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The Circle of Fifths

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The circle of fifths is a powerful tool in learning music theory with lots of information packed in a small space. If you haven’t really used the circle before, there’s no better time to start than now!

In this mini-lesson, I’ll cover some a couple of great uses for the circle / cycle including how to find relative major / minor keys, basic progressions, learning the sharps / flats per key, and how to spell some basic chords – and that’s just the beginning!

Below is a basic version of the circle we’ll use for this example. I would suggest printing a copy of the circle out and hanging it in your practice area as a quick reference.

Circle of 5ths / Cycle of 4ths

Circle of 5ths / Cycle of 4ths – First let’s clear up the name! While generally the above is referred to as the Circle of 5ths, it’s also called the Cycle of 4ths. Don’t panic – they are the same thing. The only real difference is the direction you move.

Below is a short list of the cool things you can learn from the circle.

Relative Major and Minor
Most circles will show the Major key on the outside with its relative Minor key on the inside. For example, as noted in the picture above, C’s relative minor is A minor. Remember:

Progressions

Sharps / Flats
Knowing what notes are sharp and flat in a given key is really helpful – especially if you have to transpose a song to a new key. The circle of fifths makes learning this really easy.

Spelling Chords
Using the circle as a visual reference can be helpful when trying to remember how to spell chords.

Just the beginning

While the above is a good start, there’s SO much more to the circle than this. I would suggest you spend some time reviewing the circle / cycle and seeing what other patterns you can find. If you’re interested in a more deep dive on the circle, check out my personal coaching page.

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