In today’s lesson, we’ll be learning about the circle of fourths and fifths.

We’re dedicating this post to studying the circle of fourths and fifths and this is because it is an important tool every musician needs to master because of its relationship with key-signatures, chord formation, chord progression, and other sensitive aspects of music theory.

**Attention:** If you’re not really acquainted to the circle of fourths and fifths, there is no need to be worried. We’re starting this lesson with a thorough exposition on the subject.

If you invest the next 15 minutes or thereabout, I’ll show you how to master the circle of fourths and fifths using the whole tone scale.

## An Exposition On The Circle Of Fourths And Fifths

There are twelve musical notes:

C – Db – D – Eb – E – F – Gb – G – Ab – A – Bb – B

A geometrical representation of these twelve notes in a circle, in such a way that the distance between successive notes is a perfect fourth interval, produces the circle of fourths.

*“Conversely…”*

If the distance between successive notes is a **perfect fifth **interval, this produces the circle of fifths.

### The Circle Of Fourths – Explored

The circle of fourths is a geometrical representation of the twelve musical notes in a circle, in such a way that the distance between successive notes is a perfect fourth interval.

A perfect fourth interval is a product of the relationship between the first and the fourth tones of the natural major scale. The relationship between the first and fourth tones of the C natural major scale:

…which are C and F:

…produces a perfect fourth interval.

Having derived C-F:

…we can add another note by the determination of a perfect fourth interval from F.

A perfect fourth interval from F is a product of the relationship between the first and fourth tones of the F natural major scale:

…which are F and Bb:

So, we’re already having C-F-Bb:

…by adding a Bb:

…to the C-F:

…we derived earlier.

Following the same procedure, we’ll derive all the twelve musical notes in a perfect fourth sequence:

C – F – Bb – Eb – Ab – Db – Gb – Cb/B – E – A – D – G – C

…which can be represented geometrically **in a counter-clockwise direction** as the circle of fourths:

**Attention:** The direction is counter-clockwise.

### The Circle Of Fifths

In the circle of fifths, twelve musical notes are geometrically represented in a circle, in such a way that the distance between successive notes is a perfect fifth interval.

**So, what is a perfect fifth interval?**

A perfect fifth interval is a product of the relationship between the first and the fifth tones of the natural major scale. In the case of the C natural major scale:

…the relationship between the first and fifth tones (which are C and G):

…produces a perfect fifth interval.

*“Let’s Add Another Note To C-G…”
*

A perfect fifth interval from G is a product of the relationship between the first and fifth tones of the G natural major scale:

…which are G and D:

Therefore, we can add D (a perfect fifth above G):

…to C-G:

…to produce C-G-D:

With C-G-D:

…in place, you can already see a perfect fifth interval between successive notes. C to G:

…is a perfect fifth interval, and so is G to D:

Following the same procedure, we’ll derive all the twelve musical notes in a perfect fifth sequence:

C – G – D – A – E – B – F#/Gb – Db – Ab – Eb – Bb – F – C

…which can be represented geometrically **in a clockwise direction** as the circle of fifths:

**Attention:** The circle of fifth moves in a clockwise direction.

Here’s a geometrical representation of the circle of fourths and fifths:

The C note at the 12 o’clock position is usually a reference point for both circles. The circle of fourths and fifths start from the 12 0’clock position, and proceed in the counter-clockwise and clockwise direction respectively.

Before we go any further, it is important for us to take a look at the relationship between the circle of fourths and the circle of fifths.

### The Relationship Between The Circle Of Fourths And Fifths

In the inversion of intervals, a fourth interval becomes a fifth interval when inverted, while a fifth interval becomes a fourth interval.

*“Check It Out…”*

C-F (a perfect fourth interval):

…when inverted (to F-C):

…becomes a perfect fifth interval.

C-G (a perfect fifth interval):

…when inverted (to G-C):

…becomes a perfect fourth interval.

The circle of fourths and fifths are related by inversion. The circle of fourths is an inversion of the circle of fifths and vice-versa. Hence, the circle of fifths which should **ascend in fifths** from C:

…to G:

…to D:

…and so on, can be inverted. Consequently, it will descend in fourths from C:

…to G:

…to D:

…apparently a circle of fourths.

## A Short Note On The Whole Tone Scale

A scale is a regular succession of notes in ascending or descending order; based on a fixed intervallic formula.

The whole tone scale is not a regular scale like the natural major and natural minor scales. In the whole tone scale, the scale distance between adjacent notes is entirely whole steps (no half steps.)

**Attention:** The same way the chromatic scale consists of half steps between adjacent tones, the whole tone scale is built entirely of whole steps.

*“Check Out The Formation Of The C Whole Tone Scale…”*

Starting from C:

…and adding progressing in whole steps to D:

…to E:

…to F#:

…to G#:

…to A#:

…to C:

…produces the C whole tone scale:

*“Here Are Two Notable Things About The Whole Tone Scale…”*

**The whole tone scale is hexatonic: **The prefix “hex” in the term hexatonic means *six.* Hexatonic scales are six-tone scales. The whole tone scale is considered to be hexatonic because it consists of six scale tones.

**The whole tone scale is symmetrical: **Any scale or chord that can be divided into identical parts is said to be symmetrical. The whole tone scale is considered to be symmetrical because it can be divided into identical parts.

Due to the symmetrical nature of the whole tone scale, there are two known whole tone scales – the C whole tone scale:

…and the Db whole tone scale:

## How To Master The Circle Of Fourths And Fifths Using The Whole Tone Scale

Using the whole tone scale as a reference, anyone can master the circle of fourths and fifths. I’ll be showing you step-by-step how this works.

### Demystifying The Circle Of Fourths

The interval between successive notes in the circle of fourths is a perfect fourth interval. Therefore, it’s important for anyone who wants to master the circle of fourths to know the perfect fourth interval in all twelve keys.

Playing the perfect fourth interval using the descending form of the whole tone scale as a reference, produces the circle of fourths.

*“Check It Out…”*

Using the C whole tone scale:

…as guide, perfect fourth intervals can be played in descending form starting from C-F:

…to Bb-Eb:

…to Ab-Db:

…to Gb-B:

…to E-A:

…to D-G:

…to C-F:

These perfect fourth intervals played in a whole tone scale outline:

- C-F
- Bb-Eb
- Ab-Db
- Gb-B
- E-A
- D-G
- C-F

…have exactly the same notes in the circle of fourths. They are:

C – F – Bb – Eb – Ab – Db – Gb – B – E – A – D – G – C

…which can be considered as:

**C** – F (P4th) – **Bb** – Eb (P4th) – **Ab** – Db (P4th) – **Gb** – B (P4th) – **E** – A (P4th) – **D** – G (P4th)

**Attention**: The notes on **bold **are an outline of the descending form of the C whole tone scale.

### Demystifying The Circle Of Fifths

The circle of fifths can be derived by playing perfect fifth intervals in ascending form in a whole tone scale outline.

*“Check It Out…”*

Using the C whole tone scale:

…as guide, perfect fifth intervals can be played in ascending form starting from C-G:

…to D-A:

…to E-B:

…to Gb-Db:

…to Ab-Eb:

…to Bb-F:

…to C-G:

These perfect fifth intervals played in a whole tone scale outline:

- C-G
- D-A
- E-B
- Gb-Db
- Ab-Eb
- Bb-F
- C-G

…have exactly the same notes in the circle of fourths. They are:

C – G – D – A – E – B – Gb – Db – Ab – Eb – Bb – F – C

…which can be considered as:

**C** – G (P5th) – **D** – A (P5th) – **E** – B (P5th) – **Gb** – Db (P5th) – **Ab** – Eb (P5th) – **Bb** – F (P5th)

**Attention**: The notes on **bold **are an outline of the ascending form of the C whole tone scale.

## Final Words

I’m sure you can effortless derive the notes in the circle of fourths and fifths, using the whole tone technique. In another lesson, we’ll continue our discussion on the circle of fourths and fifths.

See you then!

#### Chuku Onyemachi

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

This lesson on 4ths and 5tths is understandable