Why the Cycle of Fourths

Why the Cycle of Fourths

Circle of Fourths

The cycle of fourths is an arrangement of the twelve notes used in western music spaced out in intervals of a fourth. In most styles of music, chord progressions tend to follow this pattern:

Ex. 2, 5, 1, progression in the key of C major is Dm, G7, Cmaj7

D to G is a fourth away as well as G to C. I can go on and on about chord progressions but I would like to focus on how this cycle can make your guitar playing more efficient and well rounded.

First let’s start with twelve notes and lay them out in fourths. Usually they are represented in a circle going counter clockwise but for today’s example on the cycle of fourths I will lay the notes in a straight line. I will also include the enharmonic spelling for chords with flats and sharps.


C - F - Bb - Eb - Ab - Db - Gb - B - E - A - D - G
        A# - D# - G# - C# - F#

The way I approach this is a very simple method. Everything that I work on, be it scales, arpeggios, chords, riffs, turnarounds, progressions, melodies or modes etc… I do in all twelve keys, following these notes in order as they appear in the cycle of fourths. This will not only assure you of playing everything you learn in all keys but will also follow a natural flow that most music follows. As you use this method for practicing you will undoubtedly find a physical pattern relating to the cycle of fourths that appear on the guitar, and you should rely on these patterns as they will play a big part in your memorization for playing chord changes, improvising, and melodies.

With this natural cycle of fourths you can also find key signatures very easily.


C,    F,    Bb,    Eb,    Ab,    Db,    Gb,    B,    E,    A,    D,    G
      1b    2b     3b     4b     5b     6b     5#    4#    3#    2#    1#

There are many uses for the cycle of fourths that I have not talked about, but if you follow these tips when practicing you will become much more familiar with the guitar and it will make you a much more versatile musician.

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