The Cycle of 5ths


Posting this more for my reference rather than  with any spirit of sharing, but here’s a diagram depicting the ‘Circle Of 5ths’ which I unashamedly stole from another part of the Internet while its owner/originator slept in another time zone.

I’ve always known about the Circle/Cycle (from hereon ‘Cycle’) as it’s one of the first theory devices that many people are introduced to, but I have kind of ignored it and never really used it, storing it in metaphorical top drawer as an object of theoretical use but without much practical application.


Having started taking lessons from Master, and of course rooting all around the web now that I’m undertaking this ‘learn jazz’ malarkey, I’ve uncovered all kinds of uses that surprised me.

Here are a few:

  1. Moving clockwise from C, one ‘click’ at a time shows us the new key when we add each successive sharpened note. This is fairly basic – most musicians exposed to the Cycle know this. The root of the new key is a perfect 5th higher – hence the name.
  2. Conversely, moving anti-clockwise (sinisterly – for some reason I am reminded of Chemistry lectures and optical isotopes…) one click at a time gives as the new key when we add each successive flattened note – the new key being a perfect 4th lower.
  3. Starting from any root note, then selecting a root two clicks away clockwise, then moving anti-clockwise back to the root gives us the major ii, V, I progression. For example, starting at C, moving two clicks right to D then back through the roots shows us D, G, C. In the key of C, this will result in the chord progression Dm | G | C. With sevenths, this will be Dm7 | G | C.
  4. Similarly, starting from any root note, moving three clicks away clockwise then working back shows us the major I, vi, ii, V, e.g. starting from C results in C | Am | Dm | G.
  5. Choosing any root note then looking diagonally opposite shows us the tritone, i.e. that note which is a flatted 5th away from where you started – useful when doing the tritone substitution. E.g. starting from C, the note opposite in the circle is F# – F# is a flat 5 up or down from C.
  6. There are a number of resources on the Web that describe musical Cycles. This one is by far the best and most comprehensive.

2 Responses to “The Cycle of 5ths”

  1. Hey man! i’ve been reading ur blog in class cause I’m damn bored (i’m from RP) and i find that you write many interesting stuff ๐Ÿ˜€
    i’m a learning musician too and I don’t know if you know but there’s a theory for that, some coltrane cycle which he uses in Giant Steps. here’s a link

    anyway yeah sorry if i backdated alot, i was really bored in school, my teacher talks a ton load of nonsense. haha.

    cheers man!

  2. Hi Karl and welcome to the blog – glad you like it. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Yes; I’ve seen the Dan Adler ‘Cycles’ article before – a very well written and informative piece and I’ve got it printed out. I’m still working on the basics of ii V Is and the Cycle of 5ths with my guitar teacher and how to modulate keys during a song but will surely work up to the more advanced stuff.

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