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Flutopedia Symposium

The Circle of Fifths

The Circle of Fifths and it's related Chromatic Circle are handy tools for predicting what flutes will play well together. They can also help you figure out how to play along with a guitar or piano or other common instruments.

You can use them to learn some of the basics of music theory and/or print out your favorite chart and stuff it in your flute case for reference.

For another approach to finding pairings of flutes, see the Flutopedia Harmonic Pairings page. There are also some excellent web sites that relate to and expand on the circle of fifths, such as www.CircleOfFifths.com and the Interactive Circle of Fifths page.



Basic Circle of Fifths

Basic Circle of Fifths Larger image

Basic Circle of Fifths

This first version of the Circle of Fifths is useful in several ways:

Matching Pairs

If you want to find pairs of flutes that have a good chance of sounding good together, pick flutes whose keys are next to each other in the circle. The pentatonic minor scale on these two flutes share the same notes except for one pair of notes.

For example, flutes in the keys of A minor and E minor are consonant (i.e. they sound good together), as well as the keys of C minor and F minor.

More Consonance

If you want to closely match another flute even more closely, find it's key and then move one step clockwise in the circle. Choose a flute of that new key that is lower than the flute you are matching. You are choosing a flute whose key is a perfect fourth below the flute you are matching.

Then, on your lower flute, play in the mode four pentatonic minor scale. This eliminates the one mis-matched note between the two flutes.

For example, if someone at your flute circle wants to play a duet with you on their mid-range A minor flute, try playing in mode four on a lower E minor flute.



Circle of Fifths with Relative Major

Circle of Fifths with Relative Major Larger image

Circle of Fifths with Relative Major

This version of the Circle of Fifths adds an inner ring in red that shows the “relative major key” for each minor key. Since a good deal of the music we hear is in a major key, this can be useful in playing along with recorded music or other musicians.

For example, if you know that a song is in C major, choose an A minor flute and see if it works.

Note that, if a musician who is not familiar with how Native American flutes are tunes says that they are playing “in the key of C”, it typically means they are playing in C major. It also helps to center your melodies (begin and end them) on the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open fingering, rather than the typical Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed fingering.

I've also added some notes at the bottom that show the two names (sharp and flat) the five notes that have sharps and flats.

For Guitarists

This version of the circle of fifths can provide a handy chart for accompaniment instruments like guitars and pianos. It provides you with a quick snapshot of chords that are most likely to work in that key. Simply draw a box around the six notes that surround the central key you are playing.

For example, if you are playing with an A minor flute, your box includes D minor, A minor, and E minor, as well as F major, C major and G major. For an F# minor flute, your chords are B minor, F# minor, C# minor, D major, A major and E major.



Compact Circle of Fifths with Relative Major

Compact Circle of Fifths with Relative Major Larger image

Compact Circle of Fifths with Relative Major

This is another version of the chart above, compressed by moving the footnote into the center of the circle. You might like this more compact version better.



Chromatic Circle – Relative Major

Chromatic Circle – Relative Major Larger image

Chromatic Circle – Relative Major

Chromatic circles are similar to the Circle of Fifths, but all the notes are arranged in order around the outside of the circle. The lines inside the circle show connections – in this case they connect a major key (at the tail of each arrow) to it's relative minor key (at the head of the arrow).

To play along in a given major key, find it on the outside of the circle and follow the arrow to a minor key that should be consonant. It also helps to center your melodies (begin and end them) on the Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed open fingering, rather than the typical Finger diagram closed closed closed closed closed closed fingering.

This is described in more detail on the page for the Pentatonic Major scale and also on the Hexatonic Major scale.



Chromatic Circle – Consonant Keys

Chromatic Circle – Consonant Keys Larger image

Chromatic Circle – Consonant Keys

This is another chromatic circle with the arrows connecting flutes that are in consonant keys. This chart gives the same information as the Basic Circle of Fifths chart above, but in a different format.

Matching Pairs

If you want to find pairs of flutes that have a good chance of sounding good together, pick flutes whose keys are connected to each other by an arrow. The pentatonic minor scale on these two flutes share the same notes except for one pair of notes.

For example, flutes in the keys of A minor and E minor are consonant (i.e. they sound good together), as well as the keys of C minor and F minor.

More Consonance

If you want to closely match another flute even more closely, find it's key and then follow the arrow backward and choose a flute of that new key that is lower than the flute you are matching. You are choosing a flute whose key is a perfect fourth below the flute you are matching.

Then, on your lower flute, play in the mode four pentatonic minor scale. This eliminates the one mis-matched note between the two flutes.

For example, if someone at your flute circle wants to play a duet with you on their mid-range A minor flute, try playing in mode four on a lower E minor flute.



Circle of Fifths by Nikolay Diletsky, 1679

Circle of Fifths by Nikolay Diletsky, 1679 Larger image

History

Here is the first known version of the Circle of Fifths. It is from Идея грамматики музикийской («Idea grammatiki musikiyskoy», «An Idea of Musical Grammar») by Nikolay Diletsky, 1679, owned by the Russian State Library.


 

Thanks to Dave Sproul, Jim Peck, Es Tung, Eric Weaver, and many other folks on the Facebook Flutopedia group for their feedback and numerous suggestions.


 
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