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The Circle of 4ths

The circle of 4ths is how chords change in most music. They can be major, minor, 7th’s or anything else. This is how it’s not that hard to remember songs.

The parts of a song that are different than the 4th movements are what makes it different.

If you are reading this page you should know about music intervals the link below will open a new window so you can go back and forth if you need to.

Music Intervals

Not Every Song

Not every song follows this 4th movement but it is quite common.

You will find a lot of songs that use this movement for about 75% of the song.

The chords can go from or to a major, minor, 7th’s or any other chord form. It’s the root note of the chord that follows the circle of 4ths movement.

In a song you will not go through all the cycle of 4ths only one or two changes but it is good to know the whole circle to make it easier to remember chord changes to songs, because this movement will become automatic.

Circle of 4ths

You can start anywhere and follow across the list down to the next row back to your starting point.

Two Five One – Circle of 4ths

Many Jazz songs are based on the ii V I(two-five-one) progression. These are the two five one chords of the major scale.

If you were in C the chords would be Dm7 G7 and Cma7. D to G is a 4th and G to C is a 4th. When you start over from Cma7 to Dm7 it’s a major 2nd. However the Dm7 is also an F6. So it’s technically a 4th.

Major Chords – Minor Chords

Every major chord can become a minor 7th chord by adding a 6th to it. A C6(C-E-G-A) has the same notes as an Am7(A-C-E-G) just with a fifferent bass note.

Also every minor chord can become a major 6th by adding a flatted 7th to it, the reverse of the above.

I to IV Chord Movement

You will find the I chord to the IV chord a very common 4th move. Some songs are based on this move. The Rolling Stones song You Can’t Always Get What You Want is almost entirely I(C) to IV(F).

A two-Five(ii-V) move is a common 4th movement. This one uses a minor as the first chord. In F it would be Gm7 to C. This is the basic chords for Evil Woman by Santana.

If you need to know more about major scale structure this link will open a new window so you can go back and forth if you have to.

Major Scale Primer

Starting Point – Circle of 4ths

When following the 4ths you need to go back to your 1st chord(In Your Mind) and not forward if the songs calls for it.

In other words if you move from C to F this is a 4th forward, C-D-E-F If you went forward again from the F chord it would be a 5th, F-G-A-B-C.

If you move back you are going down a 4th F-E-D-C. You are still going to C but it can cause confusion sometimes as to whether you are moving five notes or four.

The 4ths circle starting with C will take you thru the keys starting with the flat keys.

Understanding the circle of 4ths can be confusing also because some call this back peddling through the circle of 5ths.

The Bottom Line

The main thing is that you know these chord changes on your guitar by heart because they will be in all types of music.

You will find that songs go into and out of this circle in the course of most songs.

Here is a short circle of 4ths progression using major chords


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Circle of 4ths progression using major chords

If you aren’t used to barre chords take your time and get good clean notes on all your notes. Speed is a bi-product of accuracy. You will get faster but get accurate first. Fast and sloppy is not good guitar playing.

Check out the Barre Chords page.

Guitar Barre Chords

You see why it’s a circle it goes right back to the starting note. No matter where you start if you continue you will get back to the first note or chord.

Short Chords

A good way to learn the guitar neck is by learning 3 note chords in the circle of 4ths.

The first ones will be on the 2,3 and 4 strings.

Give Me an R

The R in the clear finger circle stands for root note of the chord. In case you can’t see it too good.

These 3 chord forms will take you through the cycle of 4ths up the neck

Just go from the 1st form to the 2nd, from the 2nd to the 3rd and start over with the 1st but up the neck where your root note is.

In other words after the G chord you would move up to the 5th fret and play the first form, the A would be a C here.

If you want to learn more about triads go to link below.

Learn Your Triads

More Short Chords

Here are 3 more chord forms. These are on the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings

Just work these chords up the neck like up above.

These triads exist on the other strings 5, 4, 3 and 6, 5, 4 too but these are most useful because of the easier fingerings and higher pitch.

The lower string sets tend to be muddy but you should still learn them for single string picking and arpeggios. Check out the triads page from the above link.