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What is the Circle of Fifths?

Conversation topic in a nutshell submitted by Liam, expert piano and drum tutor, Tutorful

There are many concepts, structures and systems in music theory, some remedial, some not so... This one's a bit mental.

Fear not! I’m here to teach you a lesson (I promise).

The circle of fifths provides a fundamental basis for harmony, key, scales and general theoretical application.

There are twelve different notes in Western music, with them, we form a “key” diagram in a circle; think of a letter-coded clock face. (Yeah, it’s weird)

Now we’ve got a rough picture...

The keys go up in fifths clockwise and down a fifth each time anti-clockwise starting with “C” at noon. Each key is also coupled with a “relative minor key” (as if it wasn’t hard enough) which follows accordingly honing the same flats or sharps as it’s major counterpart.

As you go clockwise you gain a sharp in your key signature, anti-clockwise from noon provides a “flat” addition each key.

You can have up to six sharps or flats in your key signature with “C Major/A Minor” having none of either and “F# Major/Gb Major - D# Minor/Eb Minor” having six relatively - crazy right...?

Understanding “key” is key (get it?) in terms of getting to grips with music.

If any of that has sunk in here’s the nitty-gritty.

Major key order in sharps (clockwise): C, G, D, A, E, B and F#

Minor key order in sharps (clockwise): a, e, b, f#, c#, g# and d#

Major key order in flats (anti-clockwise): C, F, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db and Gb

Minor key order in flats (anti-clockwise): a, d, g, c, f, b flat, e flat.

So there we have it a small, albeit, jam-packed blast of information in a nutshell, please digest safely and responsibly! 

Conversation starter: If you could magically have the ability to learn a new instrument, which would it be?

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