Knowing the circle of fifths, you can write a collection of songs and produce a CD! How is that for a great music tool!!
It’s true. The circle of fifths shows you each key signature and then the chords that belong in that key. When you write a song you can refer to it to help you pick chord changes for your song. Here is the tool:
Here is how it works. The 12 major key names are placed around a circle, in a special order. The 12 o’clock position is C. It is the key with no sharps or flats. Then count 5 steps, C D E F G. You only need to know the alphabet to do it, it is just the same.
Except it starts on C, and only goes to G, before it starts over at A –
So you have C D E F G A B, and back to C, which is an octave above the first C.
Looking at the diagram above you can see these notes in the key of C. They correspond to the numbers 1 through 7, and are written outside of the circle. Now as you move clockwise you come to the next key – G, which is 5 steps above C:
C D E F G= 1 2 3 4 5
So we are starting with the fifth note in the key of C, to create the key of G.
G A B C D E F# G. G is the second key signature in the circle of fifths. Because the tool works by placing the keys around the circle in such an order as to add one sharp or flat as you progress clockwise, you know that G has one sharp. And you know which sharp it is if you have learned the order of sharps.
To learn the order of sharps, you can use this mnemonic device as follows:
F (Fat), C (cows), G (graze), D (daily), A (at), E (each), B (barn). If you want, you can make up a different sentence as long as it helps you remember. For example, Filthy cats growl daily at each bath.
Now count up 5 more letters from G – G A B C D – so next is the key of D. And you know it has 2 sharps because we add a sharp with each successive key. You know the 2 sharps are F and C, because you know the order of sharps by using the mnemonic device above.
And just keep going around the circle like that. So counting 5 letters from D, you have D E F G A – you know the next key is A, and it has 3 sharps. They are F, C and G (i.e. Fat cows graze).
It works in a similar way as you continue clockwise but it switches to flats. The order of flats is the same as sharps, but in reverse. Use the same mnemonic device but just say it backwards. Voila!
If you study the circle you will notice the order of sharps is inside the circle, starting with F# at the 3 o’clock position.
There are a few extra tips, which we’ll go into later, but one is that there is no such thing as E # (E sharp) because there is no black key on the piano between E and F, so we just call it F. And there is no such thing as B#, for the same reason — because there is no black key between B and C, so going up a half step (which is what is meant by a sharp), you simply have C.
Don’t worry if it doesn’t make perfect sense. The goal is to make music, and the tool is there to help you. The goal is not to learn about a tool. Study it and see how you can use it best. We will share more on the Circle of Fifths in future blogs, so keep reading!