Understanding the Circle of Fifths: The Clock of Key Signatures
Our guide is the Circle of Fifths made easy – very little prior musical knowledge is in a progression, and understand relationships between major and minor keys. Each key will have its unique pattern of sharps and flats. You'll find more isolated ways to understand key signatures, chord The scale is built by a specific relationship between the notes. . So for instance, D-flat major key may have Db as it's root, but the minor key C-sharp major. By changing the first note, then using the pattern as a guide, you can construct The arrangement of sharps and flats at the beginning of a piece of music is lies in the same relationship to the tonic of the major with the same key signature.
Lesson 4: Reading music in treble clef and the C Major scale (video) | Khan Academy
The basic form of a chord is the root of the chord, plus the third above it, and then the fifth above the root as well.
You can then duplicate a note, usually the root, to use as a bass note to form a bass melody, and you can even invert chords and other tricks. The entire reason I built the conversation up to chords was to introduce the concept of the fifth. There are three types of fifths based on the number of semitones above the root the fifth lies: Perfect fifths 7 semitones Diminished fifths 6 semitones Augmented fifths 8 semitones In the Circle of Fifths, we only deal with perfect fifths going clockwise around the circle.
If you move counter-clockwise you'll find the perfect fourth from the root. Examples for Using the Circle of 5ths This thing wouldn't have stuck around since the 17th century if there weren't real world uses for it. Let's take a look at some of them. Chord Progressions The most popular chord progression in the world, in which most pop music recycles over and over is the: Roman numerals are used in music theory to indicate notes in a scale and chord and in this case the chords in the key.
There are major chords and minor chords, which are denoted with capital letters and lower-case letters, respectively. This means we are looking at the major chords of a key built on the tonic, the fourth, and the fifth. If you proceed through them one measure at a time in each of the main 12 major and 12 minor keys of Western music, you'll recognize each immediately.
Now, what's interesting is if you find the tonic of your key on the Circle, you've already found the 4th chord and the 5th chord in the key and can construct a catchy song in less than 10 seconds. Find the tonic of your key. If you move one step clockwise, you find the 5th chord of the G-Major key.
If you move one step counter-clockwise, you've found the 4th chord. You can see how this works in C-Major below: Each key only has 3 major chords in it. You'll notice if you take one more step out in either direction you find the 2nd and 7th Chords. This half of your circle expands your chord choices in creating progressions. If you stick to this side of the circle you're guaranteed to have a nice, consonant chord progression for your song.
Of course you can use others but it requires some study and skill to do it effectively. What this means is that both keys use the exact same notes, including any accidentals sharps or flats. The difference is they have a different tonic and the distance relationship between the notes is changed a bit. Since they are the same notes though, this distance won't impede you from using the relative minor. One of my favorite ways to write a bridge to a song is to use the relative minor or major key.
It will sound familiar due to the same notes being used but give you the opposite mood of the song.
It's a nice juxtaposition that you can use as a surprise that leads right back into a chorus with the right lyrics. To move from a minor key to the relative major is the opposite. If you have a Circle labeled like ours, then you can find the relative minor key on the inside of the circle, where C-Major's relative minor is A-Minor, G-Major's relative minor is E-minor, and so forth: There is one snag to this method that solves itself as you work with the Circle of 5ths.
The naming convention for major keys will usually use a flat accidental, such as Eb to be read as E-flatexcept for F F-sharp. Minor keys largely use sharp accidentals to name the keys except for Bb.
The Circle of Fifths Explained
The reason has to do with the count of semitones when constructing the chords. So for instance, D-flat major key may have Db as it's root, but the minor key C-sharp major does as well. Because C and Db are the exact same note, just named differently. Once you become more familiar with the 12 major keys and 12 minor keys you'll know which name to use and thus which key signature you're using. Transposing Songs on the Fly If you know the melody of a song and just need to plink out the chords on a piano or strum them on a guitar so your group of non-musician friends can sing along, you can transpose a song quickly if needed, all in your head.
A common use for transposition is when a song is a bit out of range for a vocalist. All that you need to do is find the tonic of the key you want to use usually one or two steps above or below the current key and you can snag the chords right off of the circle.
This is just like with our chord progression example above. So by rotating the Circle you can immediately jump to another key! You memorize this quickly after doing it a few times. But there's nothing wrong with having the circle printed and folded up in your pocket either.
The Circle of Fifths helps us with this task. Starting at C-Major or 12 o'clock on the watch face of the circlewhich is natural with no accidentals, every step you move clockwise adds one sharp to its key signature. This continues for seven steps until you're back to no sharps. Using the same method but moving counter-clockwise will add a flat for each step. So starting with the natural C-Major, one step brings us to F-Major with one flat.
Another step takes us to B-flat Major with two flats. This continues to seven until you're back to keys with no flats. This works with the major keys on the outside of the Circle and their minor keys in the inside of the circle, with the understanding that you always start at "12 o'clock.
Although we've provided an easy to read chart at the bottom of the poster, as seen below, you can memorize the pattern of how many sharps and flats each key has and the order of their appearance on the staff.
The first clue is that the order of accidentals cycles around the Circle clockwise for sharps or counter-clockwise for flats. They both follow this pattern, which is easy to memorize thanks to the word "bead" being in there: Run it backwards and you have the order of sharps!
Reading the Clock The Circle of Fifths is a great tool in aiding musicians to learn and memorize all the basic diatonic key signatures. The diagram presents all the diatonic major and minor keys, in order, based on the amount of sharps or flats. It can be thought of as the analog clock of music. Like an analog clock, the Circle of Fifths is divided into 12 points, but instead of numbers, there are letters.
Whereas the numbers on the clock represent hours of the day, the letters on the clock represent the prominent major and minor key signatures in Western music!
The sharp keys move by perfect fifths, and are placed clockwise around the circle. What's cool about the sharp keys is that one sharp starts on the number one, and moves up accordingly. The Key Signatures As mentioned above, the arrangement of the key signatures in the Circle of Fifths is based on the number of sharps or flats in each key. There are 7 sharp keys and 7 flat keys. Enharmonic Keys If the Circle of Fifths only has 12 spots, how can there be 7 sharp and 7 flat keys, plus our neutral key of C Major?
The answer is, three of these keys are Enharmonic. Enharmonic Keys are key signatures that have the same pitches, but different names. Sharp Keys Let's start by reading above the diagram clockwise starting on C major: Notice that it starts with one sharp, and increases by one sharp as we go around the clock, all the way to having a key signature with 7 sharps.
Lesson 4: Reading music in treble clef and the C Major scale
Flat Keys If we go back to C, and read the clock counter-clockwise the same principle is applied, but with flats: Relative Minor Keys All major key signatures, sharps and flats, have a relative minor signature that shares the same number of sharps or flats.
To find the relative minor of a key signature, you can do one of the following two. Either way, you will end on the relative minor for that major key. Keep in mind that every major key signature has a relative minor. It is vital that we memorize all our key signatures as musicians, including both versions of the Enharmonic keys. How to Quickly Memorize the Circle of Fifths The best and easiest way to memorize the Circle of Fifths is to remember a phrase, or saying, that really sticks.
A lot of people like to make up their own, and I have heard a lot of great phrases, but in my opinion none beat the original: The reason why this one is superior is due to the fact that we can say it backwards, as in counter-clockwise, and it still works!: Rather than making up a different saying for both the sharp and flat keys, we have one master saying that applies to both. Say it over and over again until you have it memorized. How to Read the Circle of Fifths 1.
Identifying Sharp Keys Let's start with the first phrase I mentioned: We say the phrase in this order to identify which sharp key we are in. The first letter of every word is the last sharp of the key.
From there simply go up a half-step and that note is the name of the major key signature. Here is a prelude by Chopin. The key signature has three sharps. Father Charles Goes, so we have G. One half step up from G is A.
So the piece is in either A major or F-sharp minor. In the last bar, we see that the bass and the soprano are both A. Identifying Flat Keys As mentioned above the second phrase, BEADGCF is the same as the first phrase, but now we are saying it backwards, or counter-clockwise, to identify which flat key we are in.
When we arrive on the last word, simply go back one word in the phrase. Then add a flat to the first letter of that word, thus identifying our key signature! For the rest, go back one word. Let's apply this technique. Let's look at another prelude by Chopin. How many flats do you see resting on the staff?