My mnemonics for the circle of fifths

Circle of FifthsThe circle of fifths has become increasingly useful to me over the past couple of years. The cycle is well documented so I’m not going to bother with a description of what it is or how to use it. Here I’ve compiled several mnemonics to aid in the recollection of the basic information contained in the cycle of fifths. A couple of the mnemonics are well known and one or two I’ve devised myself.

Firstly, the common ones (for details of how they work see the tables below):

  • The sharp keys – Caroline Gets Drunk And Eats Butter Flies
  • The flat keys – Caroline Fondles BEADS

That’s cool but I extended things somewhat to help me remember the actual sharps and flats in each key. The following tables are the ones I use.

Sharp keys

The formula for working out what sharp to add as you move from one sharp key in the cycle to the next is:

  • Go up a fifth and sharpen the new 7th

So, if we start in the key of C we go up a 5th to G and sharpen the new 7th (F goes to to F#).

I II III IV V VI VII Sharps in key
Caroline C D E F G A B
Gets G A B C D E F# F#
Drunk D E F# G A B C# F#, C#
And A B C# D E F# G# F#, C#, G#
Eats E F# G# A B C# D# F#, C#, G#, D#
Butter B C# D# E F# G# A# F#, C#, G#, D#, A#
Flies F# G# A# B C# D# E# F#, C#, G#, D#, A#, E#

The sharps add up as you go along (start with F#, then add C#, then add, G# etc.) which results in this mnemonic to remember the order they are added in:

  • Five Chinese Gentlemen Dining At Eight

Flat keys

The formula for working out what sharp to add as you move from one flat key in the cycle to the next is:

  • Go up a fourth and flatten the new 4th

So, if we start in the key of C we go up a 4th to F and flatten the new 4th (B goes to Bb).

I II III IV V VI VII Sharps in key
Caroline C D E F G A B
Fondles F G A Bb C D E Bb
B (Bb) Bb C D Eb F G A Bb, Eb
E (Eb) Eb F G Ab Bb C D Bb, Eb, Ab
A (Ab) Ab Bb C Db Eb F G Bb, Eb, Ab, Db
D (Db) Db Eb F Gb Ab Bb C Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb
S (Gb) Gb Ab Bb Cb Db Eb F Bb, Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Cb

The flats add up again but notice that they follow the same order as the cycle except for the C which appears at the end rather than the start. This results in the following mnemonic to remember the order in which they are added:

  • BEADS, Caroline!
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