Circle of Fifths
The Circle of Fifths is a helpful pattern pertaining to all the major scales. It is called a circle because the pattern begins with a C major scale and circles through all the major scales until it returns back to a C major scale.
(Helpful note: The scale names the key that you are in, and each scale begins with the same letter/note as it is named. For example, a C scale begins on a C and creates the key of C.)
This is how the pattern works:
Start by playing a C major scale which has no flats or sharps.
It is easiest to understand if you play the scales as we go through the pattern. The next step of the pattern is to find the fifth note of the C scale which is a G. Start on that G and play a G major scale. You will need to sharp the seventh note to make the second tetrachord. That is why the key of G has an F .
The next step of the circle is to find the fifth note of the G Major scale which is D. Start on D and play a D major scale. The D major scale will need an F , same as the G scale, and you will also need to sharp the seventh, which is C. That is why the key of D has both an F and a C .
Next start on the fifth note of the D major scale, which is A, and play an A major scale. Use the same sharps as you did to play the D scale, plus sharp the seventh.
Start on the fifth note of the A major scale, which is E. Play an E major scale. Use the same sharps as in the scale before, plus sharp the seventh. The seventh, the new sharp, is easy to figure out because it is always the letter in the alphabet that comes before the letter name of the scale. For example, what letter comes before E in the alphabet? D, and D will be the new sharp.
Do you have the pattern? Start on the fifth note of the scale you just played, play a major scale carrying over the sharps you used before, plus sharp the seventh, which will always be the new sharp.
The key of B will use five sharps.
The fifth note of the B scale is F . This means that the next scale of the circle will actually start on a sharped note. You will play a major scale starting on F and ending on F . The key of F has six sharps!
The fifth note of the F major scale is C . Every note of the C major scale will be sharped!
The fifth note of the C major scale is G . To avoid having a double sharp in the next scale of the cycle, we will call G by it's other name, which is A . The pitches of the scale are the same, just easier to deal with using four flats, rather than eight sharps. Happily, the flats needed for the A major scale spell the word BEAD, making them easy to remember.
Start on the fifth note of the A major scale, which is E . Play a major scale from E to E . You will only need three flats! Hallelujah!
Start on the fifth note of the E major scale, which is B . Play a major scale from B to B . You will only need two flats!
Start on the fifth note of the B major scale, which is an F . Play an F major scale. You will only need one flat!
What is the fifth note of the F major scale? It is C! You have made a complete circle, arriving back at zero flats and sharps.
The circle of fifths contains all possible key signatures.
(If you prefer to read flats, rather than sharps, C major scale could be called D , and the key signature would be shifted to show B, E, A, D, & G flatted.)
Confused? No worries, just start at C Scale page, and work your way back.
How to Read Music
The Graph to Staff Approach breaks the beginning stages of reading music on the staff into easy progressive steps and fun activities.
The Circle of Fifths is a pattern involving another pattern. The first pattern you will need to understand is the formula for a major scale.