Playing the Circle of 5ths
on the Piano

Let us take a look at the circle of 5ths and how it can be used to enhance our piano playing skills.

The circle of fifths is a geometrical representation of relationships among the 12 notes that exist in music. When these 12 notes or pitches are placed in the original order the chromatic scale is formed. However, in this case notes are not arranged in the original order as it appears on the keyboard.

The circle of fifths can also be explained as a sequence of pitches that are played in a pattern of perfect fifths. For example, if you should start the process from C, then you would play C – G – D – A and so on. Notice that G is the fifth of C in the C major scale. The next movement from G would be D (D is the 5th of G in the G major scale).

The graphic illustration of the circle of 5ths looks like the circular face of a clock. On the diagram all 12 keys in music are represented. There are two tonalities that are represented, major and minor. The outer movements outside of the circle are majors and the inner movements are the relative minor of each major.

Below is a diagram showing what the circle of fifths looks like.


When reading the diagram for the circle of fifths like the one above, you should read it in a clockwise motion. You will realize that the notes are in a sequence showing intervals of perfect 5ths moving in an ascending order. When using this system both single and harmonic notes can be played.


Why not give it a try! Follow the order of notes moving in a clockwise motion. Try it with single notes first and then chords after.


Many musicians and composers use the circle of fifths to help learn the notes on the keyboard. This can be very effective because you end up playing notes in a different order rather than the normal alphabetic order. It can also enhance the way in which you move from one chord to another.

It is interesting to note that the circle of fifths was originally created to show the relationship of notes in fifths. But if you should play the notes of the circle of fifths in a counter clockwise motion, then you will be playing the circle of fourths.

Interesting huh....! Yes it is! Try it for yourself.

The whole idea of the circle of 5ths has been used for centuries by a number of great musicians and it is still useful in modern times. All musicians whether you are a beginner or a professional should not avoid this unique system, but you should include it in your practice sessions.


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