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Thread: Circle of 5ths

  1. #1
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Circle of 5ths

    Hey all,

    I just posted a basic Circle of 5ths lesson on my site. It covers some, though very far from all, good uses of the circle to help playing and etc. I may do another post to add some other uses for the circle down the road a bit - but for now, I hope this helps

    https://mattcbruno.com/2022/06/06/the-circle-of-fifths/
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Thanks, Matt. It's always helpful to go through this again. And again.

    When I started playing piano accordion, the stradella arrangement of left hand bass notes blew my mind.

    It was if I was being let in on to a very wonderful secret.

    This was my first real introduction to any type of 'theory' and the CircleO'5ths still holds some of that magic for me.

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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    First off, I just want to say, what caught my eye ain't no part of nothin', but it's kinda something: Brunello - meet Bruno. Bruno - Brunello. I feel like Letterman at the Oscars - "Uma - Oprah. Oprah - Uma."

    Anyway ...

    I'm all in favor of anyone explaining this stuff in simple, easy-to-understand ways. You've done a good job of that.

    Just one thing:

    "6 2 5 1 – This common jazz turnaround is just a progression of 4ths. For any key, start with the 6th of that key and move left on the circle. For example, a 6 2 5 1 in C would be Am Dm G7 C. Starting on the A, just move back stepwise to C."

    What I've run into a lot more than this progression - which is enharmonic - is this: A7 D7 G7 C. That shows up a lot in swing, which I've played a whole lot of over the years, but also in other genres, even bluegrass. I even call it "the Salty Dog form," because that's the whole song right there (in another key). Also, because that II7 V7 I shows up so much, and the interpolated chromatic descent from the I to the VI7 brings things back around again, it gets used a lot, and again, not just in swing, but in blues, rock, country, and others.

    Now I don't profess to know much about jazz, nor why this works nor is as popular as it is and has been for so long, but I just wanted to include it.

    Carry on!
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  7. #4
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by journeybear View Post
    First off, I just want to say, what caught my eye ain't no part of nothin', but it's kinda something: Brunello - meet Bruno. Bruno - Brunello. I feel like Letterman at the Oscars - "Uma - Oprah. Oprah - Uma."

    Anyway ...

    I'm all in favor of anyone explaining this stuff in simple, easy-to-understand ways. You've done a good job of that.

    Just one thing:

    "6 2 5 1 – This common jazz turnaround is just a progression of 4ths. For any key, start with the 6th of that key and move left on the circle. For example, a 6 2 5 1 in C would be Am Dm G7 C. Starting on the A, just move back stepwise to C."

    What I've run into a lot more than this progression - which is enharmonic - is this: A7 D7 G7 C. That shows up a lot in swing, which I've played a whole lot of over the years, but also in other genres, even bluegrass. I even call it "the Salty Dog form," because that's the whole song right there (in another key). Also, because that II7 V7 I shows up so much, and the interpolated chromatic descent from the I to the VI7 brings things back around again, it gets used a lot, and again, not just in swing, but in blues, rock, country, and others.

    Now I don't profess to know much about jazz, nor why this works nor is as popular as it is and has been for so long, but I just wanted to include it.

    Carry on!
    Thanks man - you have a point. A good number of tunes that use 6 2 5 1 turns make them dominant or major chords instead of the minor that would come from harmonizing the scale (which is what I was going for). I'll update the post to reflect that too as it's a good point Thanks for the look. Not to be an ass, but technically an enharmonic would be Cb & B - the same note with two names. What are you are referring to is changing the chord quality from minor to major (or dominant).

    And yeah, I've been laughing at the naming too Always fun to meet a fellow Bruno!
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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by mbruno View Post
    Not to be an ass, but technically an enharmonic would be Cb & B - the same note with two names.
    Oh, no harm, no foul. I misspoke, and it's important for any discussion to operate successfully for participants to use the correct terminology. What I meant was to point out that the progression in your example - I 6m 2m V7 - is composed of chords which are in the key, while the progression in my example are composed of chords which are not in the key - they require accidentals (sharps or flats) to exist in that key or progression. Somehow I thought "enharmonic" addressed that; it does not. I'm stumped at the moment for the correct term. My brain is not functioning optimally due to a bit of fever so I can't think of it, but that's what I meant - not what I said. I hope that clears it up.

    I think I meant "diatonic."

    BTW, I 6m 2m V7 might be more prevalent in pop than jazz. Somewhere around 60-70%, maybe more, of doo-wop songs used this. So did a lot of Tin Pan Alley era songs, such as "Heart And Soul" and "Blue Moon" - which was transformed quite naturally into a doo-wop classic. (Oftentimes IV could be substituted for the IIm, being its relative major.) Because of this, I tend not to even think of it as a circle of this progression. But the I VI7 II7 V7 progression also got used a lot in the same TPA era, and swing, and jazz (I think). Anyway, that's more the way I've learned this, though I will freely admit this learning didn't involve a whole lot of reading theory!
    Last edited by journeybear; Jun-06-2022 at 8:36pm. Reason: just one more thing ...
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    You’ve been putting out some really nice articles and lessons, Brutus … ahem, sorry, Bruno :-)

    Keep up the good work, man
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    I question your distinction between “circle of fourths” and “circle of fifths” according to direction since it is completely arbitrary, hence confusing (at least when speaking of chord progressions). I have never (in 65 years of playing music) seen it until recently — it’s probably a product of the internet. There certainly is no consensus on this. For instance, Don Stiernberg in his book “Jazz Mandolin Appetizers” cites “I Got Rhythm”, “Assanhado”, and (Bill Monroe’s) “Rawhide” as examples of tunes with a circle-of-fifths bridge, not circle-ot fourths. And that, I’m sure, is the usage in jazz, where this progression is far more common than the reverse.

    At least, as a progression of dom chords, it would perhaps be natural to refer to, e.g., Rhythm Changes as (an arc of) a “dom circle”, and the reverse, as “reverse dom”.

    Also some of the progressions you are discussing seem to form part of what some people call a “diatonic circle of 5ths”, a misnomer, as a circle is something completely homogeneous and symmetric. The expression “diatonic cycle” would be more appropriate.

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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    I was a little bit confused at first by your non-standard notation, I 6m 2m V7. Why not use the standard I vi ii V?

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    The Amateur Mandolinist Mark Gunter's Avatar
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    If I were to make critical observations, they would be the same ones that Ralph has made. The Circle of Fifths can be seen as a circle of fourths precisely because fifths and fourths are inversions of one another. A perfect fifth interval going down a scale renders the same note as a fourth going up, and vice versa. In my mind it has never been correct to call the diagram a circle of fourths, any more than it is correct to say a mandolin is tuned in fourths, although the same phenomena is observed in regard to mandolin string tuning. But your use of the cycle of fourths terminology has in recent years become quite fashionable, so no great harm. Likewise, I prefer consistency in nomenclature and prefer I ii iii IV V vi vii* I although other forms are also in use and acceptable. IMHO it’s better to pick your preferred method and stick to it consistently when you write articles.
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    I actually like the occasional non-standard use of I 6m 2m V7 because I believe it can occasionally help beginners to make a sudden big step of insight while climbing numerous steps on Music Theory Mountain.
    The error here comes from people saying 'C' and 'C'. In the first case itís a note, in the second a C major chord. Both are very different though for an intermediate the difference is obvious and inferred by context.

    The circle/cycle of fourths debacle maybe comes from a recent, widely distributed Bluegrass exercise of playing a C (MAJOR ARPEGGIO) followed by itís fourth F (MAJOR ARPEGGIO) followed then by F majorís fourth, Bb (MAJOR ARPEGGIO) (which now has notes that are no longer in the key of the original C major.
    The C, F and Bb are seen here as chords on the circle not notes.

    Itís a great, Blues/jazzy exercise to help get the feel of the fretboard geography but for OldTime where youíre mainly trying to explore arpeggios within the key it can be a bad trip (especially because people are all playing the melodies together).

    (Now me too, Iím hoping my mind was working clearly when I wrote this. )

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    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    I question your distinction between “circle of fourths” and “circle of fifths” according to direction since it is completely arbitrary, hence confusing (at least when speaking of chord progressions). I have never (in 65 years of playing music) seen it until recently — it’s probably a product of the internet. There certainly is no consensus on this. For instance, Don Stiernberg in his book “Jazz Mandolin Appetizers” cites “I Got Rhythm”, “Assanhado”, and (Bill Monroe’s) “Rawhide” as examples of tunes with a circle-of-fifths bridge, not circle-ot fourths. And that, I’m sure, is the usage in jazz, where this progression is far more common than the reverse.

    At least, as a progression of dom chords, it would perhaps be natural to refer to, e.g., Rhythm Changes as (an arc of) a “dom circle”, and the reverse, as “reverse dom”.

    Also some of the progressions you are discussing seem to form part of what some people call a “diatonic circle of 5ths”, a misnomer, as a circle is something completely homogeneous and symmetric. The expression “diatonic cycle” would be more appropriate.
    When I first was introduced to the circle about 20 years ago, it was as the Circle of 5ths / Cycle of 4ths. Maybe that's just regional or specific to my teacher, but to me - it's always been both. I've also seen it referenced as both in other mediums and etc. I found it helpful to think this way as it helped me learning the basics better. I generally just refer to it as "the circle" or "the circle of 5ths" so I see your point but I don't think it's wrong to use either term.

    For the "diatonic cycle" part, assuming you are referring to the 6 2 5 1 and etc, that sort of reinforces the above. It's using the cycle of 4ths etc. If I'm missing your point on that, please clarify

    Thanks for the feedback!!
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  21. #12
    Registered User mbruno's Avatar
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by ralph johansson View Post
    I was a little bit confused at first by your non-standard notation, I 6m 2m V7. Why not use the standard I vi ii V?
    No real reason - just easier to type I guess and as mentioned sometimes it's easier to explain to students the numbers rather than the roman numerals. If I'm writing out a chart, I'd use I, ii, etc so valid point IMO. I made a couple of updates, but I don't want it to get too confusing haha. LMK what you think

    Thanks for the feedback
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Well MrBruno, I want to thank you for my latest music theory insight.

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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    I was pretty sure that you’d been taught that way, Bruno, and I’m not knocking that. 20 years ago is recent history, brother, I’m 67 now and the circle has been around a long time. Still, calling it a circle of fourths is completely analogous to saying that a fiddle is tuned in fourths, lol. I love your website and your articles. The only reason I chimed in with any critical observation is because I find myself in the rare position of agreeing wholeheartedly with Ralph’s comments.

    Keep up the good work, dude.
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by mbruno View Post


    For the "diatonic cycle" part, assuming you are referring to the 6 2 5 1 and etc, that sort of reinforces the above. It's using the cycle of 4ths etc. If I'm missing your point on that, please clarify

    Thanks for the feedback!!
    The full diatonic cycle in its purest form would be vi, ii, V, I, IV, vii-half dim, iii, with all thechord notes in the scale (and a tritone step in the bass at one point). Of course there are many variations on this. In Fly Me to the Moon the iii is replaced by a III7 (b9). All the Things starts (in Ab major) with vi, ii, V7, I, IV but continues with VII7, III (same roots) thereby effecting a shift to C major), this cycle is then repeated a fourth lower ...), etc.

    As regards dom circles I ike to distinguish between "step out, cicrcle in (towards the tonic)" as in I Got Rhythm, and "circle out (from the tonic chord), step in" as i Topsy or Merle Travis' Blue Smoke or Assanhado. The latter device seems to be very common in songs in a minor key.

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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Em-Am-Dm-G-C is a diatonic circle of fifths progression. E-A-D-G-C is a chromatic circle of fifths progression, which uses secondary dominants. It is not called the "circle of fifths" because of the intervals (which are fifths in one direction and fourths in the other), but because of the chord functions. Each chord functions as the fifth of the next chord.

  29. #17
    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    The progression vi-ii-V-1 is all over jazz. Swing 42, All the Things You Are and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea use it for the melody not to mention the numerous turnarounds in other tunes.

    The strictly major version is odd, to me anyway.

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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    I agree it is a bit odd, but I really like that if you practice the cycle of fourth arpeggios then when some singer proposes to sing in an equally odd key then you will probably already have practiced the I, IV move and the shift to V7 is an easy 2 fret jump.
    Then itís just filling in the other notes with improv., doublestops.
    That sounds very easy.

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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    I practice scales, arpeggios, and other patterns around the cycle of fourths more often than any other sequence.

    One thing that's cool to know if you don't already, is that when you're playing descending dominant chords by fourths, as in the B section of Rhythm Changes, the 3rds and 7ths kind of swap chromatically. Say you're playing the 7th of Bb7, Ab, and the next chord is Eb7, so you merely descend a semitone to G, and now are playing the 3rd. But had you been playing the 3rd of the Bb7 chord, D, then you would descend to Db and would be playing the 7th of Eb7. Etc...

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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    The term used for the indicated sequence of pitches [chords, if that’s the context] is the outcome of a popularity contest.

    In my first music theory class back in high school we were taught “Circle of Fifths” and that was also the usage in the first college I attended. On Day One it was pointed out that stepwise in one direction around the circular diagram was intervals of fifths and the opposite direction was intervals of fourths. The instructor noted that for this reason many people referred to it as the Circle of Fourths. The relationship of 5ths and 4ths was clear to us so, not to be overly pedantic about it, he accepted either usage. It was important that we understood it “both ways.” Horn players tend to think in fourths and pianists in fifths.

    Because of that approach I’ve been comfortable with both Fifths and Fourths and when someone is adamant about it I just say, “OK. Whatever floats your boat is OK with me.”
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Fourths!

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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by lowtone2 View Post
    Fourths!
    Exactly! The mandolin is tuned in fourths. 1st to 2nd string is a fourth, etc.
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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    So then itís ok to think of a mandolin as a little upside down guitar?
    At least sometimes? For just a little bitÖ

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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve 2E View Post
    So then it’s ok to think of a mandolin as a little upside down guitar?
    At least sometimes? For just a little bit…
    Or you could think of the guitar as an upside down mandolin.

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    Default Re: Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Gunter View Post
    Exactly! The mandolin is tuned in fourths. 1st to 2nd string is a fourth, etc.
    Mandolins are chromatic when tuned from the nut to the bridge.
    Four major keys.

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