• Kacey Link

Circle of Fifths Basics

It's September and the beginning of the school year in the United States, so what do I have my students do first? Review the Circle of Fifths. Let's just say that if you can learn, memorize, internalize, and understand the Circle of Fifths, music theory is just soooooo much easier!

For starters, what is the circle of fifths? It is a diagram that organizes the twelve major and twelve minor keys, and it shows relationships between these keys. The circle organizes these keys by the order of sharps and flats, which just happens to be ascending and descending fifths.

Understanding the Circle

C Major, at the top of the circle, has no sharps or flats. If you move clockwise, G is up a perfect fifth up from C, and the key of G Major has one sharp, F#. Continuing in this direction, D is up a fifth from G, and the key of D Major has two sharps, F# and C#. So on and so forth. Going the other direction, F is down a fifth from C, and the key of F Major has one flat, Bb. Bb is down a fifth from F, and the key of Bb Major has two flats, Bb and Eb.

In the center of the circle in lower-case letters, there are the related minor keys. For example, a minor is the relative minor to C Major and has no sharps or flats. E minor is G Major's relative and has an F#.

Once you memorize the circle, you can easily memorize all your key signatures and then learn other compositional techniques!

Major and Minor Keys and Their Sharps/Flats:

C Major/a minor: no sharps or flats

G Major/e minor: F#

D Major/b minor: F# and C#

A Major/f# minor: F#, C#, and G#

E Major/c# minor: F#, C#, G#, and D#

B Major/g# minor: F#, C#, G#, D#, and A#

F# Major/d# minor: F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, and E#

F Major/d minor: Bb

Bb Major/g minor: Bb and Eb

Eb Major/c minor: Bb, Eb, and Ab

Ab Major/f minor: Bb, Eb, Ab, and Db

Db Major/bb minor: Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, and Gb

Gb Major/eb minor: Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, and Cb

Disclaimer: Please realize that this is just the basics for the Circle of Fifths. We still need to discuss enharmonic keys, the order of sharps and flats, modulations, and chord progressions. So the conversation is to be continued...

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