You have probably seen the diagram above and wondered what it has to do with music or guitar playing.

Actually that diagram has a lot to do with music and understanding the way scales are made and the amount of flats and sharps each scale has.

This circle is also an indispensable tool for analyzing chord progressions and seeing what notes is each chord made of.

By the end of this article you will know what it is to know and how to master the circle of fifths.

How does the circle of fifths (or circle of fourths) work ?

The twelve roots (of roots or keys) are shown around the circle.

If you follow them counterclockwise, each roots is a 4th higher than the one before it – that is why it is called the circle of 4ths.

If you follow them clockwise each root is a 5th higher than the one before it – that is why it is called a circle of 5 fifths.

Complete scales constructed using both circle of fifths and circle of fourths.

Most jazz studies are taught using the circle of fourths so it will be good to practice the diagram using the circle of fourths approach ( don’t worry I will show you how to practice the circle of fifths for best results further in this article).

The circle of fourths

  • C D E F G A B C
  • F G A Bb EC D E F
  • Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
  • Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb
  • Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
  • Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db
  • Gb Ab Bb B Db Eb F Gb
  • B C# D# E F# G# A# B
  • E F# G# A B C# D# E
  • A B C# D E F# G# A
  • D E F# G A B C# D
  • G A B C D E F# G
  • C D E F G A B C

The circle of fifths

  • C D E F G A B C
  • G A B C D E F# G
  • D E F# G A B C# D
  • A B C# D E F# G# A
  • E F# G# A B C# D# E
  • B C# D# E F# (or Gb) G# A# B
  • Gb Ab Bb B Db Eb F Gb
  • Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Db
  • Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
  • Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb
  • Bb C D Eb F G A Bb
  • F G A Bb EC D E F
  • C D E F G A B C

So above you have the scales written using both clockwise and counterclockwise. The question that probably pops in your mind now is how to master them in the most effective way.

By analyzing the scales above you will notice that in the circle of 5 ths column when I wrote the B major scale I wrote Gb in brackets next to the F#. The reason I did that is because Gb is the enharmonic correspondent of F#. In plain english this means that F# is the same thing as Gb. So when you reach Gb or F# switch the sharps and flats between them.

When you write down the scales it is a good idea to use sharps where notes are not altered and use flats when the root note has a flat.

How to master the circle of fifths (or fourths)

First approach (It has to be done AWAY from your instrument).

1. Take a piece of paper and start writing all the scales using the approach you want. ( I personally used the circle of fourths when I learned this stuff, for no particular reason because both approaches show you the same notes, only the way you write them differs).

2. Construct all the scales on all keys using the circle at least 5 times a day and you will see soon that you will memorize them by heart.

BONUS ADVICE

When writing them try to listen to some classical baroque music because it has been shown scientifically that be listening classical music that has a 60 to 64 bmp you will be able to concentrate better and expand your learning and memorizing skills.

I was skeptical when I first learned this but after I tried it I can say I became classical addict when it comes to reading and writing (I am listening to Vivaldi – The four seasons as I am writing this article :) ).

When I write down the circle of fifths I usually listen to Vivaldi – the four seasons or Beethoven – Moonlight sonata, just figure out what piece of classical music you like and just go with the flow.

These are 2 funny little phrases that can help you memorize the circle much easier.

In order to remember which order that the sharps and flats, just use the following sentences:

For fifths : Fat Cats Go Dancing At Eds Broiler

From this you can say that if you know the key of E major has four sharps, the mnemonic shows which sharps they are (F,C,G,D)

For fourths: The mnemonic for flats is ‘Boogie Ends And Down Go Cats Fast’

Or you can make your own choice of words, just see what work best for you.

So develop the habit of writing the circle 5 times a day and you will see results in no time. Good Luck !

Second approach ( this has to be done with your instrument)

This approach is very useful for technique, ear training and fret board visualization.

1. Chose a note a day from the circle ( it is a good idea to start with C and go clockwise or counterclockwise as you wish)

2. Play the scale telling the scale notes as you play them. Do this until you can say them fluidly back and forth.

3. After you can tell the note names fluidly you may just hum the notes as you play them for a better ear development.

4. You may also play along with different scale shapes as you do this exercise.

5. Devote at least 15 minutes a day in which you chose 1 note a day and start constructing scales until you complete the circle.

The circle of fifths conclusion

Although it may seem difficult at first, by doing the exercises above daily you will see that they will start to become second nature and you will know them by heart shortly.

If have any problem with learning the circle of fifths just leave me a comment and i will do my best to answer you the best i can.

In the end i would like to wish you good luck with your circle of fifths practice

Learn And Master The Circle Of Fifths (Or Circle Of Fourths)
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