The circle of fifths

how to see soundYou’re probably thinking “Musical patterns are basic.” And of course, you would be right. But you might have also noticed something strange in the post about major scales. I mean, what’s up with the order of major scales? Why is the C major scale followed by G major … then D major … then A major … and so on?

Well, the answer is simple. It turns out, there’s a special connection between major scales. And that’s why they are listed in this order. You see, all major scales overlap … so they all share some of the same notes. It works like this:

 The second half of each major scale (notes 5, 6, 7, 8) becomes the first half of another major scale (notes 1, 2, 3, 4). For example, the second half of C major (G  A  BC) is also the first half of the G major scale. And the second half of G major (D  E  F#G) becomes the first half of the D major scale … and so on. In this way, all major scales form a kind of daisy-chain pattern.

In fact, if you continue connecting all 12 major scales, they form one big ring called the “circle of fifths”:

It’s called the circle of fifths because each new scale starts on the fifth note of the previous scale. For example, check out these patterns:

  • the G major scale (which is highlighted above) starts on the “5” of the C major scale
  • the D major scale starts on the “5” of the G major scale
  • the A major scale starts on the “5” of the D major scale
  • etc.

So each scale or “musical key” is made of up equal halves of the scales that come before and after it. For example:

  • the G major scale is part C major and part D major
  • the D major scale is part G major and part A major
  • the A major scale is part D major and part E major
  • and so on


In fact, if you think about it, the circle of fifths is exactly like the color wheel.

 Just like every key in the circle of fifths, each color passes to the next … and all colors are connected. As you can see:

  • the key of G (red-orange) is part C (red) and part D (orange)
  • the key of D (orange) is part G (red-orange) and part A (orange-yellow)
  • the key of A (orange-yellow) is part D (orange) and part E (yellow)
  • etc.


Seriously, the connection between color and music is amazing. I mean, it’s like having x-ray vision! Using color, you can see exactly how patterns work in music. Only the connection doesn’t just stop there. Because if you look a little closer … it gets even better.

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