The Circle Of Fifths Explained

In this Lesson, I'm going to teach you the basics of the circle of fifths. This is just a straight up easy to understand lesson.

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Ultimate Guitar
The Circle Of Fifths Explained
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In this Lesson, I'm going to teach you the circle of fifths. There are lots of other explanations of this out there, but a lot of them are VERY confusing. This is just a straight up way to read and use the circle of fifths.

All scales come from 1 main scale, which is the major scale. In scales, there are a certain number of sharps and flats. You can use the circle of fifths to: read how many sharps and flats there are in a scale, to help you better make and play scales, understand scales better, and build more scales. This is a very important topic, so if you don't about it yet, READ THIS! It will really help you with learning new songs, writing songs, and improvising/soloing. Gb = G Flat, incase you didn't know (which you should)

                           C    
F G

Bb D

Eb A

Ab E

Db/ B/
C# F#/ Cb
Gb

This is the Circle of Fifths. It is used to build all sorts of scales. It may look confusing at first, but it is actually very simple to use. So let's first take a look at the C Major Scale:

C D E F G A B C

As you can see it has no sharps or flats, so you call the C Major Scale Natural (natural means it has no sharps or flats). Now let's take a look at the G Major Scale:

G A B C D E F# G

G major does have 1 Sharp. You may not have known this, and may be wondering how to figure it out. That's were the circle of fifths comes in. All the notes Clockwise to C are Sharp. All the notes counter-clockwise to C are flat. So when we look at G, it is 1 away from C when looking at it clockwise, so it has one sharp note. D is 2 away from C, so D Major has two sharp notes. A Major has 3 sharp notes, and so on. Starting to make sense now?

Now let's take a look at the other side. Finding out the Flats on that side are the same as finding how many sharps are in a scale on the other side, except you're going to count counter-clockwise. For Example, to find how many Flats are in F Major, since F is 1 away from C, going counter Clockwise, F major has one Flat note. B flat Major has 2 flat notes, and so on.

So now that you know how to figure out how many sharp and flat notes are in a scale, it's time to learn what those notes are. To do this, we use a simple Formula: FCGDAEB. You can make up some kind of words to memorize it, such as Father Christmas Gave Dad An Electric Blanket. Whatever you do to remember it, just remember. So what you do with it though, is count how far a root note of a scale is from C again, for example, D is 2 away from C. Then you count that many of the letters from our formula thing earlier, which was FCGDAEB. So the first 2 letters of that are F and C. That means that F and C are the only sharp notes in that major scale. Another example would be E Major. It is 4 away from C, so it has 4 Sharp notes. Those sharp notes are the first 4 notes of the group of letters, FCGDaeb. So F, C, G, and D are the sharp notes in E Major. All you have to do is take the number of however many notes are sharp in a scale, and count that many of that number in the group of letters.

Finding out the flat notes of the other scales on the other side are the same thing, but in reverse. Since we count the letters in reverse when finding out how many flat notes are in the scale, we use the formula backwards, making it BEADGCF. Let me give you an example: B flat is 2 away from C when counting counter-clockwise, so you use the first 2 letters of the backwards formula, showing you that B and E are the flat notes in the B Flat Major Scale.

Also note that F# is also Gb, B is also Cb, and Db is also C#, as you can see above.

I hope that this Lesson was very helpful to you. Forgive me if this was very confusing. This is a very difficult topic to explain, but I did my best to make it clear. Don't forget to memorize the group of letters (FCGDAEB, and BEADGCF). If it helps you can just print off a copy of the circle of fifths and the letter formula.

I take most requests for Lessons, so you can email me any suggestions or topics at this email or just comment.

58 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Symbolic_Hearts
    This was great and easy to understand. I really don't see how people don't get the circle of fifths...
    Morning Star
    A good lesson thanks for that. A good follow up might be to explain how you can build scales and chord progressions etc using the circle.
    emilyfig
    Thank you so much for this! I finally understand fifths! You've explained it better than anyone else so far.
    Zandel
    Timo9500 wrote: Fat Cats Get Down And Eat Babies. Good acronym?
    Yes
    FuruiShin
    Good one . Still it's easier to learn how many tones/semitones are between sounds in scale to build it faster- just my opinion . Thanx for lesson !!
    kian89
    we can do it oon our finger tips .. then why this circle thingy ??
    blink3388
    I have read lessons for this before but you really make this clear and now I get it. Thank you!
    conor-figgy
    BillCherryJr wrote: As for the scales, however, I have always just figured that between '3 & 4' and '7 & 8' there was a half step. In otherwords, in the 'C' (natural) scale, it goes C(1), D(2), E(3), F(4), G(5), A(6), B(7), C(8). E & F and B & C, are half steps. The same pattern can be applied to all scales as far as I understand.
    Yes, the WWhWWWh formala. But how do you know if it's flat or sharp?
    deathbycontrol
    rgb3210_2cry3 wrote: B flat is 2 away from C when counting counter-clockwise, so you use the first 2 letters of the backwards formula, showing you that B and E are the flat notes in the B Flat Major Scale. Im sorry I meant to post half of that in a quote.... Anyways, B flat is 3 away from C, so therefore B E and A are the flats in your B flat Major scale. Other than that little part I quoted the lesson is good..
    Actually B flat is 2 away from C. If you look at the chromatic scale, it goes C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C. A# is the same note as B flat, which is 2 notes behind C. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, please.
    Gods Guitarist
    Actually B flat is 2 away from C. If you look at the chromatic scale, it goes C, C#, D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B, C. A# is the same note as B flat, which is 2 notes behind C. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, please.
    Yeah, You and I were right. Just B and E are the flat notes, not B, E, and A. But thats ok.
    MWriff
    Thanks alot, why people make it seem more complicated than that Ill neve know... doesnt matter anymore though
    alliwant
    Have been working on this but those 2 formulas seem to have done the trick to crack this nut. Very impressed, thank you
    rgb3210_2cry3
    B flat is 2 away from C when counting counter-clockwise, so you use the first 2 letters of the backwards formula, showing you that B and E are the flat notes in the B Flat Major Scale.
    Im sorry I meant to post half of that in a quote.... Anyways, B flat is 3 away from C, so therefore B E and A are the flats in your B flat Major scale. Other than that little part I quoted the lesson is good..
    ThatDarnDavid
    I always learned to just memorize the half steps and whole steps between the notes. by doing this you can find the scale in any key too.
    A.T.N
    thxxxx... finally I found an understandable topic for the circle of fifth ... but there is only a question... how can I use it to make rhythms??
    PapaZappa13
    I finally understand, this lesson, really helped me a lot, thanks man, I went through 6 instructional videos and a few musicians I know and I still didn't get it, I can't thank you enough.
    jherrjr
    It's the best explanation I've seen so far. I finally feel I've learned something I can apply. Thanks,
    BillCherryJr
    Very interesting. I never actually paid attention to the circle of fifths. But, I do have a better understanding of it now. Thank you. As for the scales, however, I have always just figured that between '3 & 4' and '7 & 8' there was a half step. In otherwords, in the 'C' (natural) scale, it goes C(1), D(2), E(3), F(4), G(5), A(6), B(7), C(8). E & F and B & C, are half steps. The same pattern can be applied to all scales as far as I understand.
    rgb3210_2cry3
    B flat is 2 away from C when counting counter-clockwise, so you use the first 2 letters of the backwards formula, showing you that B and E are the flat notes in the B Flat Major Scale. B flat is 3 away from C, so therefore B E and A are the flats in your B flat Major key signature. Other than that little part I quoted the lesson is good
    iFire
    Yeah. If you do what Morning Star said we love you long time. But great lesson, thanks for taking the time.
    Gods Guitarist
    I did what morning star said. The lesson should be up on Monday, since it's a weekend. The lesson may be a little basic, but i'm sure i'll create a follow-up. Thanks for your comments! Don't forget to rate!
    guitarprodigy14
    Could anyone add me as a friend and quiz me on this cause I'm a young learner and I can't exactly KNOW if I'm right or not,thanks
    am3s22
    thanks for the lesson.. one thing besides MAJOR scale? how can i get the other type of scale
    Mrasi
    how can i get the other type of scale
    typically, scales are based off of the major and there are plenty of lessons out there on that :p
    Muzak
    confused me a little. i think the T T ST T T T ST and probs a diagram of piano keys (although easy to work out in your head) is easier to understand how to work out the major scales. thats if this didnt make much sense to you. hope i didnt offend, just trying to help ppl who dont get this. took me a while to understand it too.
    flyboyC17
    Holy crap i bought a book about this with the moveable wheel thingy in the front and everything and i studied it for about a month and couldn't get it, now i just read this and it all makes perfect sense. You rock dude!
    wolf54153
    Why must one know how to figure out the amount of sharps/flats in a scale? Those that play guitar should easily be able to figure out the sharps and flats of any scale based on their knowledge of the fret board and the increments of the major and minor scales. Although the 'circle of fifths' method is logical, it seems like the long way to do it.