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Learning Music Quickly: Building the Circle of 5ths – Sharps

I promised you guys a primer on the Circle of 5ths, so…away we gooooo….

Probably one of the hardest things to get a grip on for young musicians is the key signatures and how many sharps and flats there are in which ones. Sure…you can painstakingly memorize them if you want to. Or…you can learn the system that really teaches you how to understand the numerical relationships in music. In the long run, you’ll be happier if you do this – trust me.

As I describe in the below intro video, it’s much better to be understand the Circle of 5ths well enough to be able to recreate it than to be looking at a diagram all the time. If you can’t recreate the diagram, you don’t know the system. That simple. Know the system and you’ve got it down cold. And you’ll never again be wondering how many sharps are in the key of E and why you’re band keeps looking at you funny when you play the wrong chord.


We’re going to start with the basics: the circle starts with a circle. We’re going around the right side to build the sharps side. We start with a C at the top of the circle. There are no flats or sharps in the key of C. If you’re looking at a piano, the key of C uses all the white keys on it. And the notes you’ll be using in the major scale are C D E F G A and B. C above it is the octave. You can think of this note as the 1 of the scale again or the 8th of the scale also, but we’ll get into later maybe if and when we start talking about jazz harmony.

We are going to find the next key on the circle by counting up 5 notes from C. We always start counting on the first note of the scale we are on (not the second as it might seem), so 5 notes up from C is G.

1 2  3  4  5??

We are adding sharps in increments of 1. So the key of G has one sharp. And this is where we have one bit of something to memorize – and that is just that we start adding sharps on F. So the key of G has one sharp: F #.

Continuing around the circle, we count up 5 from G.

1  2 3  4 5

And we get D. Which has TWO sharps. How do we know what the next sharp in the order is – well – this ain’t called the Circle of 5ths for nothing! We count up 5 from F.

1 2  3 4 5

So the key of D has two sharps: F# and C#.

We can continue around the circle, counting up 5 for both the next key in the circle and the note names of the sharps we are adding in each step.

If we do that consistently, you get a finished diagram that looks like THIS.  Check out the video below to watch me build it in real-time.


For the order of the sharps, you can also memorize this helpful pneumonic device:

Fit Christine Goes Down And Eats Breakfast

There are lots of others out there to choose from if you don’t like this one or if you’re teacher has given you a different one. But this is the one I grew up on.??Check out the video below to see how the diagram gets built in real time. And tune in to parts 2 and 3 where we’ll build the left side of the circle – the flats, and we’ll go over the relative minor keys and how they fit into the circle.


About the author

Andrea Bensmiller

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