Pastimes for a Lifetime is excited for its first Guest Blog of 2023 featuring Annika Hope, marketing executive at Music Gateway, a global platform that provides products and services that assist artists, songwriters and producers with their projects. Ms. Hope has graciously offered us the opportunity to present her clear and concise feature on Understanding The Circle of Fifths. This article is ideal for musicians of all genres who need a refresher on the importance of the Circle of Fifths in music. Whether you’re just starting out or a pro, we hope it inspires you and helps in your understanding of music!

Understanding The Circle of Fifths

Learning about the circle of fifths is an essential part of understanding music theory. It can be a bit intimidating at first, but it’s worth taking the time to familiarize yourself with this concept as it can be used for notation, transposition, key signatures and more. Once you get to grips with the basics, you’ll see that it’s not as complicated as it seems!

The circle of fifths is essentially a chord progression, and having an understanding of how to create and write your own chord progressions is vital for musicians and songwriters. Furthermore, it is beneficial to listen to the harmony in popular songs in order to learn about chordal relationships and progressions that you could use in your own work.

Songwriters can benefit from familiarizing themselves with these progressions, as having a bank of them in their memory can be a great help when they need some quick-fire chords. It is also beneficial for musicians to become acquainted with popular progressions so they can recognize them faster while jamming or learning new songs.

What Is A Chord Progression? 

 

To understand the circle of fifths, you first have to understand chord progressions, otherwise known as chord sequences, which are the foundation of any song. With an innumerable amount of combinations, songwriters can utilize them to evoke a variety of feelings and help tell their story through lyrics. 

Whether you are just starting out learning simple progressions or have been writing music for years and looking for more complex harmonies, there is always something new to learn! Before we dive into creating our own progressions, let’s take a look at some popular choices.

Pop Chord Progressions

There are some common ‘go-to’ major chord progressions that we often see in pop music.

CGAmF

Chords I V vi and IV are often used in pop songs and they can be found in a long list of popular tracks.  Some other popular pop progressions include:

I – IV – I – V

I – vi – ii – V

V – vi – IV – I 

Pastimes Guest Blog - Understanding The Circle of Fifths By Music Gateway

12 Bar Blues

The 12-bar blues is an extremely popular progression, and is also used in a variety of genres outside of blues music – anything from pop and rock to RnB.

This simple chord progression is most famous as one of the top guitar chord progressions, built from chords I IV and V.

A twelve-bar blues is a popular choice for its frequent tension and release and is a great starting point for beginners, as it allows for the improvisation of a multitude of music scales and melodies over the changes. 

See the chord progression examples below for a basic 12-bar blues progression in C Major:

CCCC
FFCC
GFCG

 

The Circle Of Fifths

Pastimes Guest Blog - Understanding The Circle of Fifths By Music Gateway

The reason this chord progression is called the circle of fifths is because of the interval relationships between each key signature.

The circle of fifths is a useful tool for musicians and songwriters, as it allows them to quickly identify the number of sharps or flats in a key. Moving clockwise around the circle, each jump up by a fifth (hence its name) adds one sharp. 

The diagram also reveals the relative minor key – a minor key which uses the same chords as its parent major key – for example, A minor uses the same chords as C major. Therefore, A minor is a relative minor to C major. Knowing this helps with easy modulation to different keys.

Pastimes Guest Blog - Understanding The Circle of Fifths By Music Gateway

Once you grasp the concept of the circle of fifths, it is important to comprehend what sharps and flats signify. A sharp note or chord is raised by a semitone (one step) – for example, C would become C#. Conversely, a flat note or chord is lowered by a semitone – so C would become Cb. 

To make remembering the order of sharps and flats easier, this is an easy-to-remember sequence:

SharpsFlats
FatherBattle
CharlesEnds
GoesAnd
DownDown
AndGoes
EndsCharles
BattleFather 

We hope that this article has offered a little insight will come in handy when creating your own chord progressions. The circle of fifths is an invaluable tool for musicians, providing a useful way to understand the relationships between chords, scales, and keys. 

By understanding the circle of fifths, musicians can unlock the secrets of music theory and create beautiful and powerful music. For more information and to see it visually, try watching this video about the circle of fifths.

Are you already incorporating the circle of fifths and other chord progressions into your songwriting? Are you at the stage where you are recording your finished music and want to launch your songs out for the world to enjoy? Then start thinking about your music distribution options to take your music to the next level.

Have fun composing!

Pastimes Guest Blog - Understanding The Circle of Fifths By Music Gateway

. . . . . . . . .

Thanks again to Annika Hope of Music Gateway for this insightful Guest Blog Article!

Did you enjoy the read? If so, you’re welcome to share with your peeps and on your social media. Comments are greatly appreciated.

Ready to try your hand at piano lessons? Give us a call at 818-766-0614. We’re here to help. Pastimes For a Lifetime Piano School is located in Valley Glen, California. School is open Tuesday – Saturday year-round, excluding major holidays.

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