Lesson: Learn The Circle of Fifths

Circle of Fifths from wikimedia.org

If you're a visual learner like me, and you really want to get this theory thing down, you might want to visit some pictures at Piano Clues In the meantime, here's an article I wrote awhile back on this subject.

  • Learn The Circle of Fifths

Often times when one refers to the Circle of Fifths we think about Scales. Today I would like to expose some secrets in the Circle of Fifths. Whether you are just beginning to play the piano or you are a seasoned musician, learning the theory behind the Circle of Fifths is an extremely important and valuable tool to have.

My understanding of the Circle of Fifths is that you must first be able to measure the interval of a perfect fifth. A perfect fifth spans five staff degrees and is comprised of three whole-steps, and one half step, or seven half-steps. rather than counting steps, a perfect fifth can be calculated more quickly by using information already learned in connection with the scale, the note from which the measurement is to be made as tonic. From a tonic note up to its dominant note is an ascending perfect fifth.

It is through the interval of the perfect fifth that keys are related to each other. Starting with C, we count up a perfect fifth to find the keynote G for the scale with one sharp; we count up a perfect fifth from G to find the keynote D for the scale with two sharps, and so on until we reach C# with seven sharps.

The flat keys are related in a similar manner. Starting with C, we count down a perfect a perfect fifth to find the keynote F for the scale with one flat; we count down a perfect fifth from F to find the keynote Bb for the scale of two flats, and so on until we reach Cb, with seven flats. Each progression up a fifth adds one new sharp, and each progression down by fifth adds one new flat.

The key names used for 5, 6, and 7 sharps have enharmonic equivalents in the names for keys 5, 6, and 7 flats: B (5 sharps) and Cb (7 flats); F# (6 sharps) and Gb (6 flats); C# (7 sharps) and Db (5 flats). so now the circle of fifths formajor keys is produced.

This circle includes all the major key names with the sharp keys reading clock-wise from C, and the flat keys reading counterclockwise from C. The circle is joined by the three enharmonic keys. The number of sharps or flats for each key can be determined by counting the number of fifths away from C.

For example, A has three sharps because it is the third key clockwise from C; Db has 5 flats because it is five keys counterclockwise from C. The circle also indicates the order of sharps and flats on the staff.

  • Why is this important?
I was explaining to my grandson that if he just learned 3 chords in his left hand, he could then play tons of songs. We started with Amazing Grace in C and then played it in the Key of G. For a moment in time, I think it clicked and he is now playing I-IV-V chord progressions. You see, I want him to learn how to read the music notes on the staff but also to understand theory and play some songs without the sheets.

Another good guy on the net that can help explain some more details to this Circle is, Jon Chappell

I have a resource in my library that I refer to often. It's like a text book that you can write in. You may be interested in the 300pg Piano By Ear Home Study Course

Can you play I-IV-V chord progressions in every key? Try it this week.

All the best,

"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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