What Is The Circle of Fifths

In this article I won’t go into too much theoretical detail and will summarize how guitarists can use the circle of fifths to their advantage as a quick reference guide and for composition.

what is the circle of fifths

What Is The Circle of Fifths on Face Value

On face value the circle of fifths displays the following

  • All the Major key signatures (outer circle in uppercase)
  • Major keys relative Minor key signatures (inner circle in lower case)
  • The number of sharps and flats each key signature has for both Major and Minor.

    For example the key of G has an F# (meaning all F’s in this key are sharp) and its relative Minor E also has an F# (meaning all F’s in this key are sharp)

    Another example the key of A which has three sharps F#, C# and G # and its relative minor f# also has the same sharps, F# C# and G# (meaning all F’s, G’s and C’s in these keys are played sharp)

Constructing Chords from the Circle of Fifths

The circle of fifths gives you four chords of any Major key immediately.

Using the key of C as an example you start with C then take the chord to the left, then take the chord to the right (make it a seventh) and include the relative minor of the first chord (C) and voila you have the chords C, F, G7 and Am all of which belong to the key of C major.

Let’s do another one, this time we’ll start with D, using the description above we end up with D, G, A7 and Bm all of which belong to the key of D major

Constructing Chords using Red Triangle on the Circle of Fifths diagram

Looking at the red triangle on the circle of fifths diagram you’ll see that it points to Bb, D and Gb (F#).

If you were to play these three chords you’ll see that they work well together.

If you were to move the triangle to the right so it points to A, F and C# the chords you’ll get will be A, F and C# (Db)

This is a great way to make different sounding progressions (not in the same key) and is also be a good way to change key if you want to make your composition more interesting (check out composing chord progressions).


I Hope this has been helpful

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