TonalityGUIDE - basic tonal music theory and analysis for undergraduates
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Key and Modulation


introduction major and minor the circle of fifths ways of modulating spotting modulations

fifth-related major keys | series and circles | minor keys

The circle of fifths is not quite so neat for the minor scale, with its melodic and harmonic alterations (see the relevant section of chords and scales). However, natural minor scales can be mapped out on the circle of fifths because they are exactly the same as their equivalent relative major scales.

The natural minor scale starting on A, for example, is the same collection of notes as C major. If you arrange it in perfect fifths, the fifth of the series will be the tonic, and the third will be the sharpened leading note.


As with the major scale, the circle of fifths shows clearly how closely different minor scales and related (i.e. how many notes they have in common). You can see, for example, that F and C minor, for example are closely related, whereas C and B minor are not.

By putting the minor circle of fifths inside the major one, you can see the relationships between all the major and minor keys. Each minor key is next to its relative major, so C major and A minor, which are the same collection of notes, are next to each other. The diagram makes it clear the relationships between all the major and minor keys. A piece of tonal music that starts in a particular key can modulate more smoothly and easily to those keys that are near to it on this double circle of fifths.


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