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music theory

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.

Click Here And Finally Learn What Circle Fifths Are All About!

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).

Click Here And Finally Learn What Circle Fifths Are All About!

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Dotted Notes

Dotted notes are the exact opposite of flagged notes. The small flag that follows a note decreases that note’s duration by half, whereas a small dot that follows a note increases that note’s duration by half. A dotted half note would therefore become three quarter notes (one half note equals two quarter notes). A dotted quarter note would therefore become three eighth notes (one quarter note equals two eighth notes), and so on and so forth. Since it isn’t easy to see a dot on a line, dots are placed within the spaces of a staff.

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Just like flagged notes however, dotted notes vary music. By itself, music can be quite static if it isn’t spiced up a bit with a few pauses, longer durations, or shortened stints. Flags and dots are just two tools we use to make music come alive with personality. We also have staccato notes to play with.

Staccato Notes

Dotted notes like staccato notes are indicated with a dot placed at their very tops or bottoms. When you run across a staccato note, you must play it with a short and crisp emphasis. Since the space between each is short and silent , staccato notes sound as though they’re spontaneous additives and they’ll liven up a song while filling the audience with anticipation.

They really lend variety to a song when played within a section that leads up to a legato section. Legato notes are played as though they’re connected. There are no distinguishable breaks between each pitch. But when played right after or right before a staccato section, the end result is an exciting combination that comes together in a pleasing way.

Click Here For More Information About Dotted Notes And How They’re Used!

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Learn To Read Music – A Gentle Introduction…

February 24, 2015

Figuring out how to learn to read music may seem intimidating — especially if you’ve never paid any attention to sheet music before. But once you learn the basics, you’ll discover a whole new world that paves a road of confusing symbols with a coat of comfortable, natural, and perfect logic. This article serves as […]

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Music Theory Key Signature – The Basics

February 20, 2015

You have been hearing about the music theory key signature during your first piano lesson but do you know what they are made of? Key signatures are actually one of the basic foundations of playing the piano. These music fundamentals guide you in “tuning” the music pieces you are playing. Music theory key signature can […]

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Key Signatures – A Beginner’s Lesson…

February 10, 2015

What Determines The Quality And Quantity Of A Song’s Notes When watching musicians play piano, you may see them refer to a piece of music in the key of “A” or “C.” These letters refer to the key that the music is played in or its key signature. Key signatures are what determines the quality […]

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Top 5 Myths About Learning To Play Piano

January 30, 2015

You have to be born with natural ability. As one of the top 5 myths about learning to play piano, this myth may have you condemned before you even start! Everyone and anyone can learn to play piano as long as they exercise the required amount of patience and practice. The piano in fact, is […]

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Various Notes

January 27, 2015

Beaming Notes Music beams are lines that seemingly connect a series of various notes. Since they’re thick and horizontal (as opposed to thin and vertical), they’re more noticeable and intimidating to beginners. Rest assured that beams are nothing to fear – even when sheet music is plastered with them. Music beams actually make notation easier […]

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Piano Sheet Music Confidential

January 23, 2015

Piano sheet music has been around since the birth of the piano. It is the diary of the process of the composer. All of the heart and soul of piece lies within the notation of the sheet music. Sheet music can be used to record or to create a musical score. Musicians often use it […]

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Music Bar Lines

December 25, 2014

Introducing the Bar In order to represent pitch and tone, music notes need a staff. If you’ll remember from our other lessons, the music staff is a system of five horizontal lines and it provides a foundation for all the beautiful music that we hear. Notes sit on, above, between, and below these lines. But […]

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Beginner Lessons For Piano – Helpful Tips

November 29, 2014

Beginner lessons for piano will take you far in your quest. But supplementing your lessons with some ‘outside’ or unconventional training will shorten the time it takes to become an expert pianist. It goes without saying that practice makes perfect. However, there are a few additional things that you can do to improve the quality […]

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