• Why the circle of fourths is so important when learning major scales

    by Jermaine Griggs · 51 comments

    in Scales

    Playing your major scales should be a part of your daily practice regimen.

    However, practicing them in a “circle of fourths” or “circle of fifths” pattern is even better.

    Let’s focus more on circle of fourths.

    circle of fifths

    If you type “circle of fourths” or “circle of fifths” in google, you can actually find a host of other examples.

    Notice that the keys go from: C >>> F >>> Bb >>> Eb and so forth.

    If this were a clock, C would be at 12 o’ clock. F would be at 11 o’ clock. Bb would be at 10, and so forth.

    This is the optimal way to play your scales. Start with C major. Play it all the way through (C D E F G A B C).

    Then play your F major scale all the way through (F G A Bb C D E F). Then your Bb major scale (Bb C D Eb F G A Bb).

    Why the circle?

    Because music also happens to move in this same pattern (way beyond the scope of this article but I’ll touch on it a little bit). As you play chords and progressions later, you’ll find that any C chord going to any F chord going to any Bb chord will be a very popular progression and you’ll play it ALL THE TIME.

    But here’s another reason to use the circle.

    Because it lets you know how related the major keys are to each other.

    If one just looked at a piano, they’d assume that C and Db, for example, were related because of how close they appear to each other on the piano. BUT THIS ISN’T TRUE.

    The reality is that C and F are more related. This is why they are neighbors on the circle and not C and Db (or C#).

    Let’s look at this.

    The C major scale is: C D E F G A B C

    The F major scale is: F G A Bb C D E F

    Really take the time to analyze these notes. Notice anything?

    Bingo! The only difference between the C major scale and the F major scale is ONE note. Notice that F major has all white notes just like C. The only difference is one black key and that’s Bb.

    So here’s the golden rule.

    ***********
    To get from one key on the circle to the next (going the counter-clockwise direction of C to F to Bb to Eb and so on), just take the 7th note of any scale, lower it a half step, and that gives you the ONLY difference between the current scale and the next one on the circle.

    C major: C D E F G A B C

    Count 7 notes… B is the 7th note.

    Lower it one half step (remember half steps are from key to key with NO keys in between… whole steps always skip a key with ONE key in between). So in this case, we’d lower it from B to Bb.

    This Bb represents the only difference between C and F major… and it’s true.

    The only other thing we’d have to do is play these same exact notes (C D E F G A Bb C) but starting and ending on F instead of C (because this is the F major scale, not the C major scale anymore).

    Make sense?

    If you wanted to find out how to find the notes of the next major key on the circle after F major, you’d do the same thing.

    Take the 7th note of F major, lower it one-half step to find the only change. Then start and end on the next key of your major scale.

    VERY SIMPLE! Re-read this article until it clicks.

    I hope this helps.

    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!

    Related posts:

    1. The key to learning major scales
    2. Effectively Practicing with Circle of Fifths Patterns
    3. Learning to play natural minor scales
    4. Major Scales Workshop #2
    5. Major Scales Crash Course
    6. Major Scales Workshop #1
    7. Playing scales with major seventh chords



    { 50 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 nhgo

    awesome post once again

    Reply

    2 katie

    u better watch out jermaine. you’re giving out too much good information for free. but if people are like me, they will only imagine what your paid stuff has to offer if you’re this generous. Please PLEASEEEEEEEEEEEE keep this blog up. It’s the best thing you’ve ever done in my opinion. everything is organized and searchable and categorized. what more could your students ask for? im also checking out your radio show this tuesday. you guys are the best.

    Reply

    3 nick

    you’ve opened my eyes to see why the circle is important. no one really talks about how to form one scale from the other but the “7th tone” principle makes a heap of sense. thx nick

    Reply

    4 johnie

    how do i subscribe?

    Reply

    5 monica

    either put your e-mail in the box and it will send you a confirmation that you’ll need to click on via e-mail or you can use rss but that’s a little more advanced. if you use google or yahoo or any of the popular sites, they let you subscribe via rss and every time they update this blog, it will appear on your google home page or whatever service you use. if you use an rss reader, even better. a good one is bloglines.com.

    Reply

    6 unknown

    monica, i second that motion

    Reply

    7 Lisa

    I absolutely love this help!! I’m a mom with 7 kids (and a pastor’s wife). I play keyboard for church and love to worship the Lord with music! Just can’t afford much on a small church pastor’s salary. I thank the Lord for all I can get because it helps me play better for HIM!! Thanks so much for this information. It is valuable and in my case…used for the Kingdom!! –I just wrote my first song the Lord gave me and I have to have music knowledge to put chords to it!! Thanks again!!

    Reply

    8 ct

    This is a great lesson. I bought The Secrets to Playing Piano By Ear! I figured it out, but this lesson is much better and simple to understand. So I glad you post this one. The book doesn’t give you the answer if you don’t know what you’re doing and you begin to second guess yourself.

    Reply

    9 Nicholas

    Good stuff. I am a new member and i have learnt so much in the past two months.This lesson makes sense to me and sure will improve my keyboard playing

    Nicholas

    Reply

    10 Myrt

    Awesome! Thanks for all of your help. It’s good to share with others, that we as gospel musicians not only enjoy worship music, we also enjoy a variety of music that uplifts the soul, and love music. We as musicans have the capacity to share our emotions in the form of music. Thanks again.

    Reply

    11 Evan

    Dear Jermaine.
    I was going through your formula of building Major Scales with the help of the circle of fourths. As you go from step to another on the circle of fourth e.g from C to F to build a major scale and use yor formula of lowering the sixth note of the current scale, i had noticed another thing and its so simple to build the next scale without refering to the circle of fourths. I like to share with you and with others too. If you know the C Major scale you can build all the rest by loking at it and using your formula by lowering the sixth note by half step. Now for mine technique its simple. To build the next scale from C Major scale just look at the fourth note of the current scale. so if you are on C Major Scale the fourth note is F. so your next scale will be F and then use your formula of lowering the sixth note by half step. Now from F Major if you want to go for the next Scale just see the fourth note on the F Major scale and start from there. on F major scale the fourth note will be Bb, and then use your formula lower the sixth note by half step.There is no need to refer to the chart of circle of fourths.do you think i m right in this? please advice me. Thanks. Evan

    Reply

    12 Jermaine

    You are right except you keep saying the 6th note. It’s really the 7th note or degree that you’re lowering a half step.

    C major:

    C D E F G A B C

    In this case, “B” (the 7th note, not 6th) would be lowered a half step.

    And going up to the fourth tone to start the next scale is absolutely right. It’s not that you don’t need the circle, it’s that you’ve just found another way to think about it. You’re still moving “circularly.” Most experienced musicians never use the circle because they just “know” it now. That’s the same thing you’re doing by taking the fourth tone of the scale. Soon, you won’t even have to do that inside your head because you’ll just know that C leads to F and F leads to B flat and B flat leads to E flat (and so on).

    Good job on your observations. Just change what you said above from the 6th to the “7th tone” and you’ll be good to go!

    All the best,

    Jermaine

    Reply

    13 Evan

    Hi Jeramine.
    Thanks a lot for correcting me for the mistake i did with the sixth note instead of writting seventh note.
    God Bless you.
    Evan

    Reply

    14 Yavas

    Thanks for the site Jermaine, I just came across this site, it has really good information. I mess around on the keyboard, I someday hope to learn chords enough to where I could play professionally, and this circle of fourths/fifths concept is deep, never heard or thought of it. Does anyone know where it is derived from?

    Reply

    15 Catherine

    In Nikolai Delitskii’s book, Gramatika, which is based on the ‘concepts of music’(the very first of it’s kind) is where the first circle of fifths appeared.

    Reply

    16 Evan

    Dear Mr. Jermaine. I sometimes get confused when looking at the circle of fifths or circle of fourth. while going from C to F,Bb,Eb, Ab,Db it is written in Flats signature instead of sharps as both the key resembles the same note. For example Bb is the same as A#. Do we really have to memorize as it is on the circle of fifths or as it is on the circle of fourth? In F major scale the notes are F G A A# C D E F. Do we must write it as F G A Bb C D E F?
    Thanks for your great help in learning Music.
    GOD BLESS YOU.
    EVAN

    Reply

    17 ope

    i’ve always loved to get some lessons from you like chord combinations but i haven’t seen any. i have been a member for about a month. bye for now.

    Reply

    18 Dave

    It’s great to see so many people with the hunger to learn this material. The energy is awesome…

    Reply

    19 hector f silva

    I realy apreciate you repeat this lesson now is clear for me circle of fourth thank you very much.Now I have a question.Do you a table like this for play solos in any key? please send it to me,thank a lot

    Reply

    20 john tregoni

    Where can I learn more about or order your 702 Starter course. I’m interested in learning your numbering system thank you jct

    Reply

    21 Robert Baker

    Do you give lessons on the keyboard

    Reply

    22 Robert Baker

    Do you teach the keyboard

    Reply

    23 De'Artrous

    Hi Guy,
    Man you are fantastic with the teaching of the music system you have created.It has changed my whole style of learning and playing music.you have made learning to play the piano a joy, and not a struggle. Thank you.
    I really enjoyed the video. I believe everyone should spice things up now and then. Keep the good work. God has placed you into people lives for a reason. May God continue to bless and keep you with new ideas. Until the next e-mail.

    Be bessed,
    De’ from LA

    Reply

    24 william

    I was wondering if someone could give me some tips on how I should use the circle of fourths in my practicing? So should I instead of practicing the scale in alphabetic order; use the circle of fourth to cover all the scales? Also when practicing moving up and down the scale should this be done with notes or chords?

    Reply

    25 Siv

    do not me have to get circle order me make circle of fives? now me quiestion. me like square of fives better, circle remind I of pie, square of cornbread and I eat five square cornbreads in five circles, maybe that work? Now me go to fridge.

    Reply

    26 ben kuchchris gh

    Hi boss,i am ghanaian and got your fantastic cd’s.my problem is how you got those passing chord,please kindly send me more info.thanks. I wan to know more about the passing chords,please boss

    Reply

    27 lily

    I enjoyed this lesson and the way it is explained. Thank you!

    Reply

    28 Red

    I in addition to my pals were renadig through the nice helpful hints from your web blog then at once got a horrible feeling I never thanked you for those techniques. These women became happy to learn all of them and have surely been loving them. I appreciate you for being really helpful and for choosing this sort of important useful guides millions of individuals are really wanting to understand about. My personal honest apologies for not expressing appreciation to sooner.

    Reply

    29 obert

    The formula for the “CIRCLE OF THE FIFTHS”
    I came to understand it very easy how the formula works on the CIRCLE OF FIFTHS chart and I find it easy how to discover or establish the next key as well as the scale for that key.
    Starting from C, I counted 7(seven) (W) steps up the C major scale; C1, D2, E3, F4, G5, A6, B7…(I used the numbers to identify the scale degree)then I flatten the 7th degree of the scale, which is B to Bb. now I counted 4 steps backward or down the scale to identify the new key as follows; Bb, A, G, F (h,w,w,w) now the new key is F and the new scale starting from F is F1, G2, A3, Bb4, C5, D6, E7. Using the same formula, E is the 7th degree of the scale and I flattened it to Eb and counted 4steps back Eb,D,C to arrive at Bb (h,w,w,w), so the new key is Bb. take note of the # or b that I identified for the 7th degree, also form part of the new scale. As for Bb: B1b, C2, D3, E4b, F5, G6, A7. So A is the 7th degree, so I flatten it to Ab and counted 4 steps back (Ab, G, F, Eb)h,w,w,w thus making Eb my new key. Repeating this will get you to the correct 12 major keys and their scale and you will have a clear understanding of the circle of fifths chart.
    I hope this will make sense to others.

    Reply

    30 Justin Young

    any trick to the circle of fifths as far as a seventh of the scale note. It’s funny I always asked my teacher why this circle of fourths happened and no answers and finally.

    Reply

    31 Alex

    Here’s the question I have. In chord progressions, when do you know how to play a minor/major chord?!?

    I understand how the circle of fourths/fifths works in that it’s going to be either the fifth scale degree of the root you start on (if going up), and the fourth scale degree of the root you start on (if going down). But take the song by Marvin Sapp, “Never Would Have Made It,”, and it’s in a 7-3-6-2-5-1-4 chord progression.

    Is it as simple as saying that the I, IV and V chords in that song are going to be major chords, the ii, iii, vi are minors, and the vii is the diminished chord? Does that always apply to major scale chords?

    Reply

    32 Alex

    So, in my previous example, in the key of C, a 7-3-6-5-1-4 would be the following notes (just playing it real basic withouth 7 or 9 chords, just triads)?

    R – C/ GEC – C Major chord – Root
    7 – B/ BDF – B Diminished Chord
    3 – E/ EGB – E Minor Chord
    6 – A/ ACE – A Minor Chord
    5 – G/ GBD – G Major Chord
    1- C/ GEC – C Major Chord
    4- F/ ACE – F Major Chord

    I know I’m wrong, but this is the one thing that seems to be escaping me.

    Reply

    33 Bernard Holden

    Very interesting.To get my head around the cycle of fifths I decided to make a spinning cardboard wheel a few years ago. I have now developed that idea more and just launched an iphone app called jazz practise. It has a wheel which plays the modes and arpeggios round the cycle as well as showing them on the keyboard or guitar and in notation form all at the same time.Just search in app store for
    jazz practice

    Best wishes

    Reply

    34 afolabi tunde

    Pls i need all bass guitar tutorial from a-z. How to groove, how to play percussive, how to solo, how to mute, how to play chords and how to follow songs on bass guitar.

    Reply

    35 Emmanuel

    This is simply Awesome……it’s wonderful, thanks a million!

    Reply

    36 sheet metal stamping

    I enjoyed your useful site. excellent information. I hope you release more. I will carry on watching

    Reply

    37 Adharsh

    I’m not understanding why u ppl makin it so much complicated to learn the formation of major scales… Here we make it easier. hope u ppl knw the universal notes – C C# D D# E F F# G G# A A# B C.. As JERMAINE explained d whole n half step u can use this formulae to form any major scale. i,e W W H W W W H. W- whole step H- half step . For example if u wanna form the D major scale start it frm D in universal notes . the W-step of D is E and H-step of D is D#. now the scale is D (W) E (W) F# (H) G (W) A (W) B (W) C# (H) D… So scale is D E F# G A B C# D. Wat say folks .. Try this formulae to form any major scale. leave me a msg if u think it helped u. adarsh.nympho24@gmail.com. Thank u.

    Reply

    38 Bob Vasquez

    The Circle of Fifths (or Fourths) has outlived its usefulness (whoa, challenging the conventional wisdow) but, that’s for a later discussion. What caught my attention is the statement that “the optimal way to play your scales” is alphabetically(?). What is the musical value in practicing scales alphabetically (C D E F G A B C)? It seems to me a better approach is to practice a scale and its most related scales; say, you pick G major in your practice session, then, you also practice C and D major and A, E and B minor. These six scales are highly related and you can “modulate” from one to another. Would there not be more “musical value” in practicing “related scales” in a practice session?

    Reply

    39 Jermaine Griggs

    I was saying it’s optimal to practice your scales in fourths…

    Play C major
    Then F major
    Then Bb major
    And so on.

    Not sure where you got alphabetically as I was just giving them the notes of the C major scale (C D E F G A B C).

    Thanks,
    JG

    Reply

    40 charles

    in the key of C what are the d chord and e chord, the 2nd and 3rd and the b, 7th chord.

    Reply

    41 Jermaine Griggs

    Key of C major:

    1st tone = C
    C major chord (C E G)

    2nd tone = D
    D minor chord (D F A)

    3rd tone = E
    E minor chord (E G B)

    4th tone = F
    F major chord (F A C)

    5th tone = G
    G major chord (G B D)

    6th tone = A
    A minor chord (A C E)

    7th tone = B
    B diminished chord (B D F)

    Reply

    42 Luis

    You have no idea how much your advice has helped me understand music theory on the piano.. I am forever grateful to you Jermainne.

    One thing I notice as I was practicing my scales using the circle -and someone may have already pointed this out- you can find that 7th note to flatten by simply looking at the next step in the circle. For example:

    Scale of Bb will have an Eb
    Scale of Eb will have an Ab (along with the previous Bb)
    Scale of Ab will have a Db (along with the previous Eb and Bb) and so on..

    Further, every scale will also contain every previous key in the circle + one forward key in the circle (as per above).

    Simply Amazing

    Reply

    43 Agbo

    Thanks a lot Jermaine I’ve benefitted immensely from your lectures please be not weary in well doing . Please can you help me out I have a 3yr old nephew that is really interested in playing the keyboard and I really want to teach him the little I know but every time I try I seem not find a way to make him understand the terms like Keys, note, octave, scales etc please can you help me out with some advice? Thanks a lot

    Reply

    44 Sula

    Oh my goodness. I’ve just found your videos on youtube and am completely blown away by you incredible ability to organize and present music theory information to learners. What I LOVE about your style the most if the wonderful way you bring to front the relationships between scales, chords, and music/song construct. Understanding the schemes of music, scales, cords, realizing the reoccurring patterns has made the key difference to my comprehension and music playing!! You are BRILLIANT Jermaine. I am infinitely grateful for you what do here. God send! Thank you so much!

    Reply

    45 Martin Murphy

    The only thing I can’t understand about the Circle is why is it that if you go Right around the circle you count in 5ths but if you go Left around the circle you count in 4ths. How can they both mathematically bring you back to the 12 o’clock position on the circle. I know it doesn’t work, but my logical brain tells me I should count in 5ths in both directions. Can you explain.

    Reply

    46 meeche

    I see how the formula works. Look for fourth, then drop the 7th by half , but the only one it doesn’t work with is going from g flat major to b major. They seem to not be related and have different notes. I dropped the 7th by a half so.. B major according to the formula has a f flat. Its really suppose to be f sharp. Please explain, thank you.

    Reply

    47 meeche

    Nvm I figured it out. Got confused with flats and sharps
    thank you for your informative article.

    Reply

    48 test0r0r0 download

    Your style is really unique in comparison to other people I’ve read stuff from. Thank you for posting when you’ve got the opportunity, Guess I will just bookmark this page.

    Reply

    49 Victor

    Jermaine, thanks so much. You are a great teacher. May the good God bless and keep you. Thanks.

    Reply

    50 Kyle

    It clicked :) I had a piano lesson today (my first after being selftaught since the start of the year) the guy was chatting about all this and it made sense but I wanted to be sure. Thanks for the tip

    Reply

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