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How to compose a song in less than 5 minutes!

Circle of fifths

1. The concept

The Circle of fifths is a very practical visual tool to compose or to quickly understand the overall structure of a song. While the music never comes down to « ready-made patterns », this tool can be very useful when you are out of inspiration under time pressure or to easily improvise a little trick on the beach… The full circle of fifths diagram is is relatively undrinkable, so I present here the use of a lighter version but just as effective.

2. The demo vidéo

For those too lazy to read a detailed explanation in Section 3. that’s a little demo video that will go directly to the point .

Image de prévisualisation YouTube

3. The detailed explanation

A bit of history (but not too much) :

In music theory, the circle of fifths shows the relationship that exists between the two degrees of the chromatic scale, their corresponding alterations and associated tone with major or minor. Nikolay Diletsky Ukrainian music composer and theorist, was the first in 1679 to develop this tool in his musical treatise « grammatikii musikiyskoy Idea ». Then it is Johann David Heinichen German music theorist and composer who gave the form that we know today in his treatise of 1728 « in der Composition Der Generalbass. » The complete tool can do many things (identified armor, play modes, create harmonious chain …), but is very complex to use. So I will limit myself here to a simplified version, but still very powerful.

What interests me is how it works!

The circle of fifths comes in the form of a frame clock. Are placed on this framework all the major and minor chords. The use of this tool is then summarized in two rules:

1. Whatever the agreement that we take in the circle, the following note in the opposite direction of clockwise is its fifth, and note the following in a clockwise direction of a watch is his fourth. For example, if I take C (do), the fifth is G (sol) and the fourth is F (fa).

2. The notes in blue on the outside of the circle are major chords. The notes in black inside the circle are the related minor chords. What you should remember is that these two agreements have many notes in common and can be played one after the other. We use to day that the major chord will sound more joyous and minor chord more sad. Try playing Am and C on your instrument and you will understand.

So how do I practice?

Case n°1: Choose an agreement starting in the circle and followed this with the two notes that are next. For example, I start with G and I continue with D and C. Incredible, it sounds!

Case n°2:Now go further and also use the minor modes Em, Am and Bm. Yeah, well, it gets serious! If you come across G – D – Am followed by G – D – C it is normal, because it is « Knocking on Heaven’s Door » by Bob Dylan (I personally prefers the resumption of Guns’n’Roses)

Case n°3: Start now with C. Now imagine that you wanted to play another chord in feeling, for example A. Well, no problem, play on. Now if you want to go back to C, is simple, you just go through agreements between A and C in the direction of clockwise, that is to say C – A – D – G – C. You understood it, it works! Personally, I find that it works no matter which way you turn (see video), I turn therefore often shorter.

Case n°1 Case n°3

Here you have everything in hand! Choose small area in the circle and chain chords naturally. Move away from time to time, and playing back using the circle. You’ll quickly become accustomed and the process will soon become natural.


I hope you are going to like this new tool. Listen famous music and try to understand the sequences, you will be really surprised! Remember that it remains a tool and there is no absolute rule in music! See you soon in the next article …

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