Tag Archives: scales

What’s the deal with the Circle of Fifths?

Posted on August 21, 2020 by songtive

Circle of Fiths

The circle of fifths is a visual tool that demonstrates the geometric relationships between the twelve distinct pitches used in western music culture. These pitches can also be classified as members of the chromatic scale.

A circle is an amazing tool to teach and to conceptualize musical ideas that would otherwise be terribly complicated. Before delving into the deeper truths about music that the circle keeps, let’s familiarize ourselves with its inner workings.

First of all, at its core, the circle of fifths is just that. A circle. In the same way, as an analogic clock does with numbers that represent time, the circle of fifths possesses 12 equally distributed pitches ordered by the interval of the perfect fifth, thus cycling through the twelve distinct pitches of the chromatic scale in twelve steps. Each of these notes carries a lot of information within it. Not only do they represent a particular note in the projection of fifths, but they represent different keys.

A musical key is essentially a definite system of relationships between musical sounds that dwells around a particular key center which is always represented by a single note, in a similar way to how the solar system works, with several different planets orbiting around the sun. Every key possesses a unique key signature which, as the name indicates, is its own individual or signature collection of notes. For example, C major contains no accidentals or altered notes, meaning it contains the seven distinct syllables used to name pitches or the total content of the diatonic system, C D E F G A B, thus its key signature contains no sharps or flats, putting on the top part of the circle. Every time we move up or down (clockwise or counterclockwise respectively) the circle, we change the tonal or key center to a new tonic and thus change the key signature. By going up, we add sharps, by going down, flats. Furthermore, each successive fifth adds a single sharp or flat to the previous collection, meaning that the first note to either side of C will contain either one sharp or one flat, the second, two, and so on.

The circle of fifths is also a great resource to explain some of the properties that arise between key centers. Namely the two main relationships, that of relative and parallel keys.

The relative relationship arises between two keys of opposite mode that share the same collection of sounds but poses a different key center or tonic. For example, C major and A minor. To represent this relationship in the circle we produce a second smaller one within the first one.

Parallel keys are those who share the same key center or tonic but poses different collections, for example, C major and C minor. This relationship has a distance of three accidentals and it is represented by using the same color.

Last but definitively not least, the circle of fifths is by far, the best method to picture the distance between keys. These distances refer to the total amount of common tones between two given key centers. The larger the number of fifths that separate two given key centers, the less common notes between them. Yet, when we cycle through the circle in any direction, we eventually return to the original key center, therefore, there must be a turning point somewhere along the circle, a point of furthest detachment from the original key in which the least possible amount of notes are shared. Curiously enough, that point seems to be the exact opposite side of the circle, the bottom key, F# major or its enharmonic equivalent G flat major, a pair of tritone-related keys which have six sharps and flats respectively. Nevertheless, since there are only twelve distinct pitches and each key should have seven, there is no way to have more than 5 different pitches between any two given keys, this is due to the enharmonic principle which declares the idea that musical sounds with a distinct name can sound the same due to the nature of sharps and flats and how they alter the seven basic syllables. For example, the equivalency between C# and D flat, or between E# and F. Therefore, although C# major has seven sharps in its key signature and C major has none, two of the notes in C# major (E# and B#) are enharmonically equivalent to some notes in C major (F and C respectively). Furthermore, both C# major (7 sharps) and C flat major (7 flats) can be simplified to key signatures which are enharmonically equivalent that contains fewer accidentals, namely, D flat major and B major, both containing five accidentals respectively.

In summary, the circle of fifths is a central pedagogical resource for music education. It can be extremely useful to understand the tonal distance between different sections of a piece, to figure out the key signature, and even to learn a thing or two about the enharmonic principle. Yet, it is not limited to the instruction of harmony and basic theory, but it can serve as a starting point for deeper and more complex dwellings into the wonderful and mysterious set of properties and characteristics of the tonal system.

If you are looking for an interactive Circle of Fifths, feel free to check out our Piano Companion for iOS, Android, macOS. Additionally, if you want to learn notes, chords, theory then you can check ChordIQ for iOS, Android.

Tutorial 3 – Explore New World Of Music with Scale Spelling

Posted on March 18, 2016 by songtive

In our previous posts (Tutorial 1 – Note Names, Placement and Major Scale and Tutorial 2 – Minor Scale Construction and Introduction to “Circle Of Fifths”) we were talking about a method of constructing Major and Minor scales, as well as we’ve introduced a very handy music tool – “Circle of Fifths”. Today, we are going to introduce another very important music concept – “Scale Spelling”. With a help of that we will discover the whole new world of music scales which is far wider than Minor and Major.

As everyone already knows, all notes in a scale have letters. We also know that there are 8 notes in a scale, with 7 distinct ones. Now, all notes/letters from the scale also have a corresponding number. These numbers are referred to as “scale spelling”. Please open a “Piano Companion” application and choose “Scales Dictionary”.

By the application default settings, the first scale that you see is a Major scale. Just have a look at the numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) – this exactly what we call a “Scale Spelling”.

Let’s choose “Aeolian” (Minor) scale from the list.

Can you see that the “Scale Spelling” for Aeolian scale is different from the Ionian one (Major)? As you may guess, if you chose any other scale from “Scales Dictionary” it will be different too. But let’s take a closer look at Ionian and Aeolian scale spellings.

It will be very helpful, if you take a piece of paper and write down a C Major scale and put 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 (1) above every note of the scale. If you do it correctly, that’s how it should look like:

 Each note of the scale has it is own number, which we always write above the note names. Let’s write a C Minor and the “Scale Spelling” for Aeolian scale above it.

Even if you never learnt music before, we’ve already mentioned that “b” – flats are responsible for bringing notes DOWN for one semitone, whereas “#” – sharps are responsible for bringing notes UP for one semitone. As you can see the spelling for Aeolian scale (Minor) has b3, b6 and b7 in it. The notes that are below these numbers, also have flats: Eb, Ab and Bb. Isn’t that simple? The scale spelling is like a clue for any musician. Let’s say, you know only a construction method for a Major scale using specific pattern (2-2-1-2-2-2-1) and have no idea how to create any other one, but there is a scale spelling for Minor scale in front of your eyes. By writing your Major scale and putting this scale spelling above the notes (1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, b7, 8) you’ll be easily able to add necessary flats to notes and finally get your Minor scale. The same method applies to any other existing scale in the music world. However, you should follow 2 simple rules:

1) The letters (notes) MUST always correspond to the assigned number (spelling).
2) There may not be notes that share the same name in the scale

What does it mean? Literally, you just need to choose correct enharmonic names for your notes. For example in C Minor (Aeolian) you can’t put “D#” under the number “b3” because “D” is already referred to your second note, the number “2” of the spelling. The same applies to “Ab” and “Bb”. You can’t put “G#“ and “A#” instead. We are quite sure that this fact is very obvious, but still sometimes people can forget, so keeping this tip in mind will help not to make mistakes.

Ok, the time has come, to find out why a Major scale is called “Ionian”, and why a Minor scale is called “Aeolian”. The reason why these scales have more specific names, simply because there are different types of Major and Minor scales. Most of the scales can be divided into Major and Minor families. So let’s have a look at 7 scales that are mostly used in today’s music:


IOANIAN - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
DORIAN - 1 2 b3 4 5 6 b7
PHRYGIAN - 1 b2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
LYDIAN - 1 2 3 #4 5 6 7
MIXOLYDIAN - 1 2 3 4 5 6 b7
AEOLIAN - 1 2 b3 4 5 b6 b7
LOCRIAN - 1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7

The picture above points us to the different types of Major and Minor scales that have all white notes in it like C Ionian and A Aeolian. There is exactly the same thing for D Dorian, E Phrygian, F Lydian and etc. As we’ve mentioned earlier all scales can be divided into 2 families: Major and Minor. In this case we have:

Major scales:

  1. Ionian
  2. Lydian
  3. Mixolydian

Minor scales:

  1. Dorian
  2. Phrygian
  3. Aeolian
  4. Locrian

The most used scales in Popular music are Ionian, Aeolian, Mixolydian and Dorian. Less used is Lydian, because of the #4 which gives quite dissonant sound, that may feel unpleasant the ears. The most famous example of Lydian scale use, you can hear in known by everybody “Simpsons” music theme. Phrygian and Locrian are common in soundtracks and background music for Horror movies. Just have a listen, and you will understand why! These scales often used in Metal music as well.

The most accurate definition of the scale family would by checking thr 3rd note of the mode. If the 3rd number of the scale spelling is flattened, then it belongs to the Minor scale family. By the way, have you noticed that there are more Minor scales than Major ones? There is exactly the same thing for chords. There are more Minor chords that you can construct from the scale, than Major ones.

If you have a proper look to the scale spellings of these modes (scales), you’ll see how easy it is to construct any mode you like, if simply have a scale spelling in front of your eyes. All you have to do is just to construct Ionian scale and flatten or sharpen necessary notes, according to the spelling. Isn’t that simple? It’s definitely is!

We believe that we’ve shared enough information for today and there is a lot to think about and experiment with. And don’t forget to check out your “Scale Dictionary” in “Piano Companion” which has so many more scales to play with!

 Just keep an eye on our blog and you will find so much more interesting about music.

Piano Companion has scale chords

Posted on December 6, 2014 by songtive

You Asked – We Listened!

This major update brings to you new engine which displays common supported chords for a selected scale. Moreover, it lists main analytical labels: Secondary Dominant and Secondary Leading-Tone to get even deeper overview of the scale. We ported colouring engine from Songtive app so chords are highlighted according to their root note. Take a look at D Minor scale chords:


Tap on the button to hear how chord sounds and tap on magnifying lens to see chord details. You can also toggle between triad and seventh chords in the top-right corner.

Circle of Fifths is smart enough to detect which mode (sharps or flats) should be enabled automatically (thanks Dr. Deborah R. S.) and it also contains scale chords engine too:


Many of you asked of Chord Progressions screen UI optimisations and we decided to integrate new Scale Chords engine as the first step to simplicity of progression input. You will be able to quickly add common chords into progression without switching between screens.


On that screen you can see that scale chords are available only for a new item (or when chord is not set). You can quickly add any chords by tapping plus icon (see label #2) and change scale from Piano Companion scale dictionary (see label #3).

This update contains major internal rework of UI and more improvements are coming with next update.

Looking for feature? Feel free to contact us: pianocompanion.ios@songtive.com