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Circle of the fifth
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I guess, nearly everybody who has learned to play an instrument has heard about the "Circle Of The Fifths".

The problem is that you just learn it, but nobody tells you what it is good for. Well, I have just put it on my website, becasue I liked drawing it.... just kidding!

The "Circle Of The Fifths" is a calculating aid for music and harmonies. Actually something like a slide rule or well... a guess disc.

So, what can be calculated with it?

For example if you have to determin the key a piece is in, just count the flats or sharps on the the staff line. If you have 4 flats, the key Ab major, if you have 2 sharps, the key is D major.

Ok, you don't care much for those keys. Me not either! What I think it is useful is to quickly determine some important intervals. One step clockwise is a fiths, one step CCW is a 4th. That knowledge is rather helpful when you are analyzing a piece to determin which scales you can use for soloing or just to figure out, how the harmonies of a piece work.

Like I have mentioned several time, there are some chord progressions, turnarounds or combinations that occure in nearly all pieces. E.g. that's the IIm7-V7-Imaj7 or the IV-V7-I. They are pretty simple to recognize in the C major key, but harder to figure out in other keys.

A progression like Dm7-G7-Cmaj7 is a such a II-V-I. Take a look at the circle. G is the next neighbor clockwise, D is the neighbor of G. So if you have to figure out the same progression in let's say Db major, locate Db, the next neighbor (CW) is Ab, the next neigbor to Ab is Eb. Thus the desired progression is Ebm7 - Ab7 - Dbmaj7.

If you have a progression that is Em7 - A7 and you want to figure out, which scale you can play on it, locate the E and the A on the circle. Both are neigbours and analogous to above, Em7 - A7 leads to Dmaj7. Thus you can play the D major scale on that progression.

Another example: You have practiced to improvise on a chord progressions like Bb7-G7-C7-F7 and you want to practice it in different keys, locate Bb, G, C and F and "turn" it in the direction of the desired key. So if you want the same progression that starts with D7 here it is: D7 - B7 - E7 - A7.

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Last modified on Friday, 2. January 2009