Circle of Fifths: How it Applies to Chords and Scales
by Tom Michero

Music's most enigmatic diagram!

You've heard about the circle of fifths. Now see it. See how it can improve your playing? The Circle contains a wealth of information that is extremely useful to musicians. This book squeezes every drop of usefulness from this diagram to give you a solid understanding of music fundamentals.

circle of fifths

An Introduction to Understanding Music

This book is a good first book to have on the subject of making music, but even many music pros have never seen the Circle of Fifths discussed with such depth and relevance. And luckily, you don't need to be able to read music to understand this book. All you need is a curiosity about how music is put together and a desire to play it.

This book shows:

  • How to find the TONAL CENTER of a song.
  • How MAJOR SCALES are constructed.
  • How to understand INTERVALS.
  • The how and why of HARMONIC MOVEMENT.
  • How CHORDS are constructed.
  • What makes good CHORD PROGRESSIONS.


  • The 28-page book is full of easy-to-understand charts and diagrams with clear and direct explanations. The Circle of Fifths is too important to ignore and knowing its secrets gives you a leg up when it comes to playing better.

    Beyond the Circle

    This book goes beyond the traditional Circle in finding musical patterns that are useful to musicians no matter what instrument they play.

    The section on chord progressions shows how to use the Circle to create chord progressions that have a natural harmonic movement.

    The Ring of Chords section introduces the "Circle of Thirds" that shows how the chords in any given key relate to each other.

    The section on secondary dominant chords shows how the Circle can be used to add more harmonic interest into your own compositions.

    The book also offers a glossary of terms and concepts that every musician needs to know in order to communicate effectively with other musicians.

    How the "Circle" Can Help You.

    The most important benefit that comes from knowing the Circle of Fifths is that, like a compass, it can guide you through the musical jungle. The "Circle" will give you that basic knowledge that makes everything else easier to understand. Also, when you know how the Circle works you will have the ability to communicate to fellow musicians with precision and clarity.

    Some benefits that you will experience include:

  • A TRAINED EAR for hearing chord changes and intervals.
  • An ability to IMPROVISE and SOLO.
  • A recognition of KEY SIGNATURES.
  • The ability to quickly TRANSPOSE to other keys.
  • More HARMONIC VARIETY in your compositions.
  • POSITIONAL AWARENESS of the notes on your instrument.
  • musical clef
    Circle of Fifths

    This 28-page book goes beyond the traditional, vanilla approach and uncovers hidden patterns that are useful to the comtemporary musician.


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    table of contentsContents
    the major scaleThe Major Scale
    circle of fifthsCircle of Fifths
    Ring of ChordsRing of Chords
    chord functionChord Function
    secondary dominantsSecondary Dominants
    chord progressionsChord Progressions
    Ring of ScalesRing of Scales

    How the "Circle of Fifths" Came to Be.

    I love playing music but I'm also lazy about practicing. As a result, I progressed slowly in my early training. Since I don't practice as much as I should, I want to make what time I do spend on the guitar pay off.

    The Mystery of the "Circle"

    I'm the kind of guy that enjoys looking at the dollar bill to find hidden Masonic codes or ancient alien communications. So when my music teacher first told me about the "Circle of Fifths" I was intrigued. It looked esoteric and mysterious, like a cipher from some Roman tomb. I thought he was going to initiate me into the "Secret Order of Musicians" and tell me what the Circle was all about. Instead, he said "I don't really use it. Come back next week and we will work some more on your rhythm."

    I cried with disappointed. He so easily dismissed it as irrelevant. I had heard so many musicians mention the Circle but no one could really tell me what it was good for. I really wanted to know, so I began to study it on my own.

    I felt like a crypto-archeologist when I first began my investigation and what I found amazed me?

    I discovered that:

  • Chord progressions are based on the Circle.
  • The guitar fretboard itself is based on the Circle.
  • Key signatures are based on the Circle.
  • The Circle indicates the intervals between notes.
  • Each key interlocks with another key.
  • The Circle groups the minor and major chords of each key together.


  • Anything That Helps Me Play Better, I Pay Attention To.

    As I have said before, I am not a gifted player. Much of my desire to learn things like the Circle of Fifths stems from my lack of natural talent. However, I have found that when I give my attention to acquiring this "head knowledge," what follows is something that sounds like talent. By this I mean, I don't have to spend thousands of hours rediscovering how to play music. Someone has already done that for me. The information contained in the Circle of Fifths allows me to play better than I should. Sometimes I like to imagine what I could accomplish if I were both musically educated and musically talented.

    Who Needs the Periodic Table Anyway?

    The Circle of Fifths is to music what the Periodic Table is to chemistry. It lays out in very general terms how ever thing is made. I suppose there are physicists who can't read the Table but I can guarantee that the best chemists know it. The same goes for musicians. I believe that any musicians who ignores the Circle is simply choosing to play at a level below his or her best. Don't get me wrong, for some musicians that is still at a very high level. However, anyone who wants more out of music and their playing will benefit from knowing the Circle of Fifths.

    Circle of Fifths Want more Circle of Fifths? Click on the picture above to check out the interactive guide that shows guitar chords around the Circle.

    Tom Michero