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My Theory Professor Has Me Confused

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by cassanova, Mar 12, 2009.

  1. cassanova


    Sep 4, 2000
    She was going over the circle of fifths. I know the circle or at least I thought I did. She was telling us that the circle begins on F, I was always taught that it begins with C. I've looked at posts here and did more research and so far I've not found anything stating the circle starts on F.

    Ive always learned it as C G D A E B F# and flats being F Bb Eb Ab Db Gb

    I have yet to question her on this because I want to be proof positive before opening my mouth in class.
  2. Well... the key of C has no sharps or flats, so I always consider that the starting point. Going in 5ths gives you the sharps (G-1, D-2, etc) and going in 4ths gives you the flats (F-1, Bb-2, etc).

    If you look at it as a complete circle (yes, it does go all the way around), there's no real starting point of a circle... but 0,0 is typically "home" in most logic scenarios. ;)
  3. BassChuck

    BassChuck Supporting Member

    Nov 15, 2005
    Do ask her. And please share with us.

    My personal guess that you'll hear something like this. "Without any sharps or flats the Key of C exists naturally and without any intervention of pitch alteration. Once the B is flatted, we have the key of F... and a journey has started, a journey that will return us, in time, to the natural state that we started in. Therefore, the journey starts with F... and so the circle".


    Mostly college theory profs have way too much time on their hands.
  4. John Wentzien

    John Wentzien

    Jun 25, 2007
    Elberta, AL
    Artist:TC Electronic RH450 bass system (original test-pilot)
  5. ahh... but with no sharps or flats, does the key of c really exist at all???

    since c is really b#, and f is really e#, the key of f does not exist either......:)

  6. CapnSev


    Aug 19, 2006
    Coeur d'Alene
    Does she play the french horn or something? Certain horns will adjust the circle according to what key the instrument is- still, that's pretty ridiculous if that's the case.

    I swear that theory teachers get off on confusing people. I think it makes them feel good.
  7. But, if nobody is in the forest to hear the french horn does your teacher really exist?
  8. debassr


    Jan 23, 2008
    Personally, I think the circle of fifth's is a useless exercise.
  9. CapnSev


    Aug 19, 2006
    Coeur d'Alene
  10. HogieWan


    Feb 4, 2008
    Lafayette, LA
    It's a circle - there is no beginning or end. You should practice starting from different places.
  11. JTE

    JTE Supporting Member

    Mar 12, 2008
    Central Illinois, USA
    Yep, that's what a circle is. They only have a start when you begin to draw it.

    And why pray-tell does debasser think it's a useless execise? Have you never played music with repeated cycles? Have you never worked out the logic of how the keys progress and WHY Bb has two flats while F has only one and Eb has three?

  12. 2minkey


    Apr 23, 2006
    yup. it's the pattern as a series of intervals and knowing how to navigate those intervals that is important.
  13. scottbass

    scottbass Bass lines like a big, funky giant

    Jul 13, 2004
    Southern MN
    It's a circle. Who cares where you start when you are explaining it? When you understand the concept, you will also understand that it makes no difference whatsoever where it "starts".

    Attached Files:

  14. Cameronj


    Jan 26, 2009
    Kaysville UT
    One nice thing about having the C on top of the circle is that it makes it really easy to figure out the key signature going left or right around the circle. Other than that, I don't think it really matters where you start.
  15. lament


    Jan 19, 2009
    I have also learned it starting from F, in a music school.

    The reason is simple: You cover all the notes of the C major scale (the "white keys") before going to any accidentals.

    F C G D A E B and only then, continuing, F# Db Ab Eb Bb.

    In the opposite direction ("circle of fourths") we learned it starting from B, for the same reason:

    B E A D G C F and then Bb Eb Ab Db F#.

    Not only this is nice because you "get the white keys first", but it gives a kind of theoretical explanation for why the major scale is the way it is (somebody recently asked that in another thread). The major scale is a bunch of note a fifth apart.
  16. Huh? starting in F, you cover all the notes in C major?

    Can someone show me where the "white keys" are on my bass? :bag:

    (actually, I do a lot of music theory "on the piano" in my head, though for circle of 5ths, I revert back to the bass - but remembering the order of which notes become sharp (or flat) I revert back to the piano)

    Maybe your teacher was saying the first sharp is F (sharp)?
  17. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    Yeah. I agree. I too think that deriving key signatures and the order of flats and sharps is a useless exercise for beginning students of theory.
  18. HaVIC5


    Aug 22, 2003
    Brooklyn, NYC
    ...except starting on a note that isn't in that cycle of fifths. According that theory, actually, it would be lydian that would be the "default scale" If you want to persue this idea further, have a good long look at George Russell's "Lydian Chromatic Concept," which actually argues that the lydian scale, not the major scale, is the basis for harmony in Western Music. Of course, you would be indoctrinated in esoteric logic that is contrary to actual practice, but it's still interesting.
  19. lament


    Jan 19, 2009
    Yes. F C G D A E B. What is unclear?

    Well, actually, nobody requires that the first note in your partial cycle of fifths has to be the root of the scale. And, personally, I see no strong reasons for preferring either lydian or ionian as the "default scale". The fact that F is the only note that sounds bad against a C chord certainly argues for its special status - consider that if you omit it, the scale you're left with is still a bunch of fifths put together, this time indeed starting from C.
  20. You can look at it that way. You sorta got to turn your head and squint, but you can look at it that way.

    Reasoning goes something like this:

    From a modal point of view things really start with the Lydian F G A B C D E.

    Now add a flat to the key signature and you get the Ionian: F G A Bb C D E.
    Add another flat and you get the Mixolydian: F G A Bb C D Eb.
    then Dorian: F G Ab Bb C D Eb
    then Aeolian: F G Ab Bb C Db Eb
    then Phrygian: F Gb Ab Bb C Db Eb
    and finally Locrian: F Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb.

    You get some enharmonic spelling weirdness when you try and move this around the circle of 5ths, and the utility in a tonal context is pretty much nil.

    I do like to teach that as an order of modes though, showing how you get from one to the next by flatting notes of the scale.

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