Circle of fifths min

The Circle of Fifths - Music Theory

The circle of fifths is the way the 12 musical notes of the chromatic scale are arranged following a sequence of perfect fifths (7 semitones). It helps visualizing relationships between notes and better understanding diatonic harmony.

The circle of fifths provides the possibility to play all the notes of the western music. Every note resolves to another note a fifth above it. Meaning that by following the circle of fifths (clockwise), you play all the notes separated from each other by seven semitones. When following the circle of fifths counterclockwise, the notes are organized in fourths (C, F, Bb, Eb, etc).

Circle of fifths

Outer Circle - Circle of Fifths - Clockwise

Starting with C and moving clockwise we get the 12 notes of the chromatic scale separated from each other by a perfect fifth:

Scale C G D A E B/Cb F#/Gb C#/Db Ab Eb Bb F
Number of sharps/flats 0 1# 2# 3# 4# 5#/7b 6#/6b 7#/5b 4b 3b 2b 1b

List of Sharps

Notice that the C major scale has not sharps. When moving clockwise around the circle of fifths, you see that each subsequent scale adds a sharp. G major contains 1 sharp (F#), D major has two sharps (F# - C#), etc. You can also see that each next scale contains the same sharps as the previous one.

Keys Number of Sharps Notes
C 0 ----
G 1 F#
D 2 F# - C#
A 3 F# - C# - G#
E 4 F# - C# - G# - D#
B 5 F# - C# - G# - D# - A#
F# 6 F# - C# - G# - D# - A# - E#
C# 7 F# - C# - G# - D# - A# - E# - B#

Outer Circle - Circle of Fourths - Counterclockwise

Starting with C and moving counterclockwise we get the 12 notes of the chromatic scale separated from each other by a perfect fourth:

Scale C F Bb Eb Ab Db/C# Gb/F# Cb/B E A D G
Number of sharps/flats 0 1b 2b 3b 4b 5b/7# 6b/6# 7b/5# 4# 3# 2# 1#

List of Flats

By moving counterclockwise following the circle of fourths you get a serie of flats, once again you see that each subsequent scale adds a flat. F major contains one flat, Bb contains two flats, etc.

Keys Number of Flats Notes
C 0 ---
F 1 Bb
Bb 2 Bb - Eb
Eb 3 Bb - Eb - Ab
Ab 4 Bb - Eb - Ab - Db
Db 5 Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb
Gb 6 Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb - Cb
Cb 7 Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb - Cb - Fb

 

Here is a short guitar exercise with a free PDF for playing major 9 arpeggios following the cycle of fourths.

Enharmonic Notes

As you can see at the bottom of the circle, some notes can have two different names in order to with the naming convention of the major scale.

  • Db is the enharmonic equivalent of C#
  • Gb is the enharmonic equivalent of F#.
  • Cb is the enharmonic equivalent of B.

Relative Minor Keys

The inner circle of the circle of fifths is made of relative minors of the major keys in the outer circle. Relative minors contains the same notes and key signatures as its relative major scale. The relative minor is always found at the sixth degree of the major scale. Example with C major, just count six (C-D-E-F-G-A) and you get its relative minor (Am).

Major Keys C G D A E Cb/B Gb/F# Db/C# Ab Eb Bb F
Relative Minor Keys Am Em Bm F#m C#m G#m/Abm Ebm/D#m Bbm/A#m Fm Cm Gm Dm

 

 

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