theory from Frank Singer.comThe Cycle of Fifths | print this page | close this window |

Harmony organizes itself into patterns of relationships that, to a degree, can be anticipated and predicted. These patterns are most easily seen and discussed in terms of the root motion. The Cycle of Fifths occurs with great frequency in Western Harmony, and therefore in American Music.

The Cycle of Fifths
C F Bb Eb Ab Db F# B E A D G
enharmonic spelling
B# E# A# D# G# C# Gb Cb Fb na na na

This root motion pattern creates a very strong forward momentum, demonstrated in the primary dominant-to-tonic (V7-to-I) / authentic cadence, and in the sub-dominant-to-dominant-to-tonic (IIm7-to-V7-to-I) cadence.

Dominant to Tonic Sub-dominant to Dominant to Tonic

In fact, any dominant chord completes its strongest resolution by moving one step forward through the cycle of fifths to a target. This includes secondary and extended dominants.

Secondary and Extended Dominants
Secondary Dominants
|| I V7/II--> | IIm7 V7/III--> | IIIm7 V7/IV--> | IVmaj7 V7/V--> | V7 V7/VI--> | VIm7 V7/VII--> | V7/3rd V7--> | I ||
|| C   A7 |  Dm7   B7 |  Em7   C7 |  F   D7 |  G   E7 |  Am7   F#7 |  G/B   G7 |  C  ||
Extended Dominants
|| V7--> V7--> | V7--> V7--> | V7--> V7--> | V7/V--> V7--> | I ||
||  G#7   C#7 |  F#7   B7 |  E7   A7 |  D7   G7 |  C  ||

The Cycle of Fifths can create strong root motion in any circumstance. This includes diatonic harmony and the whole-step II - V series.

Cycle of Fifths
Progression Examples
Diatonic Cycle
|| IIIm7 | VIm7  | IIm7 | V7  | Imaj7 | IVmaj7 ||
|| Em7 | Am7  | Dm7 | G7  | Cmaj7 | Fmaj7 ||
Whole-Step II - V Series
|| IIm7--V7-->  | IIm7--V7-->  | IIm7--V7-->  | IIm7--V7-->  | IIm7--V7-->  | IIm7--V7--> ||
|| Cm7  F7  | Bbm7  Eb7  | Abm7  Db7  | F#m7  B7  | Em7  A7  | Dm7  G7 ||

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