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Cycle Five (Guitar Lesson)


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Brendan Burns

Cycle Five

Brendan Burns explains the circle of fifths and how to navigate it on the neck of the guitar.

Taught by Brendan Burns in Theory & Improv with Brendan Burns seriesLength: 11:22Difficulty: 0.5 of 5


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two_bone35two_bone35 replied on August 2nd, 2016

Excellent lesson. Extremely helpful. Thanks much!

The Ron LThe Ron L replied on January 22nd, 2015

Brendan, An interesting start to learning the circle of fifths. I have used the chart and memorized the order of the notes in my head using an acronyms, but I have not used it on the fret board. All the charts I have seen and used have had the open keys going around clockwise and the flat keys going counterclockwise. Why do you do the opposite?

imonarimonar replied on August 21st, 2015

Because he's saying it from his POV. Get it?

imonarimonar replied on August 21st, 2015

Yep. Ignore my comment. He's saying it actually backwards. He's just going flats first

Tok39LarrabyTok39Larraby replied on January 6th, 2015

I'm an absolute beginner. I've printed out the sheet and have only just started committing the 6th string to memory. ... I initially did question whether taking a different approach to memorizing the fretboard might be easier but am quickly realizing that having to jump all over the string at different positions in the order prescribed (and while saying the notes out loud) is a good way to go as it doesn't sound melodic and requires continual conscious focus (at least so far it does). I haven't progressed far into this one to see what other goodies I can take away from all this. So far so good. .. If for nothing else it will allow me to remember the fretboard, and relative intervals n stuff..

tangohuntertangohunter replied on December 16th, 2013

The worst explanation of the circle of 5ths, ever. Utterly without merit and I won't even go into using flats.

justinaskinjustinaskin replied on August 15th, 2013

If ant of you guys want a good explanation on the circle of fifths check out this video on YouTube. He dose a pretty good job of breaking it down. Part 1 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylk7F7a1AyI Part 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik4AajaEx-0

verciapoanceverciapoance replied on July 4th, 2013

seriously, that's a hell lot of talking and note for note stuff about things that only loosely relates to the exercise(like how to memorize it and so on). Jamplay really needs to start a "pro" version of the site where exformation is left out or just do an overall better job on editing the video. It becomes useless as it is. Sorry brendan I like the exercise but I don't want a 100 thoughts on how to implement an idea when you still haven't explained what the actual "Cycle 5" is(that explanation was great tho).

bruunmbruunm replied on September 16th, 2012

Hi Brendan, I am a little confused as to how I am using this in everyday life? It is not the Cycle of fifths... Which would be C G D A E etc on the sharp side. How does this have to be used? Sorry this sort of threw me of...

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on September 20th, 2012

Bruunm, This is an exercise. It's too make you a stronger and more competent and comfortable musician. It does the same thing that times tables do - it works out all the possibilities. Both of those are Cycle 5. Your example goes up, mine goes down. Cycle 5 starting at C and then to F, Bb, Eb, etc. is common in jazz, pop, rock & blues music. It's a good way to go. You can also try Cycle 2 and Cycle 3 exercise. It's all just work to increase fluency.

devan7391devan7391 replied on November 20th, 2011

Great way of explaining harmonic movement, I will use this for my current students, as I think that this is extremely simple, yet very effective. Wish you would have talked about circle of fifths though. Is there a reason you left that out? I watched the whole set, and thought it may be something brand new, but it's just the circle of fifths reversed, which also bothers me because, most often you switch to your dominant (secondary dominant) or V (v or V minor). Just kind of curious as to reasoning. Hope that doesn't take away from what was meant to be a positive comment, have you thought about expanding this set, to some more in depth theory on 5ths, or 4ths?

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on November 21st, 2011

Cycle 5 is just a tool to organize the 12 keys. There is not a lot of profound wisdom in the cycle, but the exercise & work involved are the real places to explore.

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on April 12th, 2011

Ramma, Cycle 5 is everywhere! The blues progression you mentioned moves from the root, down a 5th to IV chord. Moving from the V to the I is also 5th. You don't "have" to memorize cycle5, but when you do have it internalized, it transforms your playing and understanding. This is not a "chord progression," like a tune, but an exercise for every tune. Hope this helps, Brendan

rcausrcaus replied on April 12th, 2011

Thank you Brendan, It's all great stuff and never thought of how to get to Octaves and major 3rd and fifth with this technique. And, I completed your lessons whilst I should keep practising. I have read all the comments posted above and honestly I am confused . Why should we learn the cycle 5 if it is simply to learn the fretboard which we can be memorised on the 6th string and the other techniques of major 3rd and Major 5th. If we master the modes or even the minor pentatonic scale with time we should be able to memorise most of the positions on the fretboard anyway overtime. Is there some other use of the cycle fifth other than memorising the fretboard. In Blues , we need to master the I IV and IV and in ryhthm in its simplistic form we need to add the relative minor to the I IV V. There are also some other types progressions too. In the cycle of fifth , if we start C then there is F Bb Eb A and so on until we come back to C. Can you elaborate whether it's a chord progression and a practical e.g of how we can use it in Jazz for an easy song starting with C and so on. Brendan please don't get me wrong as I am willing to learn the cycle fifth but would like to know more about it's use in a song or even a jazz song. Regards Rama

monolithsoundmonolithsound replied on March 19th, 2011

Hi Brendan! I'm really liking this exercise, I've been at it about 5 days now, but I've run into a bit of a problem. I can run through all the strings fairly quickly while saying the names of the notes out loud, but it seems like now it's just habit, and I can only name the notes if I start off at C and go through the whole cycle (sort of like the ABCs). I'm just worried at this point it's only muscle memory (speaking the notes out loud doesn't really help anymore). I started doing some flash cards too, but I feel like I'm still starting from scratch, do you have any advice for learning the notes individually, instead of in a group? Is there something else I can do while still going through the cycle to start burning the note names of each fret in my head?

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on March 20th, 2011

If you have this down, then try moving on to the intervalic workouts. If you are having trouble knowing where the notes are, ask yourself where you do NOT know them. Do you know the notes of the guitar without the instrument in your hand? If not, spend some time visualizing the fretboard. Let me know how it's goes.

donaldpdonaldp replied on February 1st, 2011

hey brendan ive watch this video several times and for some reason im just not getting the point of cycle five

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on February 2nd, 2011

Donald, Cycle 5 is just a device, or permutation of the chromatic scale. It's something that we use in my intervalic workout series and I needed to primer video in case someone had not heard of it. Cycle 5 can be used in a lot of different ways. Often jazz students work through tunes in all 12 keys or licks through cycle 5. Very simply, it's just a system. Are you having trouble with the concept, or what to do with it?

donaldpdonaldp replied on February 3rd, 2011

im having trouble on how to remember it is there a special way to remember it or do u just have to memorize all the notes and yah how do i use it eficiently

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on February 5th, 2011

Repetition is the best way to memorize this. Look at the sheet, draw up your own sheet, say them out loud, etc. Pretty soon you'll have them together. The intervalic workout series that I teach uses cycle 5 a lot. If you don't have a good strategy to work through these, cycle 5 might not be necessary for you. It's just a tool.

Ray_UKRay_UK replied on January 13th, 2011

Hi, the hand drawn circle 5 in lesson one is a mirror of the Circle of 5ths diagram in Lesson two, the notes are anti clockwise! Am I missing something? Is there a reason for this that I haven't understood please?

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on January 13th, 2011

Ray, either are fine. We are descending in 5ths or ascending in 4ths. It's all the same thing. Think of it as a device to practice this material. This is just one permutation. There are others if this gets stale. Best, Brendan

Ray_UKRay_UK replied on January 14th, 2011

Thanks Brendan, would you say that if I learn it either way then it's permutations will gradually become obvious to me.. or should I memorise it seperatally as 4ths & 5ths? Sorry for the 'newb' question :)

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on January 14th, 2011

These are good questions! First start by memorizing the cycle as C, F, Bb, Eb, etc. After some time, you'll be able to recite any permutations of intervals just because you've worked through them all. This cycle 5 exercise is just a stepping stone. Keep it going!

Ray_UKRay_UK replied on January 14th, 2011

Will do, thanks for your help, now I know the way forward I can get stuck in :)

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on January 14th, 2011

Let me know how it turns out.

stratmusicstratmusic replied on November 29th, 2010

This lesson was SO helpful to me! Thank you so much Brendan!

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on November 29th, 2010

Glad to hear it. Keep it going!

jjdan2jjdan2 replied on September 17th, 2010

I'm not sure I understand what the ultimate purpose is of doing the cycle on each string? How is this meant to be used in playing? I think an intro to the purpose, at the beginning of the lesson, would help. Or maybe I am just missing something.

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on September 18th, 2010

You have a good point. This video is essentially an intro to the Intervalic series, but cycle 5 could use series as well. Simply put, cycle 5 is a device to help you train any melody or idea into all 12 keys. Any instrument can work through cycle 5. Jazz studies, in particular use cycle 5 when running through new licks and approaches.

thesnowdogthesnowdog replied on August 27th, 2010

Am I the only one that finds these exercises to be particularly

thesnowdogthesnowdog replied on August 27th, 2010

...relaxing - meditative even?

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on August 27th, 2010

They really can be. It's a great way to learn new information in that state. !!!

tsblues717tsblues717 replied on August 27th, 2010

OK I am on the same page as iw2198: you are teaching the cycle of 4ths. and if you use the clock theory you start at 12 then go to 11o'clock for the F : 10o'clock for the Bb etc..NOT the way you teach or even give in your supplemental info in lesson two. That said ,I totally understand what you are saying and enjoy the interval lessons very much. Thanks.

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on August 27th, 2010

Cycle 5 & Cycle 4 are the same thing. Moving up a fourth or down a fifth gives you the same note name. My handout has arrows that point in which direction to move. I'm glad you are enjoying the lessons. I like them too.

restrummerrestrummer replied on August 22nd, 2010

I am glad I stumbled onto your lesson. I am really trying to become more comfortable with the fretboard. Do you plan on posting the other lessons for the other intervals soon?

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on August 23rd, 2010

Oh yes, this series will go over every interval within an octave. Stay tuned!

iw2198iw2198 replied on August 21st, 2010

I've been going through your other lessons and I think they are awesome. There is some thing in this one that I don't understand. I always thought this(the pdf you posted here) was called the cycle of 4th's and that if you played your clock pattern backwards that was the cycle of fifths. I was taught in the cycle of 5th's you started on the C ( no sharps or flats) and then continued by playing it's 5th which is G. After G you played it's 5th which is D, etc.... In you lesson ( according to what I was taught) you seem to be playing in 4th's . F is the 4th of C, B flat is the 4th of F, etc... Could you explain the difference of what I have been taught (and most books I have ever seen it written in) and the way your teaching? I only ask because it's confusing me. I also never thought to practice it this way. It really opens up the fretboard by learning the names of all the note in the higher strings where I don't normally play. Thanks! Great lesson!

Brendan.BurnsBrendan.Burns replied on August 21st, 2010

Thanks for the note! Cycle 4 & Cycle 5 are the same thing, they're just coming from different directions. From my experience, I've noticed it's common to teach Cycle 5 from the sharps side when explaining theory; playing it from the flats side seems to be a more jazz approach. Why is this so? I'm not really sure. Either way, I go in the direction of the flats because the intervals move up in 4ths (or down in 5ths) which is a very common movement in Pop, Rock, Jazz & Blues. Working on exercises this way trains your ears, fingers & mind in a very practical movement. Hope this helps, Brendan

adlawsonadlawson replied on September 10th, 2013

Not to over-complicate things for newbies, but I want to explain this in case anyone else is confused. It also took me a while to understand "Cycle 5" as it is taught here because when you sound the notes on the same string you use both descending and ascending pitch intervals. For example, on the low E string, C down to F is technically a perfect fifth while F up to Bb is a perfect fourth. Yes, fourth and fifths are inversionally related, but direction matters the more you study pitch intervals. I would suggest that a true cycle of 5 intervals would move in one consistent direction (which is easier to understand on a keyboard but this is a guitar website!). The circle diagram typically represents different keys (ordered by their amount of sharps and flats--which happen to be 5 intervals apart depending on direction). In this exercise, each note played is a change of key, but it might also be educational to learn the intervals in the context of one chromatic scale. As Brendan says, these movements are useful for learning to play in all the keys as well as becoming familiar with common chord progressions. So basically, we are getting loads of theory in one simple exercise. Thanks, Brendan, for challenging my brain, fingers, and ears with this lesson!

Theory & Improv with Brendan Burns

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Brendan Burns talks about the circle of fifths, intervals and more to help you in your playing.



Lesson 1

Cycle Five

Brendan Burns explains the circle of fifths and how to navigate it on the neck of the guitar.

Length: 11:22 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 2

Interval Workout Chapter One

Brendan Burns demonstrates an exercise that will help you locate and play octaves on the guitar.

Length: 12:35 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

Interval Workout Chapter Two

Brendan Burns focuses on the fifth interval in chapter two of the interval workout.

Length: 6:58 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 4

Interval Workout Chapter Three

In the third interval workout chapter, Brendan discusses and demonstrates the perfect fourth interval.

Length: 6:30 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 5

Interval Workout Chapter Four

In chapter four of his interval workout series, Brendan discusses and demonstrates the major third interval.

Length: 3:43 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Interval Workout Chapter Five

In chapter five of his interval workout, Brendan demonstrates the minor third intervals.

Length: 4:10 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

Interval Workout Chapter Six

Brendan Burns demonstrates the tritone intervals.

Length: 3:51 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 8

Interval Workout Chapter Seven

Brendan Burns demonstrates the major second intervals.

Length: 3:02 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 9

Interval Workout Chapter Eight

Brendan Burns demonstrates the minor second intervals.

Length: 2:42 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 10

Interval Workout Chapter Nine

Brendan Burns demonstrates the major sixth intervals.

Length: 3:15 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 11

Interval Workout Chapter Ten

Brendan Burns demonstrates the minor sixth intervals.

Length: 2:54 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 12

Interval Workout Chapter Eleven

Brendan Burns demonstrates the major seventh intervals.

Length: 2:26 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

Interval Workout Chapter Twelve

The final interval workout from Brendan Burns features the flat seventh or minor seventh interval.

Length: 4:46 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 14

Modal Navigation #1

Brendan returns to show us how to navigate modes on the guitar using one string up and down the neck.

Length: 29:45 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 15

Modal Navigation #2

Brendan continues his navigation series by showing us how to play the modes on two strings.

Length: 23:33 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 16

Modal Navigation #3

Brendan wraps up his Modal Navigation mini-series by showing us how to play the modes on three strings.

Length: 37:14 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 17

Harmonic Pentatonic Improvisation #1

Brendan teaches us how to improve our improvisation using just the major pentatonic scale.

Length: 27:31 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 18

Harmonic Pentatonic Improvisation #2

Brendan continues in the Harmonic Pentatonic Improvisation series by showing us some exercises with the minor pentatonic scale.

Length: 11:30 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 19

Harmonic Pentatonic Improvisation #3

Brendan wraps up his Harmonic Pentatonic Improvisation series by showing us how it all fits together when improvising over diatonic chord progressions.

Length: 16:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 20

Chromatic Approaches for Triads #1

In this new mini-series, Brendan shows us various chromatic ways to approach triads on an arpeggio level. This first lesson deals with approaching the major and minor triads from one half-step below the...

Length: 20:23 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 21

Chromatic Approaches for Triads #2

Next up in Brendan's mini-series, Chromatic Approaches for Triads, he shows us approaches from one chromatic note above the chord tones. As Brendan would say: "Super fun, super easy, super awesome!"

Length: 14:59 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 22

Chromatic Approaches for Triads #3

Brendan demonstrates the next chromatic approach in the series: one chromatic note below and one from above the chord tone.

Length: 15:37 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 23

Chromatic Approaches for Triads #4

Brendan concludes the first half of the Chromatic Approaches to Triads series by reviewing the "one above/one below" approach to the chord tones.

Length: 13:57 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 24

Chromatic Approaches for Triads #5

In the second half of Brendan's series, he looks at double chromatic approaches to the triad chord tones from below.

Length: 17:02 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 25

Chromatic Approaches for Triads #6

Brendan continues to explore the cool sounds of chromatic approaches. Here, he looks at double chromatic approaches to the triad chord tones from above.

Length: 15:46 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 26

Chromatic Approaches for Triads #7

Brendan continues in his Chromatic Approaches series by showing us the double approaches from below and above. There are some great sounds here to integrate into your improv!

Length: 19:51 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 27

Chromatic Approaches for Triads #8

Brendan concludes this mini-series with a look at the last set of chromatic approaches: two half steps from above and two from below

Length: 17:37 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only

About Brendan Burns View Full Biography Brendan has been passionate about music since childhood. He began his studies on trumpet, in elementary school, and then moved to guitar as a teenager. He holds a Bachelor's Degree from Berklee College of Music, and has studied with Norm Zocher, Joe Stump, Bret Willmott, Bob Pilkington, Jay Weik, Tim Miller, & Charlie Banacos.

While at Berklee, Brendan was a member of the Music Mentoring Program, teaching private lessons to gifted high school students. He is currently teaches, and is chair of the guitar department at Brookline Music School. Brendan also teaches guitar for Tune Foolery & privately at his home in Cambridge, MA.

Along with educating, Brendan plays out often as a Solo Guitarist, performing standards, pop, and classical repertoire. He has recorded and played with the chamber-fusion band Ra Quintent, and as well as Vessela Stoyanova's Eastern Stories Under Western Skies Project. Brendan also performs as a leader, director and sideman for various Boston art-rock projects, and is former member of MIT's Gamelan Galak Tika.

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