Physics of Music - Notes

Circle of Fifths

The circle of fifths shows up frequently when discussing music theory, especially for "Western" music -- music which evolved from that of the Greeks and Western Europe. In the circle, the notes we use are arranged so that as you go clockwise around the circle, the notes are a musical fifth apart. The note "C," is usually placed at the top. The fifth note of the C scale (major or minor) is G, so that is next. D is the fifth note of the G scale, and so on. Likewise, C is the fifth note of the F scale (major or minor), so F is one position counter-clockwise, and F is the fifth note of the Bb scale, and so on. The C major scale only uses the white notes on a piano keyboard, the G and F scale each use one black key (for the G scale, it is a "sharp" and for the F scale a "flat"). With each step farther from C, an additional black key is added.

On the inside of the circle is the relative minor scale. That is, the "a minor" scale uses the same notes as the C major scale, only it starts on the note A.

circle of fifths image
The Circle of Fifths.

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