The Circle of Fifths - where does it come from, where does it go?

Oh yes, that would have been pleasing! :slight_smile:

SRV had his guitar tuned to Eb so a blues in Ab would have been just like a blues in A in terms of positional play, open strings etc.

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That’s been a cunning way to stealthily make me put my transcribing skills to the test. That’s so sneaky. :rofl:
Didn’t know that he tuned down, but I’m pretty sure that in this film he’s in standard tuning. They are doing this epic version of Texas flood in F# minor, taking turns at solos and then at 30mins into the vid Albert says “Hey I wanna take it up to… A flat” as they go into Stormy Monday
It’s not that easy to tell what’s going on because there is alot, alot of string bending happening but in SRV’s solo at 36 mins you get a pretty clear shot and he lands “home” the tonic Ab clearly second string 9th fret

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Not only that but I will write and record a hit record using a 2-6-3-7 chord progression for you! haha :wink:

Yes, more to come on other uses / chords.

He must have been in standard then … perhaps Albert was being a little naughty and giving little Stevie something to chew on!

He certainly was!
Albert’s gamesmanship in this session also included lighting up and smoking a pipe, plus filing his nails during some of SRV’s solos, pretending to be bored,
If you’ve not seen the film, it’s well worth a look
It was made in 1983, just as SRV was breaking the big time, and Albert is the old guard. Plus there’s not many places where you get to see Albert King playing rhythm
(1) Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughan In Session 1983 - YouTube


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

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.

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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

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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.


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

circle5ths 4 07

Ab major pentatonic ← → F minor pentatonic

circle5ths 4 08

E major pentatonic ← → C# minor pentatonic

circle5ths 4 09

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.


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.

Great, clear explanation once again Richard. Wow, you must have spent some time putting all these tips together. I’ve followed this through to here, part 4, and got the quiz 100%.
Great stuff!

Are the colours round the circle meant as an aid to recognition/memorisation?
The colours blend into each other going round the circle but there’s more definition when the notes are alphabetical.
There’s a big definition between B&C and E&F, the smallest intervals. Is this done for a reason?
I’ve never thought about trying to visualise notes as colours on the fretboard. Not sure if it would work for me.

Thanks for all your efforts.


Hi David.
Thank you so much for your kind words and appreciation. I am glad you are gaining from it all. 100% woohoo!
The colours? That was an idea I had and tried to develop a little when I created the topic on modes. In the old forum, before I revealed my intent, I teased the community by posting a series of colour swatches and asked people to give their instinctive resonses to the various colour blends. My hypothesis was that major modes would contain warm colours and minor modes cool colours (happy and sad). It didn’t work out but I liked the colour wheel overlaid on the circle of fifths so I kept it.

Oooo, really now again …and I think about once every 2 weeks(?)…at least when I read something about the circle here I have to chuckle when I think about Adrian’s @adi_mrok observation…I almost laughed myself unconscious the first time… :joy:

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Thanks Rogier … I think. I’m not quite following your reference re: Adrian.