Circle of fifths part 3: minor scales

So far you know how to draw the circle of fifths using the old FCGDAEB (Fat Cats Go Down And Eat Breakfast).

You also know how to figure out which ♯s and ♭s you need to make up a major scale.


Now it’s time for minor scales.

Good news: you already know all there is to know. You use the same ol’ circle.

TL;DR: The only thing different is that the top of the circle (the North pole) is a (meaning a minor) instead of C (C major).

You picked up on Majors being Uppercase and minors being lowercase? Gooood.

K, let’s back up a bit.

Here’s the circle of fifths that you’ve learned to love and cherish (and draw by yourself too!):

Now instead of C at the top, you put an a. But on the inside of the circle:

It makes sense, doesn’t it?

C major scale is CDEFGABC – all the white keys on the piano. a minor is the same notes without any ♯s or ♭s. Still all the white keys on the piano. Only it starts from A not C. So the a minor scale is ABCDEFGA. But you probably knew that already.

So Major scales go outside the circle, minor scales go inside. They are minor. Fragile. In need of protection. Keep ’em inside.

Moving on.

If a is where C is, then a♯ should be where C♯ is and a♭ is with C♭.

Now go back up and finish “..And Eat Breakfast”.

Since you run out of the fat cat sentence, you start over with f. Only that all are sharp now (because you just finished with non-sharp, nor flat ones). In other words you write f♯, c♯, g♯, d♯.

a♯/a♭ is already there, you continue with Eat Breakfast (e♭, b♭). They are flat because they are on the flat side of the circle.

Then you start over with non-sharp/non-flats – f, c, g, d.

This is actually the full circle. It shows both Major and minor scales.

Almost. The problem is I forgot to take a photo of the numbers next to each minor letter. But you’re a smart cookie, you can figure those out. They are exactly the same as the Majors. a has 0 flats/0 sharps. Just like C. Then you move to the right and put 1 next to e. 1 sharp in e minor. (Just like 1 sharp in G major). And so on…

Now it’s test time. What is the signature of a minor?

Find it in the circle. Look at the number. It’s 0. No flats, not sharps.

There you go:

Something more interesting? f♯ minor.

Find it in the circle. It’s on the sharp side. And has the number 3.

So f♯ minor scale should have 3 sharps? Which ones? Back to the Fat Cat… (FCGDAEB).

The first three are F, C, G.

Therefore the signature looks like:

Or if you want to spell out the whole scale…

Thanks for reading!

Now you know how to draw the circle of fifths. And figure out ♯s and ♭s in all the major and minor scales. Hooray!

(Psst, practice now!)

Want some other things to practice?

Practice saying ABCDEFG aloud. You probably have no problem with this. It’s the alphabet.

Now start with B = BCDEFGA. Now start with C. And so on.

Now the same but backwards. Say quickly GFEDCBA. DCBA. DBA. DCBAGFED. And random stuff like this.

Now FCGDAEB. (Fat cat…)


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