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Thread: How to practice Circle of 5ths

  1. #1

    Default How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Hello everyone,

    I am a novice, having only played around a year or so. I was taking lessons but once COVID hit I had to stop. My instructor mentioned learning the circle of 5ths. I am curious what you all did to learn the circle of 5ths and what i should do for practice.

  2. #2

    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    The circle of fifths will give you the order of sharps and flats in the different keys. Portions of it are played as chord progressions, particularly in jazz and ragtime and occasionally in other styles. It is something you have to memorize. It can be a useful tool. It is more a piece of theory that has a lot of applications than something you practice. There are youtube videos and internet sites which will explain it if you do a google search. Having your instructor go over it would be better. It is not really the thing I would focus on for a beginner though.

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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    The chart, easily findable with Google, shows the relationship between chords. There are several online sources to explain the info represented by that chart.

    You don't need to learn all of the nuances to get a lot of value in having an easy way to determine the chords that belong to each key.
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    1. Starting on open G, play G-A-B-C-D-C-B-A-G. (Using your pinky for the D is a good idea.)
    2. Now, "moving up a fourth", starting on the C you just played, play C-D-E-F-G-F-E-D-C. (Using the open D makes more sense here.)
    3. Same deal, start on the F, play F-G-A-Bb-C-Bb-A-G-F.
    4. Keeping moving up, play Bb-C-D-Eb-F etc.
    5. Keeping moving up, play Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb.
    6. Ok, now drop back down to the first fret on the G-string (Ab), and just keep going like this.

    See where this is going? At some point, you'll hit the G on the D-string as your starting point. You've made it once around the cycle of the 12 major keys, but keep going, you can fit another full cycle in without leaving first postition.
    I'd actually recommend cruising around this cycle by ear, getting use to the musicalness of how it sounds without worrying about what key you're in. When you're comfortable, when you feel like you've got something nice here, then it's time for "What is this? What am I doing?". The answer (The Circle of 5ths) will now have pigeonholes for you to fill.

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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Find songs that use them and listen and play along. "Salty Dog" is just the VI - II - V - I portion of the circle over and over. The Swing Era was built on the circle - so many songs. The more you hear it, the more you'll recognize it and get used to it.
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    GrK2111: Read this description.

    http://www.bradleylaird.com/mandou%2Dsite/buymmc.html

    Years ago I saw the value in working around the circle of fifths. (And fourths.) And, since you asked “how to practice”, it’s right there in da book and that Circle of Fifth track which is included.

    I don’t normally* jump in here to shill my own products but your question was a perfect match.

    Try it. It is The Great Equalizer—that track.

    *see my low number of posts over many years.
    Last edited by bradlaird; Mar-16-2021 at 1:08pm. Reason: Additional thought

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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Circle of fifths, cycle of fourths...I was going then I was coming

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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    In songs, the more common format is a 'circle of fourths', like the aforementioned 'Salty Dog'. Plenty of other tunes including Swing 42, Sweet Georgia Brown and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea use the form.
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    So how to practice. I think the circle of fifths is best practiced by identifying them in popular music. Picking them out of rock tunes, and commercial jingles and movie theme songs. Not picking out the particular chord, but something way easier, picking out the the transition to the fifth (in one direction) and to the fourth (in the other direction.) Seeing how it is used. And see how it plays out on the mandolin. Where on the mandolin is a fifth up from here on the mandolin. etc.

    Once you can identify when and feel how a tune moves along the circle, you work on the names of the chords, what is a fifth up from G, what is a fifth up from A etc.

    But I think it is better to start out just recognizing the interval.
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    Registered User Bruce Clausen's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    JeffD's very sensible and practical post showed up while I was preparing my pretty technical one. This may not be helpful to many, but here it is anyway:

    I used to work on my jazz reflexes by playing exercises that went through the cycle of the twelve major keys, much like Jim Bevan's exercise above, but in arpeggios ('broken chords').

    Start with a chordal phrase that leads you into the key that is up a fourth (or down a fifth). E.g. the first four bars of Blues for Alice, or Bluesette, etc.:

    Cmaj7 Fmaj7 |Bm7-5 E7 | Am7 D7 |Gm7 C7 | (F)

    Play a four-note arpeggio (such as 1-3-5-7) for each chord. This leads you into F major. Now run through the same progression in F, which gets you into Bb. Etc. etc. You're moving from no flats to one, two, three flats etc., till you get to six flats (Gb major), which you'll treat as six sharps (F# major), then five sharps etc., ending with the key of G leading you back into C. You've now done the full circle by playing a four-bar phrase in each of the twelve keys.

    Of course, you can also practise the same long progression as chords. And you can go through the circle in the other direction (sharps to flats) by starting with a phrase that modulates up a fifth instead of down a fifth.

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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    a simple chord changing drill for those getting their swing rhythm chops or cyclical dominants (seventh chords moving in fifths)together:

    up high on the mandolin make an A7, as a three note voicing 12-11-12, fingers 2-1-3, looks like a triangle, root(A)is on the highest string in the voicing under your third finger

    next drop your Django fingers(1 and 2) down a fret so you are at 11-10-12. That is a D7. It has no D in it so we identify it as a seventh chord with the third in the bass(lowest note in the voicing) Coincidentally, these are two of the most frequently used voicings for seventh chords(if not the only..), especially for rhythm..

    now notice that A7 is the fifth of D7, and we have established a pattern to run down the neck:

    10-9-10, the triangle shape, is G7. Drop your first two fingers a fret each and BAM you get..you guessed it:C7.

    and off you go, alternating the triangle shape with the 3rd in the bass shape right down the neck. First few times you try this maybe play 8 beats of each chord, then 4, then 2...whatever makes the switching of chords clean and smooth. At some point introduce the verbalization of the chord names, say them out loud as you hit a new chord. This reinforces familiarity with the fretboard, names of notes as well as the circle of fifths pattern

    A7-D7-G7-C7-F7-Bb7-Eb7-Ab7-Db7-Gb7-B7-E7 gets you from the octave to the nut

    tunes that contain circle of fifths activity that you most likely know:
    I Got Rhythm (bridge) Salty Dog Blues(not really a blues is it?) Alabama Jubilee, Sweet Georgia Brown, Rawhide(were Bill Monroe and George Gershwin ever seen in the same room? Their bridges on these tunes were both circles of fifths..) Assanhado (Jacob do Bandolim) Anthropology(and several other Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie I Got Rhythm derivatives..)

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  17. #12

    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Thanks for that Don! I can’t wait to try that exercise.

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    Fingertips of leather Bill McCall's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    If you make an x7 chord from a major triad by raising the fifth to the b7, Don’s exercise works for the other inversions as well, as the example starts with the fifth, raised to the b7, in the base. The fingerings may not be as easy. That progression is a series of descending II-V-1s.

    Similar logic for minor ii-V-1s, but that’s another story.
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Practice anything around the circle and you learn it in all keys. I have been doing this for years and it makes it much easier to play things in whatever key is needed. Start simple, like nursery rhymes. In no time you won't worry about key, you'll just play.
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    If you make an x7 chord from a major triad by raising the fifth to the b7, Don’s exercise works for the other inversions as well, as the example starts with the fifth, raised to the b7, in the base. The fingerings may not be as easy. That progression is a series of descending II-V-1s.

    Similar logic for minor ii-V-1s, but that’s another story.
    I like to do the same thing Don talked about, but starting with the m7th (one finger difference), moving down and eventually ending on a M7 or 6th chord. Symmetry is cool!

    m7down to X7, then changing the x7 to m7 and down again and so on...

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    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by Don Stiernberg View Post
    a simple chord changing drill for those getting their swing rhythm chops or cyclical dominants (seventh chords moving in fifths)together:

    up high on the mandolin make an A7, as a three note voicing 12-11-12, fingers 2-1-3, looks like a triangle, root(A)is on the highest string in the voicing under your third finger

    next drop your Django fingers(1 and 2) down a fret so you are at 11-10-12. That is a D7. It has no D in it so we identify it as a seventh chord with the third in the bass(lowest note in the voicing) Coincidentally, these are two of the most frequently used voicings for seventh chords(if not the only..), especially for rhythm..

    now notice that A7 is the fifth of D7, and we have established a pattern to run down the neck:

    10-9-10, the triangle shape, is G7. Drop your first two fingers a fret each and BAM you get..you guessed it:C7.

    and off you go, alternating the triangle shape with the 3rd in the bass shape right down the neck. First few times you try this maybe play 8 beats of each chord, then 4, then 2...whatever makes the switching of chords clean and smooth. At some point introduce the verbalization of the chord names, say them out loud as you hit a new chord. This reinforces familiarity with the fretboard, names of notes as well as the circle of fifths pattern

    A7-D7-G7-C7-F7-Bb7-Eb7-Ab7-Db7-Gb7-B7-E7 gets you from the octave to the nut

    tunes that contain circle of fifths activity that you most likely know:
    I Got Rhythm (bridge) Salty Dog Blues(not really a blues is it?) Alabama Jubilee, Sweet Georgia Brown, Rawhide(were Bill Monroe and George Gershwin ever seen in the same room? Their bridges on these tunes were both circles of fifths..) Assanhado (Jacob do Bandolim) Anthropology(and several other Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie I Got Rhythm derivatives..)
    Don, sweet and useful drill example of the Circle of Fifths!

    However, I think you meant to write that 12-11-12 -- the first chord shape in your example -- is a (fifthless) E7, with the notes D-G#-E (B missing), and not a "A7." The top string has the chord name note in this shape. And that the next chord shape, 11-10-12, is a (rootless) A7, with the notes C#-E-G (A missing), and not a "D7."

    Similarly, starting on the 10-9-10 (C-F#-D) triangle shape, you get a fifthless D7, not a "G7." Drop the first two fingers to 9-8-10 and you get a rootless G7 (B-F-D), not a "C7."

    So the sequence of dominant 7th chords, running down towards the nut, goes E7-A7-D7-G7-C7-F7-Bb7-Eb7-... etc.

    Did I misunderstand something?

    AHA-- I see my error! You meant for us to play "12-11-12" on the BOTTOM three strings, as 12-11-12-x! I was interpreting this as x-12-11-12, where we played the TOP three strings! Of course, this changes the chord names to exactly the way you had them, off (by a fifth, of course!) from mine. All is well. Mea culpa!

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  23. #17

    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    In songs, the more common format is a 'circle of fourths', like the aforementioned 'Salty Dog'. Plenty of other tunes including Swing 42, Sweet Georgia Brown and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea use the form.
    Fourths and fifths are the same thing, just in the other direction. "Circle of fifths progression" is better than "circle of fourths progression", because each chord functions as the fifth (dominant) of the next chord. "Circle of fifths progression" is named for the chord functions, not the bass intervals.

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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by David L View Post
    Fourths and fifths are the same thing, just in the other direction. "Circle of fifths progression" is better than "circle of fourths progression", because each chord functions as the fifth (dominant) of the next chord. "Circle of fifths progression" is named for the chord functions, not the bass intervals.
    I read left to right so its much easier to see the interval ascending, rather than contextualizing the first chord by reading the second first.

    But fourths and fifths are not the same thing, a fifth up and a fifth down are 2 different chords.

    Just how I see things.

    YMMV
    Last edited by Bill McCall; Mar-22-2021 at 4:03pm. Reason: clarity
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    I read left to right so its much easier to see the interval ascending, rather than contextualizing the first chord by reading the second first.

    But fourths and fifths are not the same thing, a fifth up and a fifth down are 2 different chords.

    Just how I see things.

    YMMV
    Reading is done left to right, but function and nomenclature isn't. Function is usually determined by the following chord.

    A fourth up and a fifth down are the same when it comes to harmony and the circle of fifths. C to F is a fourth up or a fifth down.

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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    A fifth down is a fourth up, down an octave. But yea, the nomenclature is important. There is no down, its always up. Its as if we want a fourth, and we happen to want to use the octave below, and we freaking know its a fifth down but we don't use that description. There is no down. There is no down.

    Its like setting a 12 hour clock. We want to set the clock back three hours, so we move ahead nine hours. Oh wait, nobody does round clocks anymore. Never mind.
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Remember F C G D A E B and the backwards B E A D G C F. Incidentally, the first is the order of sharps and the second...the order of flats.

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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

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  31. #23

    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by JeffD View Post
    A fifth down is a fourth up, down an octave. But yea, the nomenclature is important. There is no down, its always up. Its as if we want a fourth, and we happen to want to use the octave below, and we freaking know its a fifth down but we don't use that description. There is no down. There is no down.

    Its like setting a 12 hour clock. We want to set the clock back three hours, so we move ahead nine hours. Oh wait, nobody does round clocks anymore. Never mind.
    You can repeat it all you like, but that doesn't mean that it's true. "Down" is just as legitimate as "up". I don't know what "we" you are referring to, but all of the musicians that I know would say "down a fifth". Any theory book uses the term "down" for intervals.

    Why would you turn a clock ahead 9 hours instead of back 3 hours? That applies to analog AND digital clocks.

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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    Quote Originally Posted by Bill McCall View Post
    But fourths and fifths are not the same thing, a fifth up and a fifth down are 2 different chords.
    Bill, it is not the name of the landing note that makes a fifth or fourth; the note names and chord names are relative. A fifth does not refer to a chord or note but rather names an interval. The perfect fifth interval consists of a constant measure, exactly 7 semitones. So this fifth interval can be measured either ascending from a note 7 semitones or descending from a note 7 semitones.

    When the starting note is the root note of a scale, the ascending fifth interval (7 semitones) falls on the 5th scale degree above the root. The descending fifth interval (7 semitones) falls on the 4th scale degree of the lower octave.

    Perfect 4th and 5th intervals are always the inverse of one another.

    To hopefully route past further wormholes, I should state that all I've written above relates to music theory under a 12 tone equal temperament tuning system in which the intervals have been altered to 12 equal semitones (Our current, modern scheme in wide use.)

    I know it sounds like splitting hairs, but I believe you are confusing intervals with chords.

    If not, then you are confusing the fourth and fifth scale degrees with the fourth and fifth intervals.
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    Default Re: How to practice Circle of 5ths

    I wish not to take this thread off course, But, I wish there was a mandolin book like Bruce Emery's book for guitarist, " Music Principles for the Skeptical Guitarist, (vol 1 & 2). A GREAT book!!! Do you know of any?

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