What is the Circle of Fifths

handel-pictureIn looking at What is The Circle of Fifths we’ll discuss why you need it and what you need to do in order to learn it properly. See what Circle of Fifths can do.

Don’t let the name and the history scare you. Although its origins date back to ancient times and its principles are at the basis of modern music.

Roots of The Circle

Just for the hell of it a little background of this system. Greek scholar Pythagoras way back in the BC era had already discovered what pitches where based on the vibration of different lengths os stringed instruments. Once he had done that he defined what exactly an octave was.

All Pythagoras was doing was taking musical tunings and making then more standardized so that everyone could understand it easier. This led him to create what we know today as Pythagorean Circle. Pretty interesting stuff, I would encourage you to read the History of Music.

Music Theory Made Easy – Why is the Chromatic Scale so Important

In our times the modern theorists have since updated this Circle to what is now called the Circle of Fifths. So as you can see the Circle of Fifths is less arcane and mysterious than it actually sounds.

In fact, this device hasn’t been conceived to scare beginners away, but to make their life a lot easier by offering a visual aid that will help players memorize the 12 tones featured within the chromatic scale!


More importantly, the circle will help musicians understand the sonic relationships between these tones, thus allowing you to play in the correct key.

The Circle of Fifths shouldn’t be seen as a mere didactic tool: you can actually use it as a compositional devise when you write music, as having an actual “map” of the notes that are available to you within the same key might help you seize new ideas and sounds.

After The Learning Curve

Most guitar teachers will be teaching you chord progressions using the Circle of Fifths and oncecircle-of-fifths-pic you get the hang of it you’ll see more of how it works within those progressions.

After your guitar teacher has taught you how to utilize the circle just think about the possibilities! Imagine being stuck trying to come up with a good guitar solo for a background track in any given key.

With the information you can gather from the Circle of Fifths, you will be able to literally “see” the palette of notes you can use to compose your guitar part in that particular key.

In Conclusion

So this is just a little of what we so fearfully call Theory. When you think about it,  all the great composers did not know how to play all those instruments they wrote music for. So to read music you don’t have to know how to play guitar and to play guitar you don’t have to read music.

But what you learn in theory enables you to take a piece of guitar music and play it without ever hearing it. And today more than ever, there is a very big demand for that in the music industry. Thats why I do suggest and/or recommend you Get Yourself a Professional Guitar Teacher.

Would you rather do construction work or play music for a living?

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16 thoughts on “What is the Circle of Fifths

  1. Karloz

    Congratulations,this site gives you an idea how to use these guitar techniques to start learning,the circle of fifth very interesting stuff.

    1. Markus Post author

      Yes sir, it gives just enough info. maybe to get one to look into the Circle of Fifths as many beginners don’t have a clue to what it is or how important it can be in the long run.
      I tried to keep it short yet informative as theory can make for pretty dull reading.
      I know in my career I’ve seen many good guitar players that were unable to get a high paying gig because they couldn’t read music.
      Glad you enjoyed it and we’ll see you back again soon.

      Thank 🙂

  2. Theo

    Learning about Keys and scales is so important for guitarists to progress to a level where they can improvise and compose music that sounds good. The circle of fifths is a great asset for any guitarist and if you don’t already understand the circle of fifths I would suggest studying it.

    1. Markus Post author

      Theo how are you man? It’s good to see you checking back in. Your right it is an asset for guitar players.
      We use this all the time. From finding out what key your in to what chords belong to what key.
      Learning the Circle of Fifths is really not an option for a guitarist it a must.
      Thanks Theo and I’ll see you the next time your here.

      Thanks 🙂

  3. Larry gove

    What an awesome website!! With lots of information for a new guitar player
    Thank you so much, Markus!!For showing me where to go to learn the circle of fifths.
    Didn’t know that musicians needed to know this! And until this post I didn’t know I needed learn about the circle, Cool stuff!!
    Maybe I’ll just stay in the back with the volume down, LOL! Away from the other students till I learn the circle of fifths.
    SO COOL OF YA MARKUS! To post this info. Can ya tell I’m a little excited about learning a little of music theory?

    1. Markus Post author

      Wow Larry your right I can see your excited about the Circle of Fifths, but I got to tell you I have never seen anyone as excited as you are about theory 🙂
      Theory wasn’t one of my best subjects as it was a pretty dry read for me. The Circle of Fifths can get some what confusing when learning it.
      But if you have a professional guitar teacher they will be able to help you learn this with no problems.
      Anyway Larry come back and see me, to tell us how you are coming along with it.

      Thanks 🙂

  4. david

    I like your website a lot mate. It’s clean and very informative. I’ll definitely take another look at this site and the circle of fifths, once I buy my guitar in a few weeks. thanks!

    1. Markus Post author

      Good deal David , get your guitar and come back. Theres more here for you than just the Circle of Fifths.
      See you real soon.

      Thanks 🙂

  5. Steve

    I’m going to soak this up some more. My daughter is a composer. With this I might understand a little bit more about what she is talking about. 🙂 Thanks.

    1. Markus Post author

      Steve I’m impressed a daughter thats a composer congrats! Well maybe you will but I do know that she will most certainly know what your saying.
      You might ask her a question like: how relevant is the Circle of Fifths to her when she’s busy writing out an arrangement.
      Come back and let me know what she said.

      Thanks 🙂

  6. Nnamdi

    Circle of Fifths, what an intrigue this has brought in me. Your article about this instrument and the circle of fifths aroused my curiosity and i can tell you this is a great revelation to me.

    1. Markus Post author

      Nnamdi, I hope you take a look at The Circle of Fifths as it dates way back.
      The circle is not just for guitar payer either, its for all musicians.
      Once you learn a little about the circle, come back let me know what you think.

      Thanks 🙂

  7. rick

    Hello Markus great site for anyone wanting to know more about learning about playing the guitar . The circle of fifths is helpful information for anyone wanting to play their guitar better.

    1. Markus Post author

      Thats right Rick it would aide in that. But more than that it would help to teach the keys.
      It will also give a player a reference to the positions of these keys.
      Also with the Circle of Fifths they would learn which chords belong to what key.Very helpful.
      Glad you stopped by to see us, do come back again.

      Thanks 🙂

  8. Rick

    Marcus, Great post about the Circle of The Fifths and would offer that any inspiring guitarist study and learn the theory of the Circle of the Fifths.

    1. Markus Post author

      Hey whats up Rick, It surely is a nice little bit on the introduction to theory.
      Once you know it it comes in handy for all musicians.
      Will see you the next time you stop in.

      Thanks 🙂


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