The Circle Of Fifths

This lesson will teach you about the Circle Of Fifths and how it works.

4
The 'Circle Of 5ths' is a simple representation of the flats and sharps in a key signature. The following is a simple chart to learn: C-no flats
F-Bb
Bb-Bb Eb
Eb-Bb Eb Ab
Ab-Bb Eb Ab Db
Db-Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
C-no sharps
G-F#
D-F# C#
A-F# C# G#
E-F# C# G# D#
B-F# C# G# D# A#
If you don't understand this layout, the letters on the far left are the key the rest of the sharps and flats are in. In the key of C, there are no sharps, and no flats. In the key of F, there is one flat, and that is Bb (and so on and so forth). You may begin to notice a patter in the notes, and yes, you are seeing a pattern. It goes like this: B E A D G C F, and repeats itself numerous times. It is read from left to right for flats, and right to left for sharps. This is a good way to memorize the 'Circle Of 5ths'. You may not completely understand where the flats and sharps come from. If you know anything about scales, this will not be too difficult for you to understand. If you, however have no idea what i'm talking about, you had better go to a more basic lesson. The sharps and flats of the circle of 5ths are derived from the scales of certain notes, which also determine chords and the key signature of music. Basically, in the pattern of notes, a scale begins with the first of the scale (also the 8th), and works it's way up in this order: Whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step. A 'whole-step' is the distance between two notes that are not flat or sharp. A 'half-step' is the distance between that note, and it's sharp version (which would be named also as the flat of the note following). Here is an example along with a listing of the notes to be divided into a scale in order (the star stands for the start of the notes, and the w stands for a whole step, and the h for a half step according to where the star is positioned:
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A
*   h   w *   h   w   *   h w   *   h   w   *
Do you understand now? You may have noticed that the space between E and F, and B and C is only a half step. This is true to the nature of these notes, and therefore, you must be careful of how you divide your notes to make a scale. Now we can make a scale. We will start with the scale of C. There are seven notes in a scale before it reverts back to the first of the scale. Once again, the pattern for writing a scale is whole-step, whole-step, half-step, whole-step, whole-step, whole-step, half-step. So we begin at C (with the star):
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A
          *
We must then move one whole step to find the second note in the scale:
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A
          *   h   W
So the next note in the scale is D. So far we have C and D. We then have to move another whole step as the pattern suggests:
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A
          *   h   W   h   W
And from this we derive the next note is E. We now have C and D and E. The next step is to move one half step:
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A
          *   h   W   h   W H
And because E and F are only one half step apart, our next note is F. So far we have C and D and E and F in the scale of C. Using what you have learned so far, we can determine that all the notes in the scale of C are C D E F G A and B. You might notice that in the scale of C, there aren't any flats or sharps. This, you might also notice, is the same for the notes in the Key of C in the 'Circle Of 5ths'. That is how they 'Circle Of 5ths' works. I'll do one more example for you so you can get a better idea. We will this time do the 'Scale of Ab':
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A
                                        *
Like before, we can find the second note of the scale by moving one whole step. This may seem difficult because we have reached the end of our notes, but don't worry, because they continue on in the same order. Think of the last note as being the same as the beginning note, because they are both A. Here is what happens:
A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab A
h   W                                   *   h
Both the A at the end and the A at the beginning counted as a half step because they are the same distance, just copied twice to suggest the notes continue. Our second note after moving a whole step is Bb. You may wonder why it is Bb and not A#. This is because the note before it on the scale is an A. Two consecutive notes on a scale should not be the same letter note, so therefore, it is transcribed as a Bb because there was an A before the B. Continuing with the scale, you will find that the notes of the scale are:
Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Ab
There are four flats in this scale, and also there are four flats in the key of Ab in the 'Circle Of 5ths'. The flats are also the same notes as the flats in the 'Scale of Ab'. You can make any scale with the whole-step/half-step pattern by beginning with the note you want the scale to be. Another thing on the 'Circle Of 5ths' you might notice if you study it deeply, is there are some keys that are the same. These keys I have not listed above, but I will explain them to you. These keys are called 'Enharmonic Equivalents', which means they are named differently, but are still the same key. However, you might not be able to tell right off the bat, because the notes are named differently, yet they are the same pitch and therefore, you use the same frets on the guitar (for example, Ab is the same as B#). They are:
C#- F# C# G# D# A#
Db- Bb Eb Ab Db Gb

F#- B# F# C# G# D# A#
Gb- Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb

B- F# C# G# D# A#
Cb- Bb Eb Ab Db Gb
As you can see, the pitches of each coinciding key match up to a pitch of the other. That is the basic holy 'Circle Of 5ths'. If you have any problems with it, or would like to see something added, please let me know!

41 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    lbc_sublime
    i agree alot of work probably went into this but i think it should be called understanding major scales
    luckynumber36
    The circle of fifths is simply the chords in a particular scale. The simplest way, i think, is to remember 'Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle' So, for example, you are trying to find how many, and what sharps are in the key of F. Count from the letter before F, which would be E. Find E in the little ryme, and you now know there are 6 sharps in F :F,C,G,D,A,E. Easy as that. To find the flats, remember: Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles Father. To find the flats in B, for example: The letter before B is A, Then take a step back, so you get D. Flats in B = B,E,A,D. Fini. Remember you should also be applying: Major, Minor, Minor, Major, Major, Minor, Dim, Major. Hope that clears up some stuff!
    luckynumber36
    Sorry, my mistake, in the flats, taking a step back would deliver you to E, not D. Flats in B = B,E
    rokstar666
    i think the word circle confused a few ppl...call it a cycle instead (tho thers not much difference lol.) thnx 4 the info bout the cycle of fifths (backwards its the cycle of 4ths if im not mistaken, cool huh). lol i thot u did a good job dude
    guitarist10
    Ok, I have had about 4-5 years of musical experience in general, and nobody ever taught me what a fifth is...can someone explain for me?
    BigSparky
    Ok, don't blast the poor guy here. I'm sure a lot of effort went into providing this info, so let's give him a hand for the hard work. Music is confusing to everyone at first, but you'll get the hang of it. The info he provided is accurate, but a lot of people want to see the actual "circle". I don't normally link to another site, but since the limitations of text make it impossible to show a circle, I'm making an exception here. Ok, here is your circle - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circle_of_f...
    Insanity207
    wow i looked at it and cant even read it lol if you put this in tabs id accually try it lol sorry not dissing but tabs work alot better for me
    lp in dc
    What the hell is he talking about. I dont give two ****s if he knows what the circle of fiths is. He cant explain for ****ing shit:grr
    jerkyology
    the C5 wont help if you know the major scale.... knowing the major scale is better than memorizing the C5
    BlIthe
    OK, so regardless of what everyone else says, I'd like to thank luvarmenians. For some time now I've been trying to understand this and other related theory but to no avail, thanks mainly to overcomplicated explanations on other websites. This explanation has really helped me, and it didn't need to be presented in a circle to do that. Thanks again.
    kingsgate_15
    circle of fifths....so what....who wants to have to know all those notes....I'm trying to become a lead guitar player....how will it help??
    becnathan
    it just comes down to what sounds good. you don't need to know theory to make good sounds.
    METAL4LYF
    man this is too confusing u didnt even explain how this is related to each other
    ror
    lol yeh this is kinda gay have to do it in my music classers at school. best way to remember key signatures though!
    STERIOGRAM134
    check out the other circle of fifths lesson around here it is alot better and has an actual circle..... sorry bro. 3 stars
    Chairoi
    rockergurl09 wrote: maybe next time you could make a diagram of the circle of fifths in a CIRCLE???? I saw a circle of fifths for piano in a circle, and it was very helpful. When will people do that for guitar???? Circle of fifths is circle of fifths... it does not have a designated instrument, it works for music in general, no matter what you play.
    leeRy
    Type "Circle of Fifths" into Google Image Seach and it will give you some really good diagrams! Visually seeing the circle helps a great deal!
    luvarmenians
    Ead wrote: I think it would have been important to mention the scale used is major, eh?
    good point... sorry it's not a circle- that's just how i know it.
    rockergurl09
    maybe next time you could make a diagram of the circle of fifths in a CIRCLE???? I saw a circle of fifths for piano in a circle, and it was very helpful. When will people do that for guitar????
    Ead
    I think it would have been important to mention the scale used is major, eh?
    Chairoi
    Circle of fifths is circle of fifths... it does not have a designated instrument, it works for music in general, no matter what you play.**** was not quoted -.- sorry...
    treats
    why is it important to know the names of the sharps/flats in a key? thnx
    Hutcho69
    Could you explain the relativity of the Scale to the Key Signature ? Are they the same thing or does the Key Signature have a different purpose ? Regards John
    Jbetter_thanu
    Jbetter_thanu wrote: this is cirlce C of fifths w/o / \ relative minors G F at least i / \ think its right D B \ / A- - -E
    grr messed up
    Jbetter_thanu
    this is cirlce C of fifths w/o / \ relative minors G F at least i / \ think its right D B \ / A- - -E
    luvarmenians
    okay, this is better: -----C--- -----F-----G -----Bb-----D -----Eb-----A - ----Ab-----E -----Db/B-----Db/B- -----Gb/F#---Cb/C#--
    luvarmenians
    luvarmenians wrote: okay, this is better: -----C--- -----F-----G -----Bb-----D -----Eb-----A - ----Ab-----E -----Db/B-----Db/B- -----Gb/F#---Cb/C#--[/quote ][quote]luvarmenians wrote: okay, here's the freaking circle! C F G Bb D Eb A Ab E Db/B Db/B Gb/F# Cb/C#
    ...i give up.
    zebrahead234
    wangmaster wrote: seriously... ...what the ****ing ****?
    way to be intelligetn about it a circle would be helpful