Circle of Fifths on Guitar

Circle of fifths is a way to arrange musical notes such that they are a fifth apart. Aka circle of fourths (among jazz dudes), it’s essential for guitarists who want to improve their playing.

Before we jump right into it, make sure you know what intervals are – I will probably make a couple of references to them, so check out guitar intervals if that’s new to you.

Read on to find out what the circle of fifths actually means, how to use it, and get your own printable circle of fifths for practicing!

What is the Circle of Fifths?

The circle of fifths is a simple diagram that will help you master all major and minor keys. There are 12 musical notes, and for each note, there exists a particular key.

Take a look at the circle – you will find the major keys on the outer circle, and for each major key, the minor key falls inside the inner circle. You can also determine the fourth and fifth from the key by looking at the note to the left and right respectively. Pretty sweet, right?

For example – in the key of F, the F major scale comprises the notes F G A Bb C D, and E. Now, if I didn’t know this already, I could simply look at the circle of fifths and figure out that the key of F has Dm as the relative minor, and Bb and C are the fourth and fifth scale degrees respectively.

circle-of-fifths

The same can also be shown in a tabular form.

KeyAccidentalsIiiiiiIVVvivii°
C0CDEFGA
GF#GABCDEF#°
DF# C#DEF#G#ABC#°
AC# F# G#ABC#DEF#G#°
EF# G# C# D#EF#G#ABC#D#°
BC# D# F# G# A#BC#D#EF#G#A#°
F#F# G# A# C# D# E#F#G#A#BC#D#E#°
GbGb Ab Bb Cb Db EbGbAbBbCbDbEb
DbDb Eb Gb Ab BbDbEbGbAbBbC
AbAb Bb Db EbAbBbCDbEbF
EbEb Ab BbEbFGAbBbC
BbBb EbBbCDEbFG
FBbFGABbCD
Major scale notes for 12 keys – circle of fifths practice tool

How To Use Circle of Fifths

Remember key signatures

Since there are many key signatures and remembering the number of accidentals in each key can be confusing – you can use the circle of fifths as a handy reference to figure out the number of flats and sharps easily. For example, the key of C doesn’t have any sharps or flats while the key of F has a single accidental – which happens to be Bb.

Transpose

Most songs can be played with just a bunch of chords – the I, IV, and V chords. Just pick a key, pick the note to the left of it, and to the right of it, and there you have it – the root, fourth, and fifth for that particular key!

The circle of fifths also tells you about the ii and iii degrees of that key. The inner circle represents the relative minor, and to the left (inner circle), you’ll find the ii note, and to the right, you’ll find the iii note respectively.

Once you know the chord progression (e.g. ii IV V I), you can easily figure out the chords to that particular key by looking at the chart.

Practice in every key

“Let’s do it in the key of Eb, mate!”

“Sorry bro, I’ve only practiced in the key of A.”

Imagine you’re at a venue and the singer wants to change the key. This has happened a lot of times to me, and luckily, I practice in all keys. How would you respond if you hadn’t practiced the changes in a key the singer requested?

As guitarists, we tend to play in keys that we are familiar with, and I’ve realized that it can lead to a stagnant phase. So, I’ve decided to practice in every key, and this has helped my music theory knowledge a lot. If you want to level up your playing, practicing every key should absolutely be a priority.

One of the ways I like to use the circle of fifths is – I have this printed out on a piece of A4 paper, and I practice the 3nps major and minor scale patterns starting on each key. I’ve made a free printable circle of fifths so you can do something similar. Just print it out and start practicing till you’ve mastered it.

Conclusion

I hope you learned something from this short post. Circle of fifths is a valuable concept that can help you improvise in different keys by providing a handy reference for chords that fit the 12 keys.

I highly recommend practicing this daily, and here’s the printable circle of fifths in case you missed it!

FAQ

How does the circle of fifths work?

Portions of a circle with names of major keys are arranged in perfect fifths so every key that comes in a clockwise fashion is a perfect fifth above the last.

Where can I find a printable circle of fifths?

You can download from our site for free. Here’s the free printable circle of fifths pdf.

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