What is the Circle of Fifths?
The circle of fifths is a simple, yet powerful device, to organize the 12 notes in our tonal music system.
We divide the circle into 12 nodes, exactly as in a clock, and we assign each node in the circle a note. Each note in the circle is a perfect fifth above the previous note. The perfect fifth one of the most important intervals in music, no wonder is called perfect. It is the second over tone to appear and is an essential part of harmony and melody.
We then choose any note as the top node which we consider the tonic or key of the circle.
Watch the video to see how we can use the circle to determine key signatures in major keys.
Step 1: Circle of Fifths Magic Part 2. Expelliarmus! Music Modes
Let’s now turn the graph around to see what happens.
We turn the graph around but we keep the notes in the same place in the graph.
So, if we turn the graph clockwise one time we get G on top but with the notes from the C major scale which are all natural notes.
This is what we call a mode of the major scale. In this case it is the Mixolydian mode which is mode 5 of the major scale because it is the major scale starting on note 5.
And it sounds different from the major scale because the intervals are now Whole Whole Half Whole Whole Half Whole and there’s a flat 7 in the scale.
Watch the video an learn about all the modes in the the major scale
Step 2: Circle of Fifths Magic Part 3. Lumos! Symmetric Scales
We know we get the Major scale and its modes by using the graph with 6 consecutive perfect fifths but what if we draw other graphs.
What do we get?
What if we draw symmetrical shapes? do we get special scales?
Of course!! That’s what I am about to show you.
First remember the amount of vertices in the graph is the amount of notes in the scale or structure as we should call it from now on.
Let’s choose a nice equilateral triangle and see what happens.
Watch the video to see why symmetrical shapes gives structures with less modes than notes and limited transpositions = Symmetric Scales
And, of course there's more Circle of Fifths magic!
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