Most guitarists will hear about the circle of fifths every once in a while when playing with other musicians. But what is the circle of fifths, and why is it important? Here’s a quick description of the circle of fifths and how it helps your guitar playing.
What Is The Circle Of 5th?
The Circle of 5ths is sort of exactly what it sounds like; it’s a circle, as you might imagine, starting with the note C. Each note is exactly one fifth away from the previous note when you read the circle clockwise. Eventually, it gets back to C, because of, you know, math stuff.
So if we were to unwind the circle of 5ths, it would read C G D A E B Gb Db Ab Eb Bb F.
A 5th, by the way, is the 5th note in a scale. The 5th note in the C major scale is G, and so on.
Note relationships are important, because if you play a song in a different key, regardless of the key you’re in, the note relationships will stay the same. If I play a song with the notes C, F, and G and move it up to the key of E, the new notes will be E A and B. The circle of fifths helps me to know that instantly, and even if I didn’t use the circle to explain the song, I’d still use the note relationships. Make sense?
Why It’s Useful
Most modern pop songs are constructed by using the circle of fifths. You may have heard musicians refer to a “one four five” progression. To build these progressions, which are found in the music of everyone from the Beatles to Britney Spears, songwriters use the first (or “I” chord) of the scale that they’re working with, the fourth (or IV chord) for chorus, and a five (or V chord) for the bridge. If you know your circle of fifths, you can easily grasp these relationships. You can also improve your musical ear, and you’ll know what to expect when you play songs that you’ve never heard before. Chances are pretty good that the chord relationships in any pop, country, or even jazz tune can be broken down into simple relationships by using the circle of fifths.
When you memorize the circle of fifths, your guitar playing will be stronger and more well-suited to the music that you’re playing, regardless of which style or styles that you prefer.
How To Know Your Circle Of Fifths
As I pointed out earlier, you don’t necessarily need to think of the circle of fifths to know your note relationships, but it makes things easier. To memorize the circle of fifths, look at it, and try to recite the notes. You should also work on your ear. Play the notes in the circle of fifths on your guitar, and you’ll quickly learn what a fifth sounds like. Here’s another trick: reverse the circle of fifths, and you’ll have fourths! You can use other patterns to find other note relationships, which is ultimately why the circle of fifths is so cool and useful.
Do you use the circle of 5ths when you play the guitar? Post in our comments section below.