Understanding The Circle of Fifths

by Tania Gleaves on March 30, 2015

The circle of fifths, introduced by Johann David Heinichen in 1728, is a visual arrangement of related keys. Although its name gives the impression that it’s a difficult concept to grasp, it’s really just an easy way to remember the number of sharps and flats in a key signature and the major and minor key relationships.

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Sharps and Flats

If you can imagine a clock for a moment, where each hour represents a particular key, you can identify that key’s sharps and flats. Let’s say that:

  • 12:00 or “0:00” represents the C Major key (or the A Minor key)…
  • 1:00 represents the G Major key (or the E Minor key)…
  • 2:00 represents the D Major key (or the B Minor key)…
  • 3:00 represents the A Major key (or the F# Minor key)…
  • 4:00 represents the E Major key (or the C# Minor key)…
  • 5:00 represents the B Major key (or the G# Minor key)…
  • 6:00 represents the F# Major key (or the Eb Minor key)…
  • 7:00 represents the Db Major key (or the Db Minor key)…
  • 8:00 represents the Ab Major key (or the F Minor key)…
  • 9:00 represents the Eb Major key (or the C Minor key)…
  • 10:00 represents the Bb Major key (or the G Minor key), and
  • 11:00 represents the F Major key (or the D Minor key).

Perfect Fifths

If you’ll notice, each hour (or key) is separated by a perfect fifth (moving clockwise). A perfect fifth is an interval made up of three whole steps and one half step. For example, A perfect fifth above C is G, and a perfect fifth above E is B. This is where the pattern gets its name . It follows a unique pattern on our imaginary clock where:

  • … the perfect fifth of the C Major key is G.
  • … the perfect fifth of the G Major key is D.
  • … the perfect fifth of the D Major key is A.
  • … the perfect fifth of the A Major key is E.
  • … the perfect fifth of the E Major key is B.
  • … the perfect fifth of the B Major key is F#.
  • … the perfect fifth of the F# Major key is C#.
  • … the perfect fifth of the C# Major key is G#.
  • … the perfect fifth of the G# Major key is D#.
  • … the perfect fifth of the D# Major key is A#.
  • … the perfect fifth of the A# Major key is F.
  • … the perfect fifth of the F Major key is C.

This pattern helps us determine the sharps and flats of a signature because they’re always a perfect fifth away (moving clockwise). Just remember that sharps increase in the clockwise direction while flats increase in the counter-clockwise direction (note: when you move counter-clockwise, each hour- or key- is separated by a perfect fourth).

Related Keys

As an example, the C Major and A Minor keys are related because they both lack sharps and flats. Based on the circle of fifths, we discover that a single flat relates the F major key to the D minor key while a single sharp relates the G major key to the E minor key as well. Two flats relate the Bb major key to the G minor key while two sharps relate the D major key to the B minor key too. Three flats relate the Eb major key to the C minor key while three sharps relate the A major key to F# minor key. Starting to see a pattern? The concept is of course easier to understand with a visual.

circle-of-fifthscircle of fifths chart

The Enharmonic Notes

The 5:00, 6:00, and 7:00 hours are unique in that they help you identify different notes with the same pitch. These notes are said to be enharmonic to each other:

  • “5:00″ can either be B Major (G# Minor) with five sharps (from the clockwise perspective) or Cb Major (Ab Minor) with seven flats (from the counter-clockwise perspective).
  • “6:00″ can either be F# Major (D# Minor) with six sharps (from the clockwise perspective) or Gb Major (Eb Minor) with six flats (from the counter-clockwise perspective).
  • Lastly, “7:00″ can either be C# Major (A# Minor) with seven sharps (from the clockwise perspective) or Db Major (Bb Minor) with five flats (from the counter-clockwise perspective).

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Blues Piano Lessons

by Erik Thiede on March 30, 2015

Could you use a crash-course in the blues? These blues piano lessons will get you headed in the right direction. We’ll begin with blues chords, string together a common blues progression, and combine it with a complementing bass line. Excited? Can’t wait to jam? Let’s get started with your blues piano lessons!

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Let’s begin with the chords we’ll use for this exercise. To make things easy, we’ll play in the piano-friendly key of C. A C chord consists of the notes C, E and G. To add a blues “flavor” to the chord, make it a seventh by adding a fourth note – B flat – to the top of the chord. Do the same with an F chord and a G chord. These three chords represent the 1-4-5 pattern that is most common in modern music. The pattern is so-named because, C being your root chord or starting point, the F chord is 4 steps up and the G chord is 5 steps up.

Patterns are also known as progressions. Some “chord progressions” are quite familiar. The most popular blues chord progression is the 12-bar blues progression. A bar is also known as a measure. A measure contains a certain number of beats, often four, that determine the pace and rhythm of the music. A phrase consists of the 12 measures, a sort of beginning-to-end section within a song.

Here is how you will play your 12-bar blues tune. Each chord represents a full bar, with four beats per bar:

C | C | C | C7 | F7 | F7 | C | C | G7 | F7 | C | C

Here’s another blues progression you can try. In the last two bars, the chords shown are played for two beats instead of four:

C | F7 | C | C7 | F | F7 | C | C7 | G7 | F7 | C, F | C, G

To add bass to the music, you can simply play the corresponding note; a C chord gets C for the bass, etc. Put it all together and you’re playing the blues! You can play your songs very slowly for one type of mood, or you can pick up the pace for another.

Once you’ve mastered the key of C, work on playing the same progressions in other keys. If you ever join in on a blues jam, for instance, you may need to match the key that the other musicians are playing in. If you are uncertain what the other chords would be, you can find a chord progression chart online that will come in handy.

If you’d like to find more blues piano lessons, click over to some of the great sites I’ve listed on my piano lessons review page. Enjoy!

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