letters on the ring refer to major key names and chord roots. The
letters on the inside ring refer to minor keys and chord roots. The
rings are arranged so that the major keys are adjacent to their relative
minor counterparts. For example, A minor (in the inner ring) is the
relative minor of C major (on the outer ring).
Circle of fifth progression – Clockwise and ascending (Quicktime player need. Download here)
Circle of fifth progression – Anticlockwise and decending (Quicktime player need. Download here)
Starting at any pitch, ascending by the interval of an equal tempered
fifth, one passes all twelve tones clockwise, to return to the
beginning pitch class. At the top of the circle, the key of C Major has no sharps or flats. Moving clockwise on the circle, we go from C to G to D, etc.
This movement can be interpreted in two ways. First, if we are going up
the scale, the interval from C to G is a fifth. Second, if we are going
down the scale, the interval from C to G is a fourth.
- C, d, e, f…
- G, a, b, c…(5th from C – one sharp)
- D, e, f, g… (5th from G – two sharps)
- A, b, c♯, d (5th from D – two sharp)
- E, f♯ , g♯ , a …(5th from A – one sharp)
- B, c♯ , d♯ , e. . (5th from E – five sharps)
- F♯ , g♯, a♯, b…(5th from B six sharps)
- D♭, e♭, f, g♭… (5th from F♯ – no sharps/flats)
- A♭, b♭, c, d♭…(5th from D♭ one flat)
- E♭, f, g, a♭… (5th from A♭ – three flats)
- B♭, c, d, e♭…(5th from A♭ two flats)
- F, g, a, b♭ …(5th from B♭ – one flat)
- C (5th from G – two sharps)
descending fifths from C to F to Bb, this movement can be interpreted in two ways.
First, if we are going up the scale, the interval from C to F is a
fourth. Second, if we are going down the scale, the interval from C to F
is a fifth.
identical tone. For instance, the key of C♭ has seven flats while the
key of B has five sharps. Yet, since they refer to the same note, they
are tonally equivalent.
Circle of fifths are useful because:
- Dominant 7th chords
(which are common in popular music), have a tendency to move towards (also known as ‘resolve’) certain chords. But which chord is next? The
answer is simply to go down a fifth, or counter-clockwise on the circle.
So if a piece of music has a G7 chord at the end of a bar/the music, it will resolve onto a C. If we use an F7, it will resolve onto a B♭.
- In a lot of music, the most common chords will be those
of the key the music is in, and the chords on either side of it on
the circle. For example, if you are playing in the key of C, you’ll
likely use F (the subdominant) and G (the dominant) as well.
- When writing songs,
sometimes it can be hard to come up with interesting chord progressions. We can use the chart for this by experimenting with moving between relative majors and minors or jumping by a fourths/fifths. Jazz and (especially) Blues sometimes use the circle of fifths in their progression.