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Cycle of fifths / fourths question....I think I'm going insane =)

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by tpmiller08, Apr 11, 2009.

  1. tpmiller08


    Mar 15, 2009
    Boston, MA
    So.....are both cycles off the same chart? I wrote down every perfect 4th, and immediatly noticed that going from C to F to Bb to Eb...is just the cycle of fifths backwards.

    Sup with that? Am I way off, or are both cycles just different directions you go in on the chart? As in, if I go clockwise (starting from C to G), its all perfect fifths, then if I go counter-clockwise (starting from C to F) then its all perfect fourths, yes?

  2. Mo' Bass 00

    Mo' Bass 00

    Aug 15, 2006
    Yup, that's about right!:smug:
  3. dmrogers

    dmrogers Supporting Member

    Jan 26, 2005
    Eastman, GA
    Here you go

    I think you just had one of those "light bulb moments"!

  4. Rudreax


    Jun 14, 2008
    New York, NY
    It's supposed to be like that, and it's a good thing that you noticed it on your own.
  5. Stumbo

    Stumbo Wherever you go, there you are. Supporting Member Commercial User

    Feb 11, 2008
    the Cali Intergalctic Mind Space
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  6. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Questions are always asked about the Cycle of 5ths and 4ths and how they works. But the question goes deeper than just an explanation of that one point. To understand why this is so you need an understanding of Tetrachord Scale Theory. This explains and gives you the understanding to construct scales and keys which the Cycle of 5ths and 4ths are part of.

    So to this end here is a quick introduction to the Cycle of 5ths;

    Scales and their construction is easy if you understand a few laws and rules of music theory, so just a quick touch on the subject at its basic level.

    The C scale is perfect, it has no sharps or flats, its 4th and 5th intervals are said to be perfect intervals as well;


    It has T-T-S-T-T-T-S (T=tone S=Semitone) as its intervals and is considered to be Ionian (major) which is all the white notes on a piano C to C. Also the 7th (note) is a semitone from the tonic (8th note)

    Go to the 5th and write a new scale;


    for this scale to be considered Major it must follow laws the first of which its intervals must be

    T-T-S-T-T-T-S which is the Mixolydian mode, which is all the white keys on a piano G to G

    The next law is the 7th note and the Tonic must be a semitone apart for it to be considered a major scale.

    So this scale fails as E-F is a semitone and F-G is a tone.

    The only option here to sharpen the 7th note, the F to keep the intervals at T-T-S-T-T-T-S so now the scale reads;

    G-A-B-C-D-E-F#-G it follows all the criteria to be now considered a G major scale.

    Now go to the 5th note of the G Major scale and repeat, so now the new root is D


    You know the interval stucture has to be
    T-T-S-T-T-T-S and that the 7th and the Tonic must be a semitone apart to be considered a major scale, so this scale needs the 7th raised, as thats the only option to give it the intervals it requires so it reads
    D-E-F#-G-A-B-C#-D and is now considered a D major scale

    Now go to the 5th note of the D major scale and repeat so now the new root is A.... and so on and so on till you have 7 sharps, which means you have covered the seven notes of the sacale.( there are eight notes in the scale, but one one them is used twice, the Root and Tonic)

    Start at the C scale

    C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C go to the 4th and that is your new root and scale;

    F-G-A-B-C-D-E-F with the same rules the 7th is ok this time as it is a semitone from the tonic, but the 4th is not as A-B is a tone not a semitone, and the 5th B-C is a semitone,so it fails. Your only option is to flatten the 4th, the B and this scale will read
    and can now be considered F Major.

    Go to the 4th of F Major which is Bb and your new root, write the scale
    Bb-C-D-E-F-G-A-Bb you'll see it fails because th D-E is a tone, and E-F is a semitone, so flatten the 4th which is E, the scale now reads
    Bb-C-D-Eb-F-G-A-Bb and can now be considered Bb major.
    Go to the 4th of Bb Major and so on and so on till you have 7 flats.

    So to create sharp keys you raise the 7th. To produce flat keys you lower the 4th when you ceate new scales this way from C.
    This is why sharps and flats have an order and a key.
    This is why the cycle of 5ths works.
    This is why the cycle of 4ths works.
    This is why tetrachord theory works
    This is why chord theory works.
    This is....i could go on but the C scale is not that straight forward as it may seem, if you understand and can construct scales. Hope this has helped point you in the right direction and have fun with it.
  7. BassyBill

    BassyBill The smooth moderator... Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2005
    West Midlands UK
    Useful posts here. I think an understanding of harmonics (especially the relationship between the fundamental and its second harmonic) and equal temperament can help understand the way this all works, too.

  8. fearceol


    Nov 14, 2006
    My teacher encouraged me not to think of the circle in a visual way, ( while he admitted it was a good way to remember the order of sharps/flats ) but from the point of view of the fret board. If you know the FB, then you'll know where say, the 5th of C is positioned. If you play the major scale starting from there you will notice how many sharps there are. For me, this helped to put the theory into context.
  9. tpmiller08


    Mar 15, 2009
    Boston, MA
    I got all that :) I've been practiving the cycle of fourths and just never realized it. But when it comes to chords and scales, I'm all over that shiat :p

    I actually am going through everything I learned allready. Went into intervals, then C Major, then the cycle of fifths, then chords, then all the modes of C Major. Now I just have to go through some scales and I'll be done with my refresher course :D. It's wierd how you can forget things, or muck them up, when you don't use them for a while. It's like I took everything, then forgot it, but still applied it. But when you look at it all over again, you catch things you never noticed ( like the cycle of fourths, and how easy it is heh)

    Thanks for all the great posts guys. Helped alot. I really thought I was going insane heh

  10. Johades


    Feb 11, 2008
    also, if not mentioned;

    if we let flats be negative and sharps positive it will be easy to find out how many flats/sharps the paralell major/minor scale will contain.

    *the differense between major and minor is -3.
    E-major contains 4 sharps (=+4), e-minor will then have 1 sharp (=+1),
    +4 -3 = +1.

    if you start with minor it will be +3, for instance, g-minor (=-2, because it contains 2 flats), G-major will then be: -2 +3 = +1 (one sharp), and so on
  11. DaveAceofBass

    DaveAceofBass Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2004
    Charlotte, NC
    I think you were incorrect on this one point. The C scale is not "perfect", it's just a major scale. "Perfect" when referring to intervals has nothing to do with sharps or flats, but dissonance and consonance. Perfect intervals are those which sound the most consonant (they sound good together). Perfect intervals are: P1 (Perfect Unison), P4 (Perfect Fourth), P5 (Perfect Fifth), P8 (Perfect Octave), and the compound P4 and P5 intervals that go beyond the octave, the P11 and P12. All other intervals are either considered major, minor, augmented, or diminished.

    In a major scale from the tonic to the third of the scale is called a major third. Lower the third scale degree by a halfstep and you get a minor third. Diminished and augmented when talking intervals most often refers to the 4th and 5th intervals. Lower the 5th a half step and it is called a diminished fifth, augmented fourth (depends on the enharmonic spelling of the notes), or a tritone. All of these names are correct. A dimished seventh is a double flatted seventh, same as a major sixth enharmonically, but theoretically written differently. (Instead of writing C to A, you'd write C to Bbb, another example would be instead of B to G#, you'd write B to Ab.) Confused yet? ;)
  12. DaveAceofBass

    DaveAceofBass Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2004
    Charlotte, NC
    Since an ascending P4 is the same notes as a descending P5, this will work out. When using the circle of fifths to understand key signatures and scales, it's a bit different from applying it to building basslines. The cycle of fourths (same as the circle of fifths starting on the flat side) is often found, in part, in many jazz tunes. Some examples would be "Autumn Leaves" or "All the Things You Are". Likewise, this movement is also found in many pop and rock tunes. Some pop and rock tunes move their changes around in fifths, such as "Hotel California".

    Important to remember that good resolution of bass lines is down by P5 or up by P4. This is the pretty much the same as a classical cadences. If you can incorporate this movement into your playing whenever possible, you will have very good voiceleading. (There are a few other voiceleading tricks too, but none come to mind that relate to the circle of fifths.)
  13. tpmiller08


    Mar 15, 2009
    Boston, MA
    ...Your the man :ninja:

    The biggest problem with writing basslines, for me, is the chorus. I mean from scratch, not working a bassline to a guitar riff, or drum line. Recently, I've worked with my band to iron out the chorus to a song, and it works, but I'd like to write them by myself. Stinks :scowl:.

    I can write the verse, change keys, change scales/modes, and a million slight variations, whatever the song calls for ( this is me working by myself keep in mind), but can hardly ever make a solid chorus to work with it. Guess I'll pick it up as I progess :bassist:

    Thanks for the responses guys, always good to get feedback, and get a little more info than I thought was involved heh

  14. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Sorry for the confuslon and great point, I will add that point to the original text. When i say it is perfect it means it does not need any compensation added to it to keep its intervals correct to be considered a major Ionian scale. :)
    The term perfect in the context i was using in was the way we were taught to view the C scale, it has nothing to do with the intervals of the 4th and 5th which also use the word perfect.
    It was the same as we were taught that a C scale or a D scale and any scale named such like, is to be considered the Major Ionian of the letter named. In other words no need to use the word major, it will be recognized and treated as Ionian major unless other wise stated.:)
  15. emor


    May 16, 2004
    "The intervals that fall naturally in a major key are major 2nds, major 3rds, major 6ths, major 7ths, perfect 4ths, perfect 5ths, perfect 8vas.

    "These intervals are called diatonic intervals. A perfect interval occurs when both tones of the interval occur in the major scale of each tone. A major interval occurs when the upper tone appears in the scale of the lower tone, but the lower tone does not appear in the scale of the upper tone." (from "Creative Melodic Techniques used in Jazz Improvisation" by Phil Rizzo).
  16. DaveAceofBass

    DaveAceofBass Supporting Member

    Feb 20, 2004
    Charlotte, NC
    Whatever that means. :confused: Does that guy speak English? :ninja:
  17. emor


    May 16, 2004
    I posted that excerpt because I thought it was a pretty clear explanation of why we call one interval "perfect" and why we call another interval "major."

    In the key of C:

    C to F is a perfect 4th. C is in the key of F; F is in the key of C.
    C to G is a perfect 5th. C is in the key of G; G is in the key of C.
    C to E is a major 3rd. E is in the key of C; but C is not in the key of E.
    C to A is a major 6th. A is in the key of C; but C is not in the key of A.

    And so on...
  18. Mo' Bass 00

    Mo' Bass 00

    Aug 15, 2006
    So the cycle of fifths relates to the Major Scale only?
  19. tpmiller08


    Mar 15, 2009
    Boston, MA
    Not really ( if im right)

    When playing C Major, you start the cycle of fifths at C.

    When playing D - Dorian Mode, you shift the cycle so it starts at D.

    When playing A Aeolian (Natural Minor Scale), you shift it so A is the start of the cycle, ect. ect.

    All the modes can start the scale, you just simply put the root note as the start (or top) of the cycle of fifths, and shift everything else accordingly.

    I think thats it at least :bassist:
  20. Well I'll be #@$@#$. Never saw nor heard that before. I always thought these terms were assigned and just kept through tradition.

    That's one thing my math brain doesn't get about music; a lot of it is "just because" (or at least I don't yet understand why certain things are the way they are).

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