Why learn about "The
Circle of Fifths"?
of this topic, combined with this root pattern diagram:
makes it easy
to play several frequently-used chord progressions automatically
in ANY key!
The Circle of
Fifths, also called the Circle of Fourths, arranges the
twelve musical tones so that a step counter-clockwise
takes you up a fifth, and a step clockwise takes you
up a fourth.
G is a fifth above C, B is a fifth above E, etc.
-Clockwise: F is a fourth above C, Bb is a fourth above F, etc.
-This arrangement makes chord families visual. If C is your I chord, F (IV)
is next to it on the right and G (V) is next to it on the left. The next chords
out are D (II) and Bb( bVII), the two next-most-likely-to-occur chords in the
key of C, other than relative minors.
minors are inside the circle (Am is the relative
minor to C). The relative minor chord is a minor third
(three frets) below its relative major. The two chords
contain most of the same notes and are closely related.
If I, IV, and
V chords make up the immediate family, their relative
minors are the extended family. They are often used in
common chord progressions. Thus, in the key of C: C (I),
F (IV) and G (V) are an immediate chord family and the
relative minors are Am (relative minor to C), Dm (relative
to F) and Em (relative to G).
means changins a song's key. The circle diagram is a
useful tool that can help you transpose. For instance,
if you find a tune written out in a songbook in Eb or
Db, you can change it to a more guitar-friendly key (C,
G, D, E, etc.) by looking at the distance onthe circle
between the given key and your key, where C is three
counter-clockwise steps away from Eb on the circle, so
to transpose from Eb to C you move every chord int he
tune three counter-clockwise steps. Ab becomes F, Cm
becomes Am, Bb becomes G, etc.
How Does This
progressions: Thousands of songs, from turn of the
century ragtime to contemporary rock, are based on
circle-of-fifths motion. In a circle-of-fifths progression
you leave the I chord and come back by clockwise motion,
going up by fourths until you are "home" at
the I chord. For example, the key of C:
- A (VI)
- D (II) - G (V) - C (I)
the above VI - II - V - I progression you jump
to the VI chord (A) and then go clockwise to
the II chord (D). This is going up a fourth;
D is a fourth above A. Next you play V (G) which
is a step clockwise on the circle and is up a
fourth from D (G is the fourth note in the D
scale). Go another step clockwise (up another
fourth) to I (C) and you are home.
chord is a fourth above the previous chord -
that's circle-of-fifths motion. But in relation
to C, you played VI - II - V - I.
- In another
circle-of-fifths progression, the VI and II chords
are minor (written as vi and ii). Again in the key
- C (I)
- Am (vi) - Dm (ii) - G7 (V)
variety of vi - ii - V - I is so common it has
many names among the pros: standard changes,
dimestore progression, ice cream changes, etc.
(songs like "Every Breath You Take" and "Blue
Moon" for example).
many I - vi - ii - V progressions, IV is substituted
for ii, which changes the progression to I -
vi - IV - V, or in the key of C: C - Am - F -
G7. It's a subtle change, because IV and ii are
very similiar chords; ii is the relative minor
second half of the previous progression, ii -
V - I, is the basis for many tunes and is also
called a 'turnaround' (a one or two bar phrase
at the end of a verse or chorus that sets up
a repeat of the verse or chorus).
progressions go a step farther back on the circle:
(III) - A7 (VI) - D7 (II) - G7 (V) - C
go even farther back, to the VII chord. Key of
(I) - B7 (VII) - E7 (III) - A7 (VI) - D7
(II) - G7 (V) - C (I)
movement on the fretboard follows a zig-zag pattern:
with a 6th string root/note you go 'up a fourth'
(one step clockwise on the circle) by going 'up a
string' to the 5th string/same fret.
with a 5th string root/note you get to the root of
the IV chord (one step clockwise on the circle) by
going 'down a string' to the 6th string/two frets
- That means
you play circle-of-fifths progressions when you follow
the zig-zag chart above, assigning chords to each
root note. For example, you could play a VII - III
- VI - II - V - I progression in Db like this, starting
from the VII chord:
- OR, with
some minor chords:
ust as the I-IV-V
root patterns help you locate chord families automatically
on the fretboard, this will also allow you to to using
the circle-of-fifths chord movement. In the exercises
below, you play chords based on the root notes that are
pictured on the fretboard.
1. These are
phrases in the key of B. They have a 5th string root/I
2. These are
phrases in Bb and have a 6th string root/I chord.
The lowest note
in each of the above chords is its root, and all the
ii-V-I progressions above follow the zig-zag fretboard
root patterns from what we learned dealing with what
we learned in the circle-of-fifths.
These can be
found automatically. Check back at our circle-of-fifths
lesson to see the root patterns. There will be a duplicate
reference at the bottom of this page:
1. 6th string
Key of A
2. 5th string
Key of D
As the fretboard
root pattern chart indicates, there are two ways to find
the relative minor. Both ways work for a 6th string/I
chord and a 5th string/I chord.
Play a minor
chord whose root is three frets lower than the root of
the I chord.
Play a minor
chord whose root is two frets higher than the root of
the V chord (VI is two frets above V).