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

Cue a Green Day song there Toby …

Ha tell me about that one. Been on it for a few years and still can’t tie the vox n gtr in one. One day, maybe before October starts but need to get back on that particular darned horse !!
Shoot maybe I’ll just multi track it and get the freakin box ticked and move on.

Hi Richard, I’m enjoying your explanations. The relationships shown in this β€˜simple’ diagram are really quite amazing!

1 Like

Thanks very much Dave. :slight_smile:

The Circle of Fifths Part 7 - where does it go [e] playing chords and having fun in major and minor keys

We have now seen how taking a full grouping of six chords comprising three major from the outer wheel and three minor from the matching portion of the inner wheel give us the six main chords of a major key, the six diatonic chords of a major scale. And from that basis, using some or all of those chords in combination, we can play thousands of songs.
In the practical theory course Justin lists ten common chord progressions, using the Roman numeral system.
They are:

  • A β†’ I – V – vi – IV

  • B β†’ I – vi – ii – V

  • C β†’ I – vi – IV – V

  • D β†’ I – vi – iii – V

  • E β†’ I – iii – IV – V

  • F β†’ I – V – IV – V

  • G β†’ I – V – ii – IV

  • H β†’ iii – vi – ii – V

  • I β†’ vi – IV – V – I

  • J β†’ I – IV – I – V

Progression A] is the four-chord progression famously used by Axis of Awesome in their four-chord medley.

1 Like

It is worth pausing here and taking some time to explore these ten progressions.

Play them in different keys. Select a root note / tonic chord from the outer wheel of the Circle of Fifths. That will be the I chord. Locate and use whichever of the ii, iii, IV, V or vi chords are then within the chosen progression. Play the progressions slow, medium or fast tempo. Play the progression in 4/4 (4 beats per bar) or 3/4 (3 beats per bar – waltz time) or 6/8 (6 1/8th beats per bar accenting the 1 and 4).

It will be valuable to take some time and linger in this space, to experiment, to try things out to have fun, to stretch and listen and see what sounds good. You will likely hear some familiar progressions that you can identify and associate with many songs. You may, hopefully, create some progressions that inspire you, make you want to hum a melody, write a lyric, compose a song or record a looper backing track to improvise over (using the appropriate major scale for your key).

Have fun and enjoy the simple act of doing here, being musical.

Note, a very important note …

The six main diatonic chords we are looking at here need not be confined to triads or simple major and minor.
As a minimum it is worth taking one or more of them as extensions to a 7th quality.
We would we have, in that case:

  • I = I major 7

  • ii = minor 7

  • iii = minor 7

  • IV = major 7

  • V = dominant 7

  • vi = minor 7

Have fun.


One of my favourite examples of an entirely in-one-key song that makes full use of all six of the main diatonic chords has the following progressions:

I will leave it entirely up to the individual to choose a key to follow here. Be aware - choose carefully or you may end up having to play lots of barre chords. Play it at a decent tempo in 3/4 time and see if you can figure out which song it is.
Have more fun.

Having just encouraged people to spend a long time lingering in the world of major key diatonic chord progressions, it has to be acknowledged that there are many among us who prefer to inhabit the minor key domain. With that in mind, it seems fitting and fair to offer up a view of the double-wheel Circle of Fifths from the perspective of minor keys. Specifically, natural minor (which I should really call Aeolian). That is to say, making use of the relative minor of any chosen major. We have already seen mention of the relative major - minor briefly in passing.

The obvious place to start is by considering C major and its relative minor A minor. Once again, here is the harmonised C major scale, showing its ordered diatonic chords.

circle5ths 6 01

The relative minor is based on the 6th scale degree so it is a simple process of reordering those notes and chords to start from the note A and the chord A minor.

circle5ths 6 01.

Allocating each chord its Roman numeral gives us this on the Circle of Fifths:

Note that on this occasion I have used the position of the note B to show the location of the B diminished chord. I am doing so here as diminished chords just to help it see the light of day for a moment. Also, diminished chords do have a useful place within minor chord progressions which is beyond the scope of this topic but is good to be made aware of.

Replacing those key specific chord names and replacing them with just the Roman numerals gives us this arrangement.

This becomes a general pattern that can be rotated around to rest at any of the twelve positions on the Circle of Fifths and helps define and locate the positions of the seven diatonic chords of any (natural) minor key.

Note that the diminished ii is not within the neat cluster of six. It is fairly easy to locate however as it sits directly opposite the minor IV and the major vi. This may help us to learn and remember the locations. In a minor key, the even numbered chords (ii, iv and VI) all align along an imaginary diameter line.

Up to the brief mention above, we have largely ignored the diminished chord, other than acknowledging its existence as the odd-one-out of the seven diatonic chords and noting that it does not group together on the CIrcle of Fifths with the others. For the sake of consistency and simplicity, it makes sense then to strip it away from the diagram presented above and just revert back to having six labelled sections.

circle5ths 7 04

Just as with major key chord progressions, we can try playing minor key chord progressions. Starting and/or finishing on the minor i chord will emphasise it as the tonic, the home base, the root. Follow similar suggestions to above also - play in different keys (using the Circle of Fifths to help you choose the diatonic chords), play at different tempos, play with different time signatures.
Have fun.
Be aware that there are some commonly used minor key progressions just as listed above for major keys. This statement comes with a rather large BUT. This will be addressed a little later on. And the BUT will need to acknowledge that many minor key progressions do not follow strictly diatonic paths, but use at least one (very important, dominant) chord not naturally found in the key. For now, just use what is listed.
And have fun.

Addendum for minor key playing.

Just as with the six main diatonic chords of a major key, the chords in a minor key need not be confined to triads. As 7ths we have:

  • i = minor 7

  • III = major 7

  • iv = minor 7

  • v = minor 7

  • VI = major 7

  • VII = dominant 7

Beware the dominant VII chord - it will sound like it wants to pull to the parent major chord taking you back to a major tonality with the III as tonic (think G7 pulling back to C major). Whereas you want to maintain a sound that remains in the relative minor. So perhaps play that as a straight major, not a dominant 7th.

Addendum for embellishments.

Any and all of the diatonic chords, whether your progression is major tonality or minor tonality, can have embellishments and additional extensions. To begin with keep it simple. As you play through your progressions, for chords where there is a natural opportunity due to easy fingering and formation, try adding in a sus4 and / or a sus2 variation. This will add spice and hopefully bring in new inspiration.

For example, in the key of Bm, I have created a diatonic progression that makes use of extensions (7ths) and sus variations.

B minor progression with 7ths and sus chords audio file

Here is an accompanying pdf of the TAB.

B minor chord progression TAB

Addendum for how to approach this chapter.

Take your time reading the content.
Take more time applying it in a practical way.
Pick up your guitar and play!
Play some more.
Play major.
Play minor.
Have fun.

Questions, comments, discussion …

Thanks Richard. This one will require a bit more study than your six previous posts. I found this free app which seems really good. No annoying ads either. Under the circle it shows you how to construct the major and minor chord progressions for the chosen key.


Thanks @jacksprat
I know in the old forum that @TheMadman_tobyjenner shared a really useful tool for the circle of fifths. I don’t recall if it was an online tool or an app. It had a similar functionality from first glance at this you have shared. It could rotate so any note sat at the 12 o’ clock position. And it had a third part, another inner wheel, where the diminished chords could be found. Great stuff.
ps I will not be adding a third wheel with diminished in this topic.


There were a couple and one was browser based but I ended up using this on my tablet, so I have visibility while working on the PC.

All chord voicings can be played but it also notates the β€œprogression” which can be copied to other media (word, text etc). And it can be easily changed from Major to minor.

I’ll see if I can locate the browser one(s) and link here.



OK found it quite easily despite the myriad of bookmarks in the Guitar link sub folders.
What I like about this one is the selectable modes, which can come in handy now and then.



This was the other browser based interactive β€œtool”. :sunglasses:

Should add I did not particularly like the layout of this one, with IV I V in the inner circle. :frowning_face:


Chris @jacksprat
Downloaded the App, looks very helpful, thanks.
Michael :+1: