Good Mnemonics for memorizing circle of fifths?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by Schmorgy, Mar 13, 2013.

  1. Schmorgy

    Schmorgy Guest

    Jul 2, 2012
    So I had a pretty big wakeup call the other day and realized that I've fallen for the same pitfall as so many other people and put too much time into technique and not enough into theory leaving me incapable of listing off how many sharps and flats are in each key without a fretboard in hand.


    I want to rectify this. Quickly. Efficiently. I'm not saying I'm looking for a shortcut, but rather, a good way to help memorize which notes are sharp and flat in each key and do it in a way that I don't have to have my bass in front of me to do it (I feel if I learn it this way, being able to apply it to the bass will just come naturally).

    I've been getting by using my shapes, and by following them I've never played out of key, but I've realized it's simply not enough to continually play closed triads and fifths etc. I want to start getting into Jaco style chords, but figure I should start with the basics and that's learning the contents of each key. The shapes seem like a nice way to learn, but I want to start disassociating the frets from the shapes and thinking about it in a way that leaves runs up and down the neck a lot more viable.
  2. bherman

    bherman Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 30, 2009
    Grand Junction, CO
    Subscribed - not sure if I can contribute an easy way, I've learned by just playing scales, triads, etc until I know them. That doesn't mean that I'm not interested in a good way to remember :)
  3. gavinspoon


    Feb 11, 2008
    Cardiff UK
    Mnemonics may seem to help, but in the long run they'll slow you down and get in the way by cluttering up your mind. It's best to just write it out every day untill it's memorised. Linking it to stuff you already know helps. Just remembering BEAD goes a long way : ) Add GCF and you're most of the way there.

    The way i see it, the circle's of 4th's and 5th's and the order of flats and sharps are just the same interval relationships looked at from different angles.

    So if you build the flat keys by moving around the circle of 4ths you add the flats in this order: BEADGCF (notice yet that this is the same relationship by which we tune the bass strings? - It's more obvious if you play 5 strings [or more!])

    If you build the sharp keys by moving around the circle of 5ths you add the sharps in this order: FCGDAEB (This is just the mirror image of what we had above!)

    Circle of 4th's: C F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb Cb (there's BEAD again)

    Circle of 5th's: C G D A E B F# C# (there's DAEB, our mirror of BEAD again)
  4. Schmorgy

    Schmorgy Guest

    Jul 2, 2012
    Ok, but for the sake of memorizing which notes in each key are sharp/flat and not how many is there a similar device for remembering or is that just pure memorization over time?

    (And before it comes up, yep, I know about the ole "Battle ends and down goes charles' father" mnemonic)
  5. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    Order of sharps :

    Order of flats :

    See they are in reverse ...

    Also when you look at a sheet music and let say you see 3flats, the key is the penultimate flat. So if you have B-E-A ... you are in Eb major or Cminor.

    With sharps you take the last sharp and go half step over it. you only have F# ... a half step higher is G ... so you are in G major or Eminor. Not sure ? take F-C-G-D-A go a half step higher and you are in Bmajor or Gminor.
  6. kirkdickinson

    kirkdickinson Supporting Member

    I always figure sharps or flats from C outward because C is neutral... No sharps or flats.

    Sharp Keys - #'s
    C   G   D   A   E   B   F#  C#
        F#  F#  F#  F#  F#  F#  F#
            C#  C#  C#  C#  C#  C#
                G#  G#  G#  G#  G#
                    D#  D#  D#  D#
                        A#  A#  A#
                            E#  E#
    Flat Keys - b's
    C   F   Bb  Eb  Ab  Db  Gb  Cb  
        Bb  Bb  Bb  Bb  Bb  Bb  Bb
            Eb  Eb  Eb  Eb  Eb  Eb 
                Ab  Ab  Ab  Ab  Ab
                    Db  Db  Db  Db
                        Gb  Gb  Gb
                            Cb  Cb
    DeltaTango likes this.
  7. icke2433

    icke2433 Guest

    Mar 26, 2012
    Las Cruces New Mexico
    I just remember BEADGCF for both
    Starting with sharps you Know that B has 5 sharps and you can then count down to C (which has no sharps or flats) and we count backwards on our BEADGCF
    An example of this would be that B has 5 sharp notes and those would be f#,c#,g#,d#,a#
    Similarly G has one sharp so it's sharp note is f#

    For flats you know that in the key of F is where we begin to have flats so instead of backwards we count forwards thus F has a Bb
    This circles back to B so Eb would have 3 flats and those notes would be Bb Eb and Ab

    Hope that makes sense!
  8. gavinspoon


    Feb 11, 2008
    Cardiff UK
    Most days, when I go to bed, if I have trouble sleeping, I close my eyes and Imagine a circle with 12 points on it like a clock face. I then think about the key of C, and I place a C at 12 o'clock on the clock face. I think about the fact that G is the 5th (dominant) note of the scale, and lives at 1 o'clock on my circle.
    That F is the 4th (subdominant) note and lives at 11 o'clock.
    Underneath my C in a smaller inner circle I place an A. I also notice that A (the 6th note and submediant) lives at 3 o'clock on my original outer circle, 15 minutes ahead of my key note.

    In between G and A is D (the supertonic) at 2 o'clock (or 10 minutes). I think about jazz music being mostly based in II, V, I progressions and how that progression flows anticlockwise around my circle; D, G, C.
    The 3rd (mediant) E lives at 4 o'clock so it's 20 minutes ahead of my key note.
    The 7th (leading) note B lives at 5 o'clock, 25 minutes ahead of my key note.
    The whole key fits in half of my circle. It's apparent to me that C has no sharps or flats because I just thought about each and every note in the key and none of them where sharps or flats. I think about the key signatures in treble and bass clef. I picture them in my mind and they're naked of sharps and flats.

    Next i think about another key. I go around the circle in either 4th's or 5th's. So lets say I go around in 4th's.
    F lives at 11 o'clock. I think about the fact that C - at 12 o'clock - is the 5th (dominant) note of the scale.
    That Bb is the 4th (subdominant) note and lives at 10 o'clock.
    Underneath my F in my smaller inner circle I place an D. I also notice that D (the 6th note and submediant) lives at 2 o'clock on my original outer circle, 15 minutes ahead of my key note.

    In between C and D is G (the supertonic) at 1 o'clock (or 10 minutes ahead of my key note). I think about the II, V, I progression flowing anticlockwise around my circle; G, C, F.
    The 3rd (mediant) note A lives 20 minutes ahead of my key note, at 3 o'clock. The 7th (leading note) E lives 25 minutes ahead of my key note at 4 o'clock.
    Again, I just thought about each and every note in the scale and it's apparent to me that F has one flat. The 4th note Bb. I think about the key signatures in treble and bass clef. I picture them in my mind and they each have one flat.

    Next i think about the key of Bb........

    Edit to add: When you wake up go around the circle of 4th's and jam on the II V I progression in each key. Think about the notes your playing. With each key you add a flat.
    DeltaTango likes this.
  9. Hulktopus


    Aug 22, 2012
    Mansfield, TX
    Start on C

    If Charlie is "flat" or sluggish,

    If Charlie is "sharp" or attentive,

    Without going into theory, this is how I remember the order.
    MalcolmAmos likes this.
  10. callofcthulhu


    Oct 16, 2012
    I was always more a fan of:

    Fat Charlie Gets Drunk At Every Bar
    Hulktopus likes this.
  11. TomCHunley

    TomCHunley Guest

    Jun 12, 2011
    Bowling Green, KY
    I practice a lot but still suck.
    I learned it as Fat Boys Eat Apple Dumplings Greedily Charlie (flats)
    and Go Down And Eat Breakfast Fast Charlie (sharps)
  12. fjbass78


    Jun 21, 2007
    I'm not sure if this will help but...
    Remeber GDAEBF (Good Dogs Are Everyones Best Friends) From left to right you get the # of sharps and from right to left you get your number of flats.
    So, for the key of G, G is the first letter from left to right, so it's a 1.
    Now apply that to this FCGDAEB. Again from right to left. Since it's 1 (the # of sharps)you end up with F.
    So, F is the only sharp in the key of G.
    If you're loking at the key of A, that tells you you have 3 sharps, dgAebf, so the notes that are sharp in the key of A are FCGdaeb.
    Let's say it's A flat. So you count from right to left GDAEBF and that's a 4.
    FCGDAEB, again from right to left you have 4 flat notes in the key of Ab and they are B,E,A,D.
    I hope that makes sense. I'm bad at explaining things clearly.
  13. PlaysAJunker

    PlaysAJunker Guest

    Feb 21, 2013
    I got a used Michelin and some white paint and painted all that stuff on the side so when I practice I just have my girlfriend roll it back and forth along the basement floor.. they do call it the circle of fifths so . .
  14. bander68

    bander68 Guest

    Jan 29, 2013
    Best trick I ever learned? Write it down. Over and over and over and over. It's how I memorized the circle of fifths and a million other less relevant things I had to regurgitate for tests in school. As for learning the notes of each key, go back to playing scales and say them out loud as you're playing. For that matter, take a tune you know using boxes and play it, only go only as fast as you can name the notes while playing. It'll be slow at first, but I bet you can get it back up to speed in no time.
    eJake likes this.
  15. Rev J

    Rev J

    Jun 14, 2012
    Berkeley, Ca.
    Here's how I figured it out in high school. I looked at how a 6 string bass is tuned high to low C, G, D, A, E, B. Another way to look at it G is the fifth of C. D is the fifth of G etc.

    Mnemonics are good as a starting place but can be a tool that too easily becomes a crutch.

    Rev J
  16. ape nut

    ape nut Guest

    Oct 11, 2017
    I just use this. The more downright dirty it is, the easier it is to remember.
    And yes BEADS mean An*l beads here.

    Attached Files:

    Bob_Ross likes this.
  17. Dirt simple usually works for me. Which means I have to get some lymrics into memory.
    Order of scales that have sharps = See God Destroy All Earth By F#irey C#haos.
    C has none, G has one, D has two, etc.

    OK D has two, which of the 7 are sharped? The order of the sharps are; Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Birds. So using dirt simple logic write out the D scale with no sharps or flats D, E, F, G, A, B, C and from the above we know that the D major scale has two sharps and that the first two will be F# and C# for Fat Cats - so go back and put # signs with the F and C.

    Order of the scales that have flats = Farmer Brown Eats Apple Dumplings Greasly Cooked.
    F has the Bb. Bd has itself and the Eb. Eb keeps the Bb and of course the Eb and adds the Ab, etc.....

    This is also the order of the flats F has one, Bb has two, Eb has three, etc.

    So you want to know what flats will be in a scale, do the same thing you did with the sharped scales, write out the scale with no flats being shown then go back and add the flats that will fall in your specific flat scale.

    See God Destroy All Earth By F#iry C#haos/
    Fat cats go down alleys eating birds.
    Farmer Brown Eats Apply Dumplings Greasely Cooked.

    Some more dirt simple lymrics:
    Which chords will be major, minor or diminished? In a major key it will fall this way:
    Major, minor, minor, Major, Major, minor, diminished

    In the natural minor key it will fall this way.
    minor, diminished, Major, minor, minor, Major, Major.

    Another thing you can do is take the C chromatic scale and then run it using whole step, half step, etc. I remember phone numbers better than whole step, half step..... Major keys phone # is - 221-2221 and the minor keys' phone number is 212-2122.

    Between this and all the other posts you are bound to find something that you can use.

    Have fun working it out. Yes you will have to spend some time with paper and pencil, plus that big eraser, but, once you get a system that works for you, you will never have to look up a chart again, you can just tick off your lymrics.

    Good luck.
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2017
  18. JTE

    JTE Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Bead juicy fruit
    B E A D
    GC (juicy)
    That's fourths, or back cycling the fifths. Probably more useful as that's how chords tend to flow.
  19. onlyclave


    Oct 28, 2005
    There's only 12 tones. How hard is it?
    C G D A E B F#/Gb C#/Db Ab Eb Bb F

    How many phone numbers can you remember?
  20. Jeff Bonny

    Jeff Bonny Inactive Supporting Member

    Nov 20, 2000
    Vancouver BC
    Quickly and efficiently with no shortcuts? Make the piano part of your daily practice.
    CereBassum likes this.