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JazzWorks ... Pass It On

Circle of Fourths

In the western musical scale, we recognize 12 unique notes. Each note can be the starting point for a scale. When the notes from that scale are used together, we call that a “key”.

  In other words, we recognize 12 unique musical keys. The Circle of Fourths chart is a convenient way to organize all this information.

  A “fourth” is an interval between notes consisting of five half-steps. Looking at the chart at the right, notice there are 12 pie slices, one for each key. As you move clockwise around the circle, each slice is a fourth higher than the previous one. As you move around the circle, you visit all 12 keys. Magic!

  There is an interesting relationship between the two intervals, perfect fourth and  perfect fifth (which consists of seven half-steps). Moving counter-clockwise around the circle, the keys go up by fifths, or down by fourths.  Also, please notice that three of the flat keys are equivalent to three of the sharp keys (B = Cb, F# = Gb, and C# = Db).

So what?  Why is this important? Many musical compositions, including most jazz music, involve multiple keys – sometimes several keys within a single measure. To play at a high level, you must be able to play comfortably in all 12 keys. The only way to become proficient in all 12 keys is to practice all 12 keys.

You can use the circle of fourths to practice all 12 keys. Please study the information on Common Scales page and then proceed to the Scale Practice page, which contains accompaniments you can use while you are practicing the scales. Have fun!