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The so called Circle of fifths is what you will 'discover' when you start experiencing the question and answer, tense and release feeling of a dominant-seventh chord resolving to its corresponding tonic chord.

As starting guitar player you'll find that the chord sequence D7rightarrow1.gifG provides a strong question (D7) - asking for the ultimate answer (G). Practicing guitar chords you'll find more of those chord duo's representing the same effect (E7rightarrow1.gifA, C7rightarrow1.gifF, G7rightarrow1.gifC etc.)

 

If we arrange those chords such that each question (the dominant seventh) chord is followed by its answer chord (the tonic) as a new seventh chord you get a sequence like
...B7rightarrow1.gifE7rightarrow1.gifA7rightarrow1.gifD7rightarrow1.gifG7rightarrow1.gifC7rightarrow1.gifF7rightarrow1.gifBb7...

 

Extending the range, ignoring enharmonic exchange and folding the sequence to a circle, we get the Circle of fifths:

circle-of-fifths.jpg

Each step to the left on the circle represent a musical fifth (7 semitones) and represents the strong pull of harmony in that direction.

 

Chords

When using chords, the Circle of fifths will be one of your most valuable resources to help you understand what's going on:

theory-musicad-circle5-c.jpg

In the diagram above the circle was rewritten mentioning the stage within the major scale of C using seven stages C D E F G A B.

 

Take a close look to the chords in the song below.

oh suzannah.jpg

 

It starts with the C chord (stage I) and moves on to the G7-chord (stage V) as soon as the chord on I does not 'fit' anymore. One bar later we're back at I; the G7 pulls strongly back to the C-chord, we're at home again.The melody alters a bit and the chord sequence C G7 C repeats. The [A] part repeats, using two more C G7 C chord sequences.

Then (at o-o-o ) The C-chord is replaced with a C7 that very strongly pulls to the F-chord. In many songs the the chord at stage IV - left of stage I on the circle - is the chord needed to complete the minimal harmonization of most songs.

Two bars of F and one more C G7 C sequence later we meet a Em-chord (as replacement of the simpler G7) and a sequence Em Am D7 G7 C. Wow!

On the circle you see a journey of counterclockwise steps known to pull the melody inescapably forward to the end.

Looking carefully to the chords of catchy melodies (like many evergreens), you will find heaps of sequences like this one.

 

When we should rewrite the song using noataion with stages we get:

oh suzannah-stages.jpg

 

Tricks and treats of the Circle of fifths.

The Circle of fitfhs has many uses, some obvious, some hidden:

In MusiCAD you'll encounter the Circle of fifths when transposing a tune. The chord wizard also uses the Circle of fifths behind the scenes.

 

See also:

     transposition

     how to find chords with a melody

     how to arrange music

     how to transpose music

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Circle of fifths