The Circle of Fifths Part 4 - where does it go? [b] major & relative minor scales plus pentatonic scales

We have already seen how the Circle of Fifths can be a quick reference tool to find all seven notes of any major scale. Continuing with scales for the moment, it should be known that the seven notes of any major scale are identical to the seven notes of their relative minor scales. All relative minor scales have their root at the 6th scale degree of the major scale. From the constant sequence that we saw earlier, the root notes of the major and relative minor would be 1 and 6 in this list:

4, 1, 5, 2, 6, 3, 7

The root of the major scale is in the second position and the root of the relative minor is a further three places beyond it (the 1 and the 6 above).

Using the same three examples of C major, Ab major and E major, we can now view and describe these clusters from the Circle of Fifths in two ways – major scale and relative minor scale.

The C major scale and the relative A minor scale

C Major scale
C, D, E, F, G, A, B

A minor scale
A, B, C, D, E, F, G

The Ab major scale and the relative F minor scale

Ab Major scale
Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F, G

F minor scale
F, G, Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb

The E major scale and the relative C# minor scale

E Major scale
E, F#, G#, A, B, C#, D#

C# minor scale
C#, D#, E, F#, G#, A, B

NOTE
To repeat - when finding the major scale, for any consecutive seven notes, the root of the major scale is in the second position and the root of the relative minor is a further three places beyond it.

Another way of viewing this is that the roots of any major scale / relative minor scale pairing can always be found by imagining pointers set at right-angles to each other. Visualising the hands of a clock can help.

Another way of viewing this is to rotate the Circle of Fifths so that the major scale root is at the 12 o’clock position. The relative minor root will then always be at the 3 o’clock position.

C major ← → A minor

Ab major ← → F minor

E major ← → C# minor

Following on in smooth fashion, this view of major scales and their relative minors leads us to somewhere hopefully comfortable and even familiar - pentatonic scales.

We need to know, if we don’t already, that the major pentatonic scale is a subset of the major scale, formed by removing two of its notes. Similarly, the minor pentatonic scale is a subset of the minor scale, removing two of its notes.

Let us look once again at the sequence of scale degrees as they appear around the Circle of Fifths.

4, 1, 5, 2, 6, 3, 7

It just so happens that the two extremes in this sequence, the 4th and the 7th, are the two notes removed from a major scale to create a major pentatonic scale.

4, 1, 5, 2, 6, 3, 7

And it just so happens that those remaining five notes are also the exact same notes that comprise the related minor pentatonic scale.

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Using our same three examples, with the two notes removed from either end, we now have the following.

C major pentatonic and A minor pentatonic scales

C Major pentatonic
C, D, E, G, A

A minor pentatonic
A, C, D, E, G

Ab major pentatonic and F minor pentatonic scales

Ab Major pentatonic
Ab, Bb, C, Eb, F

F minor pentatonic
F, Ab, Bb, C, Eb

E major pentatonic and C# minor pentatonic scales

E Major pentatonic
E, F#, G#, B, C#

C# minor pentatonic
C#, E, F#, G#, B

Just as the major scale and relative minor scale positions can be readily found by use of the pointers set at right-angles, so too can the major pentatonic and relative minor pentatonic scales.

C major pentatonic ← → A minor pentatonic

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Ab major pentatonic ← → F minor pentatonic

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E major pentatonic ← → C# minor pentatonic

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In summary …

We can easily find the notes of any major scale from the Circle of Fifths. Select the major scale.
Find its root on the circle. Count one note anticlockwise and five notes clockwise from the root. That group of seven consecutive notes, when rearranged alphabetically, will give the notes of the major scale in question.

The relative minor scale will comprise the exact same notes. The root note of the relative minor can be found three places clockwise from the major scale root. If considering right-angled pointers, or a clockface, the major scale and relative minor scale root notes are at 90 degrees to one another.

If seeking a major pentatonic, simply find the major scale as described above then remove the two notes from the extreme ends of the group of seven.

A relative minor pentatonic will then comprise those same five notes and its root matches the root of the relative minor scale.

QUIZ TIME

Okay - it’s another quiz challenge.

Here again is the full Circle of Fifths with enharmonic equivalents of sharps / flats shown.

1] Which seven notes does the Bb major scale contain?
2] Which seven notes does the A major scale contain?
3] Which minor scale is the relative minor to D major?
4] Which five notes does the G major pentatonic contain?
5] Which minor pentatonic is the relative to F major pentatonic?
6] Which five notes does the Eb minor pentatonic contain?

Click here to read the hidden answers ...

1] Eb, Bb, F, C, G, D, A - in alphabetical order - Bb, C, D, Eb, F, G, A
2] D, A, E, B, F#, C#, G# - in alphabetical order - A, B, C#, D. E. F#, G#
3] B minor
4] G, D, A, E, B - in alphabetical order - G, A, B, D, E
5] D minor pentatonic
6] Gb, Db, Ab, Eb, Bb - in alphabetical order - Eb, Gb, Ab, Bb, Db

Thanks, Richard. Another great and easy to understand presentation. Now if only I can remember it :slightly_smiling_face:

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Haha, yes, it’s that old dog syndrome of forgetfulness which bites :dog:

Comments, questions …

Topic continues with Part 5 here