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

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.

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.

I hope this helps.

The following two tabs change content below.

#### Jermaine Griggs

Founder at HearandPlay.com
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!

#### Latest posts by Jermaine Griggs (see all)

1 nhgo

awesome post once again

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.

3 Vivek

knowledge increases by sharing, otherwise we are no good for humanity.

4 Gino

While what you say is true Vivek, if we shared everything, we couldn’t make any type of decent income.

5 Matthew

If everyone shared “everything”, you wouldn’t need any type of decent income. Obviously.

6 Jerry

Now that is the way Christ intended.

7 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

8 johnie

how do i subscribe?

9 monica

10 unknown

monica, i second that motion

11 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!!

12 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.

13 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

14 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.

15 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

16 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

17 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

18 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?

19 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.

20 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

21 Evans

Hi Evan,

From what I recently from the gospel music training center, all major scale should have all the letters of the 7 alphabets. Thus in F-major scale we have say F G A Bb C D E F and not F G A A# C D E F.

22 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.

23 Dave

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

24 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

25 john tregoni

26 Robert Baker

Do you give lessons on the keyboard

27 Robert Baker

Do you teach the keyboard

28 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

29 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?

30 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.

31 ben kuchchris gh

32 lily

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

33 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.

34 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.

35 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.

36 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?

37 D.L.B.

Alex,
Yes. In ANY major scale, the chords are as follows (Roman numerals are always used in theory to represent Major and minor chords. An upper case Roman Numeral represents a Major chord, and a lower case represents a minor chord [a diminished chord has a minor third and is therefore minor]).

Here are the chords of ANY major scale (the Roman Numerals represent the intervals of the scale):

I – Major
ii – minor
iii – minor
IV – Major
V – Major
vi – minor
vii – diminished

LET’S LOOK AT THE KEY OF C MAJOR:

Here are the intervals of the C Major scale:
1 – C
2 – D
3 – E
4 – F
5 – G
6 – A
7 – B

Here are the chords of the C Major scale:

I – C Major
ii – Dm
iii – Em
IV – F Major
V – G Major
vi – Am
vii – B diminished

JUST TO MAKE SURE YOU COMPREHEND, LET’S LOOK AT NOTES/ INTERVALS OF THE A MAJOR SCALE:

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

The chords of the A Major scale:

I – A Major
ii – Bm
iii – C#m
IV – D
V – E
vi – F#m
vii – G# diminished

Now that you know the formula, you can go ahead and plug them into the Cycle of Fourths and Cycle of Fifths, and whatever chord progressions you like that use the chords of the Major Scale.

I hope this helps!
D.L. Brophy

38 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.

39 Drew

alex, the answer is right there.
It’s also the key to modes
C-1-major=Ionian/root/tonic
D_2- minor= Dorian (2nd degree)
E_3-minor= Phrygian (3rd degree)
F_4-major=Lydian (4th degree)
G_5-major=Mixolydian (5th degree)
A_6-minor= Aeolian (6th degree) relative minor
B_7-diminished=locrian (7th degree)

40 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

41 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.

42 Emmanuel

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

43 sheet metal stamping

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

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.

45 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?

46 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

47 charles

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

48 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)

49 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

50 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

51 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!

52 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.

53 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.

54 meeche

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

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.

56 Victor

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

57 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

58 miracle

Please, keep it up! This site is very educating and informing. Thanks, for the infos. God bless you plenty.

59 David B

I find that in your formula going counterclockwise starting at C of course that it will only bring you to Bb, and likewise with the Bb scale to Ab and so forth.Your going every other scale which brings you back to C.If after this you start with F, you will cover the scales you missed the first time around such as Eb Db back to F.Another words by going around the circle twice starting with C the first time and F the second time you can cover every scale.Of course if you play “chords” vs scales and back up 1 full step after every chord, will lead you to play every scale in order.Hope this makes sense and that I did’nt overlook something obvious,lol.Outside of that…Great Job!

David

I must confes its not been easy avin to learn the keyboard on your own.Your tutorials av bin so helpful to me sir jarmaine…I love music a lot and realy wana b beter and kip playing the keys for jesus…Thanks and d good Lord wil hear your prayers…Kejikeys

61 James

I am a musician in Nigeria. You have changed my musical style for good. Am so greatful. Am really trying to make this blog popular in Nigeria. The whole world should know a good man like you who has the interest of others at heart. Thanks a lot Sir.

62 Greyson V

Waoooooh!!! Thank you, thank you so much.i have been struggling for many years searching for a this secret behind the music…now i have found it.
Thank you for this blog..
keep it up.
it has open up my understanding.

63 Annalea

Wow. You just blew my mind.

I’ve just found myself on a worship team, and as a classically-trained (i.e. mostly sight-reading) pianist, I never learned chords. This is a really powerful way to learn all of this, and I’m praising God for it.

Thank you!

64 JohnnyP

Great information. I’m trying my best to learn everything but I’m sure it’s best to take my time.

65 Dennis

Thats brilliant sir! I would also love to have something on passing chords. Hope you would.

66 Maphindela

That was just clear enough, even to us who have played for quite sometime, we learn a thing or two.

67 emma

pls sir,what is the method of knowing the associate minor of s key?

68 Chiefer

“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).”

I am so lost, that doesn’t make any sense. If we started and ended with an F it would be (F D E F G A Bb F) & we’ve already established that the F major scale is (F G A Bb C D E F). What am I missing here?

69 Ugbara bright

Wow!!
This is splendid and the best info i have euer come accross
keep it up sir

70 Ola

You are an answer to prayer. I have purchased your four keys course and I have learned more in one evening than I have in a lifetime. I play by ear and have a basic knowledge theory and chords, but I was never able to totally put it all together. Now I have confidence that I can play and continue to grow. Your free information just adds to what I am learning. My small church needs this. God will bless you and your descendants for this.

I am a customer for life. Please don’t stop.