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  • Effectively Practicing with Circle of Fifths Patterns

    by Jermaine Griggs · 36 comments

    in Theory

    In this online classroom, I’m going to share a few exercises that you can literally start implementing in your practice routines immediately!
     
    Keep in mind that these exercises can also be used as slow progressions or warm-up pieces. They follow the classic circle of fifths pattern and will not only help you to memorize the pattern from which we get 5-1, 2-5-1, 6-2-5-1, and other progressions, but will also help you to realize the power of using inversions (how you play a chord).
     
    I realize that you may have several questions. So here’s the link to our discussion board where you can post any questions in response to this newsletter. http://www.hearandplay.com/board
     
    IMPORTANT: We choose to follow the circle of fifths pattern going counter clockwise. That is, C –> F –> Bb, etc. If you’re not already familiar with the circle of fifths pattern, don’t worry … you can still practice these exercises as I will literally s-p-e-l-l out each chord below.
     
    (If you’ve never heard of the circle of fifths pattern, click here for a quick lesson on it).
     

     
    Circle of Fifths
     
    Simply put, the circle of fifths chart organizes major and minor scales according to how many sharps or flats each scale contains.
     
    When you first began playing the piano, you may have thought that C and Db were more related to each other than perhaps C and F because of how close the two notes appear on the piano… but that is not true.
     
    If you really think about it, how many notes does the C major scale have in common with the Db major scales? Well, let’s see:
     
    C major scale
    C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
     
    Db major scale
    Db – Eb – F – Gb – Ab – Bb – C – Db
    …hmmm, a whopping two notes in common!
    Now notice the C major scale compared to the F major scale:
     
    C major scale
    C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C
     
    F major scale
    F – G – A – Bb – C – D – E – F
     
    They have seven notes in common. The only note they differ by is the B / Bb.
     
    Notice on the chart above where C major and F major appear. If you observed that they appear right next to each other, then you are on the right track!
     
    In other words, as you move from key to key, there will only be a one-note difference.
     
    So to make sure everyone understands this: C major and F major have the same notes except for one difference: F major has a Bb instead of B.
     
    F major and Bb major have the same notes except for one difference: Bb major has an Eb instead of E. And that pattern continues all the way down the circle.
     
    If you’ve never heard of the circle of fifths concept and this topic intrigues you, considering checking out my 300pg course where we go into detail on how to use this process to learn all 12 major scales.
     
    Moving On…

    If the major scales of C and F are similar, then isn’t it safe to assume that their major chords are similar?

    In fact, to play from a C major to an F major triad (three-fingered chord), you don’t even have to change your hand position. Try it…

    Major Triads

    Play: C E G (Bass = C)

    Then Play: C F A (Bass = F)

    (notice the C’s don’t change).

     

    Major Seventh Chords

    The same applies to 4-fingered chords…

    Play: C E G B (Bass = C)

    Then Play: C E F A (Bass = F)

     

    Major Ninth Chords

    The same applies to 5-fingered chords…

    Play: C E G B D (Bass = C)

    Then Play: C E F G A (Bass = F)

    If you really look closely, the Fmaj9 actually has a Cmaj triad inside of it (locate C, E, and G in the second chord above and you’ll notice exactly what I’m talking about). See… there are relationships all throughout this circle!

     

    … So What Does This Mean?

    Well, this simply means that you can go down the ENTIRE circle with these types of close relationships not having to change more than a few fingers from one note to the next.

    If C to F produces this easy of a transition, then F to Bb … Bb to Eb … Eb to Ab, and so on (see circle below) will produce the same effect:

    Here are three exercises you can practice everyday to better familiarize yourself with the circle of fifths pattern as this concept is very important when attempting to understand chord progressions like 2-5-1, 1-4 turnarounds, and others.

     

    Exercises

     

    1) Major Sevenths

    Basically, here’s what you do with this exercise…

    Start with Cmaj7:

    C + E + G + B

    … and instead of going to F A C E (which is an Fmaj7 in root position), you’re going to go to the closest inversion of the Fmaj7. Remember: An inversion is another way to play the same chord.

    There are four ways to play an Fmaj7 (a.k.a. “inversions”):

    F + A + C + E

    A + C + E + F

    C + E + F + A

    E + F + A + C

     

    Which inversion would work best coming from a Cmaj7 (C + E + G + B) ???

    Of course the (C + E + F + A) because your lowest note is already on C!

    ———————————————————————-

    Do you follow me? If not, please post your question here right away.

    ———————————————————————-

    So, in actuality, we’re just picking the closest inversion of Fmaj and in this case, it happens to be (C + E + F + A).

     

    A few tricks: Read Carefully!!!

    When you’re playing a root inversion of a major seventh chord (root inversions always put the name of the chord on the bottom… so Cmaj7 played C E G B is in its root inversion because C is on the bottom) —- Simple move the top two notes DOWN one whole step and you’ll be on the next chord of the circle!

    Let’s look at it:

    Cmaj7

    C E G B (Bass = C)

    *** Move the G down one whole step to F

    *** Move the B down one whole step to A

    C E F A (Bass = F)

     

    Now to get from the Fmaj7 to the next chord on the chart (Bbmaj7) simply LOWER THE BOTTOM TWO NOTES ONE-WHOLE STEP.

    Let’s take a look:

    C E F A (Bass = F)

    *** Move C down one whole step to Bb

    *** Move E down one whole step to D

     

    Bbmaj7

    Bb D F A (in its root position) Bass = Bb

    …. and now, you simply follow the first step by lowering its highest two notes down to get to the next chord. Don’t worry if you don’t understand these steps yet. Just re-read this lesson and it’ll make sense soon!

    If not, just skip down to the actual chart below and play EXACTLY what I’ve listed in each box. There’s no way you can go wrong. If you do, click here to post a question to my discussion board.

     

    RECAP:

    1) Lower highest two notes down one-whole step

    2) Lower lowest two notes down one-whole step

    3) Repeat process over and over (highest two, lowest two, highest two, lowest two).

     

    *This will literally be your first exercise. I warn you: The first time, you’ll be doing a lot of thinking (high two, low two, high two, low two) but as you get better and better, you’ll build speed and you’ll know which chords come next on the circle.

    Here’s the exercise, chord for chord:

    Listen to Exercise 1 (played regularly)    

    Listen to Exercise 1 (played rhythmically)

     

    Bass

    Maj7 Chord

    C

    C E G B

    F

    C E F A

    Bb

    Bb D F A

    Eb

    Bb D Eb G

    Ab

    Ab C Eb G

    Db

    Ab C Db F

    Gb

    Gb Bb Db F

    B

    F# A# B D#

    E

    E G# B D#

    A

    E G# A C#

    D

    D F# A C#

    G

    D F# G B

    C

    C E G B

    Note: If you want to learn all of your major seventh chords (and all 4 inversions of each) along with tons of other chords, click here.

     

    2) Major Sevenths (voiced differently)

    Now that you understand the concept of using the circle of fifths to play chords, here are some more arrangements to practice:

    Listen to Exercise 2    

     

    Bass Maj7 Chord
    C E B E
    F E A E
    Bb D A D
    Eb D G D
    Ab C G C
    Db C F C
    Gb Bb F Bb
    B A# Eb A#
    E G# D# G#
    A G# C# G#
    D F# C# F#
    G F# B F#
    C E B E

    * If you play the chords above softly as you transition from one to the other, you’ll notice very nice progressions that you can use in songs, accompaniments, and for warm-up.

     

    3) Minor Ninths

    Lastly, we’ll use the same circle of fifths pattern to explore minor ninth chords. You will notice that the only finger you’ll have to move is your thumb as you change from one chord to the next:

    Listen to Exercise 3

     

    Bass Min9 Chord
    C Bb D Eb G
    F A D Eb G
    Bb Ab C Db F
    Eb G C Db F
    Ab Gb Bb B Eb
    Db F Bb B Eb
    Gb E Ab A Db
    B D# G# A C#
    E D F# G B
    A C# F# G B
    D C E F A
    G B E F A
    C Bb D Eb G

     

    What do I do next?

    Now that I’ve given you just three ideas of what you can do with the circle of fifths, it is your turn to use this process to practice all chord types. Remember, there WILL ALWAYS be a connection between one note on the circle and the next so it is your job to find that connection! For example, C maj to F maj will connect somehow and you’ll never find yourself having to move all of your fingers — I PROMISE.

    Explore these chord types and how they connect on the circle of fifths chart:

    Well, I hope you enjoyed this post! I’ll be back

    The following two tabs change content below.
    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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    { 36 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Larry Poulin

    You almost have it young man (at least on a basic level). It has been traditionally referred to as the ‘Cycle of Fifths” Music naturally progresses ‘from the fifth not to it”. The cycle (circle) of fifths is much more than just a guide for chords and key signatures. It tells us about the natural laws of progression and structure. That’s what it’s really all about. I can prove it to you. Play any note and then a perfect fifth above it. Doesn’t your ear long to hear the resulting tonic? (consonance) Notice how the fifth could be considered as dissonance. (That’s all there is really… consonance (an abstract reality) found only by the use of dissonance.) All music is like opening and closing your hand. Think about that for a while. It’s like finding God. BTW, the term ‘perfect’ implies the meaning (from the Greeks) “Hollow or Empty” (Your welcome) You know Beethoven found these ideas too. He was convinced that he had proof of God. And in a way he was right. “Cycle of Fifths” is the ticket not “Cycle of Fourths”. Here’s proof. Play any triad and then augment it and voice lead it to it’s corresponding tonic. C – C+ – F. Now continue this motion until you arrive at the same position ending chord as the one you started with. (do this in all inversions as well) > See how natural sounding it is. Doesn’t it just make you feel ‘right’. That’s the cycle of fifths. Now let’s mess it up and play it backwards. Start with a triad again and then minor it and make your way backwards to the fourth. C – Cm – F. Awkward sounding , isn’t it. Here’s a quote from my book “Harmony from Secondary Dominants”

    A common question:
    I’ve noticed in other music books that the cycle of fifths is exactly like your representation except it’s backwards. What is the correct one?
    Answer:
    In music there is no right or wrong. Your perception is the deciding factor.
    In defense of the graphic presented, it can be said that the most natural perception of the tonic is from the dominant, not to it. A representation that is read clockwise, (from the fifth rather than to it), can be of far more use to any ‘listening’ musician than the usual (confused) modern perceptions.

    As you’ve guessed by now. I’m old. I have been playing for well over 50 years now. Still playing church every weekend. Lots of experiences. The guys who showed me a lot of these ideas are now long departed. Very few today seems to have an appreciation of what circular motion can do for their music. It’s a long tradition of thought that has been handed down over the centuries. Applied Harmony is what it’s all about. Maybe your interested. Maybe you have the sensitivity to share in these old secrets.

    Here’s another quote from my book
    “In fact, just about everything you need to know about music can be found in this graphic representation. (We may think that that we are exploring totally new and different directions, but there’s really nothing new under the sun.) While many musicians may not consciously realize it, just about all of their musical ideas can be found within the ‘cycle of fifths’. The reason for such a bold claim can be found in the science of acoustics. ”

    Once you begin to understand and appreciate circular progression a lot of other ideas begin to open in your mind. For example “Fibonacci proportions” leaps to mind. A true mathematical representation of life. JS Bach was well aware of circular motion and spoke eloquently of God. (consonance)

    Perhaps you have an interest in hearing more about these ideas. My first book in the series is totally free but I am careful who I share it with. It is, after-all, the essence of my art and my being. Perhaps I will share different pages of the book with you (at first) dependent upon your reply. In any event, I would like to commend your for your page about circular motion and have hopes of hearing from you at some time in the future.

    Regards
    Larry Poulin

    Reply

    2 Michael Martinez

    Circle of fifths means your bass line moves down by perfect fifths (or up by perfect fourths, same thing). The reason it works is because of how dominant motion establishes tonality in a major key.

    Yes in music you are free to do what you want, but to take full advantage one must understand how to establish and depart from tonality and there are definite rules/guidelines/conventions for that.

    Reply

    3 Larry Poulin

    Just for fun here’s a few silly songs that you might enjoy.
    (Based on circular motion)

    Regards
    Larry Poulin

    http://www.youtube.com/larrypjr

    Reply

    4 Larry Poulin

    One final thought:
    Correction to the above comment:

    C-Cm-G

    oops… sorry

    Reply

    5 Harry

    Hello Larry,

    I am interested in your book. Please let me know how I can obtain a copy.

    Thank You

    Reply

    6 lol

    lol “It’s like finding god”

    You’re a dummy..

    Reply

    7 Larry Poulin

    Hey lol,

    Truth be known ‘lol’, many of the early musicians thought of most musical concepts in a religious way. For example the seventh was referred to as the “Diabolus De Musica” or the devil. They didn’t know what to do with the seventh and their ears hadn’t come to accept the sound yet. In a similar manner, the concepts of consonance vs dissonance was a recurring theme for many musicians who referenced it in a religious way. Consonance represented God and dissonance was thought of as a more human condition. Beethoven wrote about it in a religious way. Many realized that consonance is an ‘abstract reality’ only when perceived by our own failed perceptions of dissonance. (A human condition) When Beethoven wrote about this he referenced consonance as “God” as did J.S. Bach who wrote “Any music that doesn’t represent God is a diabolical din”. Perhaps you should take some time to read up on the ideas of our musical forefathers and you wouldn’t be so quick to start calling names. Or maybe you can enlighten us to your perception of what you might think they were writing about when they wrote of the divine presence in their music. I notice you have a big and brave name ‘lol’ so why don’t you reply or haven’t you any knowledge about these matters. Maybe you can refer us to your writings of such things. For example: ‘any thoughts about music being an ‘abstract’ or are you too lost in name calling to pursue any musical studies.

    Reply

    8 Kenyon

    Thank God for you Jermaine Griggs, and I do mean that from the bottom of my heart man! You are such a blessing I’m a newbie and I am really starting to learn alot Stay Blessed!!!!

    Reply

    9 Zenobia Coleman

    This is great. It’s just what I’ve been looking for, an example of a way to practice chords using the circle of fifths. This will help me with moving from chord to chord with the least amount of hand movement.

    Reply

    10 Zenobia Coleman

    If you have other examples of exercises that demonstrate the use of the circle of fifths to practice chords, I’d really appreciate it.

    Reply

    11 kelly

    Jermaine, i am continually inspired with every click of the button, every page I open builds continually on my understanding of music or it reinforces the knowledge. That I have already received from you. What you do with your gift touches much deeper than just understanding music. You have been given a gift by god and the beautiful part for all of us is you choose to share it with others and it is also applicable in many area of life. I share this gift with everyone. Unfortunately, you are correct when you shared of how many musicians will not share much with you and hored their gift. Sorry for them they are missing out on the greatest gift of all. Giving. Thank you , I am continually blessed by you and will do nothing less than pay it forwardm

    Reply

    12 Narayanan

    In your minor ninths, every second chord in the list seems confusing as there seems to be a 6th instead of a 5th. Could you please elaborate on this point.
    eg. Cm9 – C (bass) Bb D Eb G – this is understandable – Right hand – 7 9 3 5
    Fm9 – F ( Bass) A D Eb G – which seems like 3 6 7 9 shouldnt this be A C Eb G – 3 5 7 9 ?
    Pardon my ignorance if I am wrong.

    Reply

    13 Jermaine Griggs

    In that example, every other chord is a dominant 9 add 6.

    So you’re right

    minor 9 > dominant 9 add 6 > minor 9 > dominant 9 add 6

    Very popular chord movement.

    Reply

    14 mike rodas

    what is that note sequence when you pass from key to key. Lets say your are playing a song in the key of C and then you change to the key of F. What would be that melody that woulds led me to that that key?
    I wouls appreciate your response.

    Reply

    15 Tony

    In your section named “2) Major Sevenths (voiced differently)”

    I am a little confused as to how
    C (base) and E B E = CMaj7

    I thought CMaj7 always has to include 1 3 5 and 7.

    Reply

    16 Jermaine Griggs

    Tony, this is called “voicing.”

    WHat would the world be like if we were all the same? Or named the same? Or acted the same?

    The 3 and the 7 of most chords determine what it is. You don’t need the 5 in many cases. And in other cases, you can play it in your left hand if you want. But what gives you the “major,” “minor,” “dominant” sound is the 3 and 7. Of course, when you get into diminished and augmented chords, the 5 is important but for most chords – major and minor – start thinking of other ways to voice them outside the norm.

    God forbid everybody played C E G B, or E G B C or G B C E. Every song would sound the same. There are DOZENS of ways to voice these chords. DOZENS. This post shows you one of the possibilities.

    I hope this helps,
    JG

    Reply

    17 Stephen Wright

    Hey Larry, I would like a copy of your book.

    Reply

    18 Wilfred

    Thanx jermain.ur teaching methods ar working for me.i js got it.for the mean time im not able to watch the videos coz of my machine.bt i wil sort it out.u realy bls me.

    Reply

    19 keith

    Great site, but one quibble. Isn’t it confusing and technically incorrect to call a chord with the root in the bass note a “root inversion”? What’s being inverted? By definition, at least in music, I think “invert” means to form a chord in such a way that the lowest note is not the lowest in pitch. It seems to me that there has to be an uninverted version of a chord in order for there to be an inversion.

    Reply

    20 keith

    Oops. Meant to say “form a chord in such a way that the root note is not the lowest in pitch.”

    Reply

    21 kevin

    HI Jeraine …thank you for everything..thank you for opening up the amazing world of music to me ..thank you for peeling back the layers to view ‘the promised land ‘.to glimpse a view from the top of the mountain..you are an inspiration..

    Reply

    22 Bruno

    —great exercise material for both fingers and ears. It’s noted in the article to listen to exercise but no link is give to an audio of any type. Did I miss something in the article?

    Reply

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    26 Olaniran Olawale

    really love this piece. How can i get this book?

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    28 Akpan

    am so much grateful to this team. infact this what i have been looking for. i need more .

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    29 Michelle

    This is great. Thank you.

    Reply

    30 david

    I have now fully appreciated the circle of fifths or the circle of fourths and how to move from one progression to the other smoothly. You are Great Jermaine. Thanks a lot

    Reply

    31 Barbara

    I think you are a wonderful teacher….especially for a beginner like me. You break everything down so I can understand it well. I think you have a gift from God and I appreciate you sharing it with me. I’m working hard at learning…but you make it fun and keep me motivated.

    God Bless You.

    Barbara

    Reply

    32 music programs for pc professional

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    34 Billie Reimund

    You are my intake, I possess few web logs and occasionally run out from brand :). “‘Tis the most tender part of love, each other to forgive.” by John Sheffield.

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    35 jerry watson

    Dear Jermaine…thank you for being you: patient and forever sharing your musical knowledge. I have two questions to ask you. One, in the section entitled Major 7 (different voicings) I understand that I play the C with my left hand, but I can not figure out how I play the chord E-B-E, or for that matter, any of the subsequent chords that follow. and two, when using the circle of fifths, how do you know which G note to go to after leaving C. I have looked for the circl of fifths written on the staves, but so far, no luck. thank you…jerry W .

    Reply

    36 king solomon

    sir, u are a good teacher, keep it up. my question is what is a feel in music and how is it created or felt in music, thank u , god bless u.

    Reply

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