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Can you say 5ths?

John Rice (551) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1 2 3



To make it easier to understand how music works (well, western music anyway), we're going to throw out all the sharp and flat stuff for a little bit. We are going to focus on very, very basic vocabulary and grammar.

Now, repeat after me.

5ths: C, G, D, A, E, B, F

3rds: A, C, E, G, B, D, F

2nds: A, B, C, D, E, F, G

Seriously, memorize these three lines frontwards and backwards. What will you know? Every possible musical relationship between notes.

C, G, D, A, E, B, F frontwards is 5ths. Backwards (F, B, E, A, D, G, C) is 4ths (also known as down a fith). Why is this important? Most music moves in 5ths. I - IV - V- I. (C, F, G, C) Down a 5th and up a 5th and down a 5th to I. Even the standard jazz progression vi7 - ii7 - V7 - I = Amin7, Dmin7, G7, C, is cycling down 5ths. This becomes the point of departure for all kinds of interesting things.

A, C, E, G, B, D, F frontwards is 3rds, backwards is 6ths. With this and the item above you spell chords. Start on any note, and take 3 notes in sequence and volia! A triad.

A, B, C, D, E, F, G frontwards is 2nds and backwards is 7ths. (There are backwards messages in there). Ok, now I can spell every scale.

Now, here's something useful. C, G, D, A, E, B, F is the order of keys, which means the order of sharps and flats.

Counting up the sequence is the order and number of sharps (forget about F for a minute).

0 1 2 3 4 5
C G D A E B F

Which note is sharp starts at the other end and chases around the other end. (What!?)

The key of G has 1 sharp, F.
The key of D has 2 sharps, F and C (Oh, I see.... chases around....)
The key of A has 3 sharps, F, C, G.

Get it?

Flats run the other way.

7 6 5 4 3 2 1
C G D A E B F

The key of F has 1 flat, Bb.
The key of Bb has 2 flats, Bb and Eb.
The key of Eb has 3 flats, Bb, Eb, and Ab.
...
The key of Cb has 7 flats, Cb, Fb, Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, and Gb. Cb!? Is there such a key? Yup. But, it sounds the same as another key. Know which one?