What is the circle of fifths?
The circle of fifths is a visualization of all major keys and minor keys. The major keys are in the outer circle and their relative minor keys are in the inner circle. Each letter on the circle of fifths can also represent a chord or a note.
The key signatures for each key are on the outside of the circle. Major keys and relative minor keys share the same key signature. For example, the key of F major and D minor both have one flat in their key signature.
The circle of fifths helps you to visually understand the relationship between keys and chords. You can use the circle of fifths to:
- Remember key signatures. The top of the circle shows the key of C major with no sharps or flats. For each clockwise step, a sharp (♯) is added to the key signature. With each counterclockwise step, a flat (♭) is added to the key signature.
- Compose music. An idea for a song can start with a few chords that sound good together. The three major chords and three minor chords within any quarter of the circle belong to the same key and thus sound good together.
- Transpose chords. The chords of a song can be placed on the circle of fifths and subsequently transposed by moving the pattern of chords around the circle. For example, place the chords C, F, and G on the circle of fifths. C is at the center, F is one step counterclockwise and G is one step clockwise. Transposed to A major, the chords are A, D, and E.
Going clockwise on the circle of fifths, there is an ascending perfect fifth between each key. Going counterclockwise there is a descending perfect fifth between each key. If you start on any key and go up a perfect fifth 12 times, you’ll arrive at the same key.
Using the interactive circle of fifths
You can change the clef by clicking the "Clef" button. Click "Hide key signatures" to hide all key signatures. Click "Save as PDF" to save the circle of fifths as a printable PDF file. The circle of fifths version that you select will be saved in the PDF file.
Click any key on the circle of fifths to see the key’s chords. Each chord is marked with a roman numeral representing the chord’s scale degree. Specifically, an uppercase roman numeral indicates a major chord while a lowercase roman numeral indicates a minor chord, and a small circle after the roman numeral indicates a diminished chord.
A table below the circle of fifths shows the chords of the selected key and the name of each scale degree. Click any chord in the table to play it. Above the table of chords is the name of the key, the relative key, and the parallel key.