Understanding the Circle of Fifths | Fort Lauderdale Guitar Lessons


The Circle of Fifths: a great practice tool

If you’re like many guitar students, you may have heard about the Circle of Fifths–but have been afraid to ask!  Yet, the Circle of Fifths doesn’t have to be complicated, or difficult.  In fact, it is easy to learn, and is actually one of the most powerful tools available to improve your music theory knowledge, train your ear, and improve your technique.  In this article, I will show you the same techniques for learning this valuable practice tool that I teach my students in my private FORT LAUDERDALE GUITAR LESSONS.The simplest way to create a Circle of Fifths is to draw a circle, marking it off in 12 points, like a clock.  Put “C” at the 12 o’clock position, and then think about the notes of the C Major scale: C, D, E, F, G, A, B and then C again.  The fifth note of the C Major scale is G, so let’s put G in the 1 o’clock spot.  Now, using the G Major scale, figure out the fifth note (which is D) and use that in the 2 o’clock position, and so on …. In the end you will have a chart that looks like this:

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Just as a clock has 12 hours, Western music has just 12 notes — and no matter where you start on this clock, and no matter what direction you go, if you go around the clock once, you will cover ALL TWELVE NOTES!

Pay attention: when you get to the bottom of the circle, there are a few options for naming the notes in the 5 (B or Cb, 6 (F# or Gb) and 7 (Db or C#) o’clock positions.  Normally, at 6 o’clock, you will switch from F# to Gb, for reasons that should become crystal clear in a few moments.

FORT LAUDERDALE GUITAR teacher: how to learn key signatures 

Once you complete your circle, please consider your major scales and major keys. Starting at “noon” above, the notes of C Major have no flats and no sharps; at 1 o’clock, the key of G Major has one sharp (F#); in D Major, there are two sharps (F# and C#), etc., leaving us with: 

C – 0 sharps

G – 1 sharp

D – 2 sharps

A – 3 sharps

E – 4 sharps

B – 5 sharps

F# – 6 sharps

C# – 7 sharps

Meanwhile, if you take the circle counterclockwise, the F Major scale has one flat (Bb), the Bb Major scale has two flats (Bb and Eb), and so on: 

C – 0 flats

F – 1 flat

Bb – 2 flats

Eb – 3 flats

Ab – 4 flats

Db – 5 flats

Gb – 6 flats

Cb – 7 flats

It is generally-accepted practice to stop at just six accidentals (sharps or flats) … it’s just too difficult to write out!   Therefore, 6pm on our clock — F# / Gb — is the changeover point in the Circle of Fifths.

Besides MEMORIZING this, I would suggest that you take the time to UNDERSTAND the theory behind the Circle of Fifths:

While you might think that (for example) the notes C & C#  (D flat) have more in common than C & G, this is just not true.   

The notes of the two scales are as follows: 

C major scale

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C


Db major scale

Db – Eb – F – Gb – Ab – Bb – C – Db

There are just 2 notes in common … C & F!

However, in fact, adjacent notes on the Circle of Fifth have more in common; just consider C & G:

C major scale

C – D – E – F – G – A – B – C


G major scale

G – A – B – C – D – E – F# – G

There are just 7 notes in common … everything except F & F#!

In fact, if you go clockwise around the Circle of Fifths, you are just adding one sharp to each scale.  If you go counterclockwise around the Circle of Fifths, you are just adding one flat … it’s that simple!

FORT LAUDERDALE GUITAR TEACHER: learning your sharps & flats 

Now that you know the order of the key signatures, I will introduce a way of learning the order of the sharps.  

This mnemonic sentence shows the order of the sharps, around the circle: Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle.  

Not surprisingly, saying this sentence backwards will give you the order of the flats: Battle Ends And Down Goes Charles’ Father. 


Once you understand the theory behind the Circle of Fifths it has limitless possibilities for practicing.   You can practice C Major scale till you have it down cold–and then move up a fifth to G Major, and so on, going around the Circle of Fifths, until you use all 12 notes.  Or, you practice any number of arpeggios, exercises, or riffs–around the Circle of Fifths. 

The Circle of Fifths is an incredibly powerful tool; it is not just theory for theory’s sake!  Just having the image of the Circle in your mind’s eye should give you an image of how the different keys operate.   The Circle also helps you memorize the order of the sharps and flats, as well.  But more importantly, practicing a given scale or lick around the Circle will force you to learn different fingerings, improve your technique, improve your ear, and make you a better overall player!  

If you’re like many other guitar students you may have been putting off leaning the Circle of Fifths.  However, from teaching FORT LAUDERDALE GUITAR LESSONS and teaching 1-on-1 online, I have seen that learning the Circle of Fifths is one of the most powerful tools you can have in your musical arsenal. 

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Fort Lauderdale Guitar LessonsDyce Kimura offers Singing Lessons and Guitar Lessons to students in the Fort Lauderdale and Miami area. He also teaches students globally thru Skype. For more information call 7864573687. Also feel free to email Dyce at dyce@dycekimura.com.  Remember its always best to get advise from professional Fort Lauderdale guitar lessons.  For more information click here.