Can anybody here explain the circle of fifths to me?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by nortonrider, Jan 10, 2009.

  1. nortonrider


    Nov 20, 2007
    OK, I'm not a complete idiot when it comes to all things music theory, I can hack my way through figuring out the notes in bass cleff if given enough time, but this circle of fifths has me stumped.

    PLEASE, If you are going to give me the prodigy answers, dont bother, I don't understand them.
    You all know, the regular responses:

    Its the 12 chromatic pitch...Blah, Blah, Blah
    It goes 1 sharp then 2 sharps then 3 sharps
    If you read it backwards it's the circle of fourths

    I have the books that say all of that stuff already. But I just plain do not get it.

    I know that it must be important because I have seen it everywhere. My problem is everytime that sit down and tell myself that I am going to figure this out, I just get frustrated and throw the books aside. It's like it is written in a different language.

    Can anyone please explain it in a manner that a common man can understand?

    Does it have to do with chord progressions?

    What key the song is in?

    I seriously haven't even found a description of the circle of fifths that clearly explains why it is necessary to know it.

    Thanks in advance.
  2. MStrianese


    Jul 26, 2008
    New York
  3. nortonrider


    Nov 20, 2007
    I have read everything on the first 3 pages of google concerning the circle, as well as the 6 different learn to play the bass books and the 2 music theory books that I have.

    None if that stuff makes any sense to me, I thought that I made that part pretty clear.

    Also, please don't say "use the search button" I've already done that too.

    I just looking for a blue collar common sense description as to what it is and why it's important.
  4. Do you know anything about the major scale? Anything at all? Do you know what a circle is?

    Let's start with that stuff.
  5. BahamaBass

    BahamaBass Guest

    Nov 15, 2008
    basically if you start on C the next note above which is G is a 5th apart. so you would then go to D and then A and so on up the neck in 5ths. you can also go backwards down the neck.

    basically it helps one figure what notes or chords can or are used in a song or progression.

    you can find the notes by looking at this as well:

    it shows how many sharps or flats are in a scale as well. notice when I said "start on C the next note above which is G is a 5th apart. so you would then go to D and then A and so on up the neck." you can see from the diagram we were moving clockwise and dealing with sharps. So we can see G major scale has one sharp in it. and C has no sharps or flats.

    we can also see the relative minors in the middle of the circle. The relative minor to G is Em and how many sharps are in the Em scale?.... one sharp. we can see that from the Circle of 5ths Diagram. you can also check it out on your guitar.

    most songs use circle of 5ths its just theory but can help figure things out with it.
  6. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    Play through the pitches going around the circle (counterclockwise as well) and you will hear strong movements... the circle of fifths/fourths is simply a way of arranging them and refering to them... if you base a chord progression on the cirlce of fifths you will get a strong chord progression such as {i iv VII III VI iidim V i} in a minor key.

    One must always remember that music is sound... not notes
  7. Jimmyplaysabass

    Jimmyplaysabass Guest

    Aug 10, 2007
    the key of c has no sharps or flats.

    if you were to add a sharp you would be in the key of G which is either a fifth up from C or a fourth down from C

    to find out what key you would be in if you were to add one flat you would go down a fifth putting you at F (the key of F has one flat) or you would go up a fourth.

    the circle of fifths is simpley the relationship between the key signatures

    lets say there are 3 sharps in the key signature. in order to figure out what key you are in you would start at C and go up 3 fifths. the fifth of c is G, G major has 1 sharp. Go up another fifth, now you're in the key of D, the key of D has 2 sharps. Finally go up another fifth, now you're in the key of A, the key of A has 3 sharps.
  8. From the first link I posted:

    "The circle of fifths is a diagram used in music theory that helps students memorize and understand the 24 major and minor keys used in music, key relationships, and many chord relationships."
  9. Bass-desires


    Oct 25, 2008
    El paso, TX
    I am on the same journey as well. I look at it and think, "Wow that looks cool, but I have no idea what it means to me."

    I work in the medical field and the hardest part of starting is getting lingo down and actually knowing what it means. I really think the commonly used guides to the circle of 5ths is assuming you know the lingo.

    I think what he is asking and myself included is can you explain it without the lingo?

    Does that help any? Or did I just make things worse? :rolleyes:
  10. bThumper38

    bThumper38 brian ebert

    Jimmyplaysabass pretty much describes it perfectly.
  11. DocBop


    Feb 22, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    It's more then key sig's it's also your strong chord movement of up a fourth or down a fifth. Use it also to cycle thru chords.
  12. It also gives you the relative minors. So if you are playing in C major and move to A minor it will sound like it belongs together. Also if you are soloing in C major you can move into A minor and back because it has all the same notes.
  13. nortonrider


    Nov 20, 2007
    OK, now I feel like a complete moron!

    First off, the Fancy Circle Chart that I have is completely fully of letters, numbers, sharps, flats, doodads, curly things, thingamajigs and a bunch of other stuff. All of the books that I have read like the blueprints for a atomic accelerator.

    After starting this thread I printed out a basic circle of fifths off of the internet. I took one look at the thing and I was like DUH!
    I know the entire thing forwards and backwards, I have been doing this stuff for years. Anybody that knows a major scale know this.

    The "learning" material that I have really just complicated things and made my brain think "what the hell?" and shut itself off.

    Go ahead and and flame away, I deserve it.

    OH, and thanks to everyone for trying to explain it to me.
  14. DocBop


    Feb 22, 2007
    Los Angeles, CA
    Your talking like a guitar player. They do wacky analysis to try and reduce songs to one or two scales. They are also taking advantage of "play any note fast enough it works."

    Yes, C major and its relative minor A natural minor have the same notes, BUT the notes you emphasize are different. So you might be using some A minor fingering pattern but your note choices need to be C major if a C major chord or key.
  15. REAPER52

    REAPER52 Guest

    Aug 17, 2008
    I know whats wrong - back when i rode a Norton-good bike too-- i was confused ,,Then i got a Harley and it all went away-----lol
  16. Dudaronamous

    Dudaronamous Supporting Member Supporting Member

    Oct 16, 2005
    Bothell, WA
    Do yourself a favor and take some music lessons from someone who understands it and can explain it to you. Learn the definitions of major and minor scales, and which tones in the scales form chords. The circle of fifths will start to make sense after you learn those basics, but I don't think it will make much sense without that knowledge. Don't despair and stick with it, your playing will improve as you learn these concepts. Regards.
  17. cooptroop123

    cooptroop123 Guest

    Sep 1, 2008
    lincoln, NE
    how about both? and I believe there are also much more elements to music than the vague word "sound"
  18. slybass3000

    slybass3000 Inactive

    Nov 5, 2004
    Cycles in music seems to go down so........
    Try this: play 5 descending notes all the time ,you'll have your cycle of fifths by going through your flats then going to your sharps.

    Here is the sequence:
    Bb-A-G-F-Eb etc.

    I hope this will make sense to you,

  19. nortonrider


    Nov 20, 2007
    You know, If just one of my books would have had something like:
    or even
    power chord

    in its description of the circle, It would have been a no brainer. That is bread and butter stuff right there. fifths, fourths, I got that part down and have had it for quite some time.

    now if I can just decypher the key signature segment (this has 3 sharps then you add 2 more sharps, etc...), I will be a happy man.

    Thanks again.