e|--|--|--|--|--| B|--|--|--|--|--| G|--|--|--|--|--| D|--|--|--|--|G-| A|--|--|C-|--|--| E|--|--|G-|--|--|I've taken the liberty of writing out the note names on the frets to make it obvious for you. Remember how I said the shapes of intervals do not change except for when you jump from the G string to the B string. We'll do that in another lesson. Notice how the fifth sits right underneath the C and also within reach of the ring finger. So if I asked you to find the fifth of G without having to look at the circle of fifths, could you? The shape is almost the same. Take a look.
e|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--| B|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--| G|--|--|--|--|--|--|D-|--| D|--|--|--|--|G-|--|--|--| A|--|--|--|--|D-|--|--|--| E|--|--|G-|--|--|--|--|--|This diagram shows a six string guitar so there is no fifth below G on the sixth string. But the ring finger still lands on D on the fifth string. By now something in your head should be clicking about power chords. That's because power chords are simply the root and the fifth played together. See if you can figure out the fifth of D without looking at the diagram below.
e|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--| B|--|--|--|--|--|--|--|--| G|--|--|--|--|--|--|D-|--| D|--|--|--|--|--|--|A-|--| A|--|--|--|--|D-|--|--|--| E|--|--|--|--|A-|--|--|--|I left the D on the G string in there so it looks a little different than the first diagram but the concept is the same. To find the fifth of D just create a simple D power chord on the fifth string. Check out the circle of fifths diagram again. You can see that the circle goes from C to G to D to A. You just did that on your guitar. If I asked you what is a fifth above A you might just say E without even having to think too much about it because you can see the chord and notes in your head. How about a fifth above E? It's B right? I told you it was easy. If you can play power chords and know the names of the notes on top three strings you can easily build the circle of fifths. What if you want to go in reverse? That's easier than you think. C is the fifth of what note? You probably didn't have to think too hard to come up with F. F is the fifth of what note. Again, check it against the Circle of Fifths but just place your ring finger on F of either the fourth or fifth string and play a chord and you'll see what I mean. Your index finger lands on Bb. Remember from the Music Theory FAQ that Going counterclockwise results in flats. Clockwise results in sharps. Regardless there are those power chord shapes again. What makes this approach so easy is that most of us know the notes on the Low E, A, and D string really well from playing power chords. To cut to the chase, if you play this little lick you have made your way around the circle of fifths note by note. It's based on what you just learned and the pattern is so ridiculously simple that if you have to memorize it you missed the point. See how you just keep moving up two frets?
E|--------------------------------------------| B|--------------------------------------------| G|--------------------------------------------| D|--------------------------------------------| A|--3---5---7---9---11----13----15------------| E|----3---5---7---9----11----13---------------|Remember how I told you that from this exercise I was able to nail key signatures? Each time you move clockwise around the Circle of Fifths you add a sharp to the previous key. Each time you move counter-clockwise you add a flat to the previous key. For example the key of C contains no sharps or flats. The key of G contains one sharp. That sharp happens to be F#. Without getting too obvious let me ask you a question that will probably open your eyes. How far is F# to G? A half step right? So if you see a key signature with one sharp you simply need to start at C using the previous example and go to G the next key. That one "jump", if you will, around the Circle of fifths represents one sharp. Conversely, if you saw just the F# you also know that the music is in the key of G because all you had to do what raise that F# a half step and you know the key is G. To further illustrate this the next key on the Circle of Fifths after G is D right? You knew that from just making a G power chord. D contains two sharps. You could do the whole flashcard thing and memorize that two sharps means the key of D. Tedious. The two sharps in the key of D are F# and C#. What is a half step above C#? D right? Again, the very next accidental is always a half step below the new key signature. See how easy my approach is? Now what if you wanted to know what the accidentals are in a given key? To make this obvious to you lets look at the key of A. It contains three sharps. F#, C#, and G#. Now look at the pattern of those accidentals on the fretboard. Does it look familar? Its the same pattern as the circle of fifths only you start a fifth lower. The accidentals literally follow the circle two frets behind. So let me ask you another question. What do you guess the next accidental will be for the Key of E? You probably don't even need to look at your guitar. If you guessed D# then you've got it. Let's talk about going in reverse. F major contains one flat. It happens to be Bb. Remember we are moving from C major to F major around that Circle of Fifths What is a half step below C? B right. What if we drop that another half step. We get Bb right? It the same thinking as going clockwise we just need to reverse things a little because if we were going from the key of F to the key of C we would have to raise the seventh tone of the next key a half step right? Since C is the next key we would have needed to raise that Bb to B. So what do imagine is the next key below F? This is even easier than going forward. If used your guitar to figure this out and asked yourself "F is the fifth of what" and played a Bb you should have had and "AHA!" moment. The accidentals preceed the next key around the circle of fifths. Pretty cool huh? So what do you imagine is the next key after Bb? Let's talk this through. What are the two accidentals in Bb? Okay Bb is a dead give away. The other one is Eb right? Remember how we just needed to go two half steps or a whole step below the previous key? The previous key was F right? Eb is a whole step below F. So the key of Bb contains a Bb and an Eb. What is the next key? Eb. Let's do it again. Eb contains three accidentals. Since the key before Eb was Bb we only need to look at what note is a whole step below Bb to find our next key. A whole step below Bb is Ab. So now we now that the key of Eb contains a Bb, an Eb, and an Ab. So what is the next key? Ab. Only two more keys to go. See if you can do it on your own. Take a look at the circle of fifths again. Notice how the circles kind of overlap so that Db and C# contain the same exact pitches. The same is true for the keys of F# and Gb. Those are the enharmonic keys listed in the Music Theory FAQ. Run through this exercise a few times and you'll see how easy this really is. The more you do this the more this starts to make sense. It starts to flow and you'll realize you don't need to memorize the Cirlce of Fifths. In the future when someone names a key try using this fretboard approach. See if you can figure out what the accidentals are. Let's be honest. You are going to use this stuff when you have your guitar in your hands so why not use it to "cheat".