How do You Use the Circle of Fifths?

Have you seen the chart that is circular and they call it the Circle of Fifths. And did you wonder how do you use the circle of fifths? Well today in this article I’m going to explain what the circle of fifths are. And how it benefits you as a guitar player.

So if your wondering how do you use the circle of fifths. As a guitar player you can use the circle of fifths chart to know when you are in a key. What chords can be played so that it sounds good. The notes in the chart are separated by intervals of 5ths. There are two sections to the chart. The inner circle and the outer circle.

If you want to be able to look at the Circle of 5ths Chart. And at a glance use it to further your guitar playing. Then read all about the circle of fifths here….

What is in The Circle of Fifths Chart?

If you look at the chart without knowing about it. It just looks like a bunch of letters going in a circle. And doesn’t make much sense. But that’s where that ends now. I am going to explain what the letters on the chart are. And how you can use them when playing your guitar.

If you look at the Circle of 5ths you will see an outer Circle and an inner Circle. The notes are placed 5 intervals apart. What is an interval you ask? An interval is the distance between two pitches. A pitch is the tone that you hear when you play a note. It can be high or low in pitch. Source

On the Chart

On the Circle of fifths chart. If you look at the C at the top of the chart. Next to the C is the G. The G is 5 intervals away from C. The D is 5 intervals away from the G and the A is 5 intervals from the D. So you get it right? But how does the chart help you?

Well I’m going to explain it. But first I wanted you to understand how the chart is put together. First off you can use the Circle of 5ths to identify your 1 4 5 chord progression. This is a typical chord progression that you hear in the blues and Country music. But if you are playing in the key of G and you want to find the 1 4 5. The chart can come in handy at a glance you can find the chords.

For example in the Key of G if you look at the chart the note on the left of the G is the four chord. So looking at the chart the 4 chord in the key of G is the C. Then to find the 5 chord it is always going to be the note on the left of the G. Which looking at the chart, the note on the right of the G is D. Using the Chart you can See that the 1 4 5 in the Key of G is G C D.


Related Article: Em Chord Guitar Variations.

How to Find a 1 4 5 Chord Progression With Circle of Fifths

Lets try it again. If you are in the key of C. The one is the C then one box to the left is the 4 chord. One box to the right of the C is the 5 chord. Using the Circle of fifths you can quickly determine that the 1 4 5 in the key of C is C F G.

Another example: If you are in the key of D what is the 1 4 5 chords? The D is the one chord. Using the Chart and looking to the box left of the D on the chart. You will find the 4 chord. Which is the G and then doing the same. And looking to the box to the right of the D is the 5 chord. In this example is the A. See at a glance you know that the 1 4 5 in the key of D is G and A.


Related Article: What is the 1 4 5 Chord Progression.

Finding the Sharp (#) on the Chart

When you are playing your guitar you refer to sharps when you are going up in pitch and if you are going down to that fret then you are playing a flat. Here is an example of what I mean. On the 6th string, at the 5th fret. If you fret that string you are playing an A note. If I go down one fret towards the headstock. When you fret the 6th string there. You now are playing an G# or Ab. You don’t refer to this note as an G# it is referred to as Ab.

Like wise if you are going from the A up the guitar neck one fret. You are playing either an A# or Bb. But it is referred to as a Bb. Even though you are playing the same note.

On the Circle of 5ths if you are playing a C# it would be referred to as the Db. This would make more sense if you know about how to find the notes on the guitar. If you need help with that and more check out the Bootcamp Course on sale now.


Related Article: What is the Best Overdrive Pedal for Blues.

How to Find the Relative minor on the Circle of 5ths

First off when you look at the circle of fifths chart. You will see there is an outer circle and an inner circle. The inner circle has minor chords. The minor chord is notated with the small m. Like if it is a E minor chord. It looks like this Em. When you are talking about Major chords. You spell out “Major” or you would just write E. So if you just see E then this is referring to E Major.

The minor chords are in the smaller inner circle on the chart. The quick way to find the relative minor of a chord is by looking at the inner circle. Example: If you are in the key of D, the relative minor is the chord directly below the D in the smaller circle. Looking at that box below the D and it shows the Bm. So the relative minor of D is the Bm chord.

Let’s try it again with the F chord. Using the chart Can you find the relative minor of F? If you said D minor you are correct. The chart makes it easy to find the relative minor chords.

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What’s a Relative minor?

Now if your wondering what a relative minor? For every Major chord there is a relative minor chord. And they are related as they share the same scale. When you are playing the A scale you are also playing the F#m scale as it is the same scale as the A scale. Another example is if you are playing the G Major scale, you are also playing the Em scale. They are the same scale.

Even though you are playing the same scale you start on a different note. And you play that note more. For example if you are playing the C Major pentatonic scale. Your going to use the C note a lot to give it that Major sound. But if you play the same scale. But this time your playing Am scale you are going to play a lot of the A notes instead of the C. Which sounds wild but by doing this it makes it sound more minor than Major.


Related Article: What Guitars are Good for the Blues.

How to Find What Chords to Play in the Key

With the circle of fifths chart if you use this rule. You will be able to find the chords that work together. The rule is what ever key your in start one box to the left of that key. And then count 7 to the right. All those chords are in the key. And you can use them and play them.

For Example if you are in the key of C and you want to know what chords you can play in that key. Then go one box to the left of C which as you can see is the F chord and that is your starting point and then count 7 boxes to the right. And those are all the chords in the Key of C. (F C G D A E B)

Another Example your in the key of G. The box to the left of G is the C. Then count 7 boxes to the right. C G D A E B F#.


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How to Figure Out What Chord is Major or Minor Chords

Using the formula above (F C G D A E B) the first three chords which are the 1 4 5 are the Major chords. Then the next 3 chords are minor chords. And the last chord is Diminished.

  • C – 1 chord
  • F – 4 chord
  • G – 5 chord
  • D – minor chord
  • A – minor chord
  • E – minor chord
  • B – Diminished chord

When you are playing the chords. The Musical alphabet is A B C D E F G and then back to A. So even though you can find all the chords in the scale. You would want to put them in alphabetical order. Also if you look at the three chords below the 1 4 5 Then you will see the minor chords.

If you are playing in the key of D your major chords are going to be the DGA or looking at the chart G D A. And the three chords below the D are the relative minor chords. Em Bm F#m.


Circle of Fifths System of Numbers

You have heard of the Nashville number System well check this out. The one chord on the outer layer on the chart if we are playing in the key of A is A. The four chord is the box to the left of the A which is the D. Then the five chord is the box to the right of the A. Which is the E chord. Now to find the minor chords they are the three chords below the A. the center box below the A in the inner circle is the F#m and is is the 6 chord. The box to the left is the 2 chord, and in this example the Bm. Leaving the 3 chord to the right, and it is the C#m.

4. D1. A5. E
2. Bm6. F#m 3. C#m

Then you can put them in Alphabetical order or numeric order:

1.A2. Bm3. C#m
4. D5. E6. F#m

There is so much that can be gained from using the circle of fifths chart. As you can see it’s not just a bunch of letters. Be sure to get your Circle of 5ths Chart.


Related Questions

How to Use the Circle of Fifths on Guitar

When you play the blues you are playing the 1 4 5 chord. If someone tells you to play the 1 4 5 chord in the key of G. And you don’t know what chords to play. You can take the chart used with the circle of 5ths. And find the chords that you should be playing. And at a glance you are ready to play. In this example to find the 1 4 5 in the key of G and for that matter any key. Use this formula. The one chord is going to be the key you are in. The G is the one chord. The box to the left of the one is always going to be the 4 chord. If you look on the chart the 4 is the C. And the box to the right of the one chord. In this case the G is the D chord. The box to the right is always the 5 chord. Put it in alphabetical order and the 1 4 5 in the key of G is the G A D

What is the Inner Circle on the Circle of Fifths?

The Circle of 5ths chart has an outer circle and an inner circle. The inner circle holds all the relative minor chords. For every Major chord there is a Relative minor chord. These are the chords that share the same scales. To find the relative minor of C if you look on the chart you will find that the relative minor is A. Another example the Relative minor of D is Bm.

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