AskDefine | Define fifths

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Noun

fifths
  1. Plural of fifth

Extensive Definition

In music theory, the circle of fifths (or cycle of fifths) is an imaginary geometrical space that depicts relationships among the 12 equal-tempered pitch classes comprising the familiar chromatic scale. The circle of fifths was first described by Johann David Heinichen, in his 1728 treatise Der Generalbass in der Composition.

Structure and Use

If one starts on any equal-tempered pitch and repeatedly ascends by the musical interval of a perfect fifth, one will eventually land on a pitch with the same pitch class as the initial one, passing through all the other equal-tempered chromatic pitch classes in between.
Since the space is circular, it is also possible to descend by fourths. In pitch class space, motion in one direction by a fourth is equivalent to motion in the opposite direction by a fifth. For this reason the circle of fifths is also known as the circle of fourths.
The circle is commonly used to represent the relations between diatonic scales. Here, the letters on the circle are taken to represent the major scale with that note as tonic. The numbers on the inside of the circle show how many sharps or flats the key signature for this scale would have. Thus a major scale built on A will have three sharps in its key signature. The major scale built on F would have one flat. For minor scales, rotate the letters counter-clockwise by 3, so that e.g. A minor has 0 sharps or flats and E minor has 1 sharp. (See relative minor/major for details.)
Tonal music often modulates by moving between adjacent scales on the circle of fifths. This is because diatonic scales contain seven pitch classes that are contiguous on the circle of fifths. It follows that diatonic scales a perfect fifth apart share six of their seven notes. Furthermore, the notes not held in common differ by only a semitone. Thus modulation by perfect fifth can be accomplished in an exceptionally smooth fashion. For example, to move from the C major scale F - C - G - D - A - E - B to the G major scale C - G - D - A - E - B - F, one need only move the C major scale's "F" to "F."
In Western tonal music, one also finds chord progressions between chords whose roots are related by perfect fifth. For instance, root progressions such as D-G-C are common. For this reason, the circle of fifths can often be used to represent "harmonic distance" between chords.
The circle of fifths is closely related to the chromatic circle, which also arranges the twelve equal-tempered pitch classes in a circular ordering. A key difference between the two circles is that the chromatic circle can be understood as a continuous space where every point on the circle corresponds to a conceivable pitch class, and every conceivable pitch class corresponds to a point on the circle. By contrast, the circle of fifths is fundamentally a discrete structure, and there is no obvious way to assign pitch classes to each of its points. In this sense, the two circles are mathematically' quite different.
However, the twelve equal-tempered pitch classes can be represented by the cyclic group of order twelve, or equivalently, the residue classes modulo twelve, \mathbb/12\mathbb . The group \mathbb_ has four generators, which can be identified with the ascending and descending semitones and the ascending and descending perfect fifths. The semitonal generator gives rise to the chromatic circle while the perfect fifth gives rise to the circle of fifths shown here.

In layman's terms

A simple way to see the relationship between these notes is by looking at a piano keyboard, and, starting at any key, counting seven keys to the right (both black and white) to get to the next note on the circle above — which is a perfect fifth. Seven half steps, the distance from the 1st to the 8th key on a piano is a perfect fifth.
A simple way to hear the relationship between these notes is by playing them on a piano keyboard. If you traverse the circle of fifths backwards, the notes will feel as though they fall into each other. This aural relationship is what the mathematics describes.
The frequencies of two notes that are a perfect fifth apart differ by a ratio of approximately 3:2. A ratio of exactly 3:2 would sound best, but for mathematical reasons it is not possible to get the circle of fifths to 'join up' (that is, to return to the original pitch after going round the circle). Therefore the 3:2 ratio is slightly detuned so that perfect fifths do cycle. This slight detuning is part of musical temperament. The primary tuning system used for Western instruments today is called twelve-tone equal temperament.

In coordinate system

In order to understand and memorize the relations between pitch classes easier, it is possible to put all the keys into a Cartesian coordinate system according to their signatures.
In the resulting graph, the X coordinate represents the number of minor key signatures, treating the number of flats as a negative (as it makes a note negative). The Y coordinate represents the major key signature count the same way. C is therefore in (-3;0) as C minor has 3 flats and C major a 0 (zero).
When minor and major keys are paired into single dots, various relations become visible more clearly from the graph:
  • Minor and major key signature amounts are always separated by 3 units.
    • Examples: if we know that C major has 0, we get that C minor would have 0 + 3 = 3 flats. If G minor has 2 flats (-2), G major would have -2 + 3 = 1 sharp.
  • The amount of signatures in a sharp/flat key is always 7 more than the same note key without sharp/flat tonic.
    • Examples: if C major has 0, C sharp major would have 7 sharps. If C minor has -3, C sharp minor would be -3 + 7 = 4 sharps.
  • The relative key is also easy to find. If a relative is needed of the C major, which stands on y = 0, we look for a key that stands on 0 of the minor axis. In another example, the relative of B minor (x = 2) is D major (y = 2).
  • The order of signature placement is the same as the key order on the axes. If the key goes down becoming flat, flats are placed from B downwards. Respectively, sharps are placed from F upwards.
  • It is also clear that all of the keys tend to recur every 12 units because of the chromatic scale consisting of 12 notes. Therefore a major key with 120 sharp signatures would remain C major.

Related concepts

Diatonic circle of fifths

The diatonic circle of fifths is the circle of fifths encompassing only members of the diatonic scale. As such it contains a diminished fifth, in C major between B and F. See structure implies multiplicity.

Relation with chromatic scale

The circle of fifths, or fourths, may be mapped from the chromatic scale by multiplication, and vice versa. To map between the circle of fifths and the chromatic scale (in integer notation) multiply by 7 (M7), and for the circle of fourths multiply by 5 (M5).
Here is a demonstration of this procedure. Start off with an ordered 12-tuple (tone row) of integers
(0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11)
representing the notes of the chromatic scale: 0 = C, 2 = D, 4 = E, 5 = F, 7 = G, 9 = A, 11 = B, 1 = C, 3 = D, 6 = F, 8 = G, 10 = A. Now multiply the entire 12-tuple by 7:
(0, 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 63, 70, 77)
and then apply a modulo 12 reduction to each of the numbers (subtract 12 from each number as many times as necessary until the number becomes smaller than 12):
(0, 7, 2, 9, 4, 11, 6, 1, 8, 3, 10, 5)
which is equivalent to
(C, G, D, A, E, B, F, C, G, D, A, F)
which is the circle of fifths. Note that this is enharmonically identical to:
(C, G, D, A, E, B, G, D, A, E, B, F)

Infinite Series

The “bottom keys” of the circle of fifths are often written in flats and sharps, as they are easily interchanged using enharmonics. For example, the key of B, with five sharps, is enharmonically equivalent to the key of C, with 7 flats. But the circle of fifths doesn’t stop at 7 sharps (C) nor 7 flats (C). Following the same pattern, one can construct a circle of fifths with all sharp keys, or all flat keys.
After C comes the key of G (following the pattern of being a fifth higher, and, coincidentally, enharmonically equivalent to the key of A). The “8th sharp” is placed on the F, to make it Fmusic doublesharp. The key of D, with 9 sharps, has another sharp placed on the C, making it Cmusic doublesharp. The same for key signatures with flats is true; The key of E (four sharps) is equivalent to the key of F (again, one fifth below the key of C, following the pattern of flat key signatures. The double-flat is placed on the B, making it Bmusic doubleflat.)

The circle used in instrument building

E-A-D-G-C-F-A-D-G-C-F-B, arranged in 3 clusters of 4 strings to make the field of strings more readable.
Because of this tuning all five neighbouring strings form a harmonic pentatonic scale and all seven neighbouring strings form a major scale, available in every key. This allows a very easy fingerpicking technique without picking false notes, if the right key is chosen.
Accordions also commonly use the stradella bass system for the left hand buttons. It follows the circle of fifths.
fifths in Czech: Kvintový kruh
fifths in Danish: Kvintcirkel
fifths in German: Quintenzirkel
fifths in Estonian: Kvindiring
fifths in Spanish: Círculo de quintas
fifths in French: Cycle des quintes
fifths in Icelandic: Fimmundahringurinn
fifths in Italian: Circolo delle quinte
fifths in Hebrew: מעגל הקווינטות
fifths in Hungarian: Kvintkör
fifths in Dutch: Kwintencirkel
fifths in Japanese: 五度圏
fifths in Norwegian: Kvintsirkelen
fifths in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kvintsirkel
fifths in Polish: Koło kwintowe
fifths in Portuguese: Círculo de quintas
fifths in Russian: Квинтовый круг
fifths in Simple English: Circle of fifths
fifths in Serbian: Квинтни и квартни круг
fifths in Swedish: Kvintcirkeln
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