Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Circle of Fifths Guitar Theory Lesson

The circle of fifths is a geometrical representation of key signatures used in writing traditional musical notation. For modern guitar players interested in developing a working knowledge of music theory that can be applied specifically to the fretboard the circle of fifths is less useful. But if you insist on exploring the idea you can easily map out the fifth cycle on the guitar neck with patterns.

Guitar players can play the circle of fifths by using the patterns taught in Fretboard Theory Chapter 6 Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers (and also in the DVD program entitled Chord Progressions and Playing By Numbers). You can start in any key but I'll begin with the key of F using chord pattern 1 beginning at the 1st fret of string 6.

The 5 chord in the key of F is C.
Now switch keys to C and use chord pattern 2 beginning with C at the 3rd fret of string 5.
The 5 chord in the key of C is G.
Now switch to the key of G.

The 5 chord in the key of G is D. Switch to D.

The 5 chord in the key of D is A. Switch to A.

The 5 chord in the key of A is E. Switch to E.

Continue this process until you've cycled through all keys. Reverse it to produce the circle of fourths.

You can hear a chord progression based on this type of movement in the song "Hey Joe" by Jimi Hendrix. The verse progression is all fifths starting on C.


I should point out here that rather than try to follow each key change with a new parent major scale, Hendrix simply played the E minor pentatonic scale over the whole progression for the lead guitar solo. This works because the E minor pentatonic notes are all found in the same keys that also have the chords. The exception is the E major chord. In its case the minor pentatonic gives the major chord a blues flavor.

So the circle of 5ths and the circle of 4ths have limited use in music theory for guitar which is why I left them out of my guitar theory book and DVDs. And if you map out scale patterns and chord progressions properly on the fret board then you already have the concept down.

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