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Thread: Please explain this to me.

  1. #1
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    Default Please explain this to me.

    When I first started playing the ukulele I was pretty quiet about it. I have a lot of very musical family and friends and frankly, they were a bit intimidating to someone with no musical background at all. So I quietly played my ukulele with little or no advertisement of it. But there came a point where keeping it under wraps was not possible anymore, and it came out that I had been secretly posing as a musician. When one of my more musically absorbed in-laws found out, she kindly embraced me as a peer and we started talking music talk. One of the first things she advised me was that I absolutely needed to learn the I-IV-V in numerous, if not all, keys. With that progression of chords I could play anything, according to her. I could jam with the best of them. Some time later, she introduced me to the circle of fifths, telling me that with the circle of fifths I could play anything. I could jam with the best of them. So I printed it out and taped it to the back of my ukulele for quick reference.

    The discovery of the circle of fifths was like a warm spring day, after the winter of the I-IV-V. I-IV-V had not been treating me well. Because of one thing, that pesky third minor. Here I am, armed with my I-IV-V, playing the key of C, and there’s an Em, just as proud as could be, standing there with the G and the F. Then there were A minors, which my all knowing sister-in-law informed me were actually a C, and therefore quite in line with the formula. And all of a sudden, I-IV and V were not so transparent. There were a number of hidden chords there as well that I wasn’t aware of. By then I had decided that I was going to concentrate on songs in the key of C, because frankly, I-IV-V was getting very complicated, and trying to deal with more than one key was putting me in overload. And all those A minors, D minors, E minors, E7s, A7s were constantly throwing me off. So when I printed out the circle of fifths and taped it to the back of my ukulele for quick reference, I was quite satisfied to leave the I-IV-V behind and chalk it up to experience. Ahh, but then came the realization that possibly the circle of fifths was no more than a I-IV-V disguised in a circle. But I kept the faith, as my chart taped to the back of my ukulele showed me that an A minor was in fact a C. It was right there in that inner circle, all I had to do was stop whatever I was playing and look. A little cumbersome when I was sitting in on a jam session, but I was sure that I would get better at it. But then, it all came crashing down.

    I was starting to wonder about the circle of fifths when a friend wanted me to learn Hotel California. I had met him earlier in the summer playing at the farmer’s market, and he had invited me to join him. So with my circle of fifths taped to the back of my ukulele I joined my new friend each Saturday with the knowledge that I could figure it out, as long as I had my circle of fifths. The only problem was that I didn’t have a lot of time to consult my little circle in the middle of the songs, so I satisfied myself by muting and strumming whenever I got lost, happy to just keep the rhythm going. But then one day he suggested that I learn Hotel California, and we would play it, key of C for my benefit. On a piece of scrap paper, he wrote, Am,E7,G,D,F,C,Dm,E7. I have to say, that to this day, I’m still not sure that is the key of C, and to this day I can not make that chord progression fit into the circle. Frankly, this guy is amazing. He just seems to know how to play songs with no reference material at all. I am still trying to figure out just what formula he is using. I ask him, what formula do you use, and he just laughs, keeping it his secret.

    So let me end this manifesto. I bring all this up, because so often I hear and see people who apparently have much more knowledge of music than I do, suggesting to people new to music and new to playing the ukulele, that the circle of fifths is the holy grail. Learn it and you can play any song. Where am I going wrong? After four years I just don’t see it, and I hesitate to pass it on to newbies. Anyone else saying, that circle of fifths just isn't working for me?
    Last edited by Rllink; 02-21-2018 at 03:06 AM.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/1978485476...rds=R.+L.+Link

  2. #2
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    I'm more of a melody player, I don't know what key I play them in, & I'm not at all worried, the notes are there on the bit of paper in front of me, all I do is play them on my uke.
    Trying to do justice to various musical instruments.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by Croaky Keith View Post
    I'm more of a melody player, I don't know what key I play them in, & I'm not at all worried, the notes are there on the bit of paper in front of me, all I do is play them on my uke.
    that's pretty much what I do after playing for almost 6 years. My main group has a mentoring program with 4 levels, each level is about a 1 hour session. There's orientation, then level 1, which is just an introduction to the uke and it's parts, strings names and numbers, etc. The 2nd level dips into I IV V, sort of thing. Level 3 and 4 is almost all circle of fifths transposing to different keys. I kind of understand how it's supposed to work, but it's all worthless to me while playing. Last week, I helped with level 2 being taught by one of the main guys who helped write the program, he's a college music major. He took the whole hour teaching the C, F and G7 chords. I would have been bored out of my mind!
    Just Play

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  4. #4
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    I've only used the Circle of Fifths to transpose a song if the original key has chords that are hard for me to fret.

    Otherwise I use a capo.

    I am a simple person, and a lot of this theory is still way over my head, but I am trying.

    Someone who withholds knowledge and laughs in your face is not a nice person and I would avoid them at all cost.

    OTOH, Booli has been helping me to slowly understand the very basic seeds of theory, and if nothing else, I am more confident in my playing.

    Yes, I know Booli in real life and he was the person that introduced me to this forum.
    -Joe......Have uke, will travel...

  5. #5
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    Played guitar for nearly 20 years, in gigging bands as well as at home, without even having heard of the circle. Came across it a few years ago, found it interesting but don't make use of it in my playing. In my opinion a much more useful skill to develop is playing by ear, I've definitely found that properly useful in a jam rather than worrying about music theory. My uncle has always played guitar but can't read music, doesn't use the circle and taught himself how to play the piano by playing things from ear last year, before composing his own stuff. That's the style I prefer and aspire to, rather than the theory side of it. I do find the theory side very interesting and appreciate music in a different way since learning some of it, but I'd rather sit by the radio and figure something out, then transpose it to a key I like.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe King View Post


    Someone who withholds knowledge and laughs in your face is not a nice person and I would avoid them at all cost.

    )
    I don't think my friend is withholding any knowledge. My suspicion is that there is no magic formula, and he knows that. I'm still looking. That's why he laughs. Perhaps he finds my naivety humorous.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/1978485476...rds=R.+L.+Link

  7. #7
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    What do you expect the Circle of Fifths to tell you ? It is merely a diagrammatic way of identifying which chords are in a certain key and how many sharps or flats are in the associated diatonic scale.

    As you seem to be discovering not all music restricts itself to a certain key / diatonic scale throughout the whole piece. Google terms such as “accidentals”, “parallel key” & “switching modes” to get started.

    HTH

  8. #8
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    I too have struggles with music theory and the circle of fifths. Last year someone on UU posted a link to a kickstarter project that was putting together chord charts for various stringed instruments, ukulele being one of them. It looked like it could help and I backed it. They arrived late last year and have been wonderful! I am a very visual learner and to actually see the chords and have them labeled as the I-IV-V, etc. made it finally click! They have them arranged by key in both major an minor keys. They are easy to transport and they show all the chords in each key. I have had a lot of fun transposing songs just because I can! lol

    They are now all available on Amazon .
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    Concert: Collings UC2 | Collings UC2K | Talsma Style 3 | 16" Ono | Ono Pineapple

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    Baritone: LoPrinzi

  9. #9
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    When I was 11 years old, back around 1961 , my guitar teacher pointed to the circle of fifths and told me to memorize it. Never explained it to me but wanted me to memorize it.
    I've been afraid of it ever since.
    " Anything larger than a soprano is cheating "
    " I'm no luthier but ,........"

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by ErnieElse View Post
    What do you expect the Circle of Fifths to tell you ? It is merely a diagrammatic way of identifying which chords are in a certain key and how many sharps or flats are in the associated diatonic scale.

    As you seem to be discovering not all music restricts itself to a certain key / diatonic scale throughout the whole piece. Google terms such as “accidentals”, “parallel key” & “switching modes” to get started.

    HTH
    Well, good question. I wasn't expecting anything until I was told that the circle of fifths would propel me to be all knowing. Perhaps when someone suggests that beginners learn the circle of fifths, they should point out that it is handy for transposing, but that there is a plethora of accidentals, parallel keys, and mode switching going on that will render the circle of fifths less than reliable as formula for understanding chord progression, which after all, is what most beginners are tying to understand. Just saying, it is not normally presented as a transposing tool until someone asks just what exactly it accomplishes.
    Last edited by Rllink; 02-21-2018 at 05:09 AM.
    I don't want to live in a world that is linear.

    https://www.amazon.com/dp/1978485476...rds=R.+L.+Link

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