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TitleThe Circle of Fifths Explained
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13/07/12 09.07Lessons & Theory: The Circle of Fifths Explained | Harmony Central

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are not necessarily closely related just because they are close together on the
keyboard. What really relates them is how close their pitch collection is. A key with
five flats is more closely related to a key with six flats, because there’s only one note
difference (C vs. Cb). The key of B (five sharps) is more closely related to E (four
sharps) than it is to C (no sharps), even though B and C are only a half step away!


A wheel is a circle, and a wheel is made to go around, just like the keys contained
within it. If you move the circle like a wheel you notice that you can go one of two
ways: clockwise and counterclockwise. To understand how harmony moves, “spin the
wheel” in a clockwise direction so that the notes C, F, Bb, Eb, etc., go by you as you
stand in the 12 o’clock position. Or if you start at A, then the most useful sequence is
A, D, G, C, F, etc. It is much, much more common in music to see bass notes and
chords progressing this way than from, say, C to G to D to A. And for the moment,
we can ignore the keys and look just at the notes.

The notes represent the root movement of chords, and chords can be either major or
minor. For example, if you start at A and step through five tones in sequence, you get
a common sequence used in classical and pop, A-D-G-C-F. Start at B to create the
three-note sequence B-E-A. Figure 5 outlines these two sequences with a red arrow
and a blue arrow.

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