Circle of Fifths

Circle of Fifths

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The Circle of 4ths and 5ths is a excellent tool to use. Like the multi-chord chart, the wheel also contains a large amount of information at a glance. You just have to know what you’re looking for. This wheel is just one of the many ways it can be illustrated. Some wheels contain more information than others however, the principle information is constant.

Our Circle of Fifths has 4 wheels within the wheel. Starting from the outside going in we have:

  1. Roman numerals I IV V.
  2. A musical staff containing flats and sharps for each Key.
  3. The 12 chords of our chromatic scale are arranged, not in sequence, but in a systematic order of intervals.
  4. The direction wheel, the number 4 pointing counter clockwise and the 5 going clockwise.

How to use the Circle of 4ths and 5ths Wheel:

Notice the outer circle with the roman numerals. Below the I IV V the C F and G are arranged under the roman numerals. C F G are the I IV V chords for the Key of C. If we rotate the outer wheel clockwise a ½ step the roman numeral I will rest over the G, the IV over the C, the V over the D. So now we have the chords for the Key of G which are G C D.

The same would hold true if we move the wheel to the left. Start with the I over the C and rotate counter clockwise a ½ tone the IV will be above the Bb, the I above the F and the V resting over the C chord. Thus the I IV V for the Key of F which are F Bb C.

Another piece of information that we can glean from our circle is to indentify the flats and sharps of any major scale. For example notice the musical staff above the C in the white circle. It has no sharps or flats because there are no sharps or flats in the Key of C or the C major scale.

Going counter clockwise you will see in the musical staff above the F that is has one flat symbol. This means the Key of F has one flat chord and the F major scale contains just one flat note. In this case it would be the Bb chord for the Key of F and the Bb note in the F major scale. This holds true whether we rotate the wheel left or right.

A unique feature of this Circle of 4ths and 5ths is that when we follow the musical staffs clockwise starting with the C at the top, C has no flats or sharps. Notice the G has 1 sharp, the D has 2 sharps, the A 3 sharps and so on until we get to the F# which contains 6 sharps – the Gb has 6 flats. The F# and the Gb are the same chord. From this point it changes from sharp to flat notes. Gb with 6 flats, Db has 5 flats, Ab has 4 flats and so forth.

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