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Cycle Fourths?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by BeastSternecker, Oct 17, 2013.

  1. BeastSternecker


    Aug 5, 2013
    So I was on YouTube and I stumbled across a cover of a Jay-Z song. It was played on a moog.
    There has been a reoccurring riff I've been hearing in a lot of soloing. Especially Berklee stuff. I've posted a link to the cover:

    Jay Z - Show Me What You Got SYNTH BASS (doc skim)

    The riff I'm talking about is at 2:30. In the comments people have called it "cycle fourths" "circle fourths" I just want to know, what is it? And where can I learn it? Any instructional websites? Videos?

    I'd really love the help. Thanks!
  2. megafiddle


    May 25, 2011
    The circle of fourths (or circle of fifths) is a movement through all 12 keys by moving
    a fourth at a time. For example - C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb B E A D G and back to C.

    The circle of fourths is not a specific riff, it's how a riff (for example) moves through the keys.
    Basically you take a riff or phrase and keep transposing it by a fourth at a time. See diagram
    at link below. Find the starting key and just move counterclockwise around the circle. Moving
    counterclockwise, it's usually called a circle of fourths.

    The diagram itself is normally called the circle of fifths:


    By moving a fifth or fourth at a time, you go through all 12 keys and return to the starting key.
    It's often used for practicing scales.

  3. megafiddle


    May 25, 2011
    Youtube has a few lessons and practice videos for circle of fourths, but not much about any specific riff.
    Might find more there under a particular song name, instead of under circle of fourths.

    If you look at the lessons under circle of fourths, you can get a good idea of how it all works. Then if
    you hear a bass part that's moving that way, you only need to figure out the basic pattern or phrase,
    and transpose it by fourths to get the whole thing. Or just help follow it.

  4. 1dreday

    1dreday Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2009
    megafiddle dade a lot of sense to me, it finally just click and i'm like oh wow I get it, check ot this link to a circle of fifths generator thing.
    now that we know how to figure out what notes next, in the cycle, how do we use it?

  5. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    This is one way to use the circle of fourths/fifths. I always use "fifths" because it forces you to think of how a chord is resolving or moving to the next chord rather than the next chord simply being a seemingly unexplained fourth above the first chord.

    A more harmonically-related way to view this circle of fifths is to build a harmonic structure from it:

    First five bars of All the Things You Are:

    | Fmin7 | Bbmin7 | Eb7 | AbMaj7 | DbMaj7 |

    This employs the circle of fifths in a diatonic way. All of the chords are in the key of AbMajor and the root motion in each case is five to one. I use the words "five" and "one" instead of Roman numerals because the chords are not all Dominant as a V chord in a Major key is normally thought of (to hopefully avoid confusion on that issue), but the root motion of five to one is strong to the ear.

    Bars 2, 3, and 4 are a classic ii V I, which is so strong not only because it resolves diatonically to the I, but also (at least in part) because the root motion follows the circle of fifths. If you think of this as the circle of fourths, the above relationship is not so obvious (at least to my way of thinking).
  6. megafiddle


    May 25, 2011
    Here's a simple example:

    It's a one measure riff beginning on C. Then it's transposed by a fourth to F.
    Then it's transposed by a fourth again to Bb, etc. (1 measure in each key)

    It doesn't have to be the same riff at each transposition. It more the way it
    moves through the keys.

    A real bass part from a song would be better, but I can't think of one offhand.

    BeastSternecker's link above is bit hard to hear because of the tone
    of the synth and the speed.

  7. 1dreday

    1dreday Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2009
    i'm digging your post very informative, one question, in the video if he starts in the key of c that being 1 wouldn't the progress be to e-3 g-5 , but I get the 1-4 being c-f instead of 1-3-5 but if you go 1-4 were do you go next 1-4-5?

  8. 1dreday

    1dreday Supporting Member

    Nov 22, 2009
    stupid question but does this mean flat Bb and this mean sharp A# the same note just depends on which way your going on the neck, it also seems backwards you sharpen a note and go down and flatten it you go up the neck. mu mind tells me up is sharp & down is flat, like sharp sky flat down like a tire, but its backwards ugh
  9. BeastSternecker


    Aug 5, 2013
    So could it be that in the video he is playing a circle of fifths in minor triads? Or another triad?
  10. BeastSternecker


    Aug 5, 2013
    It would be the Bb, the flat seven.
  11. megafiddle


    May 25, 2011
    Excellent information.

    As normally used in songs, the movement from V to I does agree more with the way it sounds,
    as opposed to I to IV. It does need to get back to a I, not a IV.

    If you were to move strictly through key changes as in scale exercises, instead of diatonic chord
    changes, it would eventually return to the starting key and could even have a I to IV sound. But
    it also sounds endless (never resolving).

  12. megafiddle


    May 25, 2011
    It's more like a new fourth each time it changes, So you start on C and then move to the fourth of C,
    which is an F. Now you are in F and you next move to the fourth of F, which is Bb. Now you are in Bb,
    and move to the fourth of Bb, which is Eb. And so on.

  13. megafiddle


    May 25, 2011
    The rule about calling notes sharp when moving up, and flat when moving down, has to do with
    a series of notes like a melody. For example, C C# D D# E or C B Bb A Ab.

    When moving through the circle of fifths, the Bb is the next key, not the next note. So you are
    changing key, not moving up through a series of notes. The key of Bb keeps the Bb and the Eb.
    They are part of it's key signature.

  14. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Yes indeed! But I would try to learn chords as 1 3 5 7 and not just triads. You can't adequately explain something as basic as diatonic harmony with triads.

    I haven't checked out the video, but any chord can essentially serve as a V chord of the following chord if the root motion is five to one, five to one, etc. In that scenario, we throw out the strict rules of diatonic theory, and evaluate root motion regardless of what type of chord is use.

    | E7 | A7 | D7 | G7 | CMaj7 | is the circle of fifths, using true Dominant7 V chords to ultimately resolve to CMajor, but:

    |Emin7(b5) | A7(b9) | Dmin7 | G7 | Cmaj7 | is equally the circle of fifths ultimately resolving to CMajor.

    |Emin7 | Amin7 | Ddim7 | GAug7 | Cmin7 | is also the circle of fifths.

    The key point is that the circle of fifths relies on the root motion of the chord changes. It can be applied to diatonic situations (i.e., the All the Things You Are example I posted above, where all the chords are common to a single key signature) or to any progression of "less conventional" chords that are not common to a single key.
  15. BeastSternecker


    Aug 5, 2013
    So it could just be that he is playing fourths (or fifths) while alternating his triad (or we'll just say arpeggio) to match the chord he lands on? So hypothetically, starting at Cmaj7, how would someone move about the cycle reaching the C at the end. I'm aware of what the next chord is based around (like F if we were moving in fourths) but I'm not sure what the chord is. (For example, minor, dominant, and etc.)

    I'm a young guy just trying to grasp onto theory. Unfortunately it doesn't happen over night! Haha!
  16. mambo4


    Jun 9, 2006
    Even in the context of melody, the key signature takes precedence.
    The up/down thing applies only to accidentals that would appear outside of the key.
    For example, in the key of B flat [ B♭ C D E♭ F G A ] ,
    B♭ will never be notated A♯ (likewise E♭ never D♯), regardless of the melody.
    If you were to notate a chromatic run from G up to B♭ in this key: G G♯ A B♭
    If you were to notate a chromatic run from G *down* to E♭ in this key: G G♭ F E♮ E♭
  17. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    No it doesn't; I started learning theory (as opposed to just reading music) in 1981 and I'm still learning.

    The answer to your other question is that there are many ways to move through the circle to get back where you started. One of the most basic would be to use dominant 7th chords, which would create the effect of a "moving blues" that moves through various tonal centers:

    ||: C7 F7 Bb7 Eb7 Ab7 Db7 Gb7 Cb7 E7 A7 D7 G7 :||

    Another way would be to make it more jazz-like using ii Vs. I'll start with Dmin7 G7 which means I am starting in the key of C Major:

    ||: Dmin7 G7 | Cmin7 F7 | Bbmin7 Eb7 | Abmin7 Db7 |
    | F#min7 B7 | Emin7 A7 :||

    Note that F# and Gb as well as Cb and B are enharmonically equivalent.
  18. LordDog


    Jun 25, 2013
    Norwich UK
    I don't know the answer to your question, but if you play the major triads through the circle of fifths, it sounds like that song "mouse in a windmill" to me? "I saw a mouse...Where...there on the stair" etc :D
  19. BeastSternecker


    Aug 5, 2013
    So starting in Dorian just alternates between minor seven to dominant seven until finally reaching Dm7 again? Very cool.

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