Understanding this ‘Code-Breaker’ will instantly double your musical IQ.

Few concepts in music are more misunder stood than the Circle of Fifths,but trust me, you owe it to yourself to invest 15 minutes, grab a Starbucks, and check this out; for every serious musician it’s a total ‘Game-Changer’ — READ ON…

STEP #1: Let’s build one from scratch; it’ll take 60 seconds max, and it’s the best way to grasp the concept. Grab pencil and paper and Let’s Do This! Go ahead, I’ll wait…

OK, ready? Draw a ‘clock face’; start with a circle and put a short line where each of the numbers would be.

STEP #2: Put a letter ‘C’ at the top where the 12 would be on a clock. Then go down the right side (clockwise) and add each letter for each key moving upward by fifths; C-G-D-A-E-B-F#.

Do the same going down the left side of the Circle (counter-clockwise) adding the name of each key moving downward by fifths; C-F-Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-Gb. Notice that F# and Gb (actually enharmonic spellings of the same pitch) both end up together right at the bottom of your circle, where the 6 would be on a clock face.

STEP #3: Your almost done! Now add a small zero below the ‘C’ at the top (because the key of ‘C’ has no sharps or flats). Next, go down the right side and add 1-2-3-4-5-6; then go down the left side and add 1-2-3-4-5-(6). These numbers tell you the number of sharps and flats in each key; sharp keys on the right side and flat keys on the left side. Notice again at the bottom, where F# and Gb live together, they both have a ‘6’ — F# has 6 sharps and Gb has 6 flats. Now you know how many sharps and flats are in every major key… BANG!

HOT TIP:
Wanna remember the progression of keys?

Upward by fifths =
Christmas Giving Devours An Enormous Bite Financially

Downward by fifths =
Circle of Fifths Becomes Easy After Drawing the Graphic!

STEP #4: Every layer you add will give you more info/intel/insight. Next to the ‘G’ and the ‘1’ put ‘F#’ — that’s because in the key of ‘G’ the 1 sharp is ‘F#’. Next to the ‘D’ and the ‘2’ put ‘F#-C#’ — that’s because in the key of ‘D’ the 2 sharps are ‘F#’ and ‘C#’. See the pattern? As you go down the right side of the Circle the next sharp you add is always the 7th; a half step below the next key – and the pattern of sharps proceeds upward by fifths just like the keys do. Using that pattern finish the right side.

Wow, you’re cruisin’ now! Let’s tackle the left side of the Circle. Next to the ‘F’ and the ‘1’ put ‘Bb’ — that’s because in the key of ‘F’ the 1 flat is ‘Bb’. Next to the ‘Bb’ and the ‘2’ put ‘Bb-Eb’ — that’s because in the key of ‘Bb’ the 2 flats are ‘Bb’ and ‘Eb’. See the pattern? As you go down the left side of the Circle the next flat you add is always the 4th of the next key (plus the new flat in each key is the name of the next key below – example: Key of Bb- new flat = Eb. Next key going down the left side? Eb!) This pattern of flats proceeds downward by fifths just like the keys do. Use that pattern to finish the left side.

HOT TIP:
Wanna remember the progression of sharps and flats?

Progressions of sharps =
Father Christmas Gave Dad An Electric Blanket
or…
Fat Cats Get Drunk At Eddie’s Bar

Progression of flats =
[just like sharps only backwards!]
Blanket Exploded And Dad Got Cold Feet
or…
Big Eddie Always Drinks Gin Cocktails on Fridays

STEP #5: You’re definitely on a roll now! Ready for another bombshell? For every major key, there is a relative minor key that shares the same key signature. You can always find the relative minor key 3 half tones below the relative major key. Example: In the key of ‘C major’ go down 3 half tones from ‘C’ to the relative minor key of ‘A minor’. To say it another way, the relative minor key starts on the 6th degree of the relative major scale. Example: In the key of ‘C major’ the 6th scale degree is ‘A’, so the relative minor key is ‘A minor’.

Underneath ‘C’ on your Circle of Fifths diagram write ‘Am’ to show the relative minor key of ‘A minor’. Then continue and write in all the relative minor keys.

Just the facts, Ma’am…

Sharp Keys (fig.1)
Start at the top of the Circle with C major and go clockwise:

  • Each new key is a fifth higher than the one before.
  • Each new key adds one new sharp as you go around the Circle.
  • Each new sharp is always the 7th degree of the new key.
    • Order of the sharp keys: C-G-D-A-E-B-F
    • Order of new sharps added: F#-C#-G#-D#-A#-E#

Flat Keys (Fig.2)
Start at the top of the Circle with C major and go counterclockwise:

  • Each new key is a fifth lower than the one before.
  • Each new key adds one new flat as you go around the circle.
  • Each new flat is always the 4th degree of the new key.
    • Order of the flat keys: C-F-Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-Gb
    • Order of new flats added: Bb-Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Cb

BONUS EXTRAS – This thing is Magic!
Looking for the new sharp in a key? Just look 2 steps counter-clockwise. Example: What’s the new sharp in ‘E major’? 2 steps counter-clockwise is ‘D’; it’s D#!

Looking for the new flat in a key? Just look 1 step clockwise. Example: What’s the new flat in ‘Ab major’? 1 step clockwise is ‘D’; it’s Db!

Looking for the relative minor key? Just look 3 steps clockwise. Example: What’s the relative minor key of ‘G major’? Look 3 steps clockwise and you find ‘E’; it’s ‘E minor’!

Looking for the primary triads in a key? Just look 1 step clockwise and 1 step counter-clockwise. Example: What are the primary triads in ‘A major’? 1 step clockwise is ‘E’ and 1 step counter-clockwise is ‘D’; so the primary triads are A-E-D!

Pick any key — the key on the opposite side of the Circle will always be a tritone away. Example: ‘C’ on the top to F# on the bottom is a tritone away.

Don’t let your brain explode…

  • The upper tetrachord (the top four notes) of the C major scale is exactly the same as the lower tetrachord of the G major scale – this pattern continues through the sharp keys:
    • The upper tetrachord of G is the lower tetrachord of D;
    • the upper tetrachord of D is the lower tetrachord of A;
    • the upper tetrachord of A is the lower tetrachord of E, etc.

Conversely…

  • The lower tetrachord of the C major scale is exactly the same as the upper tetrachord of the F major scale – this pattern continues through the flat keys:
    • The lower tetrachord of F is the upper tetrachord of B-flat;
    • the lower tetrachord of B-flat is the upper tetrachord of E-flat;
    • the lower tetrachord of E-flat is the upper tetrachord of A-flat, etc.

The mind boggles!

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