How to Draw a Circle of Fifths
Encountering the circle of fifths should not be avoided as it will help you
to better understand scales. This theory demonstrates relationships between the 12 notes of the chromatic
scale. It represents 12 pitch categories of the chromatic scale in pitch class space. You will understand
signatures tones and relationships between the major and minor keys.
Pianists are not the only musicians to use a circle of fifths. It is often used to understand associations
between different pitches and key selection. There are many intervals in musical theory. The circle of fifths is
There are 12 tones’ in the chromatic scale, therefore drawing a circle of fifths resembles a clock. By going
clockwise, the tones are each separated by a fifth of an interval (the distances between two notes.) If we begin at
the top of the circle of fifth, turn clockwise, G will be the next note.
This indicates that there are that G is the fifth note after C in the C major scale. This is only one way of
interpreting the relationship between each note on a circle of fifths. Some pianists look at each intervals as 7
half-steps, because there are 7 half-steps between each note. You can decide to view the circle of fifths whichever
way makes more sense to you.
As you continue, you will have to change the driving note in the major scale. For
example, there are 5 notes separating D and G in the major scale set in the G key. Always remember to change
the defining key when interpreting the relationships in the circle of fifths.
You will also notice the relationship between each note by going counter clockwise. By going the opposite way,
there are 4 notes (5 semi-tones) separating each note. Apply the same technique and you will uncover the intervals.
Musicians have labelled the process of going counter clockwise the subdominant direction.
In order to draw your own circle of fifths, draw a large circle with 12 separations similar to a clock. Begin by
placing the scale of C major in the 12 o’clock position. It is a perfect reference point as it does not contain any
flats or sharps.
Count up to five notes after C in the C major scale. You will discover that G is the fifth note, marking it in
the 1o’clock position. Continue by using the G major scale and counting 5 note after G, marking it in the 2o’clock
Repeat these steps until you discover a pattern: the note’s position on the metaphorical clock indicate how many
sharps are found in the key’s major scale. Once you hit 7o’oclock, the corresponding numbers decrease, indicating
how many flats are in the major scale.
Learning how to draw a circle of fifths is sometimes a difficult experience. The more you study its formation,
the more you will understand its relationship in musical
theory. You will never have a problem remembering how to draw a circle of fifths if you remember to always
start with C. Take your time and don’t feel discourage if you draw it incorrectly on your first attempt.
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