Ukulele Theory - The Circle Of Fifths

7 Feb 2012

Ukulele Theory - The Circle Of Fifths

A minor theory lesson on Got A Ukulele with something that you may find useful - the Circle Of Fifths. An incredibly helpful chart for any musical instrument player, not just ukulele players.

Below you will see a Circle of fifths chart that you can print off and keep in your ukulele songbook. It's called a 'Circle Of Fifths', because going clockwise around the circle from the 12 o clock position are all twelve musical pitches, going up by a fifth each time. Anti-clockwise they go down by a 4th..  More on that in a moment.  Laying the pitches out like this allows you to work out lots of cool things. Basically, the circle of fifths organises keys into groups that relate to each other musically. In fact, to sound more evangelical - it's a diagram that basically explains how a significant part of music WORKS.

Firstly, you can use the Circle as is to immediately tell you what chords go well together in any specific Key.  Take the key of G Major for example - locate the G on the outer wheel.  The Circle tells you that any chord that touches that G box will work "well" in a song in the key of G, i.e. C, D and Em. The next closest but not touching chords (The Am and Bm) may work also, and the further you move from that G box, the harder it will be for the chords to work in that song. It's not a firm and fast rule, but a good general rule of thumb that is underpinned by so much music that has been written.  The relationship works as moving clockwise from any Key you move to the Dominant (the V) of the previous key. Moving counterclockwise you move to the Fourth (IV) of the previous key. You would be amazed at just how much of popular music rotates around those note relations (i.e. I, IV, V) - and they do that because they sound naturally pleasing to the ears. The most common songs on the planet use this progression, such as Happy Birthday - but so many others. For more on that topic - take a look at this video which explains more - THE I I IV CHORD SEQUENCE FOR UKULELE

(Just a quick side note here for beginners - you may be reading this thinking 'what on EARTH is a fifth?? - simple - a perfect musical fifth is five notes in a standard diatonic scale - or seven semitones. It's part of a very pleasing sequence of music that works well on the ear - try this. Sing the song 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in your head. Whatever note you start on for the first 'twinkle', the second twinkle will be one fifth above it... What is a semitone? Well picture a piano keyboard and remember the old rhyme 'half steps are from key to key with no keys inbetween..'  So basically it's the 'full' notes as it were on a piano. If you run up a piano keyboard hitting each white AND black key you play all the half steps or 'semitones'. Basically it includs the sharps / flats)

You can also use the Circle as a transposing tool - that is to say a guide for changing the chords in a song up or down in keys to suit your voice or other players.  Print off two copies of the Circle, but make one copy smaller. Cut out both circles and separate the inner from the outer ring. Putting the smaller of the outer ring copies inside the larger, you can now line up the change in key you want and automatically work out what all the other chords change to. For example, say you have a song in the key of G, but want to play it in the key of C, lay out the larger ring with the G at the top. Put the smaller ring in so the C chord is lined up with the G.  Now you can use that smaller inner ring to read off what new chord you would need to play for any of the original chords (Still following me....?)

You can do this without the cutting and copying - just make a note of the chords you want to transpose from and where you want to go and the other chords will slot in place - for example - if you have a song that goes from F, to Am to Em - and you want to move it so it starts in D - using the same 'pattern' in the boxes, you can see that D to F#m to C#m will be the same progression - just in a different key.

There's much more to the Circle - like using it to build scales but for starters, this guide should set you on the path to using it for the most useful.  So, anyway - here's your diagram - click on it to open a bigger version and either print direct or right click and save it to your computer. Enjoy!

circle of fifths ukulele





  1. Thank you - looks great and it is well appreciated. Cheers Chris

  2. Bridlington ukulele club30 April 2013 at 22:06:00 BST

    Works for me!

  3. Yes that is really clear and i did wonder how they worked together. I am not technically minded and find it hard even with tablature it takes me a while to get what its all about and the connections with the chords i just cannot see it. This is quite easy to follow Thank You.

  4. Hey uked the 7th chord would be the chord clockwise of the key you're in.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing! It is really useful and enjoyable for beginners like me.

  6. Thanks, plain and simple introduction to the "circle..." just what I needed.

  7. Thanks Barry! That is the best explanation I've heard for the circle of 5ths.


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