• Is It Circle Of Fourths Or Circle Of Fifths?

    in Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Theory

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    If you want to know the relationship between the circle of fourths and circle of fifths, this lesson is for you.

    A vast majority of musicians believe there’s a circle of fourths while others insist its a circle of fifth. Although I don’t really know whether you believe in the former or latter, one thing is sure: at the end of this lesson, you’ll clearly understand the relationship between them.

    Before we go into the main study, let’s discuss briefly on the music clock.

    A Short Note On The Musical Clock

    Here’s the music clock:

    …which is a geometrical representation of the twelve musical notes:

    …in fourth (counter-clockwise) and fifths (clockwise), hence, it’s called the circle of fourths or circle of fifths.

    C is at the 12 o’clock position

    G is at the 1 o’clock position

    D is at the 2 o’clock position

    …and so on, up to F at the 11 o’clock position.

    Let’s take a closer look at the circle of fourths and the circle of fifths.

    The Circle Of Fourths

    There are twelve sectors in the musical clock:

    …and going through it in the counter-clockwise direction produces the circle of fourths and this is because the notes are geometrically represented in perfect fourth intervals.

    From C to F:

    …(in the counter-clockwise direction) is a perfect fourth.

    From F to Bb:

    …(in the counter-clockwise direction) is a perfect fourth.

    From Bb to Eb:

    …(in the counter-clockwise direction) is a perfect fourth.

    From Eb to Ab:

    …(in the counter-clockwise direction) is a perfect fourth.

    From Ab to Db:

    …(in the counter-clockwise direction) is a perfect fourth.

    From Db to Gb:

    …(in the counter-clockwise direction) is a perfect fourth.

    We’re already at the 6 o’clock position in the musical clock – Gb. The same thing is obtainable in the counter-clockwise direction for all the notes.

    The Circle Of Fifths

    Going through the musical clock:

    …in a clockwise direction produces the circle of fifths and this is because the notes are geometrically represented in perfect fifth intervals.

    From C to G:

    …(in the clockwise direction) is a perfect fifth.

    From G to D:

    …(in the clockwise direction) is a perfect fifth.

    From D to A:

    …(in the clockwise direction) is a perfect fifth.

    From A to E:

    …(in the clockwise direction) is a perfect fifth.

    From E to B:

    …(in the clockwise direction) is a perfect fifth.

    From B to F#:

    …(in the clockwise direction) is a perfect fifth.

    We’re already at the 6 o’clock position in the musical clock – F#. The same thing is obtainable in the counter-clockwise direction for all the notes.

    The Relationship Between The Circle Of Fourths And Circle Of Fifths

    Believe it or not, the circle of fourths and circle of fifths are related in such a way that both of them can be considered as the same thing.

    In music theory, the inversion of a fourth produces a fifth interval and vice-versa. For example, the inversion of C-F:

    …which is a perfect fourth interval, produces F-C:

    …which is a perfect fifth interval. The inversion of a fifth interval like C-G:

    …produces G-C (a fourth interval):

    “In The Same Vein…”

    The first three notes in the circle of fourths:

    …which are C, F, and Bb:

    …can be represented in fifths – from C:

    …to F:

    …then Bb:

    …in descending order, outlining fifth intervals.

    The first three notes of the circle of fifths:

    …which are C:

    …G:

    …and D:

    …can be inverted into fourths as well – C:

    …to G:

    …then to D:
    …in descents of fourth intervals.

    “In A Nutshell…”

    Fourth and fifth intervals are related by inversion; a fourth becomes a fifth and a fifth becomes a fourth when inverted.

    Hence, it’s acceptable to describe the musical clock:

    …either as the circle of fourths or the circle of fifths.

    Final Words

    In subsequent lessons, we’ll learn more about the memorization and application of the circle of fourths and fifths.

    See you then!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as the head of education, music consultant, and chief content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with hundreds of thousands of musicians across the world.

    Attention: To learn more about this, I recommend our 500+ page course: The "Official Guide To Piano Playing." Click here for more information.




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    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Edmond Edems

    Thank you so much bro. Am also a Nigerian

    Reply

    2 Michael Whaley

    Another way of explaining it would be to say that there are 12 semitones in a scale of 7 notes in c this would be CDEFGAB.
    In a every perfect 5th, – for example, in C to G there are 7 semitones (C#, D,D#/Eb, E, F,F#,G).
    In every 4th, say C to F there are 5 semitones, in the above C#, D,D#/Eb, E & F.

    This works regardless of whether you are going up or down, so if in doubt, count out the semitones.

    Reply

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