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Beginner Circle (or cycle) of 4ths and 5ths

JasonC

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Hi All,

I'm currently trying to learn my scales and arpeggios and my teacher showed me the circle of 4ths and 5ths to help me work out which notes have which sharps and flats and how many.

I do get how the circle works (I think!) and I have created my own circle which I find is easier to use (see picture below) I just wanted someone to have a quick look at it to make sure I haven't done anything wrong so I'm not learning the wrong thing. I wont see my teacher for another couple of weeks otherwise I would have asked him.

You will see that the notes that have sharps are Orange and the little circles with numbers in say how many sharps there are. The arrows and numbers in squares in the middle show where you need to start counting from to calculate which sharps are in each note scale. So for instance, the note D has 2 sharps and the notes that are sharp are F and C according to the arrows and numbers in squares, does this make sense? and have I made this correctly?
If it is correct and someone else would benefit from this then let me know and I will give you a link to a PDF version which is much better quality.

Also, is there a circle somewhere that would help me calculate the minor scales? We touched on these at my last lesson and my teacher told me how to calculate them but only in my head.

Thanks for you help
Jason
 
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JasonC

JasonC

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Thanks for that, yes I saw that but it seems to be going on about something different than using it for just calculating the scales and what sharps and flats they contain. It does do that obviously but some of the explanations were over my head like this first sentence!:

"In the previous tutorial I mentioned that diatonic root movement by a third is weak as the second chord has three out of four notes the same as the previous one. The strongest root movement is downwards by a perfect fifth (same as upwards by a fourth)."

Yea ok whatever, I haven't got a clue what that means at all!

I just wanted to create my own circle which is just for calculating the scales and the key signatures of each note, I guess I have done it correctly. The main thing I wanted to visualize more was that although it is the face of a clock, when you calculate which sharps/flats are in each note you don't count from the top, you count from the Bb for flats and F for sharps, this is the bit I get confused about and if I don't practise regular then I forget! hopefully printing this circle out A0 and sticking it on my wall will help :)

One thing I couldn't find in Pete's information is something to calculate the minor scales, I sort of know how to do it but, again I want something visual to refer to as I find I learn it quicker.

Many thanks
Jason
 

Linky Lee

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Salisbury, UK
For me it is confusing using your method of working out which notes are sharp or flat by counting round starting from point A if it's sharp or point B if it's flat.

I know the key signatures of the 12 keys by heart, so I'm looking from a perspective of someone who already knows, so I could well be overlooking things or making assumptions.

An alternative viewpoint, and my preference is:
The latest sharp to be added on is the major 7th. e.g. G major has F#, E has all the the sharps up to D#

For the flats, the latest flattened note is the root of the next scale round the cycle. e.g. F has Bb, Ab has the all the flats up to Db.

This is obviously all in relation to the C major scale (no sharps or flats).

Hope that helps.

EDIT: I meant to say, the minors are harder as there are several types of minor. Namely the main ones are Melodic, Harmonic and the Dorian mode is very useful too. I'll leave you the pleasure of uncovering these. No one likes scale overload!
 
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Young Col

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Jason
Not how I would do the sharps/flats, but yes, it's right and if it works for you, that's fine.

I often scribble the cycle out when doing theory exercises and for the minors I just rotate the same cycle anti-clockwise until A minor is adjacent to C major. That way you get the relative minors in line with their relative majors and read off the same key signatures: A minor has no sharps/flats (like C major), D minor has one flat (like F major), E minor has one sharp (like G major) etc.

That's not the whole story though as the number and arrangements of sharpened incidentals differs between melodic and harmonic minor scales. You need to understand these as well as just how the key signatures work. Ask your teacher and/or get something like the Associated Board Guide to theory, which is very good.

Colin
 

kevgermany

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I just wanted to create my own circle which is just for calculating the scales and the key signatures of each note, I guess I have done it correctly. The main thing I wanted to visualize more was that although it is the face of a clock, when you calculate which sharps/flats are in each note you don't count from the top, you count from the Bb for flats and F for sharps, this is the bit I get confused about and if I don't practise regular then I forget! hopefully printing this circle out A0 and sticking it on my wall will help :)
You should be counting from zero - C Maj/A Min at the top. not from left 1 or right 1 :)

Not with you on the two 1-6 routes.

Read up on intervals on Pete's site - These are key (pun!) to getting your mind around music. For instance, from C to E is a mjor third, but D to F is a minor third, and it sounds very different.

One comment there and in other theory sites is that you should try these things out on a keyboard, it helps with visualisation and ear training. Doesn't need to be expensive. It'll also, later, help you to get a feel for the sounds of the chords, and how they're constructed. You may find a computer app that'll do the same thing.

On Phil's (Linky) comment on the minors, the third minor, and the one you usually start with, is also called the natural minor. Take a look at the D Major thread, there's quite a lot on minors in there.
 

kevgermany

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...but some of the explanations were over my head like this first sentence!:

"In the previous tutorial I mentioned that diatonic root movement by a third is weak as the second chord has three out of four notes the same as the previous one. The strongest root movement is downwards by a perfect fifth (same as upwards by a fourth)."

Yea ok whatever, I haven't got a clue what that means at all!
We all go through this. :w00t: But with a bit of reseach/study it soon starts to make sense.

You're right to break out the elements and build from there.

It's worth your while looking the terms up and getting them in your brain, but make sure it's right.

Apart from the stuff on Pete's site, there are really good theory pages on Wikipedia and other web sites.

Trick to reading Pete's statement above is to distill the critical from the illustration/supporting - here 'weak because three of the four notes are the same as before' (my paraphrase). Says it in a nutshell.

For example CEGB moving up a third is EGBD# so the C has been replaced with a D#...
 
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JasonC

JasonC

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Ok thanks everyone.

I guess different people use this circle for different things so I'm going to get difference answers, some of which I don't understand yet! for me at least, it's helping me work out what notes are in the major scales without actually looking at the scales on a stave itself, of which I'm not that good at reading at the moment.

I think what I am trying to do is as kevgermany mentioned, is that I'm trying to break everything down to it's simplest form and then work my way up. I'm also the type of person who likes to know how things work rather than being told how things are, I can't learn properly like that. My teacher is pretty good at showing me how things work but at the moment I'm struggling getting to see him all the time so I need to work things out for myself so I don't forget. I know there are going to be things that can't be worked out and are just how they are, but as long as there aren't too many of those I should be ok!

A keyboard might be a good idea, I'll have a look around for a cheap one.

Thanks again all :)
Jason
 

Sue

If at first you don't succeed try try try a Gin
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http://www.cmagics.com/beta/piano/

In the meantime try a virtual keyboard
 
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AdamBradley

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It's interesting how you use the cycle to work out the key signature. I always saw that as one of those little gimmicks that happens to work invade you forget. I just had the keys hammered into my head after growing up learning them as I played, so I just seem to know them. Consequently I view the cycle of 5th/4ths as a common/partial template for harmonic progressions/related chords. A favourite example of that is fly me to the moon :D.

I'll think about how I visualise minor keys in my way home and see if I have any other suggestions. I'll also look at your chart- can't view it at the moment.
 

AdamBradley

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I thought about how I think of minors and to be honest, it's just the same as majors but I either relate each minor directly to the major 3 semi-tones up, or relate it in it's own circle starting on A.

Your chart is nice but I don't understand what the numbers in the square boxes are. They seem uneccessary, what do they signify?

Thing is there's 12 standard major and 12 standard minor keys, ignoring enharmonic equivalents. Given that anything over 4 sharps or flats can safely be regarded as 'a bastard', you could argue that unless you're playing seriously seriously hard stuff, you're unlikely to be in any more than 5 sharps or flats. And remembering 5 is relatively easy.

C 0
G 1
D 2
A 3
E 4
B 5
F# 6

Those are your major sharp keys, and as you remembered 5, there's only one more on top, which sits nicely in the 'slag' category, 6 accidentals.

When you break it down into chunks that small it isn't hard to just commit it to memory. Before long someone will say A major and you'll just *know* it's 3 sharps, without thinking through a chart or progression.

And when you add in flat keys and then the minors, each in little chunks.. before you know it someone will say Bb minor and you'll *know* it's 5 flats.

The fun part I'm now getting to grips with is getting used to thinking in Eb, transposing everything up a (major..? or minor it shouldn't make any difference?) 6th and seeing if there's another easy 'shortcut link' I can apply in my head to quickly get from concert pitch to Eb. I'm thinking along the lines of calling sharps +1 and flats -1, so adding 3 sharps to every key should get me into the right one for the sax.. I'm still getting it straight in my head :p
 
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JasonC

JasonC

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Thanks Adam, very helpful.

The numbers in the square boxes are for calculating which sharps/flats are in which scale. For example, if I wanted to know what notes are sharp for note A (which I know has 3 sharps because of its position on a clock face), I would start from F and follow the arrows round which gives me F[1] C[2] G[3], so I then know that A major scale has these 3 sharps in it.
I guess I don't really need the numbers in the boxes, but while I was creating the circle it seemed logical. The main reason for me adding this bit on was so I knew where to start on the 'clock face'.

I agree that once I have practised all of the scales a LOT! I will no doubt remember them all off by heart and their key signatures, at the moment though I only know the following scales so teh circle is still helping me.

C
F
G
D
Bb - Just started on this
A - Just started on this

So I have a fair way to go yet but, I'm trying to learn them as quick as I can so I can get past the boring part!

My teacher touched on the minor scales with me as I said, so I'm going to try and learn a couple of these next. He has given me the formula of going back 3 semitones as you said above, but he's also told me to flatten the 7th note to make it a Harmonic scale (I think that's right?) which makes the scale sound Egyptian(ish).

I've managed to learn the above scales in 3 months (although not perfectly) so I'm aiming to learn at least another 4 or 5 in the next 3 months, does that sound reasonable or should I be learning them quicker?

Cheers
Jason
 

Altolady

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Hi Jason, I write all my scales, on 'flashcards', which I keep in my pocket/bag. They have the scales on the front and the 'answers'- sharps/flats on the back, they're laminated so that no wine/beer can get spilt on them when they're whipped out at the pub or wherever!! Very anal, I know, but who cares, it's helped me commit them to memory. Also, my teacher taught me this mnemonic, you read it down for sharps and up for flats:
Father
Charles
Goes
Down
And
Ends
Battle

So, if you know that D major has 2 sharps, they have to be F and C. Similarly, F major has one flat, so it has to be B. It really helps me with sight reading.
Apologies if you already know this.
 

Emma

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Cambridge
Hello Jason,
I like your circle of 5ths - it definitely makes sense to me, particularly the order in which you add the sharps & flats. I like to be able to see how things work rather than being told.
My teacher said to me that if I learnt a new scale every fortnight I would get through all the majors & harmonic minors in a year - I have been playing for about a year and am nowhere near! ....I think I need to increase my practising!

Emma
 

kevgermany

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My teacher touched on the minor scales with me as I said, so I'm going to try and learn a couple of these next. He has given me the formula of going back 3 semitones as you said above, but he's also told me to flatten the 7th note to make it a Harmonic scale (I think that's right?) which makes the scale sound Egyptian(ish).
Something wrong here - the harmonic minor has a sharp 7th, compared to the natural minor.

Full details here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minor_scale
 

Young Col

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Adam, for Eb flat alto yes it's a major 6th up or down. A minor 6th up from Eb would only get you to B. Or you can go up or down a minor 3rd, eg C-D-Eb, but watch the octave difference.

Kev - I see the wikipedia cycle of 5ths at your reference has minors set out in the way I tried to describe how I do it!
Colin
 

Linky Lee

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Salisbury, UK
A lot of people here have said 'they like to know how it works and not be told'.

An alternative to the cycle of 4ths/5ths to work out the notes is:

If you know the 12 semi-tones, then all you need to know is the pattern for a major scale. Then you just apply it to the 'root' or name of the major scale.

e.g Major scale intervals.
TTSTTTS - T=tone, i.e 2 semi-tones, C to D for example. S=Semi-tone, C to C#/Db.

This is what gives the scale it's distinctive sound. The intervals and their positions.

Apply this pattern to root A and you'll get A major. Apply it to C# and you'll get C# major. All 12 done.

For me, looking at it from this perspective is more 'getting down to the nuts and bolts of it'.

Just to let you know,
Natural Minor: ABCDEFGA - TSTTSTT

Harmonic Minor: ABCDEFG#A - TSTTS3S

Dorian Mode: ABCDEF#GA - TSTTTST (as you can see, same as major scale starting on 7th, i.e G major)

Melodic Minor: ABCDEF#G#A - TSTTTTS (On way up)
AGFEDCBA - TTSTTST (natural minor on way down)

Hope that helps.
 

Semiquaver

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The circle of Fifthes is as great tool for most basic music theory.
Once you have learnt it and picture it in you mind it will help a great deal. For instance...

Think of it as a clock.

at 1o'clock is G with one sharp, D with 2 o'clock 2 sharps and so on

in the other direction is flats (think mirror image here) 1 =one flat 2 =2 flats and so on.

but what sharps and flats.

look at the order of the circle. for sharps it's f-c-g-d-a-e-b

flats go the in reverse Bb-Eb-Ab etc etc.

When you need to work out a ii-V7-I chord sequence it's there again. Just go round the clock anti wise ending on the tonic..

in C we have d-g-c.

John Coltrane is said to have used the cycle to work out his own alternatives known as The Coltrane changes. Type that phrase into wiki and you can read all about it.

Oh and just a little bit more. be careful with learning melodic and harmonic minors. In jazz/pop they all use modes such as dorian, mixolydian and locrian.

The hard ones are for ther classical peeps go there if you want to, but modes are easier to work with.

Hope this helps.
 

kevgermany

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Hope we're not blinding people with science here. :confused:

Can't help thinking of Rock Around the Clock after reading Semiquaver's post... Must be a way to rework that for the circle and make it easier to remember.... :mrcool

Wonder how long it'll be before this digresses towards blues scales, pentatonics... >:)
 
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