Hi everyone! As a new Washington State resident, I’d like to introduce myself to the WBA crowd. I’ve been playing music since 1998 and teaching since about then as well. The focus of this column will be on music eduction and promotion of PNW bluegrass music. If you have any suggestions for topics or questions, please contact me at http://www.mattcbruno.com/contact
Today, let’s talk about the circle of 5ths.
Circle of 5ths / Cycle of 4ths – Generally this is called 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. Going clockwise is the Circle of 5ths, counter-clockwise is the Cycle of 4ths.
Relative Major and Minor
Most circles will show the Major key on the outside with its relative Minor key on the inside. Remember:
- the 6th degree (or vi) of any Major key is its relative Minor. Starting with C, move three spaces right in the circle and you’ll land on A, which is the relative Minor of C
- The 3rd degree (or iii) of any Minor key is its relative Major. Starting with A, move three spaces left in the cycle and you’ll land on C, which is the relative Major of A
- 1 4 5 (I IV V) – The chord to the left and right of any particular key will make up a 1 4 5 (or I IV V) progression. For example, from C (the root) move left one away from C and you’ll get the F (the 4 or IV), then move right one away from C and you’ll get G (the 5 or V)
- 6 2 5 1 – This common progression (also called Rhythm Changes) is just a progression of 4ths. Salty Dog Blues is a 6 2 5 1 progression for example. Start with the 6th of any key and move left on the circle. For example, a 6 2 5 1 (or VI II V I) in C would be A D G C. Starting on the A, just move back stepwise to C.
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.
- Moving right increases the number of sharps by one and the new sharp will be the 7th note of that key. For example, C has no sharps, move right one space to G and you’ll add 1 sharp (F# the 7th of G), move right again to D and you’ll add another sharp to the F# (C# the 7th of D) for a total of 2 sharps (F# and C#), etc
- Moving left increases the number of flats by one and the new flat will be the 4th note of that key. For example, C has no flats, move left one space to F you’ll add one flat (Bb the 4th of F), move left again to Bb and you’ll add another flat (Eb the 4th of Bb) for a total of 2 flats (Eb and Bb), etc
Using the circle as a visual reference can be helpful when trying to remember how to spell chords.
- Major –
- The Root is whatever key you choose
- The 3rd is the relative minor of the 5th above the root
- The 5th is the the next note to the right in the circle.
- Major 7th – to the above, add
- Relative minor of the 2nd chord which is 2 steps to the right of the root. Here that would be the B note.
- Minor –
- The Root is the relative minor of whatever key you choose
- The b3rd the relative major
- The 5th is the the next relative minor note to the right in the circle.
- Minor 7th – to the above, add the relative major of the 5th. So in A Minor, that would be adding the G. So A Minor 7th would be A C E G.
I hope this helps. Next quarter we’ll dive a bit further into the Circle to help spell common (and not so common) chords.