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Circle of Fifths and G Major Chords

The Circle of Fifths and G Major is part 30 in a 31 part series on musical notation and basic music theory. Before we dive into the circle of fifths let's first build the music theory chords in the key of G Major.

To review how chords are built in a major key see Chords in C Major

Below we see how the one chord is built in G major. Remember, a three note chord is called a triad. Since this is the one chord in the key of G major, it is a G major chord.

Another name for the first note in a scale is the root.

NOTE: In the video below I start off using bar chords but end with open chords. There are many different ways to play any chord on the guitar.


Let's take a look at all 7 chords in the key of G major. These triads are all built off the scale notes in the key. You skip letters to create the chords.

*The numbers below are the scale degrees.

NOTE: The 3rd note in all of these triads is a perfect 5th from the root except the VII chord which is diminished and has a distance of one less semitone from the root.

G-B-D (G Major triad)
1-3-5 (This is the I chord in G major)
From G to D is 4 semitones, that's why it is a major chord

A-C-E (A minor triad)
2-4-6 (This is the II chord in G major)
From A to C is 3 semitones, that's why it is a minor chord

B-D-F# (B minor triad)
3-5-7 (This is the III chord in G major)
From B to D is 3 semitones, that's why it is a minor chord

C-E-G (C Major triad)
4-6-1 (This is the IV chord in G major)
From C to E is 4 semitones, that's why it is a major chord

D-F#-A (D Major triad)
5-7-2 (This is the V chord in G major)
From D to F# is 4 semitones, that's why it is a major chord

E-G-B (E minor triad)
6-1-3 (This is the VI chord in G major)
From E to G is 3 semitones, that's why it is a minor chord

F#-A-C (F# diminished triad)
7-2-4 (This is the VII (seven) chord in G major)
From F# to A is 3 semitones and from F# to C is 6 semitones making this a diminished chord


Here are the guitar chords in G Major!

Circle of Fifths

Now let's take a look at the Circle of Fifths!

The circle of fifths is like a clock with 12 hours. There are 12 tones in the chromatic scale, thus there are 12 keys to consider.

NOTE: 12 seems to be some cosmic magic number as there are 12 months in a year, 12 days of Christmas, 12 Zodiac signs, 12 disciples of Jesus, the commodity stock market cycle called the Juglar cycle lasts 12 years and of course there are 12 tones in the chromatic scale.

If we look at this clock you notice that beginning with C at 12 O'clock, keys advance by a fifth (G is a 5th from C, C-D-E-F-G) as you move clockwise to the right. Next we have G at 1 o'clock, D at 2 o'clock and so on. In addition, as we advance to a new key we add another sharp into the key signature.

When we get to 6 o'clock we reach F# major which has 6 sharps in it's key signature. The enharmonic name for F# is Gb, so the circle switches to flats. This is purely for visual reasons. At 7 o'clock where it says Db with 5 flats, it could easily say C# with 7 sharps.

Some of the reasons why this visual is so important are as follows:

1. Notice the relationship of the I chord in any key to the V chord. They share all the same scale notes but one. Music is based on these two chords. There is almost no song in western music that doesn't have a I chord and a V chord. The most basic children's song has these two chords because they represent tension and resolution.

2. The key to the left of any other key is it's IV chord. They share all but one scale note as well. This is why so many songs use I, IV and V. "The blues" is based off this progression. This is essential stuff to learn for composing and songwriting.

NOTE: The IV chord and the V chord have all the same notes in their scales except for two, so they need the I chord which is like a pivot chord.

3. The rest of the chords in the circle are not in the immediate key, but it doesn't mean they can't be used in the same song. As a matter of fact the more you understand about theory and chord relationships the more creative you can be with just how to use them in the same piece of music.

They add a lot of color and our ears and brains love surprises as long as they make sense!

Hopefully THAT makes sense :^)

The circle helps us understand key signatures and how chords are related to one another! We will explore this more as we progress into songwriting!

Continue to Part 31, Musical Dynamics

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Return to Musical Notation and Basic Music Theory

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