I completely do NOT understand it.
I've read the lessons about it here on UG, but it just puzzles me more.
all I know (IF I'm correct) is that G is the perfect fifth of C, and so on down the circle.
that's all I understand.

Could anyone explain the circle of fifths to me in a 3rd-grade degree?
I really want to understand this..

The Circle of Fifths

This is a device used to determine the notes of each key in the major scale. Here is a lovely picture of it. Take it, hold it, and love it.

Now, as you can see, C is up at the top and is in the middle. That is because it has no sharps or flats. As you move clockwise, you will move into the sharp keys. As you move left, you will run through the flat keys. By sharp and flat keys, I mean that is how you would write the scales.

C major: C D E F G A B
G major: G A B C D E F#
D major: D E F# G A B C
A major: A B C# D E F# G#
E major: E F# G# A B C# D#
B major: B C# D# E F# G# A#
F# major: F# G# A# B C# D# E#
C# major: C# D# E# F# G# A# B#

I've bolded every new sharp written in each key, progressing clockwise through the circle of fifihs. As you can see, the sharps are added in this order:


This can be remembered with the acronym:


This is where the sharp keys end.

Now for the flat keys, going counter-clockwise.

F major: F G A Bb C D E
Bb major: Bb C D Eb F G A
Eb major: Eb F G A Bb C D Eb
Ab major: Ab Bb C Db Eb F G
Db major: Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C
Gb major: Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb Fb
Cb major: Cb Db Eb Fb Gb Ab Bb

I've bolded the new flats this time. the order is reverse of the order that you add sharps, B E A D G C F. Which can be remembered with the acronym:


I know this is hard to take in at first, but give it time and don't rush into it. It'll come. It's like a language. The more you use it, the easier it'll come eventually.

Why yes, I did copy and paste that.
C is made up of C, E, and G.

C = Root
E = 3rd
G = 5th

I am sure you understand that. The only thing I can see the circle chart being useful for is knowing how many sharps/flats are in each key.. I probably don't read it right either.

Anyway.. You need to know the guitar theory of music theory. =D

semi-tone interval
0 Unison
1 flat 2nd
2 2nd
3 minor 3rd
4 major 3rd
5 perfect 4th
6 flat 5th (diminished 5th or augmented 4th)
7 perfect 5th
8 minor 6th (or sharp 5th/augmented 5th)
9 major 6th
10 minor 7th (flat 7th)
11 major 7th
12 octave
13 flat 9th
14 9th
15 sharp 9th/minor 10th (just minor 3rd one octave higher)
16 major 10th (just major 3rd one octave higher)
17 11th
18 augmented 11th
19 perfect 12th (octave above perfect 5th)
20 flat 13th
21 13th

Using that.. The 3rd is the 4th semitone(half step) from the root, C. If you know your fretboard well enough, you can pick that note out easily on the fretboard. Especially with the open C chord. You know that from the open E string, to the open A string is 5 semitones (half-steps). And that pattern continues until you get to the G and B strings. The distance decreases by 1, to 4 semitons. Then from B to E is again, 5 semitones.

Now.. using that. Using the open C Major chord as an example. The first note is the C note on the A string, which is at the 3rd fret. If you go down one string, at the same fret, that is 5 semitones. Now you know that the 3rd of any chord is only 4 semitones. So your 3rd will be on the 2nd fret, D string. So far, you have the Root and 3rd notes picked out. The 5th of a C is a G. The next string is a G open. So you won't have to fret that string. You could actually stop there, and you would sort of have a C triad. Anyway, with most chords, you repeat notes to give it a fuller sound. The next string is the B string. The closest note to the B in the C Major chord is the C, so the decision on which note to fret is pretty easy on that string. You will fret the 1st fret on the B string. Now to finish it out, you have the high E string. Knowing the notes in the C Major chord, you know that the note E is in the chord. You won't have to fret that note either.

So there you go.. You have a C Major chord. You should be able to find the 3rd and 5th by counting. The 5th is 7 semitones from the root. The 3rd is 4 semitones. Using the pattern of the fretboard (and yes, i am repeating myself), you can find the 3rd of the chord by going down a string (on the same fret as the root note) and moving to the left 1 (because the 3rd is the 4th semitone, not 5th). Then to find the 5th, you could, in the C Major open case, you go down 2 strings (which equals 10) and since you know that the 5th is the 7th semitone, you will go to the left 3 spaces, which actually equals to the open G string.

I probably wrote all of this for nothing, but oh well.

BTW.. Say your making the Open A Chord.. and you want to find the 3rd and 5th (if you don't know the exact notes of the chord).. You can do the counting thing.


That is the chord. Starting with the open A, you go down 1 string, and you have 5. Obviously you can't move back from the open, so you have to move forward (or you could mute, but not in this case).. So knowing that the 3rd and 5ths are the 4th and 7th semitone. The next to closest note will be the 7th semitone. Which is the 5th. So now you know that the note fretted on the D string at the 2nd fret is the 5th. Going to the G string, count down 2 strings from the A and you have 10 semitones. You can't move back to 7, so your next best is 12 (or the root). That is on the 2nd fret of the G string, which basically repeats the open A string as the root note. Then to the B string, where you can count down from the last note on the G string, but this time, you will only move up 4 semitones (because of the tuning). So you go from 12 to 16 (or 0 to 4).. And that is your 3rd. I forgot to mention above that the 5th of the A was an E note. So now left with the open E.. so you just leave it open.

Ok. 10 waisted minutes of my time. Unless your a true beginner, you probably knew all of that stuff.
It's used to help figure out which key has which sharps and flats. It's very useful for modulation.