Connecticut Shoreline Studio for Music Lessons
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 Draw the Circle of Fifths

How to Draw the Circle of Fifths

This is the third in a series of posts on How to Memorize the 15 Key Signatures.

You will need to know how to spell perfect fifths up from C to C♯ and down from C to C♭. If you need some review, you can read my previous two posts: How to Spell the Interval of a Fifth Part I and How to Spell the Interval of a Fifth Part 2.

Let’s Start with a Rhombus

I have Hannah Grasso to thank for this little trick. I was sitting with her during a lesson and asking her to draw a circle so we could discuss the circle of fifths. She drew one and said, “Well, it’s looking more like a rhombus.” And I replied, “Hey! That’s actually going to make this easier! It shall be The Rhombus of Fifths henceforth at Crescendo Music Studio.”

Draw it like this:

Rhombus

Mark the “Hours” with Tick Marks

Think of this as an analog clock and mark each corner with one tick and each side with two ticks. Space them as evenly as you can in this manner:

Rhombus-w-tick-marks

Add the Fifths Up from C to C♯

Starting at the top, label twelve o’clock as C. Then, label the spots at one o’clock through seven o’clock a perfect fifth up from the previous one until you get to C♯.

It should now look like this:

Rhombus with Sharp Keys

Add the Fifths Down from C to C♭

Starting with 12 o’clock being C again, this time label the tick marks on the left hand side the perfect fifths down from C to C♭ in this fashion.

Circle of Fifths

What’s Up With There Being Two Labels in Some Spots?

You will notice that the “hours” 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 7 o’clock will now be labeled with two letters, and that is correct. I’ll explain in more detail later why this is, but for now, suffice it to say that there are really only 12 keys, but we call three of them by two names. For those of you wanting to dive deeper sooner, it has something to do with the twelve-tone equal temperament we have been using since the 18th century. It is not a perfect system, but for all intents and purposes, we are stuck with it now. Perhaps, at a later date, I will engage John Hurley and Phil Orr in a lively discussion on this topic for everyone’s benefit and entertainment. 🙂

Please Add Fifths Going Up First & Fifths Going Down Second

Until you are secure in spelling your perfect fifths and have mastered your key signatures, I would like for you to add the fifths in the order that I have shown here: C to C♯ first and then C to C♭ next. Otherwise, you will miss out on an important concept of organizing the keys by sharps and flats in your mind in later steps.

What About the Minor Keys?

Some of you who already know something about key signatures will be wondering why we aren’t adding the minor keys. That is a task for another day. Just being able to identify the major keys is a fundamental skill that will set you up to learn about all the modes, the minor or Aeolian mode being one of them.

Now Practice Drawing The Rhombus of Fifths Every Day 

In order to Memorize the 15 Key Signatures, it will be a helpful skill to be able to imagine this drawing in your mind whenever you are confronted with a key signature. I would suggest drawing it on every napkin slip of paper possible for the next few days until you can do it in less than two minutes. Even better if you can do it in under a minute.

The next post will be about how to use this tool to easily identify any key signature so you can feel boss.

6 thoughts on “How to Draw the Circle of Fifths”

  1. When I started piano lessons there was a short video on the Crescendo website of a young student in front of a large easel with the circle of fifths . When I saw that, I thought it looked like complete chaos and hoped I would never have to learn it. Sooooo glad I did. It is very, very useful.

    Reply

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