top of page

Circle of Fifths Video Series. Episode 1

Updated: Sep 30, 2023

The Circle of Fifths is a fabulous device that will inform you about the number of sharps or flats in a major, or minor, scale. It tells you the notes in the triad, the related keys and so much more. Every musician will benefit from being able to draw or see this diagram in their minds eye. This set of worksheets and videos is designed to help you become fluent with this circle that contains so many resources for music theory.

View the Video on You Tube

Listen on Spotify


Hi, my name is Chris from Chris at the Piano and this is episode one of the Circle of Fifths. When we look at the Circle of Fifths we start at the very top at 12 o'clock position. We start with C major; the reason we start with C is because on the keyboard this is the foundation scale that uses all the white notes. We have the two white notes between B and C and the two white notes between E and F, this tells us where the semitones are in the major scale. If we draw it out on the stave, C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C, we can see that the semitones are between E and F and B and C.

The reason we know this is because of the semitone and tone rule. A tone has a note in between it's normally seen as the black note on the piano, so C to D has the C sharp in the middle. If we go from E to F there is no note in the middle.

A semitone is a note directly next door, so between C and D there is a D sharp so that's a tone. Between D to E there is a D sharp or an E flat so that's a tone but between E and F there is no other note so that's a semitone which we can show that with a bracket. F to G is a tone and A to B is a tone, B to C has no note in between so B to C is a semitone.

Every other scale that works all the way around the circle of fifths is going to use this tone and semitone pattern.

The first pattern is the first four notes, the first half of the scale or the tetrachord.

The first tetrachord of C is C, D, E, F which has the pattern tone-tone-semitone.

The second tetrachord is G, A, B, C which has the pattern tone-tone-semitone.

These two tetrachords form the major scale and the glue in between them here between F and G is also a tone, so you can see two tetrachords stuck together with a tone.

Now the first note of the scale as we know is called the tonic, the fifth note of the scale is called the dominant. The dominant is the first note of the second tetrachord on the second half of the scale. We can take the dominant and make it the first note of our new scale. If we draw a Treble clef and this (dominant) note we're going to take here to become the new tonic.

We can add that to our Circle of Fifths as the second point. Between C and G, if we use C as one; one two three four five, we can say that

the fifth note of the scale equals the tonic of the next scale.

Then we draw the notes the line space pattern all the way up eight notes in total so one G, one A, one B, one C, one D, one E, one F then the tonic again at the top gives us our G.

We need to put our semitones in, semitones are within the same area so this was our tetrachord G, A, B, C and that is now here so we can see the B-C semitone of our first tetrachord.

D is the fifth note of the scale and that begins our second tetrachord, which should be tone-tone-semitone but E to F is a semitone and F to G is a tone!

We need to do something to the F to make this (F-G) a semitone and this (E-F) a tone. The easiest way is to raise the F by a semitone, so the F becomes F sharp. This gives us the second semitone at the top and our second tetrachord is now correct; tone-tone-semitone.

The glue in the middle sticking the two tetrachords together should be a tone and C to D is a tone. We can say that the seventh note of the scale equals the new sharp for that scale and we'll check that in episode 2 when we look at the next scale.

The next scale for episode 2 is going to be on the fifth note; 1 2 3 4 5, the fifth note is D, so the next scale that we look at will start on D. That will be episode two, before we finish today's episode we need to add the sharp to our circle of fifths. C major has no sharps, we've already decided that, so let's just put a nothing or a zero at the top. G major has one sharp F so we'll put an F sharp there, and we'll just remind ourselves that it's a one sharp scale.

In the description below there is a link to a worksheet,which is a four side worksheet. This is the first page which describes everything that we've looked at today. There's then some comprehension questions on the back, the reason is that some people prefer to learn things in words rather than just writing them out, this is a nice way of learning it in words. Then we then write out the scale of C major in the treble clef, the bass clef, the alto clef and the tenor clef. On the back of this sheet is the scale of G major.

There's a link down below of where you can download the sheet from.

I recommend that you play these on a keyboard too, you don't need to follow the correct fingering if you don't know the correct finger pattern just use one finger. The importance is to recognize where your semitones are and where your dominant is, which is the fifth note. Do the same in G major, recognize your semitones, where the dominant is and remember the seventh note was our new sharp. If you play them on your own instrument as well, if you're learning guitar or flute or violin play them on that instrument, but also play them on the keyboard. If you don't have a keyboard or a piano then you can download an app and you can play it on your phone or your tablet, just in one octave but the more you can play it and understand how the notes look on the piano. This will make it easier, if you'd like to play it and pop a video in the comments below or a link to a video of you doing it just to get any feedback feel free to do so myself or a member of my team will give some feedback.

Thank you for joining me, if this has been helpful please like and subscribe, and the link to the worksheet is down below. See you next time.


Chris Caton-Greasley LLCM(TD) MA (Mus)(Open)

Ethnographic Musicologist, Teacher, Researcher

bottom of page