Please explain the Circle of Fifths

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djhollowman
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I've read a little about it, but I just don't get it! Someone please enlighten me! Many thanks! :D
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another virtuoso
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its simple.
the circle of fifths lets you know what notes are contained within each key.

starting with C at the top of the circle, it goes in a circle of fifths (aka intervals of five)

after C you have G.
CdefG
12345

from G to D
GabcD
12345

from D to A
DefgA
12345

and so on.

the purpose of the circle of fifths is for you to know what notes are sharp or flat in each key.
in C you have no sharps or flats, so it is blank. in G you have one sharp (F#). a fifth from G is D and in that key you have an additional sharp (C#) so you know F and C are sharp in the key of D.
moving on to from D to the key of A, you have one more note which is sharp (G#). so in the key of A the F C and G is sharp.
etc.
so for every additional fifth you travel around the circle, you will add a sharp or flat to that key.
if your circle of fifths chart doesnt tell you what notes are sharp/flat, play a major scale in that key and see which ones are sharp/flat for yourself by counting out each note as you play it.
this is a very useful thing to have memorized, by the way.

make sense?
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Ricardo
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You can also use it to show you what type of chords are used in a key or share a key signature. for example look at this:

http://www.carolinaclassical.com/scales/circle2.jpg

If you turn the wheel or circle so that the major chord is at top, you can imagine a group of 6 chords that work with a particular key or key signature. For example if you have A at the top instead of C, then in the key or A or F#minor (or any thing with 3#'s) you can use the chords D, A, E, and Bm, F#m and C#m.

So the circle is a great tool for relating scales to chords, or key signatures to a progression, so you understand how melodies complement the best.

For example, if you had a tune with chords that go Bb, C, Gm, C. Then looking at the wheel, you know the key sig that relates all the chords is one flat (ABbCDEFG), the same as F major or Dminor, even though those chords never happen in the progression.

Also if you have a tune that has the chords GAD, Bm, Em, Then suddenly C (or D7) to G, Then you can say for the first part you have 2 #'s like the key of D, but when that other chord outside of the 6 kicks in, you have to change scale, or a key change is implied. You would take away one sharp in this case for the C/D7 chord.

Hope this helps.

Ricardo
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lydian2000
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and after a few years you will no longer have to look at the circle to find a tonality and all that's related, believe me it becomes natural!

:)
djhollowman
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Ricardo wrote:For example if you have A at the top instead of C, then in the key or A or F#minor (or any thing with 3#'s) you can use the chords D, A, E, and Bm, F#m and C#m.
Ah, now this is because F#minor is the relative minor of Amajor yes? I get that bit!
I have also memorised the chord formulas, ie for a major key its major, minor, minor, major, major, minor, diminshed. So I can work out that the I IV V standard blues progression is all major chords etc etc. Is that what the circle of fifths is getting at?
I think I get it until I look at the pic of the circle, then my brain melts!
I've studied the pic in your link Ricardo, but this is where being self-taught with no music teacher really holds me back!!! Arggh! Wish I'd studied more in school.....
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-SkiZ-
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djhollowman wrote:this is where being self-taught with no music teacher really holds me back!!! Arggh! Wish I'd studied more in school.....
haha i'm the same, that picture just makes me dizzy...
djhollowman
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Ricardo wrote: Also if you have a tune that has the chords GAD, Bm, Em, Then suddenly C (or D7) to G, Then you can say for the first part you have 2 #'s like the key of D, but when that other chord outside of the 6 kicks in, you have to change scale, or a key change is implied. You would take away one sharp in this case for the C/D7 chord.
Hi Ricardo, thanks for you help, and it does help! - I'm stuck on this bit though! That entire example confuses me, could you take through it please? I really wanna understand this. Many thanks man! :D
djhollowman
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another virtuoso wrote: in C you have no sharps or flats, so it is blank. in G you have one sharp (F#). a fifth from G is D and in that key you have an additional sharp (C#) so you know F and C are sharp in the key of D.
moving on to from D to the key of A, you have one more note which is sharp (G#). so in the key of A the F C and G is sharp.
etc.
so for every additional fifth you travel around the circle, you will add a sharp or flat to that key.
And I've got this bit - thanks man!

But - why in the case of Fmajor is it called Bb and not A#? All the other major keys have sharps and not flats.
Aha! Wait a minute! Is it cos you can't have more than 6 sharps/flats, so it's expressed as a flat so that you can go around the circle in the anticlockwise direction and you would have to call it the first flat? (ie CbagF) Like, you can't have two keys each with one sharp/flat cos then the circle wouldn't work? So it has one flat. Am I even close????
djhollowman
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-SkiZ- wrote:
djhollowman wrote:this is where being self-taught with no music teacher really holds me back!!! Arggh! Wish I'd studied more in school.....
haha i'm the same, that picture just makes me dizzy...
Dude, don't look it up on Wikipedia yet then!! Like I did....omg! lol
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-SkiZ-
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djhollowman wrote:But - why in the case of Fmajor is it called Bb and not A#? All the other major keys have sharps and not flats.
Aha! Wait a minute! Is it cos you can't have more than 6 sharps/flats, so it's expressed as a flat so that you can go around the circle in the anticlockwise direction and you would have to call it the first flat? (ie CbagF) Like, you can't have two keys each with one sharp/flat cos then the circle wouldn't work? So it has one flat. Am I even close????
i think it's more because there can't be two A's and no B
cuz you'd have F G A #A C D E...it sounds the same but it's not notated correctly.
in other words you can't have 1 2 3 #3 5 6 7 (unless it's 1 2 3 #3 #4 5 6 7, an octatonic, wich is also wrong, i think it would be 1 2 3 4 5b 5 6 7 instead but that's another story)
so, you should make it 1 2 3 4 5 6, and the perfect 4th of F is Bb.
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another virtuoso
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-SkiZ- wrote:
djhollowman wrote:But - why in the case of Fmajor is it called Bb and not A#? All the other major keys have sharps and not flats.
Aha! Wait a minute! Is it cos you can't have more than 6 sharps/flats, so it's expressed as a flat so that you can go around the circle in the anticlockwise direction and you would have to call it the first flat? (ie CbagF) Like, you can't have two keys each with one sharp/flat cos then the circle wouldn't work? So it has one flat. Am I even close????
i think it's more because there can't be two A's and no B
cuz you'd have F G A #A C D E...it sounds the same but it's not notated correctly.
in other words you can't have 1 2 3 #3 5 6 7 (unless it's 1 2 3 #3 #4 5 6 7, an octatonic, wich is also wrong, i think it would be 1 2 3 4 5b 5 6 7 instead but that's another story)
so, you should make it 1 2 3 4 5 6, and the perfect 4th of F is Bb.
yeah thats right skitz. it may sound the same, but as you said, its not notated correctly. If you'll notice, half of the circle is sharp, and the other half is flat.
djhollowman
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Thanks guys!
Ah, I see! It's a notation thing! If there's already an A present in the scale, you would call the next note Bb instead of A# yeah? So, conversely, if there were no A present, would it always be called A#?? Is this what's known as enharmonic spelling - knowing when, for example, a Bb is called an A#??
I feel I'm making progress...... :?
djhollowman
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djhollowman wrote:I'm self taught initially. I wanted to play like Maiden, Priest, EVH, Vai of course, Metallica. Angus Young made me pick up guitar, Randy Rhoads made me wanna be good at it!! Steve Vai made me wanna give up, initially!! But I played on and off for years, still self-taught. Sadly for me, I held a typically teenage bull-headed attitude to music theory and teaching, in that I just either thought I knew best or that it wasn't relevant to where I wanted to be. I wasn't interested when my music teacher (a wonderful, enthusiastic, genuine and generous woman) would desperately try to teach me the basics of music theory and how to read music. "How is that gonna make me sound like Randy Rhoads??!!" I would argue. The truth was I was too lazy and arrogant to accept the help I was offered. As a result, my playing became stale, and I got stuck in what I now realise is a very common rut - where I only knew certain chords, phrases and scales. This held me back enormously. You wouldn't believe how much I regret that now. If I had my time over again, I'd soak up the music theory (and anything else anyone offered me!) in a heartbeat!!! So, now I'm at the stage where I'm desperately trying to learn theory, and find the time to practice and play - which ain't easy with 2 young sons and a full-time job!! I would like to say to anyone still at school - LEARN MUSIC THEORY whilst still at school: it's free, you have the time, and you have the support facilities available to you!!! Please!! You would be AMAZED how much your own prejudice, arrogance, ignorance and ego can damage your ability to reach your potential. Always listen when people offer you advice or help. You don't have to take it, but you could at least listen for a couple of minutes. Practice practice practice - do not make the assumption that it has no bearing on what you want to achieve. Oh, and eat your greens.........sorry, that's just the dad in me!! Peace all! :D :guitar
This is a little background about me which I posted in another forum here. I hope this might explain why I'm asking these things! :)
spanishphrygian
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The fifths surround us and makes up are essence. Inside each of us is the essence of the fifths. Backwards is fourths and the whole universe vibrates with the fifths.
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Ricardo
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djhollowman wrote:
Ricardo wrote: Also if you have a tune that has the chords GAD, Bm, Em, Then suddenly C (or D7) to G, Then you can say for the first part you have 2 #'s like the key of D, but when that other chord outside of the 6 kicks in, you have to change scale, or a key change is implied. You would take away one sharp in this case for the C/D7 chord.
Hi Ricardo, thanks for you help, and it does help! - I'm stuck on this bit though! That entire example confuses me, could you take through it please? I really wanna understand this. Many thanks man! :D
Hi sorry not to check up here sooner.

Ok, hard to do this with out feedback from you, but I will try.

You understand what I said in first post. imagine group of 6 chords that share a key signature? so turn the wheel so that which ever of the group of 6 is at top, is the major or minor key.

So my example was chords GAD, Em, Bm right? so you have 5 out of 6 chords. Looking at the circle GAD all being major chords is enough for you to zero in on D as the center or key center. The Em and Bm chord are there too. The one in the group of six not used was F#minor. For sake of understanding, if I had said G,Am,D, Em, Bm, do you see that Am is not in the group of 6? Where is it? (Am means A minor, ok?).

Well it is up top under C right? So you have all those chords, but Am is more counterclockwise, so where does the center of all the chords shift?

To G. Notice all the chords are in the group of 6 that surround Gmajor/Eminor. So just that one chord made all the difference about which key signature (one sharp) or scale (Gmajor/Eminor) relates ALL the chords.

So any type of chord outside of the gang of 6, is not allowed to have the same key signature or scale. You can't use the same key signature or scale for a tune that has an Am chord AND and F#minor chord. Do you see how they are too far away from each other on the wheel? You would have to relate at MINIMUM, two different scales for a tune that contained both chords.

So now start picking out tunes that you know the chords to. See if you can figure out what the key signature would be to relate all the chords best. It might be you find some chords not in the group. Listen to the melody and see if you notice anything that happens when the "outside" chord kicks in.

Keep in mind were are dealing with simple chords. Major and minor triads. Power chords are harder if you dont' know major or minor, but sometimes you can guess if there are enough of them. Notice how far away chromatic chords are (C-C#. Cm-Bm, Ab-G, etc) on the circle. Complex chords are easier to figure out if you can spell all the notes that make them up. Dominant 7th chords are usually the major chord to the right (clockwise) of key center. That is why they are called the V chord. See the 5ths relation? Any dominant 7th can be looked at that way. A7=Dmajor Eb7=Abmaj, etc.

So a blues that has A7, D7, E7, implies 3 different key centers! That is why using the good ol' blues scale or pentatonic works best, so you can avoid hitting the "key change" notes. But it is totally "correct" to change key on each chord too.

Hope this helps some. Really hard without instant feedback.

Ricardo
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