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in Voice, Piano, & the Fundamentals of Music

All Skill Levels Welcome, Ages 4 -104

Connecticut Shoreline Studio for Music Lessons
in Voice, Piano, & the Fundamentals of Music

Clef Notes

How to Spell the Interval of a Fifth: Part 2

Learn to Spell the Perfect Fifths

This is the second in a series of posts called How to Memorize the 15 Key Signatures.

In my previous post, How to Spell the Interval of a Fifth: Part I, I showed you how to spell fifths by just using the letters. I find it’s helpful to know what letters to use first and then figure out the flats and sharps.

Review the Letters That Spell Fifths

In review, you need to be able to say the music alphabet by fifths from C to C up and down without fail:

UP: C  G  D  A  E  B  F  C

DOWN: C  F  B  E  A  D  G  C

Know All the Names of the Notes on the Keyboard

If you are at the point where you are memorizing the key signatures using this system, it is imperative that you already know all the natural, sharp, and flat names of every note on a piano. Every letter in the music alphabet can also be spelled using a sharp or a flat, and you will need to know how to play each one on the piano. In review, here is the keyboard with all the natural, sharp, and flat notes labeled:

Piano Keys Labeled

At some point in your music theory training, you will need to learn about double sharps and double flats, but for the purposes of memorizing your key signatures, single flats and single sharps will suffice.

Now You Have to Use Your Ear

In order to achieve the next step of adding the sharps and flats, it’s really best to be able to use your ear. You can go for straight up memorization, but if you use your ear at this step, it will make the process more efficient.

The notes for first two words in the song “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” are separated by a fifth. Here’s how it might look on the staff:

Twinkle Twinkle Fifth

And here’s how it might sound:

Let’s Play All the Fifths UP on the Piano

Even if you aren’t a piano player, if your ear is getting trained, you should be able to play and hear this interval. The interval of a fifth on a piano fits most hands large and small very nicely.

For the fifths going up, let’s use the right hand. Start by putting your thumb on middle C, or C4. If you let the rest of your fingers fall naturally, resting each finger on it’s own white key, you should find that your pinky is resting on the G4. Now, test the two notes under your thumb and pinky by playing them in the pattern of “Twinkle, Twinkle” and check that they sound like this:

C to G is, indeed, a fifth without using any sharps or flats.

Now move your thumb up to G4, letting the rest of your fingers fall naturally. Your pinky should now be on a D5. Test the two notes by playing them in the pattern of “Twinkle, Twinkle,” and check that they sound like this:

Keep going in this fashion.

Switch Octaves So You Can Listen to the Pitches in the C4 – A5 Range

Once you get up to the A5, you’ll want to switch down to the A4 so you can hear the notes in a middle range. Do the same when you get to B5: switch down to B4.

All should be well until you put your thumb on the B and try to play F as the fifth up.

Why does B to F sound SO BAD?

The Bridge to the Other Color

B to F is, indeed, a fifth, but it’s a different kind of fifth. It’s a diminished fifth and sounds, well, extremely wrong when you’ve been hearing perfect fifths until now.

I like to call the B to F (or F to B) transition The Bridge to the Other Color. So, if you’re going along on white keys (as you do when you’re going up), when you get to B, you’ll have to stretch up one more key and play an F♯ for the fifth to be what’s called “perfect.” And then, to continue to find the final fifth to get to the letter C – you’ll find that it sounds right if you play a C♯. You’ll have to cross this same bridge again when we spell perfect fifths down.

So the perfect fifths up from C to C are:

C  G  D  A  E  B  F♯  C♯

Let’s Play All the Fifths DOWN on the Piano

Now let’s find all the perfect fifths going down from C to C.

This time, use your left hand and start with your thumb on middle C. This time, to check your work while singing “Twinkle, Twinkle,” you’ll need to play the new note in your pinky first.

C to F should sound like this:

Upon playing F to B, you’ll run into the same “Why does F to B sound SO BAD” that you did on the way up. Here is where you need The Bridge to the Other Color again, only this time, instead of adjusting the F, you’ll need to adjust the B down a half step to B♭. La, la, la, la, la! It’ll be fifth perfection again.

Now, upon continuing, you’ll need to play only black keys, which, in this case, will all be called by their flat names.

Again – switch to the octave up whenever the notes start to be too low to hear the pitches clearly,

You should get the following for perfect fifths down from C to C:

C  F  B♭  E♭  A♭  D♭  G♭  C♭

Coming Up Next

In the next post, you will learn how to place all of these fifths in what we call here at Crescendo Music Loft “The Rhombus of Fifths.”

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