Circle of Fifths

The circle of fifths has been used for centuries for composing songs, harmonizing melodies, building chords, analyzing chord progressions and determining the key of a song.

A basic understanding of music theory is required to take full advantage of the circle of fifths. This user guide is designed to introduce you to Song One's user interface. Online sources like Wikipedia can be of great help to gain a deeper understanding of the theory behind the circle of fifths and offer additional insight on how to benefit from using it.

To show the circle of fifths tap/click on the circle icon of the docked toolbar. (If the docked toolbar is not visible tap/click on the three dots in the right corner of the main toolbar.)

The circle has a menu icon in its center to access a pop-up menu with the following options:

  • 'Set Tonic/Transpose' (set and change the key of the song)

  • 'Circle Of Fifths' (analyze chord progressions and build harmonic fields)

  • 'Show Scales' (explore scales on the virtual fretboard or keyboard)

Select the 'Major Mode' in the 'Circle Of Fifths' section of the pop-up menu to get started.

The 'Major Mode' represents the major scale.

The circle is divided into three selectable rings: the note ring, the chord extension ring and the Roman numerals ring. We'll explore each ring one by one:

The Note Ring

The widest ring displays all 12 notes of the chromatic scale in a specific order. In a clockwise direction the notes are seven semitones apart. This distance is equivalent to the perfect fifth interval of a minor or major scale.

Some of the notes are highlighted (see notes Bb, F, C, G, D, A, E). They represent all the notes that belong to the current scale.

Tap/Click on any highlighted note to use it as the root note of an automatically generated chord. (Tap/Click on the fretboard or keyboard icon of the docked toolbar to auto-play and display this chord on a virtual instrument.)

The generated chord is in harmony with the selected scale (in this case the major scale). An 'm' after the note indicates that the chord is a minor chord (Gm, Dm, Am). A small circle after the note identifies a diminished chord (E°). All the chords that Song One will generate with the highlighted notes belong to the 'harmonic field' of the selected scale.

The selection arrow points to the 'tonic' of the selected scale (see 'F' above). The tonic is the first note of the scale and represents its tonal center. To change the tonic tap/click (and hold) the lower area of the inner ring (indicated by the orange dot) to drag the selection arrow under the desired note.

Composers sometimes move the tonic of the song to add interest. This is called modulation. Notes that are adjacent to the original tonic on the circle of fifths are the most harmonic options for a modulation (see Bb - F and F - C above).

The Chord Extension Ring

The outer ring allows you to expand the voicing of the automatically generated chords with extensions (see the selected '11th' below).

Touch and hold the outer edge of the extension field to drag it to the desired extension number.

The Roman Numerals Ring

The inner ring displays Roman numerals which represent the position of the highlighted notes in relation to the tonic (the first note of the scale: 'F').

Roman numerals are used to analyze chord progressions. When the key of a song is transposed the root notes of all chords will change. However, the distance between these chords remains the same. Hence a song progression that is expressed in Roman numerals is valid for any key.

The position of minor chords is indicated by lowercase Roman numerals (see ii, iii, vi, vii above).

Chords with certain Roman numerals blend more harmoniously than others. The chords in the I, IV and V positions are considered to be the primary chords of the major scale. They are the most frequently used ones. Explore progressions with these primary chords and add different chord extensions to find how they affect the sound. For instance chords in the V position with an added 7th extension provoke a resolution towards the tonic. Examine how the inclusion of the secondary minor and diminished chords will influence your experience. Use the circle of fifths to train your ears, analyze your favorite songs and discover the chord progressions that sound pleasing to you.

Last updated