale has a B flat instead.  

This graphic provides a foundation to music theory, as exemplified above. The circle of fifths is also essential in writing music as it helps when composing melodies, finding harmonies, shifting keys, and selecting chord progressions. Becoming aware of such relationships helps you to know which notes will combine well without even having to hear them.

A knowledge of the circle of fifths can revolutionize your experience with music. Whether you approach music as a student, composer, or just an interested individual, this geometric representation increases your understanding of major and minor keys, key signatures, and more. Wielding such information allows you to efficiently encounter music in an entirely new way.