The cycle of fifths - how to use it and love it!
Sooner or later the jazzer comes across the cycle of fifths (or as you might sometimes see it the cycle of fourths!).
So, what is a fifth (or a fourth for that matter!)
We go into the world now of musical intervals, no great panic here because its just two notes played together, and the interval is how far those two notes are apart.
Lets look at a major scale, you should be familiar with them by now (see previous posts) and lets say your looking at the C major scale. (the white notes on the keyboard)
Start at C and then play the white note above it - D. You will now have an interval of a second (as in 2, nothing to do with time!)
Play the C and E you have a third and so on. Play the C and G above it and you will be playing a Fifth. By the way, if you go down a fourth from C you will be playing a G below the C. Welcome to inversions! An inverted fifth (going up) is a fourth (going down). Thats why sometimes the cycle is called the cycle of fourths.
You now have to know your 12 major scales well, because as you go up a fifth from C going to G you are in the major scale of C. Now, go up from G to a fifth above it to D, you will be playing another fifth but this time from D. You are now in the major scale of G. Now go up a fifth from D and you get to A, in the scale of D......and so on.
The complete sequence is C G D A E B Gb Db Ab Eb Bb F and back to C. You will notice that you have played all twelve notes in the octave, and gone through all twelve keys! Again jazzers generally prefer the flat keys (see previous post).
You can google many diagrams of this cycle, one you might want to look at is
This little sequence actually goes a long way in helping your understanding of music works, both classical and jazz, but to get a real feel for its practical use go on a jazz workshop
All the very best you jazzers!