The Architecture of Music

The Circle of Fifths

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The Linear Circle of Fifths Diagram

Tremendous thought and many design iterations went into the linear circle of fifths diagram. The boxes act much like a ruler to help differentiate the P5 intervals of chords and scales. If the design were just a line with equal hash marks, the P5 intervals of the notes would be difficult to identify. Much like a ruler has larger hash marks for inches and progressively smaller hash marks for 1/2”, 1/4”, 1/8” and so on, the boxes help to identify the P5 intervals. In general, in a chord, scale, or progression the furthest three notes away from the central note sound more dissonant than notes closer to the central note.

To create music that sounds in consonance, chords and progressions should be limited to four steps or less (in general) ascending or descending around the circle, indicated by the large central box. However, notes further away hold a closer harmonic relationship to each other and the medium boxes indicate eight harmonic intervals equivalent to the large central box centered around the note opposite the central (or bass) note or an aug4 interval away. For example, in the LCOF at the bottom left, which is centered around D, the medium boxes are centered around G#, which is an aug4 away from D. The center of the small white boxes indicate an augmented triad or maj3 intervals.

Linear Circle of Fifths Diagram

The linear circle of fifths is a helpful tool with chords as it helps visually describe what a chord will sound like and in scales as it helps describe how to play them. The linear circle of fifths diagram of a scale can also quickly and easily be used to identify a scale when compared to the scales in the greater organization of all scales chart in the Organizing All The Scales portion of this tutorial.