• # Effectively Practicing with Circle of Fifths Patterns

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. https://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…

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…

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!

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

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

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#### 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!

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