…does NOT refer to a round bag of whiskey bottles.
So I signed up for piano lessons. In the initial discussion with Helga the Iron Maiden ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Jenny, my instructor, something caused her to ask “Oh, do you want to learn music theory as well?”
Apparently I answered wrongly. It seems I answered something like “Yes, I want to wander into a desolate intellectual land where I feel stupid, confused and hopeless.”
At my second lesson, she gave me the above paperwork.
This Circle of Fifths is a – well, I’m not even sure what you would call it. I’m sure my friend Lynn has some interesting musical term for it. But what it means – among, I’m sure, many other things – is this:
The key signature and scale of musical keys changes, and increments in accidentals by fifths.
“Lemme ‘splain. No, is too much. Lemme sum up” — Inigo Montoya
(Gentle Reader, go on about your business. I’m only writing this to find out if I understand it, and to help me remember it).
A fifth in this context means the fifth note in the scale.
If you look at the picture, above, at the top you see “C Major”. For the key of C, the scale is all of the white keys –
C D E F G A B C
…with non of the black keys, and the ‘fifth’ is the G. (Yes, you count the first one. This ain’t computer science – it’s not a 0 based index 😉
You’ll note that the treble clef (the ampersand-looking thingy on the musical staff above the “C Major”) is just that – a treble clef. There’s nothing else there. That emptiness is the key signature meaning C Major key.
You go up four – to the fifth, the G – and the next little picture in the circle is G Major.
On that staff, you see the treble clef, and beside it, you see a single pound sign – that’s the notation for “sharp”.
So if you see a treble clef beside a single sharp, that means “This song is being played in the key of G Major”.
But that single sharp also means something else – it means that when you play the scale for G Major, that you play one of the BLACK keys, as well.
A black key is called an “accidental”. No, I don’t know why, and neither does Gertrude, Mistress of Pain ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Jenny, my piano teacher. But just live with it.
So when you play the scale for G Major, you play –
G A B C D E F# G
And then, the fifth for G Major is – count five from the start – D. Voila!…the next little picture is for D Major.
And – by now you might have noticed the pattern – the treble clef for D Major has two sharps. This means that when you play the scale for D Major, you’ll hit TWO of the black keys –
D E F# A B C# D
…and so on and so forth, all around the circle.
Now, if you’re still reading this, then…then you have a higher tolerance for pain than I might expect 🙂 But, even so, you might be saying, “Okay, I get that I’ll hit more and more of the black keys for each of these key signatures – but how do I know which ones?”*
Well, that’s also on the circle.
Look just to the left of C Major, and you’ll see F. And, around the circle, from there, one reads
F C G D A E B
The mnemonic for this is “Fat Charlies Gives (a) Damn About Every Body”**. And that’s how you know which black keys to hit.
For instance, the key signature for E Major has four sharps – and the first four from the mnemonic are “Fat Charlies Gives (a) Damn” – F C G D
So the scale for E Major is
E F# G# A B C# D# E
I do hope that this is not complicated enough for you. Because, well, it gets worse.
I think I’ve also learned this – that if you are reading music that has these key signatures, then the musical score WILL NOT SHOW THE SHARP OF FLAT SIGNS ON THE NOTES ON THE STAFF.
So after going to great pains to learn that the second space up on the bass clef is a C note, I’m now just supposed to understand that if I’m playing something in F Major, that C is no longer actually a C, but is actually a C#.
At this point, it’s time to take my 61 key Casio keyboard and toss it out the window into the dog’s poop-and-pee area. Because there’s no WAY that I’m going to be able to learn this at that level. I really don’t believe that it’s possible.
So currently I’m operating at the level of faith – simply believing that, since other people have learned this, that perhaps I’ll be able to do so as well. I think I have, at least, described some of it. So there’s that.
Now I have to go back to practicing my scales. I have to admit – I’m not using this in practicing those scales. I’m just using WWHWWWH, where “W” means “Whole” which means “two keys”, and “H” means “Half”, or “one key”.
Now, Ethel took piano, clarinet, and…and some other instrument, either in the band at school, or as home lessons. And she swears up and down that she ain’t never heered nothing ’bout no dang “Circle of Fifths”. So, apparently, it’s possible to play the piano without knowing this stuff. But I have always said that I wanted to learn why notes and chords were the way they were. So I have to live with having said that.
Can’t believe I signed up for lessons with Ingrid, Sadistic Hyena ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Jenny my instructor all the way until June. Reckon I’m in this for the long, painful haul
*okay, you weren’t asking yourself that. In fact, you weren’t reading any more. I wouldn’t be, if’n I weren’t writing this 🙂
** actually, it’s “Father Charles Goes Down And Ends Battle”, but I like mine better.