The Circle of Fifths – What It Means To Pianists.
You may well have heard of the circle of fifths, but what exactly does it mean and how can you apply it to YOUR music? According to Dummies.com – “In the sixth century B.C., the Greek scholar and philosopher Pythagoras decided to try to make things easier for everyone by standardizing, or at least dissecting, musical tuning. He had already discovered pitch frequencies in musical instruments by vibrating different lengths of string, and he had defined what exactly an octave was, so he figured this was the next logical step and created something that is now called the Pythagorean Circle, which eventually led to the more common Circle of Fifths.”
So what does that mean for you? Well, a lot! There is so much more involved in the circle and each step of learning it is an integral part of learning how to play any instrument. It is the “guts” of music. A short layman’s terms explanation could be something like this: 1. The circle has all 12 Major keys on the outside. 2. Start at the top at C. C has no sharps(#) and no flats(b) in its “Key Signature.” If you move “5” to the right you have the key of G Major which has 1 sharp in it’s key signature, F#. This means when you play in the key of G every “F” note you come across will be sharped meaning the first key to the right of the F key will be played in place of the F natural. This is the definition of a sharp: The first key(black OR white) to the RIGHT. Continue on another “5” steps to the right and you have the key of D Major which has 2 sharps and so forth…
Now, let’s start back up at C again and move “5” steps to the left. This is the flat(b) side of the circle. Pretty much everything explained just a moment ago is opposite for flats. Definition of a flat: The first key to the left of a note (white OR black). So the same process happens for this side as well. 3. On the inside of the circle we have what is called the “Relative Minor” keys. This simply means the Major and the Minor keys are “related” by the same key signature. So, for example if you are playing in the key of C, the relative minor is a minor which means there is no sharps or flats in either key. More explanation can be found in private lessons!! Applying scales in practice and theory exercises can GREATLY increase the musical knowledge of an aspiring musician and can help in all aspects of playing and writing.